baking

Alexandra’s Mother’s Peasant Bread

How does a no-knead bread stack up to the traditional method?

The Source:

Alexandra’s Kitchen

The Promise:

The best easiest bread you will ever make… This bread might just change your life.

My relationship with baked goods is complicated. Oh, not in a consumption kind of way. No no, there’s no complexity there, it’s TRU LUV. As far as actually making them goes, my attempts can be less than expert. However, I’ve made homemade white bread dozens of times – I used to make it every week – usually my mother’s tried and true recipe which nourished our family for decades and is a traditional kneaded recipe that takes not a minute less than four hours start to finish.

Mine is always too dry.

I was intrigued by Alexandra’s recipe, which cuts the time down to three hours and does not require kneading. The bread is baked in a glass bowl, which is adorable. And the recipe has garnered positive reviews and even yielded a book. In short, this did not seem like a gimmick.

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look at that lovely yeast

Alexandra suggests instant yeast. I’ve always used active dry and that’s what I had on hand, so I went with that. (As far as brands of yeast go, I’ve used Red Star and Fleischmann’s without an issue.) I liked the tip from the recipe to mix boiling water with cold water to achieve the right temperature to effectively bloom the yeast – I’ve been taught to estimate the right temperature by touch, using water that feels very warm but not hot. But if you’re a bread newbie, Alexandra’s technique will get you just-right water without having to fiddle with a thermometer or follow some dippy blogger’s suggestion to get your water “very warm but not hot”, whatever that means. (Note that if you use instant yeast, it does not have to be bloomed – but don’t be scared off from active dry by that, it’s one more little step and it’s really not that big of a deal.)

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I was surprised as this came together that there is no oil in the recipe, which has been a standard in every other bread recipe I’ve used. Perhaps the heavily buttered bowls in which the bread is baked help impart some oil? Anyway, the dough mixed nicely and I achieved a decent first rise, and then a decent second rise. Into the oven!

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first rise

Then I made a boo-boo. I pulled the bread a little too early. It was baked inside, but needed another couple of minutes to brown the crust. Whoops.

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This bread features a soft crust and definitely does not suffer from a dry interior. One technique for superior bread is to work with a very wet dough, and not having to handle the dough in kneading ensures the dough will remain wet and sticky. Alexandra describes the bread as “spongy”, which is a good adjective for it. The texture was definitely not quite the same as my regular homemade bread, but there were air pockets throughout. Overall I was fairly satisfied with the crumb.

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I’ve Never Baked Bread Before, Shut Up About the “Crumb” and Tell Me If I Should Make This

You should definitely make this if you’ve been wary about taking the dive into a fullscale bread recipe. This is such a good introduction to how easy breadmaking can be – and, my grumbles about my dry bread aside, it’s not hard to make a serviceable loaf! I promise! And also the ingredients are cheap, so if you truly muck it up, that’s only like two dollars you’re having to chuck.

However…

If I have to be totally, brutally honest, this bread wasn’t better to me than the stuff that my bread machine produces. So is it worth it to spend three hours making something, even if it’s easy, when I can achieve the same thing with the push of a button? And to be clear, I prefer my usual loaf to the bread machine’s version, so it’s worth it to me to put in that time. I also like the rhythm of the traditional recipe. I don’t mind kneading bread. Having longer rising and baking times makes it easier to get other stuff done while you’re waiting for the next step in the process. Plus it’s just the way I always do it, it’s the recipe I was taught on. Never underestimate the way that comfort and tradition can influence the way we feel about something, particularly food.

Personally, if I’m going to bake bread from scratch, I’m going to use my old recipe. But you who have been eyeing up bread recipes but feel nervous to jump in, you might want to give this one a try. I was raised in a world where baking bread was just something you did when you felt like eating bread. I realize that’s a tremendous privilege, and that lots of people may not feel comfortable without their mother at their elbow, explaining how to tell that the yeast is alive. Alexandra’s mother can help you feel confident about the steps – yeast, rising, how to tell if the bread is done.

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Plus it makes yummy nutella sandwiches.

 

baking

Tried and True: World’s Best Banana Bread

World’s Best Banana Bread

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups oil
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 3 tsp baking soda dissolved in 3 Tbsp hot water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • (optional) 1 cup chocolate chips

Mix ingredients in large bowl. Place in two greased and floured 9×5 loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 60 – 90 minutes. Loaves are done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. The tops will get very dark.

Bake 15 minutes for mini-muffins, 20 minutes for regular muffins, 40 minutes for small loaves.


 

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This blog is devoted to investigating (and gently mocking) the hyperbole of the standard diy blog. This is the greatest recipe OF ALL TIME you need to make this NOW it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE are we thinking mimosas with this????? YUM!!!!! STOP READING AND GO MAKE THIS NOW NOW NOW!!!!!1!

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That’s a whole nutmeg because I am FANCY.

Ok, but this really is the world’s best banana bread. Next to this recipe, other banana breads don’t even look like they’re trying.

This may also be the world’s most calorically dense banana bread. I don’t think those two things are unrelated.

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The key to this recipe is to get a lot of really nasty bananas. Every time we have a sad banana orphan left on the counter until well past its prime, I chuck it into the freezer, still in its skin. The frozen bananas can be thawed on the counter or in a bowl of warm water. The best way I’ve found to handle the unfrozen bananas is to cut the top off the skin and squeeze out the insides. It’s… fairly gross.

But the final product is worth it. I highly recommend including the chocolate chips just to really elevate the obscenity of the final result.

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I know. It looks burned. But it’s fine.

When baking this, the key is patience. This sucker is dense. It’s gonna be a while. My recipe card says to bake for 60 minutes, but I’ve never had a loaf come even close to doneness in that time. This last bake was 87 minutes to perfection. I’m leaving that 60 minutes as the basement time, but you’re just going to have to keep checking. The tops of the loaves will get very dark, and the edges might even look a little over-done. Don’t panic, it’s all the sugar getting nice and caramelized.

I’m still experimenting with some slightly less egregious versions of this recipe. Up to half of the oil can be replaced by applesauce without a large difference in taste, and I’d like to play with reducing the sugar and substituting some whole wheat flour. But this time, with a hurricane bearing down on us, I went for the full-fat original. We might have to live on this banana bread for weeks.

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And we could.

 

 

baking

Cake Pops

Cake Pops, destroyer of kitchens…

The Source:

Simply Home Cooked

The Promise:

If you follow these instructions, you too can make a perfect cake pop.

The Result: Partial Success

Before we start, I’m going to bring out a huge caveat: I didn’t follow the instructions. And this is because I am both cheap and lazy. Because I am cheap, I didn’t buy a special unitasking cake pop former, and because I am lazy, I didn’t get any styrofoam to hold the pops while they dried. I’d apologize, but I’m of the opinion that you should only apologize if you’re also going to take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and I assure you I am fairly unremorseful.

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Did my own actions impact my final product? Yes, which is why I’m absolutely taking the blame for the pops being… less than professional-looking. (Also I’m going to blame my four-year-old assistant for the haphazard placement of the sprinkles. COME ON KID THIS IS GOING ON MY BLOG STEP IT UP.)

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I started off with the kind of bold optimism typical of the early stages of my endeavors, deciding to make three kinds of cake pops. In time for dinner at a friend’s house. In four hours. Basically creating my own self-imposed version of one of those baking shows where they give the contestants exactly twenty minutes less than the actual time it takes to make a product so the audience can laugh at them flopping about in a panic. My only audience was my cat but I think he enjoyed the spectacle.

TO MY CREDIT, I failed not because I ran out of time, exactly, but by the time I made two kinds of pops, my motivation flagged. “Why should I take the time to jam these peanut butter balls inside a brownie ball when I can just frost the brownies with the peanut butter icing?” I asked myself, thereby calling into question the central tenet of cake pops: Why should I do all this extra work when I can just eat the cake?

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Already cracking… eeek

In addition to the vanilla pops, I also grabbed a box of lemon cake to make lemon pops. When I mixed the lemon pops, I added lemon curd and poppyseeds to the vanilla icing. The lemon poppyseed pops were more moist than the vanilla ones, but also seemed to crack more easily when I pushed in the sticks, and fell off the stick more easily when I dipped them into the chocolate. I only lost one vanilla pop, but half of my lemon pops were decapitated by the weight of the chocolate coating.

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Most of the tips in the Simply Home Cooked post are actually great – dipping the sticks in the chocolate before pushing them into the pop helps the sticks remain embedded, the addition of the crisco thins the dipping chocolate, and tapping the wrist to shake off the excess chocolate, once I figured out what that meant, worked very well. My product certainly would have benefitted from the cake pop former. This device not only creates a smooth and circular finish, but it also compresses the cake so that it is more apt to stay on the stick. However, I just couldn’t see purchasing what is in the end an optional device that I would use maybe once a year, if that.

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How are you going to get them off of the pan, genius?

And it would have been nice to have a styrofoam block instead of thinking, “I’ll figure something out”, and then running around the kitchen in a panic, holding a drying cake pop, having completely failed to figure something out. My wonky pops were still a hit at my friend’s dinner. They’re pretty cute, lumps and all.

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How did they taste? Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to actually tasting these. After all, they’re made of boxed cake mix, canned frosting, and chocolate whose quality is dubious even before sitting for months on the shelf at Big Box Craft Store. And in the end, this cake is basically performative. The appearance is the point, not the taste. These tasted like they were made from boxed cake mix, canned frosting, and bad chocolate, and the crisco didn’t help the chocolate taste any better.

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Children are easily swayed by anything that is their favorite color

But at some point, I’d like to try making these from scratch. Because I bet these could be fantastic – cute and delicious.

And for that, I might even buy a cake pop former.

baking · self care

Scandinavian Almond Cake

Recipe from This Blonde Life

I’m not a particularly accomplished baker. My bread is usually dry in the center and my cakes tend to fall. I’m not patient enough when softening butter or confident enough to mix my muffins only until “just blended”. The thought of making pie crust raises my blood pressure.

In times of personal stress, therefore, I stay out of the kitchen. I write, I quilt, I stitch, I do not mess with yeast.

But in times when the world feels dark and scary, I bake.

Ingredients - Anna Tried It
When baking, deal with the butter first. Whether it needs to be softened or melted, take care of that before you begin the mixture. Melted butter should not be hot when it is added to the batter.

You see, my mother is an accomplished home baker. We had cinnamon rolls on Christmas mornings and challah at Easter and I don’t think I tasted store bought bread until I was a teenager. Fridays were baking day, and I would walk in the door after school to the fragrance of homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies.

Baking, to me, represents the safety of a loving mother. It was part of all that made my childhood feel warm and secure.

Scandinavian Almond Cake - Anna Tried It
True to form, something went awry – my batter is way more dense than the image from This Blonde Life’s post. But I am sure that I followed her recipe to the letter.

I’ve often been accused of being a bleeding heart, but today, as my newsfeed continued to fill with wrenching scenes of torn-apart families, I felt like my heart was beyond bleeding. Broken. I’d called my representatives. I’d donated. I’d raised my voice. And now, I needed to fill the house with the smell of butter and almond extract.

It seemed most appropriate to make this quesadilla Salvadoreña or this tres leches cake, but I knew the friend with which I was planning to share the cake is lactose intolerant, so I went instead with something that seemed simple and fresh and good.

Scandinavian Almond Cake - Anna Tried It
The dense batter made a dense cake that did not rise at all, but as far as I can tell, that’s what this cake is supposed to be like.

Today is the day when Midsummer is observed across Europe. The day with the most light. We need light. We need simple and fresh and good. We need childhoods filled with safety and warmth and security and the smell of fresh bread and warm cake.

All children deserve that. And all good parents would go through hell to give that to their children.

Scandinavian Almond Cake - Anna Tried It
This pound-style cake is lovely with the almond extract and would work well with any flavoring – orange, lemon, rose… I added a splash of vanilla, and next time I’ll add a pinch of salt to help bring out depth in the flavor.

This isn’t a political blog, but some things transcend politics. It may seem silly or pointless to indulge ourselves, in dark days, with things like crafts or clothes or cake. It’s not. We don’t need quilts to keep warm when any plain blanket will do. We don’t need chocolate chip cookies to live when any plain meal will do. We don’t need beauty to survive.

But we need beauty to live. Even now. Especially now. The things we tend to dismiss as extraneous, this is what brings light into the world. The warmth of a mother’s kitchen, filled with the smell of fresh bread.

Scandinavian Almond Cake - Anna Tried It
The best way to eat pound cake is with my mom’s chocolate sauce. But that’s for a future post!

Take care of yourselves. Do whatever your version is of baking a cake. And then let’s all go out and fill the world with light.

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