Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Not Really Brioche and Baby Banana Cakes

For the first several months at my current job, my team used to have a weekly meeting where we’d all sit around and go through each of our projects. We’d have to give a status update on each (usually consisting of “so-and-so has been ignoring my e-mails so I showed up at her desk and she pretended not to recognize me”-type anecdotes) and then state our lessons learned. It became increasingly disappointing to find that nobody seemed to learn the primary lesson the ritual delivered, which was “This meeting is a colossal waste of my time and I’d rather eat my stapler than be forced to attend once more.”

It is with that spirit that I will attempt to briefly and honestly list my own baking lessons learned from the week so far.

- Never begin baking yeasted bread products when the price of wheat is at an all-time high
- Make sure to read the instructions on each dry active yeast package prior to purchasing because one packet may be more than enough to satisfy your recipe’s need (and you wouldn’t want to end up frantically purchasing 12x the needed amount in an instruction-phobic frenzy, now would you?)
- Before attempting any yeasted bread products, it is prudent to read up on helpful techniques beforehand, at a place like The Fresh Loaf.

My two major ventures for the week were “brioche” knots, whose recipe can be found in The Cheese Board: Collective Works. The word “brioche” is in quotation marks because what I made by no means qualifies as the French pastry with the same name. I am opting not to copy the recipe here simply because it would seem rather cruel to those of the Berkeley collective to deprive them of income that will further fuel their bread-baking efforts – particularly since I so benefit from that bread-baking each time I’m in the area. I shall not include notes on this recipe because individuals with far more insight on the creation of yeasted bread products share their wisdom at The Fresh Loaf. So go there!

Luckily, the recipe for Baby Banana Cakes is freely available online at Dorrie Greenspan, baking messiah, has a weekly column there that has become my new favorite web-jaunt. Here are my notes:

- The comments attached to the recipe suggested adding ½ tsp of cinnamon, so I made that addition, and threw in ¼ tsp nutmeg as well. The result was a very homey flavor that complimented rather than overshadowed the banana, which I found quite satisfying. I also added ¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, but did not toast them because I was lazy.
- I used 2 large bananas and ended up with closer to 1 cup mashed banana than ¾, but I did not observe any negative effects of the change. In fact, the next time I make them, I’ll probably use the same amount.
- The cakes were quite moist yet substantial, but neither soupy nor dense. I served the majority of mine the morning after baking. Sadly, they lost the pleasant crust being in an airtight container overnight. I suggest you eat them as soon as they’re cool enough to break open without burning your fingers.
- Warning: baking time was a major issue for me. I ended up pulling my cakes out of the oven after about 22 minutes of baking, and they were on the verge of becoming burnt. I’m not sure why things were so off on that front, as I always check the temperature of my oven prior to baking with my handy oven thermometer. Be sure to check the baking of these cakes by smell first, and instructions second.
- My cakes did not flatten like those in Dorrie’s picture, and were mistaken for muffins. Perhaps they wouldn’t go well with jam, but I suspect that cutting them in half and lightly toasting them in a toaster oven would suit them quite nicely.

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