So listen – I have called these muffins, and that is a lie. But it’s a lie we all agree on, right? Most muffins are cake, and these are no different. You won’t find me complaining – I’d be very into it if more things that were cake pretended not to be so we could eat them more often. Muffins are a top-notch disguise. Long live muffins, and by that I mean long live cake that we all agree we can eat for breakfast.
Most banana stuff, while delicious, is pretty dense. My favorite banana-themed baked goods are tremendously good, but also pretty heavy and mostly flavored with chocolate and/or peanut butter. And listen, there’s nothing at all wrong with that. Like, at all. I love you, chocolate and peanut butter flavored stuff. Never change.
But these little cakes, invented by Molly in a desperate bid to save some near-zombie bananas, are like no other banana cake I have ever had. Light as a feather, almost bouncy, due to some weird baking powder math that ended up working out, (and then getting simplified to just using self-raising flour), with enough chocolate chips to feel special but not quite full-on DECADANZA. The kind of little muffin you can happily eat 3 of and not feel like you’ve ruined your next meal.
What can I say about cupcakes: They are small cups of cake. By now everyone knows that cupcakes, like donuts, have been absolutely done to death: filled, topped, swirled, glazed, drizzled, sprinkled.
I, for one, am over it. They’re only small cakes, Darryl, they can’t be expected to carry all that extra foofaraw and still taste good. If you want to make six caramels, a streusel, and a swirled marshmallow filling, you totally should do that, but you should do it Somewhere Else.
What I want is a small buttery cake with a lively, fresh icing, about the size of the cup of very good tea. That’s it. Make Cupcakes About Cake Again 2021.
Were you ever kind of jealous of the boy in Matilda who had to eat an entire chocolate cake with his hands in front of the whole school as a punishment? I know I was.
I used to take every chocolate option at the sundae bar – ice cream, sauce, M&Ms, even chocolate sprinkles. Chocolate sprinkles: what sadist thought those up? You’re just gonna make these things brown and pretend it’s chocolate? Are you kidding me?
Making Stuff Brown and Pretending it’s Chocolate: The Story of All Chocolate Cake Everywhere. You can’t stop me now, I’m already up on my soapbox.
The dominant cultural narrative is that chocolate cake is the best, the richest, the most decadent. Restaurants are selling huge slabs of Seven-Layer Death By Chocolate Devil’s Food Indulgence cake, with ganache filling the approximate taste and texture of brown shoe polish. I have seen grown adults take dry little square nubs of brownie from the spread in the breakroom, just to feel something during an all-day meeting, even if that “something” is disappointment. (It was me, I took the Sadness Brownie.) Red velvet cake was a trend: that only happens in a culture deeply divorced from what actual chocolate should taste like.*
Think about the chocolate cakes that you like best. Answers on the board, please, Family Feud style:
Flourless chocolate cake
Chocolate lava cake
Some kind of cream cheese brownie situation?
Flourless chocolate cake is just a mousse on steroids, and I’m not mad at that, but it doesn’t count. My grandad makes a chocolate whiskey gateau that’s essentially a large creamy slab of alcoholic truffle filling, with ladies’ fingers stuck on the outside for modesty’s sake. Is it perfect? Yes. Is it cake? Uhhhh…
Chocolate lava cakes – or fondant cakes as they’re called here – only work because you get the tender comfort of cake wrapped around the gooey richness of a chocolate fudge sauce. They’re hot, they’re tasty, and they’re disqualified: you can’t defend chocolate cake when your favorite kind is 70% sauce.
Cream cheese brownies are amazing, but 1. Brownies aren’t cake and 2. They’re good because of the contrast (we’ll be coming back to that).
It makes sense! The essence of chocolate, which is rich, luxurious intensity, is diluted by the essence of cake, which is light, tender delicacy. This relationship is just doomed to fail. These two love each other too hard and their child… sucks. There’s a reason the best brownie recipe in the world only calls for ¼ cup of flour.
But why were we promised a perfect chocolate cake that just doesn’t exist? Where does that leave us? Where is the rich, dark, soil-damp chocolate cake of our Augustus Gloop dreams?
Well. Are we having fun yet? This week I feel, more than usual, like a bug smashed on the windshield of world events.
Usually the cure for stress is to take a bath or read a book on the couch. But sometimes all you want to do is whip your phone at the wall like a dodgeball, which is when you have to get up and take a walk.
Kierkegaard says there’s no bad mood a long walk can’t cure, and I also say this. Some weeks, though, you can’t go anywhere. Some weeks you get bee-booped by the government on your COVID app and you have to self-isolate for 14 days (I’m fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine.)
So you find yourself wearing an apron over a nightgown over a hoodie over a different nightgown and thinking, “Yeah! This is what people wear! Let’s make some brioche.”
I understand being intimidated by bread. Some doughs require you to have the patience of a saint, others need quick thinking and quicker hands, but all of them need you to have the courage of your convictions. Much like flipping a pancake, making bread only gets easier with practice.
In my humble o, there’s no better bread to practice on than this one. This recipe comes from a 70’s synagogue fundraiser cookbook that my parents got as a wedding gift. The page is marked in my mother’s perfect handwriting with a little star and the phrase “THIS ONE!”, because there are a billion different challah recipes in there. (No one wanted to be the Tzimmes Lady, apparently.)
Mum’s right, though. It is this one. This is the recipe.
Remember going to restaurants? My great aunt and uncle took me to this one place with cheese popovers so good that I blacked out and took down at least eight between one blink and the next. I don’t even remember what else they served there, and I don’t care. People always tell you not to “ruin your appetite”, but Red Lobster knows no one’s going there for the fish-fry free-for-all. It’s the biscuits. It’s always been the biscuits.
This week I present to you The Biscuits, and you don’t have to save room for anything if you don’t want to. No one cares if you ruin your appetite this year.