Saturday, July 4, 2020

Peanut Butter Drops: or, Peanut butter cookies from before they all looked the same

We at A Book of Cookrye are fascinated by recipes that took a while to become... er... standardized. Take, for example, peanut butter cookies. If you do a quick image search, you find that everyone's peanut butter cookies have a certain... uniformity.

There's a lot of variation to chocolate chip cookies, and even something like  In addition to everybody's near-identical cookies, you also notice a peculiar uniformity in photography style. Food photography used to vary widely-- from dramatic theatrical-looking lighting on a black backdrop, to softly-lit still-lifes with lots of figurines and other strange props surrounding the food being demonstrated, to overdressed and elaborate tablescapes. These days, it seems that everyone's food photos are converging into a very uniform look- they are all shot in very soft daylight on a neutral-colored and blurry background, and often with only an extremely small portion of the food in focus while the rest of the photograph becomes an artistic blur.
This brings us to today's recipe! Our new favorite beat-up cookbook has three recipes for peanut butter cookies: the one shown above, a recipe for orange-peanut butter cookies, and then one that looks like the ones we all make today. We found it really interesting that none of the recipes looked the same. Is there a reason that none of the other ones still get handed around like the ones we all know today do?
Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook, 1952


Peanut Butter Drop Cookies
2 c flour
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
¾ c shortening*
½ c peanut butter
1 c brown sugar
2 eggs
¼ c milk
1 tsp vanilla
¾ c raisins, chopped

Heat oven to 375°. Grease a sheet pan.
Cream shortening, sugar, peanut butter, salt, and baking powder until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add the vanilla with one of the eggs. Add the flour alternately with the milk, beating until smooth. Fold in the raisins.
Drop from a teaspoon onto the baking sheet. Flatten with a fork. Bake 7-10 minutes, or until done.

*I used butter and it was fine.

Source: recipe by Mary Salat (of Chicago, Illinois), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

First of all, we've never seen peanut butter cookies that you just plop onto the pan instead of carefully shaping one dough-ball at a time. Second, aside from a few people who stir in peanuts (or, if you're really daring, chocolate chips!), no one adds anything to peanut butter cookies. Today's recipe has a very polarizing ingredient:
Did you really think I would put raisins on a cutting board and attempt to chop them with a knife?

Yes indeed, today we are improving our peanut butter cookies with raisins! I will never get over how passionately people hate raisins in baked goods. With other things, people may say "I don't really like coconut in cakes" or "Eh, poppy seeds are okay on a bagel I guess" or (and I include myself in this one) "I honestly don't like nuts in brownies." But raisins in cookies are like pineapples on pizza. No one merely dislikes them, but they absolutely despise them and will shout about it.
But let's set those aside for a moment and move on to things everyone likes in cookies: butter and sugar!

Now, we at A Book of Cookrye are no strangers to halving or quartering recipes. When you like trying the weird and forgotten recipes that time has tried to hide from us, you soon learn to cut them down to as small a quantity as possible because you never know when you'll be blenderizing peanut butter into vegetable soup because Disney told you to.
With the perils of trying strange recipes in mind, meet our new friend in cooking: the one-eighth measuring cup. We never thought we'd use it when we first rummaged through the drawers a few recipes ago. But when you cut recipes down a lot, you will use one of these more than you ever thought you would.

At this point, our cookies looked like cake batter. Of course, drop cookies are always a bit runny (otherwise they wouldn't spread into delicious cookies but would instead bake into hardened dough clods),  but this is the first time we've seen it with peanut butter cookie dough. When we tried it, it was odd to taste peanut butter cookie dough in the form of cake batter. It's like when we were treated to a wedding-cake flavored snow cone: it's like the flavor was transplanted into somewhere it didn't belong.

Here we veered off recipe a tiny bit. See that brown flour? That means these cookies are good for you. If we're allowed to say sweet potato fries are so much healthier than French fries, then using brown flour instead of white makes these cookies a nutritional bounty. Or at least, they are as good for you as granola and muffins. (In all seriousness, I stopped bothering with granola after reading the labels. It's basically oatmeal cookies without the flour and eggs. I'd rather have a real dessert.)

I don't know what I expected, but it looked like slightly runny peanut butter cookie dough. Which I guess is what we're going for...? I've never made any peanut butter cookies besides the ones you roll into little balls and press with a fork to get those cute lines on top. This doesn't look like batter, but it doesn't look like dough either. It looks like one of those recipes where you're supposed to shape it in your hands, but you messed up somewhere and now it's just a little bit too gloppy to do anything with.

Speaking of things looking messed up, it is now time to bring forth the raisins that have been waiting patiently ever since we snipped them. Chopping raisins is one of the things that really dates this recipe- no one does that anymore.
Before you argue that I should never sully the beautiful cookies with the icky raisins, consider that peanut butter and jelly go together like... well... peanut butter and jelly. And grape jelly graces more sandwiches than any other kind. As we all know, raisins are dried grapes. Now, the two main ingredients of grape jelly are grape juice and sugar (or high-fructose corn syrup). So, we've got a crapton of sugar in the cookie dough , and we have grapes (even if they've gone a bit pruny). Combine this with the wheat flour, and you basically have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with all the ingredients rearranged a bit (and also some butter that got in there for bonus butteriness). Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are delicious, so this cannot possibly go wrong.

Also, if you're still traumatized from that one time when you were a wee tot and you thought the cookies had delicious chocolate chips until you bit one and found icky slimy raisins (a surprisingly universal experience), maybe you'll feel better after seeing that I cut these so fine you can barely see them once we've stirred things a bit.

I mean, even if this recipe's a bit weird, at least it looks like it's going according to plan. By which I mean drop cookies typically look like this unless you have one of those cute little cookie scoops. The only thing off about them (unless the raisins irk you) is the peanut butter-like shade of brown. That is not a color I am used to seeing in drop cookies.
This picture unnerves me more than it should.

Now, the recipe tells us to press them with a fork, which seemed utterly pointless when these were sticky blobs. But we tried anyway so that we could blame Mary Salat of Chicago if anything went wrong. "I followed all your directions and this happened!" You can see a few grooves incised into the little plops of dough, but not the adorable crisp lines we're all accustomed to today. Maybe we're pressing the dough with a fork because everyone knows that Peanut Butter Cookies Have Those Fork Lines Pressed On Them. It's not a snickerdoodle unless you rolled it in cinnamon, and it's not a peanut butter cookie unless you've pressed that adorable grid on top. You might think the dough needed just a little starting push to help it spread out and that it wouldn't stick to a fork the way it would have glued itself to, say, the bottom of a cup. But we really didn't get these any flatter than they were before.

Either our oven runs hot or Mrs. Mary Salat's oven ran cold. We set the timer for ten minutes just like the recipe says, and in eight minutes the delicious smell of baking that suffused the kitchen developed a distinct burnt tinge. We checked in on the oven and found that all of the cookies had that little nearly-black ring of burnt around the edges.

Maybe you don't think it looks too bad in the above photo. Maybe you think "Oh, they're just a bit toasty on the outside!" Well, here's a merciless closeup of how I have still never learned to occasionally peep through the oven window when baking.

We couldn't waste an entire batch of cookies, so we hastily trimmed off the worst and hoped for the best. While the cookies were still hot, it was as easy as cutting up brownies. But as the cookies cooled, they got a lot more brittle. We feared that even the not-burnt regions had gotten baked until too hard.

 As you can see, these cookies were nearly very cute. If we hadn't burned them, they would have been adorable little brown peanut butter confections that were shaped exactly like muffin tops. Instead they looked like someone who barely knew which end of the knife goes in your hand and which goes in your food tried to cut them up.

These cookies are interesting. Usually peanut butter cookies are really dense, but these were more light. Chopping the raisins made them kind of disappear and leave the taste behind. You couldn't detect them, but the taste was all over. Imagine if you could buy raisin extract the same way you buy vanilla. People were divided over whether the raisins were any good or not.
Also, these cookies do not go stale. They ripen. After a day or so, they got denser and were very like the peanut butter cookies we're all accustomed to. Except with raisin flavor throughout.I know a lot of you lovely people dislike raisins, but if you leave them out you'll have lovely peanut butter cookies that have just a bit lighter texture than we're used to nowadays. These actually were like a peanut butter version of the depression-era cookies we've made a time or two. My only warning is that since these are just a bit lighter, it's easy to forget how many you've eaten.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Shortbread when you're running out of butter!

Shortbread is one of those recipes that people get very protective about. Some things like brownies can undergo tremendous change (and I don't just mean stirring in wacky things like gummy bears, but fundamental recipe alterations) without people squawking "It's not a brownie anymore!" Other things like grilled cheese get a devoted fanbase that comes out angrily typing as soon as you add a slice of tomato that you've changed it into something completely different! Shortbread is the same way- stir in a half-handful of chopped prunes into an otherwise unchanged recipe and there will readily be a swarm of angry food snobs insisting that you've made something completely different. We at A Book of Cookrye wonder about those people. Is anyone really enjoying their food if they can so readily throw an angry typographical tantrum over a minor change?
Moving back to cookies, most people will insist that shortbread should start with exactly these two ingredients.

But perhaps one lacks the full recipe's allotment of butter. Here, being too much of a purist to go on means you will not get any cookies. We at A Book of Cookrye could wait for the next grocery expedition and be cookie-deprived in the meantime, or we could just dump in a puddle of oil and hope the partial stick of butter hid our subterfuge.

Butter-Scrimping Shortbread
6 tbsp butter
¼ c sugar
2 pinches salt
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp almond, lemon, or vanilla extract
1¼ c flour

Heat oven to 300°. Grease a cookie sheet.
Cream the butter, sugar, and salt until nice and light and airy. Beat in the oil and vanilla (or flavoring(s) of your choice), mix well. It should be nice and fluffy. Add the flour, gently mixing just until thoroughly blended.
Roll the dough into small-to-medium balls. Place on the cookie sheet and press to desired flatness. They will spread and thin a little bit, but not very much. You can try rolling the dough balls in sugar, but it won't stick very well. If you would like them to have a bit of sugar baked on top, sprinkle a pinch onto each cookie after you've pressed it flat and gently pat it into the dough.
Bake about 20 minutes, or until the bottom is a deep, rich golden color.

Yes, we've replaced about a quarter of the butter in Mom's cookie recipe with oil because we used part of the butter to make a batch of gravy. We weren't leery about using oil necessarily, but this particular bottle of oil has been in the pantry for a while and we couldn't tell if it was beginning to go rancid or not. But when we tried a bit of it on a tiny spoon, we did not experience that reflexive revulsion that comes from eating rancid food.

Using oil gave us one unforeseen difficulty: the butter broke up into little lumps that slipped and slid around in the oil and refused to actually mix in. It felt less like combining ingredients and more like chasing them as they dodged the spoon.

We easily fixed this by switching to a whisk and heeding the advice of Our Patron Saint of Cookrye, Fanny Cradock. We thought of someone we've never really liked but we're too well-bred to say so, and then beat everything in the bowl until it was not just well-mixed but astonishingly whipped up. Like, the butter's barely even yellow anymore, it's more of an off-white. We couldn't tell if the oil added an unnerving undertaste or if we were imagining it after worrying that we'd ruined everything by an ill-fated substitution.

We were more than a little curious how these would come out post-cooking. Would they remain a bit melty since butter re-solidifies at room temperature and oil does not? Would they taste normal? Reassuringly, the cookie dough looked just like the dough for this recipe is supposed to: like beige Play-Doh.

We didn't have the patience to clean the counter after rolling this out and cutting it into various adorable shapes. So we're going with the easier way that doesn't involve digging out a rolling pin and finding a big enough acreage of counterspace.

We weren't sure how much these would spread, and therefore did not know how much to flatten them. If we pressed them flat, would they spread like chocolate chip cookies do, leaving us with thin little patties? If we left them in balls to allow for lots of spreading, would they firmly hold their original shape and emerge from the oven as awkward-to-bite-into cookie balls? Unsure of the better option, we kinda flattened them a little bit and sent them ovenward.

It turns out that no, they don't really spread at all. You could roll them out, cut them with cute shapes, and you wouldn't have to worry about the dough melting into blobs while it baked. They did get really puffy though.
 

This was a surprisingly good success! We had feared the cookies would be greasy or otherwise sad to eat, but they were surprisingly light and delicate. They were almost indistinguishible from oil-free cookies, except they were just a tiny wee bit softer and airier when you bit into them. In conclusion, if you would like to make a treat for yourself but it's a bit tricky coming up with everything (or if you do have all the things but want to make things last longer), you can swap oil for about a fourth of the butter in a cookie recipe and things will be fine. And then you will have cookies!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Brownies!

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye desired variety in our lives! Because of the intermittent grocery shortages and general laziness, most of our suppers have been variations of the classic "Throw what's on hand into a pan and come back when it's baked" style of cooking, and decided we want dessert! Maybe in the future we'll look fondly back at this time when you had to be creative when planning meals around what was available and what was on sale, but right now we want chocolate.
Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

Chewy Brownies
¾ c butter (or margarine)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1¼ c sugar
½ c brown sugar
3 eggs, separated
4 oz unsweetened chocolate*
2 tsp vanilla
1 c flour

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 9"x13" pan. Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool.
Beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until light. Beat in the chocolate. When mixed, add the egg yolks (adding them separately prevents cooking the eggs if the chocolate wasn't cool enough) one at a time. Add the vanilla when all is mixed, beat well. Add the flour and beat until smooth.
Spread into the pan and bake 40 minutes. Cut while warm and remove from the pan after they cool.

*If desired, you can use cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate. Add an extra quarter cup of butter to the recipe (or use shortening, margarine, or cooking oil). When beating in the sugar salt and baking powder, add also ¾ c cocoa powder.

Source: Rose Sabol (of Whiting, Indiana), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

Because we haven't gone to the grocery store in a while, we had to fudge the recipe just a little bit. We already knew we were going to use cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate because it has such a long shelf life. Baking chocolate can go rancid after a few months (especially if the house isn't always kept cool), but cocoa powder can last years. It generally doesn't get the chance to demonstrate its longevity in our presence, but a can of that magical brown fairy-dust lasts through so many more creations than a box of baking chocolate squares. Ever since the Baker Company cut their chocolate boxes in half (which we are still irked about), a recipe like this would have literally used up a whole package.

We must admit we're fudging here and using margarine instead of butter, which is something we do a lot in brownies anyway. But we nearly ran into a brownie-cancelling halt: there wasn't enough margarine. We added cooking oil to make up for the deficiency. We figured it'd be fine since that's what brownie mixes use. Also, it's still mostly butter (or a decent imitation). You probably won't notice the difference once we get chocolate on it.

Rose Sabol of Whiting, Indiana seems to have put a lot of thought into this recipe. Most brownie recipes we see just have you dump all the ingredients in a bowl (or sometimes right into the pan). Rose Sabol, on the other hand, has decided that she wants a little brown sugar flavor but not too much. Most recipes will just do half brown and half white sugar, but today we are adding just a smidge of brown. I can only assume that this was arrived at after careful deliberation in the Sabol kitchen.

Also of note: this recipe actually has leavening from whipped egg whites. We've only seen one other brownie recipe that did that, and it was in a Betty Crocker handout. Out of curiosity, we checked to see if we were making the same recipe (with perhaps a few alterations over the years). After all, a lot of these community cookbooks have recipes that come directly from ingredient labels or from magazine ads. Even today, when copyright law is more enforced than ever, it seems that food companies have unofficially decided not to sue groups like the West Puskahosee Methodist Ladies' Auxiliary for including company-developed and copyrighted recipes in their community cookbooks. Anyway, despite having an odd similarity in the directions, this recipe is not the one from the Betty Crocker handout from 16 years earlier.

Anyway, we got this beaten good and well. We had a happy bowl of buttery, sugary goodness, whipped to airy perfection. What better landing place could there be for our wonderful chocolate?

A lot of today's recipe may be altered due to shortfalls of key ingredients, but we were still super excited about this magical moment when the chocolate met the batter. It's that magical moment when the bowl of delicious batter becomes something beautiful. Something divine. Something full of chocolate.

We were perhaps a teensy bit too excited at bringing more chocolate into our lives. With one overenthusiastic stroke of the spoon, we made a mess of the cocoa powder. If you've read about any of our previous culinary perpetrations, you'll know that this happens a lot.

Well, after that brief detour with a wet rag, let's see the amazing delight that awaits us in the bowl! It really looks like it's made with the richest and best ingredients rather than a lot of second- and third-choice substitutions based on what was on hand. Better yet, it tasted like we had made it exactly according to the directions with all the butter and chocolate the Slovak-American Ladies' Union could have dreamed of.
 

And so, we get to the whipping-up of the egg white. Here we must register surprise. The exact model of mixer we had (before it fell from its precarious shelf and never turned on again) appeared when we rummaged in the drawer! Here is mine before it tragically fell and broke, seen as we were testing the theory that you can substitute Diet Coke for eggs:
I still miss this thrift-shop-found friend and regret that it fell off what little shelf space I had in my room at the time.

It's always a bit of a hunt to get a complete appliance when it's long been disused. You can generally assume that if the motor turned up in a drawer, the rest of the attachments will probably be somewhere. Very few people keep a food processor motor base and throw out the blades. But when you're using an appliance that hasn't been plugged in for a few decades, the pitchers, beaters, blades, or whatever's supposed to go with it may be in a very remote place, buried under strata of things that were never gotten rid of. In kitchens with enough storage space to forget things, the old appliances may be layered by the decade, as replacements and upgrades were purchased but someone said "We can't throw the old one away! It still works!"
We eventually found the beaters for this mixer buried in the back of a different drawer and it was like an unexpected and very welcome reunion between self and appliance.


I still find it unusual that we're supposed to do anything that involves skill in a brownie recipe. Most of the ones I've seen, whether they're very old or whether they came out this year, are extremely easy to make. In fact, they are so easy that the existence of brownie mix actually confounds me. It's almost as if most recipe creators intended brownies to be for those who never learned to bake but want to make something delicious. In that sense, brownies are a bit like the casseroles of desserts: if you can get all your ingredients into the same pan, you will almost certainly get what you wanted after baking. We therefore find it strange that a brownie recipe requires you to have that practiced knack of carefully folding in egg whites without deflating them.

To our amazement and surprise, that one whipped egg white turned a bowl of chocolate clay into this beautiful, creamy, dreamy, amazing delight that makes you want to just get out a ladle and eat. If Rose Sabol of Whiting, Indiana made recipes that looked this good, she better have gotten all the respect she deserved for her baking. Just look at this pan of chocolate divine!

Spread into the pan, it looked less like uncooked batter and more like a delicious chocolate mousse. I swear, one day I am going to put a batch of cake or brownie batter into an ice cream freezer instead of an oven and see what happens.

You know how we said we didn't want to bake this because the batter was so good? When we saw this desiccated-looking pan of brown come out of the oven, we suspected that we shouldn't have. "The batter was so delicious!" we said to ourselves. "Why did it have to go in the oven?" 

But our fears were assuaged when we cut these open and saw the inky black that lay below. Not that baking improved the batter, but it at least didn't make it worse.


As soon as we bit into one, we forgave Rose Sabol of Whiting, Indiana for making us bake these. They are marvelously chocolaty, and somehow simultaneously light and airy yet wonderfully dense. It was like a very light cake that somehow turned to fudge while you ate it. This recipe may involve a few more bowls than most brownie recipes do, but you owe it to yourself if you love chocolate.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Banana Yeast Bread: or, Banana bread that is not also dessert

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye are sharing an interesting idea we had: what happens when you put bananas instead of sugar into yeast bread? Make no mistake, we do love banana bread. Why else would we have made it so many times? This time, we wondered what would happen if you made a banana bread that doesn't become a cake just because you made it in a cake pan. So we had the bright idea of just putting it into a yeast dough recipe and seeing what would happen. We consulted our new favorite cookbook (we fell in love with it when we saw the battered cover) and found...
Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

This recipe seemed perfect for inserting bananas because it has mashed potatoes. We have no familiarity with altering bread recipes, so we were afraid that just dumping mashed bananas into an otherwise normal recipe would ruin it in unforeseen ways. But swapping mashed bananas for mashed spuds seemed reasonably safe.

Banana Yeast Bread
1 c banana (packed firmly into the cup when measuring)
1 c warm water
½ packet yeast (if you don't know when you'd use the rest, just use the whole thing)
1 pinch sugar
4 c flour
1½ tsp salt
3 tbsp fat
1 or 2 tbsp milk

Mix the sugar, water, and yeast. Set aside 5 minutes to make sure it foams and that the yeast is alive.
Thoroughly blenderize the yeast-water and the banana.
In a large bowl, mix 3½ c flour with the salt. Rub in the fat with your fingertips until it's thoroughly mixed. Add the banana mixture. Mix well, adding the remaining flour as needed if it's too goopy. Knead until springy and elastic. Cover with a wet cloth or paper towel (don't hang it over the top of the bowl, lay it directly on top of the dough and press it firmly onto its surface). Refrigerate for a few hours, or up to a few days.
When ready to bake, take the dough out, punch it down if it's risen any, and put it in a warm place. Let it rise until double in height.
Roll the dough into small balls, and place them on a greased baking sheet. If the dough is too runny and/or sticky to shape into rolls, you can either divide it among muffin cups or put all of it in a loaf pan.
Brush the tops of the rolls with milk. If you have no brush, you can pour a splash of milk across the top and quickly spread it with your finger before it has time to soak in. Let rise.
Bake at 350° until thoroughly done. Be careful- when you do any of the doneness tests (thumping it to see if it sounds hollow, pressing it to see if it springs back, etc), it may seem completely done but still be doughy in the middle. I even stuck a toothpick in the center and it came out dry, yet the center of the bread was still just hot dough. Find or borrow a meat thermometer and insert it so the tip is in the center of the bread (make sure it's also about halfway between the top and bottom). It should read about 195°.
This bread reheats very nicely the next day in the microwave.

adapted from a recipe by Louise Zaremba (of Joliet, Illinois), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

In our happy theory, using mashed bananas instead of mashed potatoes would make this a slightly-sweet bread with an interesting subtle flavor that you don't get from adding a bit of extra sugar. But first, we had to obtain yeast for this endeavor. In ordinary times, we'd have just gone out to buy some. But yeast has gotten as scarce as the good toilet paper. We did some very very deep digging into the back of the pantry and found this. I turned on the date-stamp on the camera just to emphasize how many years it has lain dormant and unbaked.

In normal times, we'd have thrown this out in a decluttering spree, but in this plague we are more vigilant than ever about holding onto every dusty seasoning packet and can of pickled carp fillets. You just never know when the next shortage will strike, or what will go scarce. And as there was no yeast to be had in the store, it was this yeast (which has reached age of consent in some jurisdictions) or nothing.
We almost always test yeast in warm water before baking, but it's hitherto always been a formality. We've never had any reason to believe the yeast was dead. But today, we put it in water with fervent hope instead of bland certainty. We even gave the yeast a packet of sugar (pocketed from some coffee shop years ago and kept in a container with many just like it- because we would surely use it someday) hoping that food would wake it up.

And so, we sprinkled the yeast over the warm, slightly-sugared water, wondering if we had merely moistened a packet of corpses.

Yes, there are some bubbles already in the water, but that's just from frothing it up a bit while stirring.

A minute elapsed, and we glanced back into the glass. Was the yeast alive and foaming, or were we merely seeing their dead remains separate and spread out into the water? 

I'm sure you already guessed the happy result. We wouldn't have announced banana bread only to write that the yeast was dead and we cancelled the recipe. The yeast looked lifeless for quite a long time, but every time we glanced at it we thought it might have changed a little bit. But eventually it decided to look happy and lively, and we were thrilled to get out the rest of the ingredients and (hopefully) make some delightful bread.
It's aliiiiiiiiiiiive!

In a normal world, bread is one of the cheapest things you can make. But in a normal world, flour is cheap and easy to find. These days, the grocery store is like a perpetual night-before-Thanksgiving. Aisles that normally are ignored (the baking aisle, the toilet paper aisle, the spice rack) are suddenly swamped and ravaged, leaving bare shelves and the remains of package-ripping carnage. I'm amazed that we have this flour at hand to make bread out of. You'd think we'd be rationing it by the tablespoon for white sauce and brown gravy, but we have enough flour to use two pints of it (that's an entire quart of flour) in a recipe without even knowing if it will work.

And now, we get to our mashed "potatoes." We didn't actually get out a fork and mash the bananas, we just broke them into measuring-cup lengths and shoved them in there. Yes, there are some large pieces of banana embedded in there, but that didn't matter, as you will see.

And this is why I didn't even bother cutting the bananas up. We are bringing out the power tools to do the work for us. This blender has been surprisingly resilient. Sure, it smells like burning electricity and sounds overloaded whenever you make it pulverize even the mushiest of foods, but it keeps not dying.  

Meanwhile in another pan, things look more like a normal recipe. Incidentally, butter is as plentiful as ever. Not that I'm complaining about fully-stocked butter, but doesn't everyone suddenly trying home baking (note if this includes you: welcome to the wonderful world of bread and cake! Be sure to lick the rubber spatula!) want butter to spread on their homemade creations?

Well, we say it looks normal, but really it looks like the beginning of a normal pie crust. Incidentally, I had considered making this with whole-wheat flour, but that is just about impossible to get this month. This unfortunately means that we can't try to pretend this is healthy. Yes, it has two bananas in it, but I don't know anyone who's ever gotten slim and trim from putting blueberries into muffin batter. They all were happy and sated though.

Speaking of bananas, it is time to add them! Yes, the blender has turned them into a splat the color of a 1970s economy car, but the appearance did not unnerve us. In baking, we've only ever seen bananas in three places: pudding, cream pie, and bread that is so sweet it's basically a cake. This is the first time we've ever baked anything that doesn't surround the bananas in a dessert's worth of sugar. This, therefore, is an experiment: do bananas taste different when you bake them? If so, are they any good without heavy sweetening?

We were hoping we would be able to dump the extra flour, unused, back into the sack for another time. After all, flour is as scarce as face masks right now. However, what should have been a kneadable bread dough was in fact this sticky mess.

We added the rest of the flour and like a miracle, the dough turned into a sticky un-kneadable mess to a sticky, barely-kneadable one. It took a long time to get it to look like this semi-cohesive mass. If you liked squishing Play-Doh more than sculpting it, this recipe is for you. To make things go a bit more nicely, I was not alone in the kitchen. So this wasn't a long ordeal of dough-kneading, but just absently slapping the dough between my hands while conversing.
As you can see, the dough is still hopelessly sticky, but it seems to want to hold a shape instead of just slowly dripping through my fingers. We thought that perhaps if we were very careful-handed in shaping it and used a lot of flour, it might actually turn into the rolls we would have gotten had we actually followed the recipe.

At this point, we figured this bread was a kneaded as it could get, so we shoved it under a wet shop towel and left it in the refrigerator. It later occurred to us: is the blue dye they use in these things food-safe?

We then had a minor problem. As shown above, our hands were a hopeless sticky mess. They needed not just a quick wash but a hard scouring. We happened to know that in this kitchen, a scrub brush resides in the drawer of random implements. However, our hands were so covered in the floury ooze that we could not extract it without smearing what felt like flour-based flypaper adhesive onto half the things in the drawer. We had to call for help and literally ask "Could you take that object out of the drawer and hand it to me?"

As we learned when trying out a handwritten bread recipe in the back of a cookbook, if you let your yeast dough just sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, it starts to taste a lot better. The yeast flavor gets so much stronger since the yeast has more time to eat the sugar and turn it into all the things that make yeast bread taste so nice. We nearly didn't do that with this batch of dough because we feared that the yeast would at any time remember that it's supposed to be dead. Of course, yeast has no memory that we know of, but we also worried that our little microscopic bread friends would finally die of old age before the dough was ready to bake.
Reassuringly, the dough looked just a teeny bit puffed-up after we took it out of the refrigerator, as it should. The dough continues rising very slowly even in the cold. While one doesn't need to use a massive bowl to allow room for expansion, the dough does get just a tiny bit enlarged. So, after being awakened from a long slumber and put through a blender, it looked like our yeasts were still fit to make our bread lovely and light!

We squished the dough flat and put it in a barely-warm oven to rise. Sure enough, this yeast that had needed such a long time to come to life earlier today had become so lively that the dough rose with delightful speed. I almost felt bad at taking this yeast, which has survived so long and still been so vigorous, and baking it.

You know how we managed to knead this dough into something that, while extremely sticky and messy, could at least be shaped into rolls? It turns out that the long refrigerated rest followed by the long time rising has made it even runnier than before. This dough was too goopy to shape into rolls. And if we did manage it, the dough would run and spread out into flat patties anyway.

We thought to ourselves, why not make bread muffins? Those are always a cute way to serve bread. This dough was going to need as much help holding a shape as cake batter, and muffins seemed like an adorable way to give it the support of a pan. But this is the only muffin pan we found in the house.

These small cupcake pans mystify me, especially when they're so old. Who only makes six cupcakes at a time? How deep did you have to dig for extra-small-batch cupcake recipes, especially in the years before the internet made it possible to quickly look up "recipes to serve one"? You might say that this pan is for when you've already baked most of your batter in the big 12- or 18-cup pan,  and you're scraping off the bottom of the bowl. But why would you get out a second pan? You're only going to have to wash it afterward along with the big one that was already dirty.
Well, we certainly were not going to wait for these to rise and bake if we can only make 6 at a time. This fun bread experiment would turn into a 10-hour ordeal by gluten. We rummaged further into the cabinets and found a loaf pan to just dump the dough into so we could bake it all at once and be done with it.

We were thinking about putting an egg wash on top of this. It'd add a nice glaze to it. But if you've ever used an egg wash, you know that you barely use any of the egg for it unless you're brushing it over a lot of bread. We have previously mentioned how irksome it is to dump most of an egg down the drain just so you can get an aesthetically-appealing shine on your baked goods. You can avoid waste by just putting the rest of the egg in a small frying pan and scrambling it for a quick snack, or you can (if you're the sort of person who's so organized they always know exactly what's going on in their refrigerator) freeze the extra for future bread batches. We at A Book of Cookrye decided to just pour out a tiny splash of milk to brush on top instead. In baking class, they mentioned milk wash as an option, and (with a slightly contemptuous undertone) said it had a more "homemade" and "unprofessional" look. As it happens, I don't care how unprofessional my banana bread looks, so here we are.
You could glaze the top of the bread with those last few drops that didn't come out of the milk carton.

This baked for nearly an hour. We had planned on serving bread with dinner, but we had to cancel that because we were not going to let dinner dry out on the stove while telling everyone to shut up and wait until the bread was ready at some undetermined time in the future. Eventually, when we gave the bread a good thump, it sounded hollow. When we jammed a toothpick in there, it came out dry. The bread was golden on top and (theoretically) ready.

We began to suspect that the bread was in fact not ready (despite testing positive for doneness) when we saw how pale it looked on the sides. Sure, the sides are fully cooked, but they didn't look.... finished somehow.

Sure enough, when we sliced the bread open, there was a core of hot dough spanning the length of the loaf. We hastily put it back in the oven. But how would we make very sure the bread was baked?
Well, as it happens, one of our friends surprised us with a thermometer! When one of the many mail-order packages arrived (like most people, we've been doing a lot more mail-order of late), he handed the unopened box over with "I think this is yours."
I haven't gotten this much of a surprise since a friend of mine I visit a lot had to get his house rewired. He specifically ordered wall outlets with USB plugs because I always have a dead phone battery and no charger.
This bread is measurably done.

And here's the finished bread! We are now very certain that it's baked because we jammed a thermometer in there and verified it. It got so dark I almost feared we burned it.
You can also see where we didn't manage to get the milk wash all the way to the edges.

As you can see, there is no raw dough in there! It only took an hour and a half to finally get this baked. After all the runniness, the mess, the stickiness, the random detours with a blender, the yeast that's older than most teenagers, and other misadventures, I was surprised to see that it looked so much like actual bread when we cut into it.

If you look under the wrapping, you can see that the bottom and sides are also nicely browned. This bread turned out so very lovely and right.

Now, when we first got the dough mixed up and ready for its afternoon in the refrigerator next to the pickles, it had a very slight sweetness to it (after all, the yeasts needed to eat something). The bread dough wasn't Hawaiian-roll sweet, but just ever-so-slightly so. That sweetness was quite gone by the time these were baked, leaving behind a lovely, rich bread. There was a slight banana flavor underneath, but not enough to make one think "Bananas!". The banana taste was just strong enough to add a subtle I-don't-know-what-this-is-but-it's-rather-nice extra flavor. It turns out that once the sweetness is gone from bananas, the remaining taste is really interesting and complex. When we mixed that with the lovely flavors of yeast bread, it was absolutely delicious.
In the future, when it's easy to get flour again, I will definitely be trying this again with whole-wheat. The flavors already in the bread seemed like they'd go really well with whole-wheat flour instead of white. Also, we could eat massive hunks of it without feeling bad.

This bread was also really sturdy. It'd be great with soups or with anything that has a lot of sauce that you'd want to sop up. Its rich flavor would complement it and make it so much nicer.