Sunday, 27 December 2009

2.) Banana Muffins with Cinnamon and Oat Crumble

I lied! Only my second day with a bakery and I'm already telling lies to you, my dear customers. Today, I didn't make feta and zucchini muffins because lo and behold, it's snowing. Snowing! I don't want to drive to the store, I've already slid around on the roads enough today, thank you very much! So what's laying around the house? Bananas. Is there a cupcake recipe that calls for bananas and not much else? Sure thing. However, these tasty treats prove that the post-Christmas daze may well last past the new year. This recipe is absurdly simple! The usual suspects plus a mashed banana get thrown into a bowl, mixed on medium for two minutes, spooned into little paper cups (I have little holiday wrappers right now) and then covered in an oatmeal, cinnamon, flour, butter, sugar crumble.

But when the recipe says 1 cup Self-Rising flour and you're using All-Purpose flour - REMEMBER TO ADD BAKING POWDER OR YOUR CUPCAKES WILL NOT RISE.

Despite the non-rising nature of these cupcakes, the flavor is still very tasty. The potential wonderful-ness of these mini-treasures is apparent. Now, some of my tasters, very kindly taking the missing baking powder into consideration, argue that they want more "Pop" out of the taste. I however thought the banana flavour was great. Not too sweet, not too subtle. The sweetness and the texture comes from the oatmeal in the crumble and it's a very nice addition. A little warm butter and a little baking powder and I think these cupcakes would be a real breakfast winner!

Man-Catcher Follow-Up

The debate came up among my tasters, 'how dense is pound cake supposed to be?' This cake is obviously more dense than the average cake (box mixes included) but was it too dense? Two voted No, one voted Yes and I was just happy that it hadn't exploded in the oven. The post-it for improvements on this recipe reads: follow directions better!, beat longer (beating adds air to the batter and should hypothetically make cakes fluffier and less dense) and try using real lemon (the lemon extract is good but very very strong! maybe real lemon will give a nice but slightly less overpowering flavor?). Overall though, this is a very good very simple recipe. I took the extra cake into work and my co-workers did not seem disappointed!

The cake had collapsed slightly on top because of the Tollhouse Cookies. What's the recipe for disaster? Take Tollhouse cookies on top of the fridge, next to the oven and put them in a heavy tin. Pull the heavy tin off the fridge a little too quickly and let it go crashing onto the stove top. . . voila, a slightly flat top on an otherwise beautiful cake. How to solve this problem? Well, when you flip the cake out onto the paper to cool it, look! the 'bottom' of the cake is perfectly flat and gorgeously browned. The bottom has become the top and those devouring the masterpiece are none the wiser that the cake had a slight avalanche in the oven.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

1.) The Man Catcher - Sour Cream Pound Cake

Dear Melissa Gray, Thank you for making a cake book for people who want to bake cakes, know why they are doing things and like to laugh out loud while reading their recipes. You are truly an inspiration and I hope not to make too many of your cakes collapse.

Sincerely, one happily surprised new cake-baker.

"All Cakes Considered" is quickly going to become my cake bible. Think the style of Alton Brown but quirkily different. Thank you Roo for the book that's going to dictate La Boulangerie's menu in the coming months.

The book suggests working from the beginning of the book and moving towards the back. Recipes supposedly get harder as the book progresses. Well, I'll start in the beginning with this beautiful lemon pound cake, but no guarantees I'm making the sweet potato cake that comes next!

This cake, cake 1 for those of you keeping score, is called the Man Catcher - Sour Cream Pound Cake. It's a simple combination of normal cake ingredients in the normal order (cream butter and sugar, add eggs, add dry ingredients and sour cream, then lemon, orange and vanilla extracts). I was however in a post-Christmas daze when I started this recipe and said to myself, "Self, mix together all the dry ingredients while your butter softens - brilliant!"

Not all the dry ingredients should be mixed together though - notice when I said "cream butter
and sugar" . . . ? Thought not. Me neither. I also missed the part about adding the other dry ingredients and sour cream intermittently.

I shooed my family out of the kitchen and didn't admit my mistake. I decided to throw everything into the mixing bowl and to hope for the best. After all, it's just cake one - if it falls apart or explode, it's ok! There're 51 more cakes to come.
(You know the scariest part? I had read the recipe first! I'm telling you - the post-Christmas daze is a dangerous thing).

Happily, the cake turned out well anyway. At least, it looks like pound cake is very forgiving. The sugar seems to have dissolved (this is why one creams butter and sugar before adding the other items) and my poor little hand mixer suffered through the overload of dry ingredients before I thought to add the sour cream to loosen the batter up a little. Unfortunately, everyone is still full from lunch, so this cake is currently untasted.

As soon as Afternoonsies are served (tea anyone?), we'll see if this Man Catcher is all it's cracked up to be!

The Last Box Cake

I have been threatening to quit my studies to become a biological anthropologist. I have threatened to leave the excavations and Indiana Jones lifestyle far behind me. I have threatened to trade in my trowels to become an avid cake baker.

And now I've done it. This is the last box mix cake that you will see made by my hand (for the foreseeable future anyway).

This beautiful cake started as a Duncan Hines Red Velvet Cake mix. It has a boxed cream cheese icing on it. And you know what? It tastes pretty darn good. Good enough to get served with Christmas dinner. So why bother with the fancy new cake and cupcake cookbooks that my mom and sister gave me for Christmas this year? Because every mix cake is the same. It beats up the same. It falls into the pan the same way. It cooks the same way. And it gives a generally good result. But where is the adventure!? Where are the baking thrills? Will my cake fall? Does adding apricots change the batter enough to change the cake? Do carrots and bananas taste good in a cupcake together? Can I make my own fondant? What exactly IS fondant (besides something they use on FoodTV a lot)?

To answer these questions (and oh so many more), I have decided that this cake is my last box cake mix for the year. Following in Michael Ruhlmann, Kathleen Flinn and Julie Powell's courageous cooking footsteps (in my own very very small way), I am opening the (cyber) Boulangerie St. Louis. One year. 52 recipes. Neighbors, friends, family beware. These edible and (maybe even) delicious cakes are going home with you once a week until 2011. Welcome to the bakery.