The jam doughnut experiment last week was something of a success – I wasn’t there, but feedback from the roleplayers (I feel like they should have capitals like a sinister society or 90s indie band – The Roleplayers!) was very positive and may in fact have included the words ‘the best thing you’ve ever made’. That kind of talk can go to a girl’s head. However, there was one piece of feedback from Jef that I felt honour bound to act upon. Size. Lovely as they were, apparently what I made were cupcakes, not really muffins. Muffins should be the size of your head and last long enough to drink an American-style bucket of coffee, not vanish in two bites leaving nothing but sweet memories.
Fair enough. I know the value of market research; the market wants proper muffins, the market shall have proper muffins. Now, I promise that I’m not baking exclusively from Nigella’s books – I have a soft spot for Mr Slater and there’s always Saint Delia – but it’s starting to sound like that, because here’s another of hers today. Please welcome: Nearly Nigella’s triple-chocolate muffins. I’ve used SmallSmallBaker’s recipe as the blueprint but made a couple of small changes. The tube of chocolate chunks that I bought was smaller than I thought – only 100g! – so I attacked a handy bar of dark chocolate to make up the shortfall. *blush* I also ran out of plain flour and had to top up with self-raising for the last 50 grams or so. Shh. No-one can tell.
Ingredients (makes 12 muffins)
200g plain flour
50g self-raising flour (only because you’re not terribly good at looking at a jar and calculating how much flour remains)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp best quality cocoa powder – Green and Blacks, in this case.
175g caster sugar
100g chocolate chunks and 100g of Green and Blacks dark chocolate, chopped into rough chunks (save 1/4 of the chocolate for sprinkling)
90ml vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 200 deg C.
2. Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa, sugar, and 3/4 of the chocolate chips into a large bowl and mix well.
3. Pour all the liquid ingredients into a measuring jug and mix well.
4. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together with slow and gentle strokes. Stop stirring once the last traces of flour disappear. Do not overmix. A lumpy batter will ensure the muffins stay moist and fluffy.
5. Spoon the batter into paper muffin cases.
6. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 chocolate chips on top and bake for 20 minutes or until the muffins are dark, risen and springy.
Now, photos… I quite like the ‘before and after’ approach – so here’s the line-up before I started cracking shells and hacking bars:
What do you think to the cases? A bit over-the-top? Mm, me too. I’m sure you’ll never guess where I shop based on the ingredients above but Ocado are quite lacking in decent sized muffin cases at the moment. There were the cupcake sized ones that I used last week in many fancy colours and materials but only these eye-wateringly pricey spotty ones for man-sized muffins. Oh well. They’re actually just squares of printed greaseproof paper folded in a cunning way, next time I’ll origami up some of my own.
We’re finally inching out from winter into spring here in Milton Keynes. The seasons are running quite a bit behind their proper timetable and although the calendar says mid-April, it still feels more like early March to me. The two photos above are a case in point – first one, bright sunshine outside, warm and cheery. By the time I took the second one black clouds had rolled in so thickly that I had to put the lights on and by the time the muffins were cooked it was pelting down with rain.
For my own reference more than anything else, I took the photo below of the very-messily-mixed batter:
Definitely still lumpy, definitely not over-mixed. Oh, the dire warnings I read about the perils of over-mixing your muffins!
While these were baking I turned my attention back to what I should have been doing all along – re-reading a collection of papers for the introduction sections in my thesis. I’ve been working on this since 2006 so as you can imagine there’s rather a lot to choose from and part of the skill of this academic lark is knowing which ones to include, which to emphasise, which to critically demolish. I’ve finally narrowed it down to about a hundred and fifty key items: some are papers that are just two page longs, some are weighty tomes that I read over a few weeks. They all contribute something about the uncanny valley or the way I’ve investigated it but the challenge now is to make them line up together nicely and help me to do the hard work of explaining what I’ve done and why. Some of these papers I know practically off by heart (I think I could recite Mori’s original thesis on the valley of eeriness in my sleep!) but there are some that I’m revisiting now after a long gap or since I’ve done more reading in the area and I’m seeing them with fresh eyes. For example, this article on the uncanny in the Ring films; I admit, I originally downloaded it because I found both of those films fascinating and have a real thing for Japanese horror but it has taken on a new relevance now that my research has focused so tightly on the role of eyes and their appearance in triggering a sense of unease.
It’s exciting that even at this late stage, I’m putting together the pieces of the uncanny valley story and the narrative is coming together nicely while over in the corner, the muffins were quietly doing their own thing and have turned out nicely too.