One of the hotels I work at had a fundraiser for Charity Walk. I offered to donate something. The night before, I baked a half sheet pan (18 x 13") of brownies.
In the morning, I was talking to my friend Paul as I drove in. In answer to the common question What are you doing today? I responded, "We're having a bake sale, so I made a half sheet of brownies and I'm bringing it in now."
Which opened more than one question, apparently. Keep in mind he was at a field trip at the zoo, chaperoning three kindergartners, so he was distracted and couldn't hear me that well.
"A what?" he said.
"Bake sale," I answered.
Pause. "Are you guys doing that badly?" he asked.
Brownies and baggies! Dude! 4/20!
"Ha ha ha. No, it's for Charity Walk," I clarified.
"What did you say you made?" he continued.
"What kind of brownies?"
"H a l f s h e e t," I enunciated over the background din of of small children.
"Oh! I thought you said hashish," he laughed.
"No! HALF SHEET," I emphasized.
Hashish brownies. Sheesh. That is an entirely different kind of bake sale.
I wouldn't be a real American if I didn't contract everything into its most monosyllabic possible combination. Case in point: Bennifer, JLo, etc.
Naturally, the logical shortening of the words "car bananas" is "car-nanas," our family's wonderfully efficient way of making fun of my latest ditziness, as detailed in the Car Bananas blog.
Carnanas: it refers to when I bought bananas and lost them in my little compact car for a week, and then couldn't figure out what the banana smell was every time I entered the car.
I know. How does this woman have a graduate degree?
Anyway, who's got the last laugh now? When life hands you overripe bananas, you make banana bread!
Here's the great recipe I used from Chef Joanne Chang's recipe book, Flour:
1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 c. + 2 T. sugar
1/2 c. canola oil
3 1/2 very ripe, medium bananas, peeled and mashed (1 1/2 c.= about 340 grams)
2 T. creme fraiche or sour cream
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. walnut halves, toasted and chopped
Makes one 9" loaf.
Put rack in center of oven, heat to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9x5" loaf pan (*though as you see in my photo, I used muffin tins and freelanced on the time!). In bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt. Set aside.
Using stand mixer with whip attachment, beat together sugar, eggs on medium speed, 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. On low speed, slowly drizzle in oil. Should take about a minute.
Add bananas, creme fraiche, vanilla. Continue to mix on low speed until combined.
Using rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and nuts until combined. Pour into pan.
Bake 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until golden brown on top and center springs back when you press it. Cool in pan on wire rack for 30 minutes, then pop it out of the pan to finish cooling.
*I'm not a pro baker but I got lucky. I watched the muffins and used the finger test, so mine were ready after 22 minutes. I also substituted 1/2 c. bittersweet baking chips 60% cacao, because I live with chocoholics. It all turned out really well!
Enjoy... thank Chef Chang when you make this... and just know that you don't have to ripen your bananas in your car for a week. You could probably just let them sit on the kitchen counter! LOL
It is a natural fit for a cake decorator wanna-be to eventually discover cake pops. My friend Joy, who went with me to cake classes, gave me a recipe book by Bakerella on how to make this trendy treat.
Naturally, Olivia was all over this. I was, too. The book made the cake lollipops look so good, I was interested in trying my hand at it.
Basically, you take a cake, crumble it up, roll it with frosting, and dip it in chocolate. It's not too hard to do. You could make all these fancy shapes, but I admit, I lose patience for the detail work.
Olivia was very excited to help me- er, correction. Olivia let me help her make the cake. I was just there to read directions and pick up heavy stuff, like the Kitchen Aid mixer.
Mixing in frosting to crumbled cake
After it was baked and cooled, she really enjoyed the crumbling process. "I'm good at destroying things. I'll do that," she said. Right she is.
She smashed the cake up into little bits and then took great pleasure in mooshing the buttercream frosting around with her little fingers. If you do this with your child, expect to be reminded every three minutes that they want to lick the beater/bowl/spoon/spatula.
By the time it came to rolling the balls, she lost interest and told me to finish up. So I rolled a sheet of balls and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up. You can put sticks to make it like a lollipop, or you can leave it alone and serve it as a ball. We did the latter.
Finally, I had some semi-sweet chocolate chips lying around and some extremely hot chili-chocolate that came from a speciality store in Portland. I cannot eat it. Nobody I know can eat it, even people who said they were accustomed to "very hot" spice. (I don't know true chili-heads.) I decided to use it up by mixing tiny amounts in with regular chocolate, so the chocolate in my cake balls was ultimately a tiny bit hot, but perfect for all the adults who tried it.
I let Olivia dip the balls into the melted chocolate, which was great fun for her. While the chocolate hardened in the refrigerator, Olivia enjoyed licking the spoon and bowl. She complained initially of the chili heat, but said she could tolerate it enough to finish cleaning the bowl of chocolate residue. When it was all clean, she downed two glasses of cold water in quick succession. That is what I call a trooper.
It was decent fun to make and tasty to eat, but I'm not sure I'm going to make this too often. It's a great way to use up cake scraps from actual cake projects, but I personally am not interested in baking a cake just for this, only to rip it all apart.
This is an ode to my favorite ice cream, mint chocolate chip. I love coffee, green tea, dulce de leche too - actually I hardly ever turn down any flavor. I like ice cream.
When I eat at fancy restaurants that hire their own pastry chef, I still like to order ice cream for dessert. So simple.
But mint chocolate chip: there's something wonderful about the light mint flavor, the chocolate, and most importantly, the color.
I've had this conversation many times over the years with other mint chocolate chip aficinados, so I'll ask it here to the wider group: does the color matter to you? It really is just coloring (right?) so why does my brain say it has to be that certain light green color to be perfect?
When I was five (or so), my earliest memory of eating ice cream was when my beloved grandfather bought me a sugar cone of mint chip from the Baskin Robbins store at Kamehameha Shopping Center. I remember dropping the scoop on the ground and feeling devastated. I hadn't even taken a lick! I remember the clerk kindly replacing it for free, and I was so incredibly happy.
Maybe it's my favorite flavor because I associate it with such a nice memory. In fact, I think the best mint flavor and texture is from Baskin Robbins. I love the lightness of their chocolate flecks, and the touch of mint that isn't too overpowering to the senses.
I always try a new brand of mint chip when I see it in the grocery store. I do not like the white ones. I actually think the white ice creams have too strong of a mint flavor. I also don't like when the chocolate flakes are too thick. Some brands make their ice cream too dark green.
I found one personality test online about what your flavor preferences say about you. For Mint Chocolate Chip: "If you indulge in Mint Chocolate Chip, you tend to be ambitious and confident yet skeptical about life. You prepare for the future, needing a plan to feel secure. While your stubbornness is a business asset, it can add challenges to your relationships. Even so, your loyalty, honesty and dependability create lasting friendships and close family ties."
Here's another test: "Mint chocolate chip: You are a survivalist! You are a rationalist who is more likely to keep a full stock of tinned foods before an inevitable heavy snow storm. This means you prepare and plan ahead for the future, feeling secure only after coming up with a solid realistic plan. You are mostly truthful, trusting, loyal and dependable which gives you a long lasting and ever-binding bond with your friends and family. On the other hand, you are a bit stubborn in relationships though you enjoy close family ties. Ideal partner: You are most compatible with other mint chocolate chip lovers!"
A so-so reading, but silly fun. I can tell you that Claus doesn't care for mint chip, but we're still very compatible!
So - if you like mint chocolate chip, do you agree with my ice cream analysis? And if you don't like mint chip, what is your favorite flavor?
Boston pastry chef Joanne Chang is a fantastic baker. Most diehard foodies know that. Chang is certainly on her way to becoming a household name; a rising star in the pantheon of celebrity chefs.
But what I think she's better at is selling a dream. My dream is to be a great baker. I had the fortune of watching her do a pastry demonstration for a ballroom of 120 people last weekend at my hotel. She was amazing.
Her culinary knowledge was vast, her stage presence was magnetic, and her public speaking skills were friendly and comfortable. She made it feel like it was just she and I at her kitchen at home. This had the effect of sucking me in to her presentation, and as I sat there, I felt like I, too, could make brioche!
My regular readers know I spent seven months taking cake decorating classes (thanks for coming on that journey with me.) That doesn't mean I'm a good baker. I'm a decent home cook, but baking- the preciseness of it evades me.
Diane and Joanne Chang
Yet, here I was watching her knead dough and explain how yeast "farts and burps" to magically expand things and make it all yummier, and I felt inspired! Maybe I could quit my job and bake my way through her Flour cookbook while my kid is at school! Maybe it is as easy as she promises! Joanne Chang, you make me want to be a housewife again!
During her time here, my job required that I (happily) interact with her. I asked for tips on how I might improve my skills. "Get your mise en place together before you start. Mise en place is 'everything in its place' in French. You look at the recipe and read it through, measure the ingredients, put them in little cups, and if you do that, then it really is step by step."
Chang continued, "Also, if you read the recipe from start to finish, that’s a big step up that you have over a lot of people. You look at the recipe and look at the ingredients and say, I’m going to do this. And then midway through they realize they don’t have half the ingredients." Claus would attest that I am often one of those half-prepared cooks. I know it all sounds so basic but yes, I'm lame like that.
Chang has a new cookbook that just made it to the printer last Friday. Flour Too will be available in early 2013. She describes how it came to be: "The book is the continuation of this book (Flour) which is all the savory things we do at the bakery. We do sandwiches, soups, salads, dinner specials, a lot of party desserts, things for special events. I thought this book contained everything. As soon as it came out people started emailing asking, Where this and that recipe? We originally had a savory portion in this book but it got too long so when it came to cutting I said we’ll cut the savory part because it’s a baking book. We don’t need the savory part. It was good because it led to the second book."
The more I learn about this James Beard Award nominee, the more I find her career path to be a study in contradictions. First, there's the radial change from a very left-brained mathematics field, to the very right-brained creative world of food.
An honors graduate of Harvard University, Chang majored in Applied Mathematics and Economics and took a job straight out of college as a management consultant. "Two years in, I thought to myself, I don’t want to be doing this when I grow up. I decided to take a year off and go into cooking, which I loved at home. It wasn’t meant to be long term."
Luckily for pastry lovers, it was. "Once I got into a professional kitchen I was hooked, I loved it. I blinked and it was five years later and I was still cooking and I hadn’t planned it. I moved from job to job based on how much I was able to learn at my current job. There’s a fair amount of moving around that’s expected when you’re young."
Then, she says, "I thought, I don’t know who I want to work for anymore and I don’t know if I want to keep working for somebody. So maybe I’ll think about opening a bakery. If I’m learning, having fun, I’ll stick with it. That’s what kept me going." Her Boston-based bakery expanded to three locations. She also manages a restaurant, Myers+Chang, with her husband Christopher Myers.
Secondly, there's her very Asian upbringing, which did not expose her to many overly-sweet American treats when she was young. "A lot of people say our pastries are not super sweet, which comes from my background of not eating dessert growing up. I didn’t have opportunities to eat it because we had oranges at the end of dinner. My palate isn’t attuned to super sweet things," reflects Chang, a second-generation Taiwanese whose parents emigrated to Texas for graduate school and met each other in America.
"I grew up eating Chinese food until I was 18," she says. She's not even crazy about cheese. “That’s a very funny taste. It’s not something I grew up with."
So back to the demo. Chang explained in simple but not condescending language how to make her famous sticky buns, a gooey, caramel-pecan-honey piece of pure goodness. These buns won Bobby Flay's Throwdown in 2007, as seen on Food Network. Then it was served as the first course of the brunch, so we could all see why.
I change my mind. I think my new dream is to have regular access to Chang's creations.
Chang's visit was made possible due to Kapiolani Community College in cooperation with the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation, funded by the Lyle S. Guslander Distinguished Visitors Program.
To see raw footage of 2 interviews with Joanne Chang, click here: