Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wading Around in the Dessert Pool

Cooking fascinates me, and I’ve discovered that I truly enjoy the process. I’ve learned some of the basics, and I’ve even started trusting my instincts with certain recipes. Baking, however, is a different beast. It’s a precise art, and too little of one thing or too much of another can ruin an entire dish. Things can refuse to rise, rise too much, or just burn. It scares me.

With that said, I have cravings for sweets, especially during stressful times in my life. I tried my hand at baking a few times recently, and though the recipes were simple and nothing that would receive any baking awards, I was successful and decided those endeavors deserved a blog post.

First, I made sour cream-chocolate chip cookies. Why? Because I had sour cream leftover from my Mexican food adventures, and I don’t necessarily like it on its own. That left Google and me searching for a solution, and I stumbled upon this Kraft recipe.

Basics:  Combined butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar with a mixer, then added sour cream, egg, and vanilla. After blended, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt were added before folding in chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. Dropped spoonfuls on to greased baking sheets, baked at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, and cooled on wire racks.

They were delicious! I couldn’t taste the sour cream in the cookies, but they were fluffy and soft, so I assume that was its doing. I highly recommend this recipe and will be using it again!

Second, I had some bananas that were brown, which makes them inedible for me. But I’ve made banana bread in the past and searched for a recipe for my sad-looking bananas. I found a great muffin recipe in my old (falling apart, really) Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It’s the 1989 edition, so the title is a false advertising, but that’s beside the point because the recipes are still good. And the banana muffin recipe looked as good as any.

Basics:  Mixed 1 ¾ cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Added 1 egg, ½ cup milk, ¾ cup mashed bananas, and ¼ cup cooking oil, and blended with hand mixer. Folded in ½ cup chopped walnuts. Sprayed muffin pan with baking spray, filled each 2/3 full, and baked at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

The muffins were pretty tasty. They were a tad burned around the edges, but they were just cooked enough on the insides. There was nothing particularly special about the final product, except that they made good use of my bananas and it was a nice addition to my breakfast plate for the week.

Lastly, I wanted to make something quick and light for a dinner with some girlfriends, and I recently saw a recipe on television that seemed to fit the bill. One of my new favorite cooking shows is Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel, hosted by Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, and they recently made schiacciata alla fiorentina. It was basically a light orange cake, and the recipe was conveniently online with the details.

Basics:  Combined flour, sugar, baking powder, orange zest, fresh orange juice, eggs, milk, and vegetable oil. Beat with hand mixer until blended, poured batter into a buttered 9 x 13 baking dish. Baked at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, cooled for 30 minutes, and topped with powdered sugar.

I loved this cake! It was super light and moist, a very nice addition to a meal without being too filling. The orange zest and juice made it very tasty, and it came out perfectly, without burned edges or any unevenness. I very much recommend this dessert for a get-together, as it’s especially refreshing after a heavy meal.

I don’t anticipate trying any complicated desserts anytime soon, but making some simple recipes that weren’t disasters made me a little more comfortable with the dessert genre. While I still prefer to pick something up at the bakery, there may be room in my culinary world for a little dessert now and then.

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