Behind the Apron
By Mary McCune
Hello everyone! I’m Mary, a Sacramento native juggling an 11-hour work and school day, who until recently couldn’t even boil water. For nearly fifteen years I was banned from bringing homemade dishes to family events. Recently however, all that has changed. I have slowly become intimately engaged with a battlefield of my own making: the fog of flour, the smell of burnt batter in the morning, and pans spitting fiery shells of oil in every direction like the bombs of a high altitude war plane. In other words, what you may know as “the kitchen”.
Once I started to make edible fare, I was faced with another challenge: proving to my friends and family that I was a changed woman. Using pictures as proof of my culinary transformation, my loved ones reluctantly began taste-testing my creations and were surprisingly pleased with the results. From there I started seeing empty plates as blank canvases, craving to display new sweet masterpieces. As soon as I put down the whisk, I would rush to pick up the camera – eventually stumbling into love with food photography. Between finding a great way to procrastinate and satisfying my childhood dream of eating dessert for breakfast, I was hooked on cooking (but mostly baking).
A Taste of What’s to Come
Once a month I will be dishing out recipes for you to try in the comfort of your own home. I’ll introduce you to a variety of foods and breakdown even the most daunting of sweet treats and quick eats. I will use Sacramento as my shopping cart, scouring farmer’s markets and the Co-Op for fun, local ingredients. I’ll leave nothing off the table.
But before I start testing out new recipes, here are a couple of my favorites (so far) to get you through the holiday potluck season:
Spicy Chai Banana Bread
I came across this recipe when I forgot I bought bananas during a failed health cleanse phase I went through a couple of weeks ago. Thinking I would be eating fruit for breakfast, but instead scrambling to doctor up my coffee before rushing out the door to work each morning, I ended up with a bunch of bananas on the verge of becoming compost. In order to protect my investment, I hurried to find a recipe that strayed from the ordinary and incorporated one of my favorite seasonal flavors – chai!
Difficulty Level: Easy like Sunday morning
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 60-65 minutes
Perfect for: Potlucks/becoming popular around the office
Also try: Spreading on some cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with cinnamon
- 3-4 whole ripe bananas, mashed
- 1/3 cup yogurt (fat free)
- 5 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 + 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons powdered chai extract (I used Spicy Chai Mix from Trader Joe’s)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°.
Add banana, yogurt, butter, and eggs to a large mixing bowl and beat with a mixer on medium speed just until blended. Add sugars and beat on medium just until blended.
In a separate bowl whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, spice chai extract together. Add to banana mixture and beat just until blended.
Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and pour mixture in.
Bake at 350° for 60-65 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on wire rack. Remove from pan and cool completely before serving.
Recipe adapted from Cinnamon-Spice & Everything Nice.
When I worked as a barista at a coffee shop for a short stint while studying at Sac State, I became obsessed with these little French cookies with cake-like consistency. All I knew about Madeleines were that they were French and looked fancy. At the time, I would never dare to recreate these soft slices of heaven from scratch. Several years later, I invested in a Madeleine tine and cleared an entire afternoon to mastering how to bake this buttery bliss.
Turns out, this recipe is unbelievably simple; it took me under 30 minutes and a little over a handful of ingredients to prep and bake a batch of French delicacies! In less time than it would take to watch an episode of House of Cards, you will end up with a batch of cookies that make the perfect afternoon snack at the office or as sweet gifts during the holidays.
Nota Bene (Note Well): Timing is everything, especially when baking with such shallow pans. One time I left the cookies in the oven for 9 ½ minutes (1 ½ minutes over the suggested baking time) and everything was ruined. It was only then that I learned what sorrow and disappointment tasted like. Every oven is different, so be sure to watch your cookies like a hawk!
Difficulty Level: Easy
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 8 minutes…but keep an eye on those cookies around minute 7
Perfect for: Tea parties while watching Downton Abbey, gifting to your Francophile friends
Also try: Dipping the cookies in melted chocolate to make your friends’ jaws really drop
2 large eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup almond flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting, optional)
For coating molds: brush on mixture that is 2 parts melted butter, 1 part flour
Special equipment: two 12-mold madeleine pans (24 molds total) or mini- or regular-muffin pans
Preheat the oven to 350°. Brush madeleine pans with coating concoction and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream together the eggs and granulated sugar on high speed until the mixture thickens and develops a light pale color, 3 to 4 minutes.
Beat in the almond extract, almond meal, salt and baking powder. Turn the mixer down to low speed and slowly pour in the melted butter. Mix until everything is incorporated, but don’t over mix.
Divide the batter evenly between the molds in the prepared pans. Batter should be flush with the mold.
Bake until lightly golden around the edges, about 8 minutes.
Let the Madeleines cool for about 2 minutes in the pan, and then invert them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar if desired.
Recipe adapted from The Cooking Channel.