Only a giant, H-bomb-proof lizard could overlook the mess I made of these simple cookies. OK. Kind of a silly exaggeration. Sorry. The cookies were all eaten in less than a day, but its easy to forgive a cookie for looking like shrapnel when it tastes like sweet, creamy peanuts. And I LOVE peanut butter. LOVE it. Always have – even when it sticks to the top of my mouth.
Everything stared out so well. The best part was beating the butter and peanut butter together (see below). It looked so awesome. But therein lay the fatal flaw that would later refuse to let the cookies hold together. I put in too much butter.
I knew I was in trouble when I took a quick peek at the cookies in the oven. They were just melting into pools. Between the two batches, I put the batter back in the fridge to stiffen it up. It helped a bit, but couldn’t overcome the real mistake. How do I know that the butter was the mistake? The recipe relies heavily on butter, and I knew from the beginning that I was making a loose guess about quantity. Why? How?
American recipes rarely give measurements in grams or even ounces when it comes to butter. The measurement for this recipe was 1/2 cup ( 1 stick) unsalted butter. An American size “stick” of butter is not what I usually find/buy in Doha. A brick of French President butter that I most often buy is about the equivalent of 3 sticks of American butter – even a bit more. Anyhoo, I just eyeballed it and thought, “a little bit extra won’t hurt”. Wrong. Sooooo, butter research problem #2 – get the scoop on butter measurements. I will try to convert everything to grams. I have a nice digital scale to help me out. No excuses.
Were they really that bad? And where did the whole Godzilla reference come from? If you love peanut butter and crave sugar, they were great. But they simply fell all apart and were too fat-laden. Come to think of it, the peanut butter may have been too oily too. (My fault, not Magnolia’s.) I baked these as a treat to eat while we watched the movie, Godzilla. When Godzilla blasted the giant aphids with nuclear fire and they melted away, I thought of my cookies.
LEARNED: It’s never OK not to be careful. Do your homework BEFORE you take the test.
DETOUR: Nuf said.
P.S. – The kids didn’t care about the cookie shrapnel. They focused on the creamy, sweet, peanut part of the story. All gone.
Well, I let the cat out of the bag on this one. Actually, it was a George Washington moment. I invited the family to the breakfast table for fresh muffins before going to church. Things were going well until a certain young one asked, “What’s in it?” Now, you would think that children would be so fixed on the smell of sugar and cinnamon and the thought of melting butter and jam, that the detour of, “What’s in it?”, simply wouldn’t have popped up like a quantum particle from non existence. But it did.
“Is there oatmeal in there?” asked Little bear. Little bear knew that Papa bear had a habit of disguising healthy treats to look like things kids really like. Papa bear, not the most clever of bears, was backed into a corner, knowing it was Sunday (actually Saturday but it counts for Sunday in Qatar), and that he could not tell a lie – or at least couldn’t get away with it. “Yes”, said Papa bear, “but they’re special oats. Not like the ones we usually eat. These are rolled oats. And they soaked in milk for ten minutes before going into the batter.” (As if that mattered.) Papa bear got a piercing look from the right eye of Little bear whose brow was raised like a drawn bow. And then …. the bite. “Hmmm. Not bad. But not a lot of flavor.” 24 hours later, Papa bear was heard grunting, “Hmmm. None left. Not bad for muffins that were not bad.”
VERDICT (Papa bear’s):
I loved these muffins. Delicate flavor. Lightly sweet with a hint of cinnamon and the rich taste of creamy oats. If you can have something that qualifies as light yet dense (anything is possible in the quantum world), these muffins qualify.
Telling the truth can be uncomfortable but is worth it.
Follow the recipe to establish your baking baseline. That is what I will be doing throughout this project. I’m glad I did in this instance. I was unhappy with the small amount of cinnamon called for in the recipe. I LOVE cinnamon and have never before stuck to small amounts in recipes. I did this time and discovered the pleasure of the subtle and of hints.
Muffins do not need to be put in paper cups. Most cookbooks casually tell you to pour the batter into paper muffin/cupcake cups. This makes for easy clean-up and for muffins that pop right out of the muffin tin. The directions for this recipe said to “grease well a 12-cup muffin tin”, which I did (spray canola oil). They all popped out beautifully and left the pan clean.
I had no intention of baking three different recipes on the same day, but a wonderful young girl (my daughter) entered the kitchen and wanted to bake a birthday cake with her Papi (that’s me), and I couldn’t refuse. What was I to say? “Scat! Get out of here kid! Can’t you see I’m busy being a cool dude?” It wasn’t anyone’s birthday, but she was dreaming ahead.
I’m learning! On the most recent iteration of my CV, I’ve included a, “What I learned”, remark following each position I’ve held. So, hey! What did I learn a) baking this banana loaf, and b) baking three different recipes on the same afternoon when I only wanted to bake two and had other things to do too (as always!)?
I learned that…
It was worth it to quickly say yes to my daughter who wanted to spend time with her “Papi” in the kitchen.
A banana bread/loaf of some kind is among the easiest of things to bake successfully.
I LOVE gooey, chocolaty, stuff in bowls. I like swirling it around with a spatula. Not so different from little boys and girls who love playing in muddy puddles after a rain.
You can always add an extra, gooey, icky-looking banana.
All of the above are reasons to bake with children if you get a chance, or can make the opportunity.
The Banana: Yes. I added the extra banana (or two?) to this recipe. I had to. The ugly thing was sitting there all dark and sinister looking and otherwise inedible. What did it change? It required an extra 8 minutes in the oven. The loaf remained moist and YUMMY for days. “For days?”, I hear ye say. “Sounds to me like, well, maybe it wasn’t so good after all.” Nay. One dear blogger (8th grade team) hath shared that it was YUMMMMY. Nay sayers are welcome to contradict this assessment in the comments below.
The Peanuts: This Magnolia Bakery recipe is one of the few banana loaf/bread recipes that I’ve seen calling for peanuts – not peanut butter, not peanut butter chips. The peanuts in this recipe were supposed to be “finely chopped.” Well, with two other baking projects to go, I did the guy thing. I put them in a plastic sandwich bag, grabbed a hammer and pulverized them. It was quick, efficient, but left me with more powder than finely chopped bits.
CAUTION: Don’t even think about putting an icing on this banana loaf. Simply not needed. On the other hand, a cup of coffee wouldn’t be a bad idea. But then, I live with a coffee cup in my hand. — Ahhhhh. I detect the smell of espresso in the kitchen right now.
Do I wish that my cake had turned out like the one pictured above? Well sure I do, kind of. And, no, mine didn’t. But, with my new growth mindset ( 😉 I know that I can get there with practice and maybe even do something better.
So. I say “so” a lot, don’t I? And then there’s all those dashes and “!” everywhere. I can’t tell you how terribly conscious I am of my punctuation habits. I thought the doctoral studies would put to death all shades of punctuation darkness, but nooooooo.
The authors of the Magnolia cookbook state that they wanted to make a cake that was neither a “yellow cake nor a traditional sponge cake”. The inclusion of whole, unseparated, moderately beaten eggs was needed to create this distinction. I love the cake that emerged from the oven!!!! It was CRUMBY! Wonderfully, loverly, crumberly yummery. (I love being the author who gets to create words. Ehemm.) It was moist. This cake is the undeniable evidence that something magical happens when a baker mixes basic ingredients together instead of buying them pre-mixed in a box. And it’s vanilla. It’s simple, basic, and a blessing.
DETOUR or ROADBLOCK
The icing. The icing is actually recipe #6 for me from the cookbook (p. 127, Vanilla Buttercream). This was the disaster part of the day and my area of future growth. In some days to come, I will present a study on the do’s and don’ts of creaming butter and sugar. My icing turned out grainy, and I didn’t have time to correct it. But here are the sources of error that will guide my upcoming study:
The sugar. The icing calls for powdered sugar. Be careful. I bought an inexpensive variety of powdered sugar coming out of India. It didn’t feel sufficiently powdery, but it’s what I had at the time.
If your butter gets too warm, the whole process breaks down and separates – mine did.
Do you whip the butter THEN add and whip the sugar? or do you start beating the butter and sugar all at once? I’ve seen contradictory advice on the web.
Too sweet? My children were critical of the icing; said it was too sweet and that I put too much on the cake. I think the “too sweet” remark would not have materialized if the creaming of the butter had gone well. As for too much, I’ll always lather on the icing on cakes made for such – it’s my favorite part!!!
I shaved off the domed top of each cake layer so that all sides would be flat and create a better shaped cake. I used a long bread knife and it worked just fine. I made thin, pie-shaped, snacks out of the part I shaved off. The kids loved this as much or more than the cake. They ate them for snacks and took them in their lunches.
This blog has gotten too long, so this will be short. This is a great cookie, but I’ll go straight for what went wrong.
The recipe called for toasting “finely chopped toasted almonds”. Now, remember how I rushed the peanuts for the banana loaf. Well, I had an opportunity to make two mistakes with the almonds and batted 1000 on that task. First, I over-toasted the almonds. They went from golden to dull, dark brown. Then I pounded them to much – remember my peanut technique?
Next. I had an opportunity to overcook them and made good on that one too. But was it a true disaster? No. I baked about half of them the right amount (for my liking). The recipe calls for 15-18 minutes in the oven. At 15 minutes, you’ll end up with a light-colored cookie that remains moist and chewy for days. For those that go 18 (or longer?), you’ll have dark brown “lembas” pucks (Elven bread that lasts forever, a bit tough but still chewy, and satisfying if you’re really hungry). There are still two lembas pucks at home after a week.
(I didn’t get a photo of my cookies, but they looked quite like these taken by Marianne Callahan )
Here is the email I sent to my colleagues at the beginning of the school year:
On Sat, Aug 20, 2014 at 7:38 PM
I had some fun baking this weekend and made too many goodies for our family. Sooooooo……
If you arrive early tomorrow morning wanting a little something sweet with your coffee, the WL team room will have a few –
chocolate chip cookies
oatmeal peanut butter chip cookies
multigrain banana raisin muffins
The muffins didn’t belong to the Magnolia repertoire, but I hadn’t yet decided if I would follow through with my ILP (Individual Learning Plan as per American educational jargon), and I love a good muffin. I had baked the muffins for my son and some of his friends who had spent the night at our house. They complimented the muffins, but my own children said they tasted a bit “too healthy”. That’s kid jargon for “they were OK but not really all that good.” I knew the multigrain flour with seeds was going to set itself against the bananas, but I tried it anyway. My colleagues at school had a different opinion. The muffins were gone before the cookies.
Note: For muffins and breads that call for bananas, never fear to add an extra banana. Everyone will comment on how wonderfully moist it is.
WHAT I LEARNED:
1. Keep your eye on the ball. I like chocolate chip cookies that remain bendable even when fully cooled. This means shaving a minute or two off the official baking time. I allowed myself to get distracted and left one batch a bit too long. Those cookies turned a darker brown and became brittle when cool.
I am religiously following the recipes in the Magnolia book, but I still manage to do this-and-that a bit differently.
I only got about 15 cookies instead of 2-3 dozen as per the book. Why? I like a big cookie. Not super big, but something I can really get my hands on and take a big bite of. So, I used an ice-cream scoop to regularize my cookie size and to increase their volume. Perfect !
Problem? I need a different scoop or a better technique to get the dough to release. I tried spray oil on the scoop. That worked for one or two scoops, but then I needed to clean the scoop. Also, I was afraid that the oil might have altered the results. Perhaps just keep dipping the scoop in warm water?