Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tales of an (Un)Masterful Baker

My morning devotional today was all about keeping it real.  It talked about how, as Christians, we tend to walk around putting our best face forward, which often means a mask covering our daily struggles and concerns.  Instead of reaching out to those around us for prayer, and being authentic, we work hard to make sure our lives appear picture perfect.  Well, I know I'm not perfect, and today's reading reminded me that I am not called to be.  I need God in my life, and it's ok to show my not-so-perfect self.

So, in the interest of keeping it real, I have a confession to make.  I long to be a master baker, but I am not.  Not at all.  I grew up in a home where my mom regularly baked from-scratch tasty treats.  I, however, was not interested in anything remotely domestic, so, despite my mom's best efforts, I squandered the chance to learn at her knee.  About 10 years ago, I realized it was time to grow up and learn how to make something that didn't come in a box, so I began a fumbling attempt to teach myself how to cook and bake.  It's been an interesting ride.  Almost everything I make is edible (certainly now more than before), and most of it tastes pretty good.  I have even mastered some recipes so that they turn out delicious every time I make them.  But by no means am I yet a Master Baker.  But I persist in trying.

Today I decided to make a recipe out of a cookbook I've been salivating over for days:
Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.
(Image from here)

This is a book written by the owners of Baked, a fab bakery with stores in NYC and Charleston, SC.  They've garnered loads of raving press lately, because apparently their baked goods are the bomb diggity.  The recipes in the book are for some of the most popular treats in their store, and by golly they look delicious.  Scrumptious even.  So much so that I dream of working my way through the book, a la Julie/Julia, until I've tried every last one of them.

Today, I started with their Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins.  I was excited to try this recipe, and I made sure I had all the necessary ingredients.  Or so I thought.  This is where I get real, people.  I am not a meticulous person.  I strive to be, and really put forth my best effort, but I really, really, am not.  Last Thursday I tried to make the brownies from this book (which put Baked on the map, they're so tasty), and apparently I had bought the wrong type of chocolate.  Instead of dark chocolate, I bought milk swirled with white.  (I'm not stupid, really.  I bought two bars, and someone had put the milk/white behind the dark.  So I had one dark, and one not.)  Ugh.  However, rather than wait until I had time to get the correct ingredients, I carried on and scavenged my house for every last bit of dark chocolate-- chips, candy bars, baking chocolate, it all went in.  The authors of the book make a point to instruct you to use the best possible chocolate, but I figured it couldn't be too bad.  I was wrong.  Those were the only brownies in the history of my life that were not completely consumed.  I actually threw (most of) them away.

So this time, I made sure to purchase all the appropriate ingredients, in all the correct quantities.  Truly, I did.  But when I went to start baking, my new 4 lb bag of sugar had gone missing.  Seriously.  Where does a bag of sugar hide?  I have no idea.  I still haven't found it.  But being a slow learner, I decided to see if I could make the dregs of my sugar canister work.  Enter Exhibit A of my (Un)Masterful Baking.  I needed 1/2 cup.  I had about 1/3.  Ever the optimist, I wondered if perhaps I had any sugar packets left over from our last Starbucks Joe-to-go container.  No dice.  I did have Sugar in the Raw though.  Feeling adventurous, I thought perhaps they raw sugar would provide a tasty, sweet crunch, so I went with it.  And what do you know, I had exactly 1/2 cup with those two types combined.
Exhibit A
I continued to make my batter, excited by the prospects of my recipe modification.  I was cruising along, not paying 100% attention (obviously), and accidentally put half of the espresso powder in with the wet ingredients.  Oops.  Enter Exhibit B.  I figured it couldn't make that much of a difference, so I just stirred it in.  Wrong, again.  The espresso powder balled up into sealed little nuggets of powder.  Apparently what dissolves in water does not dissolve in mashed bananas.
Exhibit B
Sigh.  I used my best kitchen implement (my hands) to break up the espresso powder and then stirred it into the banana.  It was slow and messy, but it got the job done.  I managed to finish my batter without further incident.

Then came time to put the batter in the muffin tin.  Enter Exhibit C.  The last time I made cupcakes, I accidently let some of my muffin cups get a little smooshed.  Like flat-as-a-pancake smooshed.  In waste-not-want-not spirit, though, I decided to keep them and try to make them work.  Such a mistake.  These were no longer cooperative muffin cups.  Instead of neatly sitting in the muffin tin, they sort of straddled the sides, like a cat avoiding a bathtub.
Exhibit C-1
 I thought they would still work (ever the optimist), so I started trying to fill them.  This is where, if I were a swearer, this would no longer be a PG post.  Those little cups flipped every time I put batter in anywhere other than dead center.  Considering that I am not meticulous, that happened a lot.  I put a little batter in, and the thing would start to flip.  Then I'd have to wrestle it into position while trying not to spill the batter.  It was not fun times.  I did manage to fill all the cups though, and hoped that said exercise would not effect the taste of my muffins.

Exhibit C-2.  Well-behaved muffin cup
Exhibit C-3.  Rebellious muffin cup.  See the batter all up the side?  The result of the muffin-cup wrestling.
And you know what?  They came out looking perfectly delicious.

And they tasted absolutely scrumptious.  They were just the right mix of banana and chocolate, with just a hint of the espresso tempering the sweetness.  Such a tasty little breakfast treat.  And the raw sugar was undetectable, so yea for not messing it up with that little modification.
Claire liked them :)

So, no, I'm not a master baker (yet), and I'm okay with that.  These things come with patience, and lots and lots of practice, and I'm gonna keep working at it.  And there's nothing wrong with that.

Here's the recipe as I made it (not as written):

Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins
(adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)
4 ripe smashed bananas
1/3 c. white sugar
1/6. c raw sugar
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1 stick melted unsalted butter
1/4 c. whole milk
1 egg
1.5 c. flour
1 t. espresso powder
1.5 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the bananas, sugars, milk, and egg in one bowl.
Mix the flour, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt in a second bowl with a whisk.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.
Fill the muffin cups with about 1/4 c. of batter.  I ended up with 16 muffins, using muffin cup liners.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

P.S.  I actually have emailed the authors of this cookbook to ask if I can blog about my journey through their book.  Here's hoping they say yes, but then again, if they read this post, maybe not. :)

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