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Baking memories: With most social outlets unavailable, it's harder to say no when my girls want to make their own sweet treats 

click to enlarge THE MUFFIN GAL I love that my younger daughter is capable of completing every step of our favorite banana muffin recipe. - PHOTOS BY ANDREA ROOKS
  • Photos By Andrea Rooks
  • THE MUFFIN GAL I love that my younger daughter is capable of completing every step of our favorite banana muffin recipe.

"Somehow I got banana up my nose!"

And so today's kitchen adventure begins.

My 10-year-old daughter is mashing bananas for muffins and apparently had a mishap. She's always loved baking, since long before she could read and follow a recipe on her own. Now she's competent not only at mixing dry ingredients into the wet, she's become quite adept at frosting and decorating cakes, with just a little supervision from me.

"Sugar. And more sugar," my youngest baker sings as she measures said ingredient. "That's how you make your life the best!"

Today, the first day of May, marks the end of our seventh week of working and schooling at home. We mixed it up (literally) by baking banana muffins before lunch. Baking is science, right? It counts as educational!

"Why do we mix all these ingredients first?" I asked both my daughters as we watched our stand mixer do the hard work for us.

"Liquids!" my 13-year-old replies.

"Sugar's a liquid?" her sister asks.

Yep. Science, kids.

I've lost count of how many batches of these muffins we've made in the last two months. I followed the recipe more directly the first time and made two loaves, but muffins are more fun to eat. As are chocolate chips. And today we added a blend of white and dark chocolate.

"Mmm, extra sweet. They are kinda like cupcakes," my husband said shortly after I put the muffins on the cooling rack.

click to enlarge LOTSA CHOCOLATE My 10-year-old daughter has always loved baking sweet treats, especially ones that involve chocolate frosting. - PHOTOS BY ANDREA ROOKS
  • Photos By Andrea Rooks
  • LOTSA CHOCOLATE My 10-year-old daughter has always loved baking sweet treats, especially ones that involve chocolate frosting.

We've baked lots of other goodies, too. Earlier in April, my younger daughter proclaimed that she wanted to make a chocolate cake. She decrees such things about two or three times a year, and this time I didn't have a lot of reasons to say no—other than we'd end up eating the whole thing ourselves.

I helped her pick a recipe that promised to be easy. But here's the thing: Baking from scratch is never simple. There are always a lot of ingredients to get ready and some steps that get skipped. I've taken to having my daughter read the recipe three times before we get started. Little does she know that such direction is to give me enough time to prep for the fun parts.

We chose the "Easy chocolate cake" from Cook's Illustrated, which contained not one but two weird secret ingredients. Coffee. And mayonnaise. The batter smelled a little strange, but the finished product is one I'd happily let my daughter make again!

Living much more of life alongside my family in this quarantined time has enabled me to say yes more readily to their creative desires. What do we have to lose by making and leaving a big mess in the kitchen? I don't doubt that the "yeses" I say in the kitchen and the connection we gain by baking, creating, learning, and eating together will outlast the current discomfort of so many "noes" in society right now. Δ

click to enlarge FEAST YOUR EYES A DIY craft video inspired my daughter to try a new decorating technique—which resulted in detailed spring flowers on our chocolate cake. - PHOTOS BY ANDREA ROOKS
  • Photos By Andrea Rooks
  • FEAST YOUR EYES A DIY craft video inspired my daughter to try a new decorating technique—which resulted in detailed spring flowers on our chocolate cake.

Easy chocolate cake

From Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, 2011

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1 cup brewed coffee, hot
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract chocolate and vanilla buttercream frostings (recipes follow)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8-inch square baking pan (we used two round pans because we wanted a smaller layer cake), line with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour pan.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl. In separate bowl, combine cocoa and chocolate. Pour hot coffee over cocoa mixture and let sit, covered, for five minutes. Gently whisk mixture until smooth, let cool slightly, then whisk in mayonnaise, egg, and vanilla. Stir mayonnaise mixture into flour mixture until combined.

Scrape batter into prepared pan(s) and smooth with rubber spatula. Bake cake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes; 15 to 20 minutes for rounds.

Let cake cool in pan on wire rack one to two hours. Frost and decorate as desired.

For chocolate buttercream frosting, mix together 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/3 cup softened butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (melted and cooled). Add 2 to 3 tablespoons milk until smooth and spreadable.

For vanilla buttercream frosting, mix together 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/3 cup softened butter, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons milk until smooth and spreadable. Divide into bowls; color with food coloring; decorate to your heart's desire!

Chocolate chip banana muffins

click to enlarge FAMILY FAVORITES Chocolate chip banana muffins have become a staple in our house since sheltering at home. - PHOTOS BY ANDREA ROOKS
  • Photos By Andrea Rooks
  • FAMILY FAVORITES Chocolate chip banana muffins have become a staple in our house since sheltering at home.

Adapted from Betty Crocker's New Cookbook, 1996

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or add 1/2 tablespoon vinegar to 1/2 cup milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms of muffin pan(s)—we made a total of 12 regular and 36 mini muffins.

Mix sugar and butter in large bowl. Stir in eggs until well blended. Add bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt just until moistened (do not mix too long!). Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon into muffin pan(s).

Bake regular-sized muffins for 15 to 20 minutes, mini muffins for 10 to 12 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans five minutes then remove and finish cooling on a wire rack. Δ

Associate Editor Andrea Rooks just finished eating another cake. Send icing sugar to arooks@newtimesslo.com. Share your most comforting food ideas with the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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