I always thought baking was all about following directions to the T. (Why the T? Why not the S?) But when you can't follow them exactly, because you need an ingredient substitution or don't have the right kind of pan, then you need to actually know what you're doing. Which I don't. I guess it's kinda like jazz. The secret to improvisation is a thorough understanding of the fundamentals. If you're going to cross the line, you have to know where the line is.
So we've been playing around with some desserts yesterday, with delicious albeit less than photographic results. Made a peach pie with Palisade peaches, following the basic peach pie recipe: standard pie shell plus a filling of peaches, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, butter, and flour.
But these were Palisade peaches ... twice as juicy as your standard Georgia, South Carolina, or California peach. So the pie tasted great, but it a little sloppy. Could have used a little tapioca or maybe some more flour. Something to account for these specific peaches.
Same thing with a wonderful blueberry bar recipe I saw at One Ordinary Day. Check out her pix over at her site. Looks perfect as a dessert or snack. Looks like something that would disappear at a family gathering or that would keep in the freezer for quite some time. Whole wheat flour, fresh fruit ... just plain cool all the way around.
Gave the ingredients a quick scan ... yep, got 'em all. So started cranking out a batch without a worry in the world. And mixing the batter couldn't have been easier.
Last step: spread the batter into a 10.5"x 15" jelly roll pan ... oops! No such item in my kitchen. Not a big deal ... can just use a rimmed baking sheet, yeah? So I spread the batter onto a baking sheet ... a 12" x 17" baking sheet. Oops! Only around fifty square inches difference there. Not enough batter to make it to the edge. Dug around and found ... an enameled lasagna pan. That should work, yeah?
Well, it sort of did. But the lasagna pan takes a lot longer to heat up than a simple metal sheet, so while I got a nice crispy top layer, the bottom didn't firm up. Had to stick it back in for another 15 minutes at a lower temp to get the bottom fully cooked without burning the top. Ahhh, well, there you go ... if I had thought about the physics for two seconds, I would have seen that coming. But I still wouldn't have known the right time / temp combo to fix it without trial and error. Because I'm no Miles Davis.
In the pantheon of kitchen disasters, this little experiment doesn't even rate a footnote. My bars weren't as pretty as Michelle's, but they tasted great. And I'd like to experiment a little bit more, maybe make them even more shortbready. But it would be nice, one day, to have a full grasp of the fundamentals so I'd know what was going to happen when I changed Step X into Step Y.
OOD's Blueberry Cookie Bars
½ cup light oil
¼ cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
(I actually used 1 cup sugar + 2/3rds cup of agave nectar)
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
¼ tsp baking soda
2-3 cups blueberries or mixed berries (fresh if you got 'em, frozen works just as well, but as always, use them frozen, not thawed.)
Heat your oven to 350º. Lightly grease a 10½"x 15" jelly roll pan.
Mix your flours and baking soda in a medium bowl. Then cream the oil, butter, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, and beat well.
Add the flour mix slowly, gently mixing as you do.
Spread ⅔ of your mixture into your pan and then add your berries.
Spoon the remaining batter on top of the berries — no mixing required, because the batter will spread out as it bakes.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden. Allow to cool in the pan, then slice and serve.