Video games and food are a match made in heaven. But taking that spirit out of the game and trying to make it happen in real-life, as these BugSnax-themed recipes do, is a little more challenging.
Our long-running Snacktaku features have always provided the opportunity to have some fun with gaming and food. They’re some of the most fun I have in this job, and every now and again you get a pitch that’s way too good to pass up.
Knowing that I’m finishing up this week, I got an email: would you like to try giving some BugSnax themed recipes a go? We’ll send over the ingredients, and you can fail at your own leisure. (It’s designed to tie in with the game’s physical release for PS4 and PS5.)
Why not, I thought. What could go wrong.
The delivery arrived in a bunch of packages: a Woolworths order with a whole bunch of pantry staples, some butter milk, some spices, bread flour and other bits and pieces. We had almost all of it anyway — my partner became pretty familiar with sourdough and other fermented goods during lockdown, although I didn’t get into baking myself over that period.
That background helped, though, because Woolies orders are always a bit hit and miss. There were a couple of ingredients missing, like ground cardamom, but as seen above it wasn’t too much trouble for me to pull some pods out and smash them up myself.
In a separate order arrived three recipes. They’re all designed by Victoria Rosenthal, the creator of the gaming food blog Pixelated Provisions. Rosenthal’s the author behind a few excellent gaming cookbooks already, including the official Fallout cookbook and the excellent Destiny official cookbook. (Full disclosure: I actually received the Destiny cookbook in lockdown and had a crack at a couple of the recipes, including the ramen, but butchered them so badly they were not photography-worthy even for a beginner.)
The recipes were pretty straightforward: making hot dogs from scratch, pancakes from scratch and a recipe for miniature meringues that could be dotted like little eyeballs. That seemed like an enormous pain in the arse — and I don’t want meringue anywhere near my hot dogs or pancakes, and I don’t want to make food if I’m not going to eat it. So I tackled the other two instead.
Pancakes and hot dogs are relatively straightforward affairs: kids can make those things. The fun element of it here was making the dough for the hot dogs from scratch and having them proof, proof again, then baked within a few hours. I’d seen my partner work with dough a lot because of her baking phase, but most of those recipes were overnight — even her “day” loaves can take several hours.
But Saturday morning was brunch time. I was recovering from my second Pfizer jab — which left me more lethargic and annoyed than the first — so the pancakes were on the menu first. And while I’ve had them plenty of times as a kid, I’ve never worked with cricket flour before.
According to Rosenthal, cricket flour increases the protein of the pancakes themselves — good for staying full — and as long as you’re fairly measured in the amount you add, you won’t get too much earthiness in your pancake. Cricket flour is relatively pungent with a super dark colour. And when combined with wholemeat bread flour, which was what we already had open, it’s no surprise our pancakes were on the browner side.
The recipe itself is a bit more involved than most pancake batters: you start with the flours (cricket and regular/all-purpose), sugar, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon and salt. That gets blended with a wet mix that contains buttermilk, honey, eggs, melted butter and vanilla.
I already started taking a bit of leeway at this point. I knew I was going to top the pancakes with maple syrup later, as well as a bit extra to glaze the bacon strips, so I cut back some of the sugar and about 40 grams of the honey. And, as you can see above, I ended up using more buttermilk — but that also could have been necessary due to using wholemeat flour, rather than regular all-purpose baking flour.
Nothing special was called for on the bacon, but after patting down the gunk juice that it came in, I gave it a sprinkling of paprika and glazed in the pan with maple syrup. Not too much — I was adding extra on the top anyway.
The first pancake came out, uh, quite thicc. But the first pancakes always suck. I then revised them down, and since we were planning on having a large dinner later that night, our BugSnax pancake was ready.
I had some extra batter saved, so for a second round I leant harder into the sweetness. I made a quick berry coulis with some frozen berries, adding some lemon zest and juice from one I’d saved earlier. My partner had actually found some nice mulberries around the area, and we had some fresh strawberries in the fridge.
My partner wanted some Nutella to balance all of it out, so I popped a chunk into the microwave and fired it up just to loosen the mixture a bit. But with so many wet ingredients, and because Nutella has the visual appearance of liquid shit, the end product did not exactly do itself justice:
I posted a shot of this in our work Slack for some opinions, all of which were exactly what you’d expect from such a wet, swamp-like monstrosity:
“Looks a little bit like a turd on top tbh but I’d eat it”
“Uhhh … if it was made at home … if at a cafe, in dire need of garnish”
“Maybe a top down photo so it’s not as …. intimidating?”
I suggested people should not feel bad about shitting on my “literal pancake turd”. At which point someone said, “I wouldn’t, but it looks like you already did.”
I promise the pancakes tasted real good, though. Definitely nowhere near the actual BugSnax themed vision with curly bacon and a stack of butter, but fuck it: cooking is meant to be for the people eating, and nobody else.
The next cab off the rank was the hot dogs, or Shy Weenyworms. It wasn’t a good day to make bread: it was cold, miserable, and not at all the kind of humidity or environment you want for those crucial proofing stages.
But I’m stubborn, so I forged ahead. I’d found a dough whisk for my food processor and wanted to test it out. It was my first time making dough unsupported, with an untried recipe, so I figured anything that eased the barrier to entry — and kept my heavy-arse stand mixer in the cupboard — was a plus.
The recipe called for a water roux — or a milk roux as it turned out — that would be combined with everything else. It also called for activating the dry yeast in milk, which I did, but after 10 minutes I couldn’t see the yeast blooming at all. Not wanting to use up too much milk given coffee is the primary lifeblood of our household, I replaced the equivalent volume of milk with water, and tried to bloom the yeast a second time.
That worked, so the whole lot — plus some butter and eggs — went into the food processor. It came together decently enough, and although it didn’t rise as much as I would have liked, I was able to get enough roll-shaped loaves separated and out onto a baking sheet.
You can see above that I didn’t roll these out anywhere nearly enough. The whole dough, in general, just didn’t rise enough for me to roll them out into hot dog-like shapes. But they baked nicely enough, which let me get onto the next stage of assembly.
The buns were really more like burger sliders. I tried cutting them half way to emulate the hot-dog like shape, but either I cut too deep or they weren’t large enough — the bun broke when I tried. So I opted for this kind of method instead.
Again, I also freelanced on several parts here. The original recipe called for some chopped onion, but I went a different route by grabbing a red onion, dicing it relatively finely and then caramelising it with some brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. I figured some sweetness would pair well against the gherkin relish and mild mustard, which it definitely did.
The order came with some burger pickles, but my partner already had a massive jar of homemade bread and butter pickles, so I topped the sliders with those instead. There was a bit more freestyling on the sauce: while mustard was a feature on all the sliders, my partner loves Kewpie mayonnaise more than our relationship, so I included that on the top part of the bun. Against the relish, pickles and with the slice of tomato, it works pretty well.
My partner was playing Inscryption before dinner, and she’d had an especially shitty day, so I figured it’d be nice to bring dinner in for her. (That’s why there’s a keyboard in the background.) I also like this shot because you can see how I’ve had to rig the sliders up — the buns are too small for the full length of a normal dog, but wide enough that I can chop them in half and sit it side by side.
Like everything else involving video games and cooking, none of the recipes are what you’d call especially “advanced”. They’re daunting if you don’t have access to certain equipment, if you’ve especially fearful of failure, or if you’re the kind of person who literally cannot avoid burning themselves around any stovetop. I’m a comfortable cook — I’ve made rouxes before for different sauces and meals, but not in terms of baking, and I’d never made bread from scratch before even though I’ve seen my partner do it plenty of times.
But part of the fun of it all is worrying less about the outcome and more about enjoying the process. I’m especially thankful for the bun recipe, because that’s something that can be easily done in a couple of hours, especially on hotter days. Fresh slider buns — or hot dog rolls if they proof right — take an absolute dump on anything you’d buy from the store. It’s not even a competition. And cricket flour, pungent as it is, is a ton of fun to work with. It’s also not something we can easily access where we live, so the whole experience was worth it for that.
If you want to have a crack at the recipes yourself, everything’s available on the Pixelated Provisions website. There’s some excellent Judgment recipes, including a great take on anpan. The chicken ramen recipe in the Destiny cookbook is also reliably good, especially if you’re a Destiny nerd (or a relapsed fan, like me). They’re not Michelin-star material, but they’re tasty as all hell, even if you fuck it up a few times along the way.