Everyone’s favorite bumbling TV spy, Maxwell Smart (from the 1960s hit spoof Get Smart), had an expression he used when he messed things up – “missed by that much.” That would be an apt description of my latest kitchen bumblings. In short, it seems that I really need to focus more on focusing more (daydreaming and imagining need to be put on the proverbial back burner). To wit:
The off-the-rails journey began a few weeks ago when I was finally in the mood to bake banana bread again (everyone made so much of it during the pandemic that I’d grown tired of even hearing about it). There I was, back with a brand-new recipe I’d found that had a surprising secret ingredient (you’ll have to contact me to find out what it is – that also gives us a chance to chat and say hi. Hi.)
Thinking I’d done everything right, I couldn’t wait to taste the results. When the oven timer rang, I could see that the bread looked fully baked on the outside; for some unknown reason, though, it had risen very little (unlike a previous mishap, this time the oven was working fine). The bread passed the clean-toothpick-doneness test, so I removed it from the oven, let it cool, and then cut into it.
Not only did the banana bread resemble a brick, it cut like one too. It was hard, it was heavy, it was inordinately chewy, and it tasted way off. B.’s expression when he tried it was like a little kid’s when he learns that Santa isn’t real. The bread was not unbaked. It was, however, unappealing. Unappetizing. Unacceptable. Uh-oh.
I checked to be sure I hadn’t used baking soda instead of baking powder. Nope. Got that right. B. suggested that I check the date on the baking powder. “No,” I insisted, rolling my eyes at him, “that can’t be it.” Turning the container over, I showed it to him to prove he was wrong. He wasn’t. There it was. The baking powder was indeed six months past its expiration date. Okay. Mystery solved (one would think). The unsalvageable bread met its demise and baking powder went on my shopping list (if B. rolled his eyes, he at least had the grace to do it when I wasn’t looking).
The next day, as we passed Trader Joe’s on our morning walk, I pulled B. inside. At first, he went reluctantly because he hates shopping, but he cheered up considerably when I bribed him with one of their one-pound Belgian Milk Chocolate Bars. (If you haven’t tried those, they are the best. Don’t worry, one bar lasts us for a couple of weeks – almost. Wink wink.) Baking powder and chocolate purchased, we were homeward bound.
Once the new bread was in the oven, I threw out the old baking powder. I was just about to toss its large yellow plastic box with blue lid (the label had fallen off at some point in the past) into the recycling bin when I realized what was wrong. Any baking powder I’ve ever purchased has come in a small can, including the one I’d bought that morning. This container was an imposter. Although it was not labeled, I’d always recognized it by its yellow color. What I’d missed the previous day, though, was that it was not – and never had been – baking powder. In a flash of hindsight, I realized that I had tried to bake my banana bread using corn starch. Corn starch. Not used for rising. Used for thickening. For densifying. For crying out loud. Missed by that much.
The cookies didn’t come out exactly right. They were a bit too chewy (again with the chewiness?) and much, much too sweet (sweet enough to make the aforementioned chocolate bar seem tasteless). Interestingly, B. didn’t have any complaints. I think he was so delighted to have fresh-baked cookies waiting for him that he actually devoured several without even realizing something was amiss.
“Amiss” is a good word to use here because it seemed that a miss on my part was exactly what had transpired. While I was washing the measuring cups, I realized what it was. Instead of using the 1/4 cup measure for the flour and sugars, I had used the 1/3 cup. (And I had been so good in fractions when we learned them in grade school.) That resulted in a little bit more flour in the cookies (everyone knows that baking, unlike cooking, is a lesson in chemistry, and that even a fraction off can make a difference) and a whopping 1/2 cup extra of the combined sugars. Missed by that much more.
Do not ask for whom the cookie tolls.
©2023 Claudia Grossman