Thursday, May 30, 2019

What Baking Can Do (Thank you, Sara Bareilles)

Sugar, butter, flour

I love theatre. Especially musical theatre. A good musical score can impress dialogue, deepen plot and expand character in remarkably thoughtful and provocative ways. The music – the lyric coupled with melody, harmony, and whatever orchestration the composer imagines - communicates the intangible, what might otherwise be left unknowable. It conveys not just art, but the essence of our humanity. Songs reach into the core of our being.

At least that’s what Sara Bareilles' song What Baking Can Do from the 2015 musical Waitress does to me. It smacks me in my soul. I know this song. I know Jenna, the character who sings this song, even though our lives our dramatically different. I can feel her disappointments, her vulnerabilities, her strengths, and the redemption that she finds in baking. This one song reminds me how pouring myself into a creative endeavor can connect us with what’s real and open new worlds to us even as old worlds close and the new ones seem so far beyond our reach.

Perhaps I’m drawn to this song because I get baking. Yeah, I get baking. It’s a lot like music: sugar, butter, flour – follow the instructions, add a bit of imagination…and poof, magic. Sure, the result might be garbage. It might be boring ("just" chocolate chip cookies). But, there is a pretty good chance you’ll hit the yum jackpot and bring a smile to someone’s face.

Make it work; make it easy. Make it clever, craft it into pieces…Even doubt can be delicious, and it washes off of all the dishes. When it’s done, I can smile; it’s on someone else’s plate for awhile.

Baking is an art form in which to get lost. Unlike Jenna, I didn’t learn to bake from my mom. That is not something she and I bonded over. But, my love of baking did come through her line. I learned to follow a recipe from my Grandmom Adele, and I learned the fun of veering off course from it (of braking the rules) from my mom’s BFF, known to me my entire life as Aunt Helene. It was in her kitchen where I learned to separate an egg by letting the egg white slide through my fingers as the yolk remains whole (and squishy) in my palm. It was in her kitchen where I learned brown grocery bags work perfectly fine for cooling cookies. It was in her kitchen where I learned to make hand cookies with left over roll-out "Christmas" cookie dough and how to change up a cheese pie on the fly. In both of their kitchens, I found a place to escape.

Sugar, butter, flour. Isn’t it amazing what baking can do.

Baking, like music, has never intimidated me. Oddly, other kinds of cooking does. I know. I’m a bit of an anomaly on this one. Most cooks fear baking.  Not me, I fear cooking a roast. Seriously, I don’t even know what cut of meat to buy let alone what kind of flavors to add; but a cake, muffin, or cookie project? I’m all in. Ready to make it my own. Maybe it’s the eager-to-please, make-folks-happy impulse embedded within me. I mean who doesn’t like dessert?

So, here’s a little dessert for reading my musings. It’s a recipe I adapted recently from one of my very first cookbooks, a Sunset Cookbook purchased at a local  Five & Dime type of store when I was in high school. I can't remember the store, but I can still visualize the rack of soft back books. Were they all cookbooks? I don't recall, but I remember choosing this book. The original recipe was for a super-rich Zucchini-Chocolate Cake with vanilla glaze. It is to this day the only recipe I have ever made from that cookbook. The cookbook still sits on my shelf with the pages of its main dishes entirely unexplored. Upon purchase, I went directly to the cakes, found this crowd pleaser and stuck with it. This year, I decided to bring the recipe into the 21st century and turn it into less rich dessert and more daily treat.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

 Rho’s Gluten & Dairy-Free Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the following dry ingredients in a large bowl & then set aside:
1 ½ cup Almond flour
½ cup Coconut flour
½ cup Quinoa flour
½-3/4 tsp. Xanthan gum (fyi -this is not found in the gum section of the market, it is a needed ingredient when using non-gluten flours. Look for it in the natural foods section).
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
¾ cup cocoa

Cream the following on medium speed of a mixer:
¾ cup "butter" (I use Earth Balance Vegan Sticks)
1 cup Coconut sugar
1 cup cane sugar

Add to creamed butter and sugars & blend well:
3 eggs
2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 tsp. GOOD vanilla (seriously, get the good stuff!)
2 cups grated zucchini (I use unpeeled zucchini. I grate it and then let sit over a strainer for a bit so it's not too wet)

With mixer on low speed add dry ingredients and
½ cup coconut or almond milk - Alternately (1/3 dry ingredients, a bit of milk, etc.)
Stir in:
1 cup mini-dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Scoop into muffin molds (an ice cream scoop works great and keeps muffins uniformly sized) and top with coarsely chopped walnuts. I use about 1 cup of walnuts chopped into halves and quarters.

Bake @ 350 degrees for ~ 25 mins
Makes 22-24 depending on how full you fill the muffin molds.

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