I can't remember when or how I stumbled upon the blog Orangette, but I do recall the many evenings (years ago) that I spent huddled in front of the white screen reading and clicking, reading and clicking. I hunched at the kitchen table, lounged on the couch, and sat up in bed with my laptop warming my lap and read until every archived post had its run through the wiring in my head.
Molly is a great writer. It's no surprise then that she's recently published her first book, with Simon & Schuster no less. I've been eagerly anticipating the arrival of my hardcover copy since I pre-ordered it on Amazon months ago (yeah, I've been called nerdy before. I don't care.). It's a fascinating study reading a book by a writer who's already divulged so many personal stories on the web for anonymous readers. I've oohed and ahhed over scenes and dishes from her wedding and dinner parties with friends, and of course my kitchen has seen more than its fair share of her recipes. Her preparations are among my favorites. As with the book I mentioned earlier this week, Molly's are simple recipes using fresh, flavorful ingredients in both traditional and unusual ways.
This guy posted a good review of Molly's book and that's not what I'm looking to do here. It wouldn't be a fair review anyway because I like her so much, at least I like what she's shared with the world on her site. I will say that I always think it's a good sign when an author's acknowledgments run a few pages long. Molly's is 3 full pages. (I also like when an author thanks the publishing staff who worked on his or her book, especially the production editor since that's the seat I sit in and it's a mostly thankless job despite the fact that we take a list of raw Word documents and run it through all the stages to produce a real, live book in a matter of months. But I won't go there. Oops, I guess I already did.)
Tonight I finished A Homemade Life and celebrated Orangette's success by making a few recipes from the book. Truth be told, I'm sure I'll be making every recipe in the book at some point (excited, Jeff?) -- they all sound SO GOOD.
Tonight I started with Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger. Here are its few ingredients, minus the ginger, which I neglected to include in the class photograph. I love when I can make a recipe from things I have in my fridge and cupboard, it makes me feel so efficient! Or homemaker-ish, something like that.
I could totally relate to some of the personality traits Molly describes to characterize herself. I, too, appreciate order and can be a bit meticulous at times. I don't know if Molly has ever done this, but sometimes when measuring baking soda, I'll use the 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon and dunk it 3 times rather than guesstimate by filling the 1 teaspoon measuring spoon 3/4 of the way full. Again, nerdy, I know it. But it's baking soda and in my defense, I most definitely wouldn't do that to measure the semisweet chocolate chips. I know which side of the measure to err on with something as crucial as chocolate. However, I think I'm going to stop using that too-cautious method -- tonight I realized too late that I'd used the 1/2 teaspoon to scoop the baking soda 3 times instead of the 1/4 teaspoon. Have you ever known someone to be both anal and careless? Snowflakes, each and every one of us.
Well, some people may have dumped the dry ingredients then and there, but I hate to waste. Plus, I'd just poured in 3/4 cup of my coveted vanilla sugar (sugar jar with a used vanilla bean buried within, a tip from Ina!) and I'd be damned before I tossed anything that smelled that good in the garbage. And after all, there's nothing like wasting more ingredients and disappointing drooling roommates if the whole thing ended up as a flop. Like a few years back when I was excitedly preparing snacks for an Oscar party and left the eggs out of not one, but two recipes -- gougères (coincidentally, Molly has a recipe for these in the May Bon Appétit) and chocolate cupcakes. I actually tried to stir the egg into the batter of each individual cupcake as it idly sat in its muffin tin crater. Do I have to tell you that this didn't work? Anyway, I just bank on positivity (don't laugh, Jeff!) -- I don't doubt for a minute that the dish will be a success and usually things work out just fine.
Here's the crystallized ginger, sticking mercilessly to my knife, but at least it's somewhat finely chopped. I first attacked it with my knife, then thought I'd smarten up and toss it in my handheld Braun wondergadget. I used to consider this thing a power tool, but I might have to remove its title. The ginger spun around for a few seconds, then the machine buzzed and protested. It had accomplished nothing. I hacked away once again with my knife and what you see is what I got.
And here's a quick little comparison for ya: farm fresh egg from friends Raheli and Jim's chickens on the left, industrial organic egg on the right. Not only the amazing color difference in the yolk, but the fact that the farm fresh yolk stayed perfectly compact while the industrial organic yolk splattered right away illustrates which egg is fresher. Little show off.
I laughed when I read Molly's account of tweaking a recipe for the first time. She used some instant oats instead of old-fashioned and subbed dark brown sugar for light brown sugar. I, too, just like to follow recipes, but lately have found myself slowly snaking through them, changing things here and there.
I barely tweaked this one, but I'll give you my version below. As you can see, I added some unsweetened coconut flakes and big chunks of demerara sugar crystals to the top of my batter before baking and this produced a gorgeous crackly topping. I figured with all of that extra baking soda a bit more flavor and sugar couldn't hurt. It turns out it wasn't too much baking soda after all -- in fact, the bread rose to such a magnificent height that I'm going to input my error in my adapted recipe below! Don't be scared: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. -Charles Darwin
Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger and a Toasted Coconut Crust
(from Molly Wizenberg, with minor modifications)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar (vanilla sugar, if you have it)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs (or 3 medium, which is what I had), lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (from 4 medium-sized bananas)
1/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tablespoon demerara sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a standard-sized loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and ginger, mix well to combine.
In a medium bowl, add the lightly beaten eggs, mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. Pour wet ingredients into flour mixture and gently fold in with a rubber spatula until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be thick and lumpy. Pour into prepared pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with coconut and demerara sugar.
Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 minutes should suffice. If the top seems to be browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil. I tented mine for the last 10 or so minutes of baking time. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then let cool completely on rack, after cutting off a corner chunk to taste test, of course.