Friday, January 8, 2016

2016 Bake #1: Banana Bread

I love banana bread so it's a good choice for bake number one.  My only real baking experience is the two muffins I made last month and pancakes and waffles.

The players of the recipe. The beer is for me, not the bread.
The recipe source is Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For More Food. This will likely be the source used for most of the recipes this year. What I love about the book is Alton's focus on teaching you the "methods"of baking. Banana Bread follows his "muffin method" so it really wasn't much different from making muffins.

Everything combined into 4 bowls, ready for the final mix!
As far as the ingredients go, the recipe called for "almond extract" which I've never used before but we had on hand already. I was excited to see what it would add to the final properties. The recipe also called for a relatively small amount of oat flour in addition to the all-purpose flour. Alton never explains the purpose of the oat flour so I'm not sure if it helps keep it together, adds flavor, or what. For the first time I bake each recipe, I think I will try to stay as true to the recipe as possible. I checked my pantry and no oat flour... and no sugar! So a trip to the store was in order...

Turns out oat flour is expensive for a product that I'm not sure how much use it is going to get in my pantry. I decided to buy rolled oats since we are more likely to use rolled oats than oat flour and I gave them a spin through the food processor.

The final product tastes pretty good and it looks decent enough. I'm actually quite happy with it. It tastes like banana bread, doesn't fall apart, has a nice crust, and it's moist inside. So overall I think I did alright.

Below are my notes on the bake. I don't think any of them are major and some may not matter at all.

  • I may have over-mixed. I try really hard not to over mix and it's easily the part of baking I struggle with the most.
  • I'm not sure how high it should have risen. I feel like it didn't rise enough. This may be a result of over mixing. If you look at the profile the bottom seems dense and the top is more of what I was expecting with the pockets. Overall it's not bad and it's not dense either. 
  • Not enough banana. I mean it's there and you can taste it but I need more bananas. We had 3 overripe bananas but I guess they were a little on the small side. So I need to be more aware of that for future bakes. The recipe said 3-4 bananas, and 3 small ones do not cut it.
  • The almond extract is very strong. It tastes good but I don't think it's balanced well. Maybe if I had more bananas this wouldn't be an issue, I can't say for sure. It could also be the brand I used. I may dial it down a tad next time.
  • Like I wrote above, I'm not entirely sure what the oat flour does. I don't think it adds flavor. How could it? I just taste almond :). Maybe it helps add structure? I guess I won't really know until I omit it next time.
  • Baking said 50-60 minutes or until it reaches 210F. I checked it at 50 and it was 192F, at 55 it was 197, and at 60 it had reached 202F, but the outside was getting a little dark and a toothpick came out clean so I yanked it. Not sure if that had any effect on the final product. I do think the crust on it is fantastic and nice and crunchy, so I don't think I over baked it.

Breakfast this morning
I really enjoyed the process and I like the final product enough to keep eating it. I like having a good bread or muffin with my coffee in the mornings.

I'd bake it again perhaps with small modifications and compare.

On to the next bake!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Here we go again?

This blog is a shrine to failed projects.

My wife and I have always been into "food" shows and we have also enjoyed the occasional reality show. We like reality shows that seem less interested in creating drama and more interested in awarding contestant skill. So food reality shows are an easy watch for us. In fact food shows have fueled our enjoyment of cooking and provided us with a library of books by Jamie Oliver, Alton Brown, etc.

Last year we started watching a baking reality show. Nearly every single item produced in the show is something I wished I could eat. I love breads and pastries, but baking is something I've never really done unless you count store bought cookies that come in a tube that you just lay out on a sheet.

Baking has always scared me because it seemed like it was hard to get right, hard to be consistent with, and hard to play around with without screwing up the formula.

Then I thought about it some more.

When I cook, I use as much precision as possible and try to keep the fewest amount of new variables every time I do it. I weigh all my ingredients and I use a laser thermometer to make sure my pancakes cook at exactly 350F on a gas stove. Hell, I right now I even weigh my coffee and water every morning. In grams. The more I thought about this, the more baking seemed to make sense for me. In fact baking might even be more up my alley than regular cooking. It seems like baking rewards precision. I like precision.

I might be wrong. I might hate baking... but I want to try it.

So the natural place to start was Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For More Food, a sequel to I'm Just Here For The Food. I've read the first book, but I've never cracked open the second one. My wife even forgot we owned it. I think we just bought it for completion purposes. Why did I never read it? Because it is entirely about baking.

I've made the first recipe from Alton's book: Old Fashioned Muffins. I've made them twice actually. They were not without their flaws, but they proved to me that I think I can do this. Looking at what to cook next I decided it would be fun to try a new bake every week. It just happened to be the end of 2015 so I had the idea of trying to do 52 bakes this year.

It was suggested that I blog about them. Except that...

This blog is a shrine to failed projects.

This blog is likely to stay a shrine to failed projects and this one may fail too. Oh well. I don't give a shit. :)

Here are the rules:
1- I'm not going to confine myself to rules or set myself up for failure. If this turns into only 51 bakes, oh well. Oops! I'd rather keep baking than feel like I messed up my challenge to myself.

So we'll try it out and see where it goes. Ready, set, bake!