Posts Tagged ‘Baking’

Blackberry Bread, Good and Simple

April 2nd, 2017 by camdenmotel

 

By Katja

If you have to bake something, but would rather get lost on facebook, watch Netflix, or take a nap, this simple Blackberry bread might be just the thing. Ok, so most people don’t have to bake. If they do, they’re probably pastry chefs or professional bakers who would laugh at the idea of making a simple blackberry bread. But maybe you promised to bring something to a brunch, or have a bunch of hungry teenagers and two loaves of baked goods should always be around. Or maybe you need to do something with a bucket of blackberries you went through the trouble of picking. Whatever the reason, this bread will get you out of the kitchen in no time, and back on the couch where you belong.image

I loved baking when I was a teenager growing up in Germany. I would get cookbooks from the library, peruse them in the evenings when the family hung out watching TV, and hand copy recipes I liked into notebooks. My mom still has some of these notebooks. She doesn’t seem to have the heart to throw them out, even though she wasn’t enthused about the excessive hours I spent on unnecessary kitchen and food activities like baking and cookbooks.

At first she was glad that my sister and I showed an interest in making things for family “kaffeeklatsch” get-togethers. But it soon became apparent that we seemed to be wasting any emerging pastry chef talent on crazy creations guests only tasted out of politeness. When everyone would’ve just preferred a regular German apple or cheesecake (the latter made with “quark,” not cream cheese), we would experiment with coca cola cake from a Betty Crocker cookbook, Milky Way bars, or chocolate cheesecake made the American way. (Clearly, we didn’t do a good job selling American cuisine to the older German generation). More often than not, we carted these concoctions off to our own parties and get-togethers. Unlike unappreciative family with limited local tastes, our friends’ teenage appetites were willing to devour whatever we set in front of them.

My baking obsession came to an eventual halt, to be revived only sporadically  for Christmas, potlucks, or for students at semester’s end (usually for the day they had to fill out evaluation forms:)). Otherwise, there just wasn’t enough of a reason to bake, and not enough people to bake for. Who would eat all that stuff? Well, now that we have an inn, and therefore guests who eat stuff, I’m back in the baking habit.  And I still like to try new recipes, only I have to be a bit more careful than I was in high school. I don’t think coca cola cake would go over well during a Towne Motel breakfast – although you’d be surprised at the kinds of things people eat on vacation that they never would otherwise. (Stay tuned for a post on peanut butter chocolate chip and similar heavy duty pound cakes).

Unlike (I assume) most other innkeepers, I rarely decide until the day before or the day itself what I want to make – it all depends on so many factors. I just thought I’d mention that in case the next paragraphs make you wonder how I could be so unorganized about a daily task. Maybe I just go along with the unpredictable nature of inn-keeping, or maybe I’m indecisive; whatever it is, it just doesn’t seem fun to have a baking schedule laid out for the whole week. Especially because a schedule can’t predict the most exhausting days of the week – the days when you’d rather put up your feet than stand on them to bake.

In July and August, we have lots of such crazy busy days – days when we’re simply unable to try a new recipe or adapt an old one in newly creative ways. Anything that involves yeast – out of the question. A recipe that calls for four cups of apples to peel and dice? No dice. Not even recipes with simple fillings or toppings or streusel look tempting on such days. (Well, except for Apricot bars, but that’s just a layer of jam). Instead, just like any other innkeeper we know, we seek refuge in our tried and true, foolproof, one-bowl recipes, some of which are gifts from Jane, previous Towne Motel breakfast chef ( who clearly knew what she was doing when it came to crazy summer days).

Siobhan is usually the first to recognize a day’s limitations, maybe because her day starts and ends earlier than mine. Or maybe because she’s more realistic when it comes to time: while I might start panicking at 11 am that there won’t be enough hours in the day, or else see a day still leisurely stretching out ahead of me at 2 pm, Siobhan usually has a firm handle on the situation no later than early afternoon.

“Well, this will have to be an Apricot Bars day,” she might declare shortly after lunch, having just slashed her previous, more elaborate plan, the kind that might have involved shopping, refrigeration, layers and a glaze. At that time of day I am either in denial (do I have to bake today?? Well, I’ll think about that later), or still full of ambition and optimism: after my ocean swim, I tell myself, I will have a load of energy and can pretty much bake anything I put my mind to.

Believe it or not, that actually happens sometimes. But if it doesn’t (either the swim, or the energy), I gradually switch from a tentative plan A (the fun new recipe with excellent reviews) to a safer plan B (a good, semi complex recipe I haven’t made in a while), before finally capitulating to plan C = realism: “I better make something I know is easy, good, and foolproof,” I tell myself, “something I’ve made many times before. Such as…..hmmm…”

No, it can’t always be granola. For one thing, that seems like cheating, considering how fast and easy it is to make. But also, sometimes granola doesn’t work well with what Siobhan is making, or what we’ve made the day before (we try not to serve two selections with nuts on the same day, for example, or with oatmeal).

I ask Siobhan for advice.

“Why not make blackberry bread,” she suggests, sighing at my lack of memory and resourcefulness. “It’s fast and people love it.”

Slices of Blackberry BreadTrue, people like it, but this past summer I’ve started adjusting the recipe to one and a half times the ingredients because the loaves are not high enough when I don’t, and then the measurements are a tad more complicated (I did say this is the lazy way I think on exhausted days).

Still, she’s right. Blackberry bread is a good option for days that call for speed and simplicity: understaffed housekeeping days, 20-bag shopping days, fifteen-check-ins days, or days when an A/C breaks down after the housekeepers left and the only spare we have is too heavy to handle. (Not to mention days with the kinds of unpredictable events all innkeepers could write books about, if they had time).

 

The Recipe

What makes blackberry bread easier and yet more interesting in flavor than some of the other quick breads we make? Well, for one thing, the recipe we have is from cooks.com, one of those no frills recipe sites I described in my last blog post,https://camdenmotel.com/2016/12/07/our-cake-that-wont-last-aka-banana-pineapple-walnut-bread/ Which means, it’s a list of ingredients and a miniature paragraph of basic instructions.  Take a look:

photo (3)(The only adjustment I would highly recommend: don’t use quite as much oil; just a bit more than a cup is good enough)

I’m not saying that the shorter the recipe, the less time consuming it is to make (I’ve learned my lesson in that regard). But in this case, there is a correlation. Also important: we always have all the ingredients at hand, unlike, say, for cranberry orange bread, which usually requires a special orange buying errand in the summer. Or for strawberry rhubarb bread: we almost never have rhubarb. Could we change that? Yeah, probably… If we find space to grow our own rhubarb. Or buy a lot in May and freeze it. Or investigate the frozen rhubarb situation….

Ok, this calls for a further short digression. I just looked at the rhubarb situation online, and it’s not a pretty picture. Frozen rhubarb is expensive and not that easy to find in large quantities. To the point that a special rhubarb website has a whole page devoted to where to get frozen rhubarb:   http://www.rhubarb-central.com/buy-frozen-rhubarb-united-states-canada.html
So, if we want to make rhubarb breads and muffins all year, we better buy a lot of rhubarb in May and freeze it.blackberry

But back to blackberries. These guys are pricey when fresh, but – at least from the supplier we use – are more affordable frozen than raspberries are. Or even blueberries – go figure. Maybe it’s about size – the smaller the fruit, the more expensive? At any rate, we always have a large bag or two of frozen blackberries around, which makes blackberry bread a year round option. Also, this recipe is oil- rather than butter – based, and that’s always a minute or two faster for anyone who buys butter wholesale (Our butter comes in 1 lb packs rather than pre-apportioned sticks).

You don’t have to beat the eggs any more than just briefly by hand before mixing them in with everything else, and nothing has to be whipped to the point of fluffiness and puffiness. There’s no need to sift the dry ingredients, or to use a stand mixer – in fact, it’s better not to, since you just mix everything until combined. The one slightly more time intensive task is to halve the frozen blackberries, which I do because ours are large – but that’s optional and would be even easier to do with fresh blackberries. If you buy your walnuts in halves rather than chopped, you’ll have to do some additional chopping. But as with the berries, walnuts are pretty low maintenance when it comes to their readiness to go under the knife. If you don’t have walnuts, you could use pecans instead. Or chocolate chips, if you don’t mind the extra sweetness. Or simply, nothing!

Ok, so blackberry bread is quick for us to make, but what’s in it for the guests who eat it? It remains moist for several days, although that’s not all that unusual for oil based loaf breads. Siobhan’s lemon bread and my pumpkin bread are long term moisture retainers too, and could probably be served two days after coming out of the oven, without anyone complaining. But there is something special about the taste of this bread, which seems to come entirely from the spices, maybe in conjunction with the blackberries. Best of all, these are all common spices, which – unless you’re a baking virgin – you probably have around. If not, they’re super easy to find, even if you live in the middle of nowhere and don’t have time to wait for an Amazon delivery. Your convenience store on the corner might carry them too!

imageNow, the fact that this blackberry bread is a simple loaf pan recipe also comes with one drawback: its complete lack of pomp and circumstance. If you want to sell out first in a bake sale, or win a kids’ popularity contest, go for something else. Blackberry bread is an unassuming, modest little thing – one might even call it a bit homely. It’s smallish and darkish, no splashy contrasts like white frosting on chocolate cake, or lavish fruit and whipped cream decorations, or even just a bright standout color like lemon bread. You could put a glaze on it of course, or at least dust it with powdered sugar (or maybe a glaze and sprinkles on top of it?) – but even so, it won’t steal the show like a tray of frosted cup cakes, summery fruit tarts, or a perfectly shaped bundt cake centerpiece with glistening chocolate glaze.

With blackberry bread, you’ll have to rely on its skill of quiet persuasion. It helps to serve it on as beautiful a plate as possible, perhaps with some fresh blackberries dotting the rim. Especially if you use that powdered sugar I mentioned, and let the blackberries sit on a bed of fake snow. The rest is up to the bread itself – just let it do its job and see what happens!

 

How to Make Our “Cake that Won’t Last” – aka Banana Pineapple Walnut Bread (Plus a few words about recipe styles)

December 7th, 2016 by camdenmotel

By Katja

We’ve served the “cake that won’t last” many times, but we’ve never actually called it by its name on the breakfast board. We don’t want to brag, nor be secretive about its ingredients: after all, if people don’t know what they’re eating, they might not eat it, which in turn means it’ll be a cake that will last. We want this cake to remain a Towne Motel favorite and live up to its name – even if that name remains a secret (for anyone other than readers of this blog).

Don't try to find this on Amazon!

Don’t try to find this on Amazon!

So we usually call it banana pineapple walnut bread, or pineapple banana cake with walnuts, which is pretty much what the major flavors are. Besides sugar, of course. But sugar isn’t really a flavor, is it? And baked goods aren’t always named after their main ingredients; otherwise most would have names like, “sugar egg cake with butter and flour,” or “buttery pound cake with beaten eggs,” or maybe just BSFE cake. I guess the word “cake” or “cookies” implies these standard ingredients, just like the word “candy” implies sugar. Which raises the question, how did sugar cookies get their name? Do they have more sugar than other cookies? Is sugar the only flavor they have?

But I digress. The recipe for this banana pineapple walnut bread comes from a spiral bound Nebraska cookbook, acquired while we lived and taught there (and where we did a lot less baking than we do here). I bought it in Wayne, Nebraska, at the local B&B called Grandma Butch’s, where I stayed while looking for housing in town. (The inn closed soon thereafter, I can’t remember why. I’m pretty confident it wasn’t my fault).. A lot of recipes in the notebook sound old-fashioned – or maybe just traditionally Midwestern: Jello salads, applesauce bread, chicken and dressing casserole. A baked corn casserole with five ingredients: spaghetti, chopped onion, creamed canned corn, whole canned corn, and Velveeta. (!) “Easy Cornbread” made of equal parts Jiffy cornbread mix and Jiffy yellow cake mix. And these are all inn recipes! Homebaked, but with processed ingredients. Sort of from scratch, but not really. Most B&Bs wouldn’t be able to get away with that now, at least not in our neck of the woods…

Minimalist Recipes

The “cake that won’t last” is one of those minimalist recipes that don’t give you much information other than the list of ingredients, followed by directions that seem to have skipped a few steps. Something like, “Put in large loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.” (The latter is part of a pound cake recipe from the same cookbook. I made it; it’s great. I guess if you’ve made other pound cakes, you really don’t need more than the list of ingredients)

It would be hard to find such cut-to- the-chase recipes on popular food and baking blogs, but if you have any old cookbooks or handwritten recipes inherited from previous generations, you will know what I mean. (Online, I’ve primarily found them on cooks.com, a good no-frills recipe site) Short, to the point recipes were probably all written by housewives for housewives, most of whom could think of more exciting things to talk about than cake and casserole recipes. Women who expected their audience to know how and in which order to handle ingredients. And women who would never idealize or even fetishize baking and cooking, because it wasn’t their passion – it was their job.

My mom sends me yeast bread recipes in the minimalist category: a list of ingredients, followed by the direction, “make a yeast dough.” Nothing about the rise times and order of ingredients. Sometimes the amounts are ballpark figures (3 1/2 – 4 cups of flour), or simply a bit vague: “lemon,” it would say, or “salt” or “vanilla.” I’m expected to know the specifics, since, after all, she’s been telling me these things ever since she taught me about baking. If you make something often enough, my mom says, you make it according to “Gefuehl und Wellenschlag,”– a German expression that doesn’t make much sense once you think about it or try to translate it: “feeling and wave pounding.” Basically, it means you play it by ear and go by instinct and experience. No idea how this expression came about.

Cake that Won’t Last – The Recipe

The recipe for our banana pineapple walnut “cake that won’t last” is a bit more detailed than other minimalist recipes, but not very helpfully so. You start by beating 3 eggs, and then mixing in – in this order, supposedly – 3 cups flour, 3 cups sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 ½ tsp. vanilla – followed by 1 cup oil (not clear what kind), 2 cups diced banana, one 8 oz can pineapple (I assume crushed, but that’s not clear, nor is it clear whether it should be drained or not. I drain it), and ½ cup chopped black walnuts (regular walnuts are fine).

A Nebraska "Cake That Won't Last"

If you’ve ever tried to add 6 cups of dry stuff to 3 beaten eggs, you probably know that at best, you’ll end up with dry, sandy streusel. So I begin to mix in the wet stuff earlier, which is still a bit of a struggle because you’re supposed to do it by hand. I remind myself that I’ve made this before and it always works out, so I just keep going until it all becomes one wet, unified mess. So, if you like the feeling of seeing something work out that seemed at first impossible, this is the cake for you! It actually feels less and less impossible the more often you make it. And you’ll probably make it often – unless you’re not a baker, of course.

The unbaked cake, awaiting its transformation

The unbaked cake, awaiting its transformation

I always use a 9 by 13 baking pan for this cake, but loaf pans would probably work just as well, as long as you adjust the baking time (how, I’m not sure, but I’m sure Google can figure it out). The temp is the usual: 350 degrees. We have a note next to the recipe, from the one time Siobhan tried her hand at it: “Do NOT bake in a 9×13 pan; it took one hour and 40 minutes.” I’d take that advice with a double tablespoon of salt – that never happened to me. Maybe she got punished somehow for making one of my recipes? The directions say 40 minutes (in a jelly roll pan – which we never use, and probably don’t own), and, as far as I know, it doesn’t take any more than 60. But I just use the eyeball and cake tester method, so I don’t remember the exact time. My note next to the recipe says: “Good! Order of ingredients doesn’t seem to matter.”

The final product, minus two pieces stolen by Siobhan before I could take the picture!

The final product, minus two pieces stolen by Siobhan before I could take the picture!

There is something pretty great about one-paragraph recipes. Sure, they can be confusing for anyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing: no step by step photo instructions or fool proof explanations. No stooping down to “visual learners”: there are usually no photos at all, much less photo tutorials of how to beat egg whites or pour sugar into a bowl. But I like the fact that minimalist recipes aren’t self-absorbed and self-indulgent. Unlike most baking blog recipes, they don’t try to promote a whole website and persona along with the recipe. They don’t tell you about the author’s dog and husband and pre-blog career, much less her new kitchen gadgets or the stages of her pregnancy. They don’t come with an entourage of pop-up ads or corporate endorsements (unless they’re in a Kraft or Pillsbury cookbook, of course), and they don’t shower you with ten shiny photos of the final product barely distinguishable from each other. The little you see is what you get: a list of ingredients, and basic instructions.

Chatty Baking Blog Recipes

That said, chatty recipe blog posts have some personality and can be more fun to read, as long as they aren’t cluttered by newsletter invites and reminders from the last websites you shopped on (and they almost always are). Their authors are almost all female, usually in their thirties, and their blog personas tend to be enthusiastic, humorous, and full of creative and business energy. Many of them celebrate baking, writing, family, and the blogger’s pets, house, kitchen, garden, and local markets. Most of all, they make public what used to be mostly private and domestic: the collective traditional housewife experience, when women shared handwritten recipes, cooked and baked, and fed the results to neighbors, friends and family. These used to be everyday activities in most women’s lives; but they weren’t publicly discussed or valued, and most certainly didn’t get paid or written about. Some baking bloggers are new mothers or mothers to be, having quit their jobs at least temporarily to be with the kid(s). Blogging allows them to turn their creative passions and new home lives into something more public and fulfilling.

Successful baking blogs often create a fantasy of a busy and productive, yet largely stress-free, fulfilling home life celebrating women’s traditional creative work and community. But a successful baking blog is only partly about nostalgia; it’s almost an ideal marriage of past and present, and that might be its main appeal for female readers. Food bloggers spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and much of their daily lives resemble that of a traditional stay at home mom. But they’re not ignored, alone, and working for free, and they take on a host of other identities as well:  entrepreneur, writer, chef, photographer, teacher, webmaster – perhaps even a minor Internet sensation or soon to be cookbook author. They might see themselves as food artists, designers, and architects, multi media style – creating food, documenting their creations in words and images, photographing, facebooking, instagramming, and pinning them.

Food blogging also involves storytelling; at least two different kinds, with the recipe at the center of both.

There is written storytelling: stories and anecdotes about the recipe’s origin, what it means to its author, why it got to be on her blog, how she tweaked it to make it even better, and how it has performed at parties and holiday meals.

There is also visual storytelling – the photo story of the recipe instructions, starting with a mouthwatering shot of the final product in its glory, and followed by step by step visuals how to get there. (A bit like a movie that starts with the ending, and then goes back to the beginning with something like “Ten years earlier”). The suspense, such as there is, is about the how rather than the what. The story pretty much follows the traditional linear narrative structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion.

In drama and fiction, the exposition introduces at least parts of the setting and characters; in recipe photo stories, the setting is always a kitchen; and the “characters” are primarily the ingredients, secondarily the tools – often introduced together, as if in a group portrait.

Next is the rising action, when the “characters” are beginning to do things or having things happen to them. In the case of a pound cake, let’s say, the butter is usually the first to come on stage: relaxing and softening in the microwave, it gets ready to gyrate with the sugar in a stand mixer (almost always Kitchenaid). Then the eggs come (or are forced?) out of their shells and start mingling, one by one, with the spiraling mass on the (Kitchenaid) dance floor. Meanwhile, in another part of the kitchen, the flour and other dry ingredients get ready together before joining the rest of the party. Once everyone (including any late arrivals, such as sour cream, fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, etc) has thoroughly mingled into a batter, we get to admire its shape in a baking pan, waiting to go into the oven.

A modicum of suspense might kick in at this point – at least for anyone who forgot what the final product looks like – to be followed by the climax(es): photos of the finished product. From any angle, fresh out of the oven, released from the baking pan, glazed, iced or dusted with powdered sugar, maybe even served to someone, with tea or coffee, flowers and napkins. Some photo stories end with a half eaten piece of cake, which could  qualify as the “falling action,” (almost literally so), and /or some wrap up comments by the author – the resolution or conclusion.

Close-up, ready for encounter with taste buds

Close-up, ready for encounter with taste buds

As you can tell, these photo stories don’t have a very exciting plot. Characters don’t overcome obstacles or go through conflicts or set off on journeys to end up somewhere you never predicted. Not that baking can’t be adventurous: ingredients and tools can act unpredictably, bakers can fall asleep while their cakes are burning and shriveling in the oven (I’m speaking from experience); baking pans can refuse to release their contents, and dogs can demolish any masterpiece in a matter of seconds. Baking blog stories are different: you know that everything will turn out well. There may be some challenges along the way, like tricky timing or decorating, but in the end, ingredients are happily united, baked to perfection, and memorialized by a series of perfect photographs.

Clearly but hopefully not unfortunately, this post turned out very differently from what I had planned. I was just going to give you the recipe for our “cake that won’t last,” add some comments, and be done with it. But then I wandered off into comparisons between old-fashioned minimalist recipes and the chatty blog recipes I’ve come across in the past few years, baking for guests. And in the process this one became a very chatty post itself: more than three pages of discussion and digressions about a one paragraph recipe! Which reminds me of my ex-students, who often wondered how anyone can assign, much less write, a 3-5 page paper on a one-stanza poem. Dear reader, forgive me – it seems you can take a teacher out of academia, but a part of academia will always remain in the teacher. Which means, of course, that this lesson concludes with some homework:

Make the cake! It’s easy, it’s good, and you can call it whatever the heck you want. You won’t even get graded – except by the people you feed it to, and they will probably give you an A :).

»