Overconfidence in one’s abilities is the surest way to make a mistake. Over these past few weeks, I have been baking as a way to entertain myself in my self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. In the span of about a month, I have made banana bread (more here), flat bread (more here), and a few other sweet and savory treats. During this time, I am sure that my judgement and accuracy for certain tasks have improved. For example, I know the “conversion” to make whole milk into butter milk off the top of my head and intuitively remove eggs out of the refrigerator about an hour before I begin to cook to bring them to room temperature. Now, while baking, I have a ‘flow,’ while in the beginning, it was as if I was picking up my cell phone every 30 seconds for guidance. This improvement in my abilities has unwittingly lulled me into a state of misplaced confidence.
Whether you are a beginner or a professional, it never hurts to take stock of your ingredients and read through your recipe to make sure that nothing or no step is forgotten. While in the beginning of my baking journey, I would spend (objectively) too much time sifting through recipes, today, I just glance to make sure that I have close to everything and get going.
Today, I decided to make a cinnamon bread, inspired by this recipe. However, unfortunately for me, I did not have enough all-purpose flour, so, I instead chose to use almond flour. I know from reading that almond flour is not a perfect substitute for all-purpose flour. Almond flour comes from (surprise, surprise) almonds—a protein—and all-purpose flour comes from wheat—a grain. The properties of each flour are very different, which makes exchanging all-purpose flour for almond flour a challenge. I know from experience that almond flour does not rise as high as all-purpose flour and makes bread extra moist. Because I did not want to royally mess up the cinnamon bread recipe, I decided to pause and take an extra two minutes to search for alternative recipes designed for almond flour. Unlike all-purpose flour recipes, almond flour recipes generally require a lot of eggs (five to six). In the age of the pandemic, squandering half a carton of eggs for an experimental bread recipe is simply a no-go. For this reason, I decided to stick with the all-purpose flour recipe even though my kitchen was ill-suited for the task.
Combing the ingredients was rather simple. Mix all the dry ingredients, add the wet ones, and pour into a 9”x5” loaf pan. Then, I added the streusel (a crumbly topping comprised of flour [I used coconut flour], white sugar, cinnamon, and butter). I added the chunky streusel on top of the bread and slid the pan into the oven, which was set at 350 degrees. About forty minutes later, I went to check on the loaf and I could already see that the corners and the edges were browning. I have read that almond flour burns more quickly than all-purpose flour. For this reason, plenty of baking sites advise that one cover the loaf loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent further browning while allowing the insides to cook. A few minutes later when I finally took the loaf out of the oven, I was perplexed.
The crumbly streusel which should have been sitting atop the loaf had disappeared. Additionally, the loaf, which was supposed to have risen to the top edges of the pan glumly dipped at the pan’s center. Furthermore, the soft bread-like exterior that I had expected, looked to be spongy. Without even tasting the bread, I decided that I had to do something immediately to get the loaf into better shape. So, without giving it too much consideration, I decided to look into frosting recipes. After a quick search I settled on a scrumptious looking cinnamon buttercream frosting (I prepared my recipe by reducing the quantity to 1/2 the original). Dejected that the bread did not turn out as planned, I quickly combined the frosting ingredients into a bowl and mixed as if I were working against the clock to shroud my shame in a sugary exterior. The time I saved in my fast most movements, however, cost me in quality two-fold.
Dear Reader, one is never too smart to read instructions. I was not acting out of a place of arrogance when I started haphazardly throwing ingredients together, rather out of panic. In my haste to combine the frosting ingredients, I missed the section of the recipe that informed the reader to “whisk flour into milk and heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens”—whoops! I looked into my bowl to see a gooey mess—which cost me a fair amount of flour and butter. I stuck a spoon into the goop and pulled out a slimy (sweet, delicious) mess. I was crestfallen. The frosting was supposed to be thick and fluffy, like the icing on a store-bought cupcake. However, because I inadvertently skipped the vital step to simmer the flour and milk, I had ruined the recipe. Regardless of the outcome, I proceeded to drizzle some of the sugary glaze on top of the bread.
The “bread” tasted interesting—un-bread like quite frankly. This concoction like my blueberry bread (more here) has the taste and texture of a dish that is not quite “bread” and not quite “cake.” The cinnamon bread is a mystery loaf—it is sweet, super moist, and high in protein.
Today’s baking adventure was a lesson in patient and humility in the kitchen. It never hurts to prepare or to take things slowly. The best breads, I’m sure, were never made in a rush.
I wish you a safe and successful baking adventure, Dear Reader.