Someone should make me write: "I must not bake," a thousand times. Because when I bake, I eat. And since I (usually) only bake what I love, this is a real dilemma: how to bake without ending up looking like the Pillsbury dough boy.
Yesterday I took my 6 really, really ripe, half-way to black bananas (for maximum sweetness according to the recipe), and made Ultimate Banana Bread from Cook's Illustrated Magazine, July/August 2010. I have to say, it was good. And, I took the result to work today - no tempting leftovers calling my name.
|Ultimate Banana Bread served in the lovely ambiance of our staff room.|
Using any of the publications from Chris Kimball's America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated Magazine empire almost invariably produces a good result because of several things. First, they test exhaustively, second, they search for the absolute best flavor, and last, they provide meticulous directions.
Check out Baking Illustrated (all of the books in this blog are available in our Library). Some of our family's faves: cream biscuits and buttermilk biscuits, shortbread, pizza dough, pies - blueberry, peach and pumpkin, layer cakes - yellow, coconut and chocolate. Unfailingly delicious.
Besides coming out with a great product, what you find with these recipes, is that you are learning great technique along the way. Technique which you can then generalize to other, not so perfect recipes. So you can cook from an ordinary recipe in a women's magazine and you can "correct" gaps, and use techniques so that you can get a better result than you would have by just following the recipe as stated. An education in a book.
I love reliable cookbooks because certainty in cooking can be very comforting: you put in the work, you follow the directions, and you're rewarded with a positive result. Would that everything in life were that straightforward!
Other library cookbooks I know and love are The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible, and Ann Byrn's The Cake Mix Doctor.
ATK's Family Baking Book is similar to Baking Illustrated, but with many more recipes and less background info.
The Cake Bible is like a graduate course in baking: in fact Beranbaum has a PhD in food science, and wrote her dissertation on cake baking. Wondrous recipes, accessible if you have the time and patience, as well as a well appointed kitchen. Without exception all the recipes I have tried work perfectly, from the Cordon Rose Cream Cheesecake, to the homemade Classic Rolled Fondant for a wedding cake. This is the cookbook to turn to if you want to be creative and to impress.
At the other end of the difficulty spectrum is The Cake Mix Doctor. These recipes utilize cake mixes with various add-ins to make above average, and foolproof cakes with little time investment. Have tried many of these, notably the Chocolate Praline Cake, and Tennessee Jam Cake; just stay away from any of the bars or aptly named gooey cakes.
As Bryn rightly states, you can get away with a cake mix, but don't even try to use premade frosting. Just not worth the calories or effort.
Hope you make it to the Library before the coming hurricane to pick up some cookbooks...and hope we have power so that we can bake and cook to our heart's content during the impending rough weather!