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Adapting A Recipe: Culinary Improvisation For The Ambitious Home Cook!

Updated on August 5, 2012

Do you just love to cook and bake? Does it please you down to your toes to get every surface in your kitchen covered with bowls, implements and bags of flour and icing sugar? (Especially the bowls: preferably covered in delicious lickable, scrapable cake mix that mysteriously never quite makes it into the cake tin).

If you're an expert baker, then no doubt you're already vastly experienced in the arcane science and art of adapting recipes according to the ingredients you have available. (And also whatever whims may come upon you in the moment.) But for the rest of us more amateur, if enthusiastic, cooks, the adventure of tearing up a recipe print-out or closing up the grease-spotted cookbook, and straying off the beaten path of the instructions and ingredient list, is a gamble as fraught with risk and complication as it is exhilarating and joyous.

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Sometimes, though, you just gotta do it. When the spirit moves you, then move! I took this approach recently with one of my favourite vegan chocolate cake recipes. I have utilized this excellent recipe both many a time and oft for the benefit of my vegan partner (and okay, okay, I have tasted the odd crumblet of it myself too from time to time.) But the last time I decided to make it, when I actually came to assemble the ingredients, I realized that I didn't actually have the cocoa powder that I needed in the house. And I really didn't want to have to go out shopping...

What's a girl cake-baker to do? Well, what I did was to have a little think, and a little shuffle around in my food cupboards. What that shuffle unearthed was eight turnips, a bottle of hot pepper sauce and a jar of cheap generic supermarket coffee granules. Hmm. What kind of cake could I possibly make out of that?

Wait! Here's a bag of walnuts too! I know: hot pepper sauce and walnut cake!

Just kidding, folks. Of course I actually decided to rustle up a fabulous turnip and... okay, coffee and walnut cake. It's a classic combination. And classic combos have endured through the ages for a reason. It's yummy and delicious.

How was the deed done? Well, I didn't do much tinkering about with the weights, measurements and proportions. In fact I did none. What I did was to add the exact same amount of coffee granules to the cake mixture as I would have done of cocoa. And that goes for the icing too. There was enough caffeine in that baby, once baked, to simulate the effect of a couple of triple espressos after a slice! Here, take a look.

I'm not saying I necessarily recommend this utterly cavalier approach to the skilled and respected baker's art. I understand that caffeine poisoning is more than technically possible. On the other hand, this was one delicious cake. Why not rip up your own cookbooks today?


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