27 September 2010

in which i am too smart for my own good

Somewhat inexplicably, I signed up to bake for two separate occasions this week.

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem:  is baking ever a real, heart-wrenching problem?  No, and actually, some people, perhaps me, bake as a way to deal with heart-wrenching problems.  There's nothing that a spoonful of creamed sugar and butter won't fix, and I'm not one of those people worried about eating the raw egg in cookie dough.

My baking problem this week is more with my schedule.  I'm leaving on vacation on Friday morning, and I made a 22-item to-do list last night of what needs to get done before I leave.

When you have 22 items staring you down—and a day job your boss apparently wants to be at, mixed with an evening schedule that makes you question your self-described introvertedness—the time you need to bake something starts to look implausible. You start to feel like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, running around with a pocket watch, chattering on about how you're late.

After making the to-do list, I slotted each of those 22 items into various lunch hours and before-work hours.  The baking got stuck in the post-evening activity time, a dangerous time for me.  Once 9pm comes, I don't think I should be trusted with the precise proportions needed for baking.

Last night, though, I had a brilliant idea:  I could make brownies from a box.  This idea maybe already occurred to you as a way to save time, without having to stay up past my bedtime or skip over important {but time-consuming} details such as pre-heating the oven or letting the eggs come to room temperature.

Maybe it's a pride thing, this fighting the urge to bake a mix and call it good.  Ok.  It's obviously a pride thing.


I would like to say that it's also a practical thing:  I have armloads of apples to use from my apple picking, if-I-could-I-would-hug-fall experience, and I have this amazing French apple tart recipe.  Practicality and Frenchness is a beautiful combination that I try to put on display whenever I can.

Also, add item #23 to the list:  use apples so they don't go to waste.

So an apple tart:  that took care of one baking commitment, and I decided to go the easy boxed brownie route for the other commitment.

{I keep boxes of brownies and cakes in the back of the pantry for such a time as this.  I may like baking and cooking, but I'm no culinary superwoman:  there are times when I just want it fast.  This is why you'll also find beans and weenies in the back of the pantry, for those nights when I don't want to cook.}

Enter the challenge:  I didn't have any eggs, and the brownies needed water, oil, and one egg.  That's it.  So simple.  But sometimes, I like to make really simple things really complex, I guess.

I thought about my options:  re-arrange the carefully slotted schedule so that I could bake these brownies after buying eggs.  Or use a little kitchen science to substitute.

Of course I didn't go for the option that involved waiting and patience and re-arranging my schedule.
No, instead, I thought:  eggs are a leavening agent.  They aren't in there for flavor or to make the dry ingredients become more you know, batter-ish.  The egg is just to make the brownies grow a little.

Baking powder is also a leavening agent, and I learned a few years ago from my Cooking without Mom cookbook {yes, that's the real title, and yes, that's how I learned to cook} that you can substitute 1/2 tsp baking powder for one egg in batters.

Smiling to myself about my smartness and ingenuity and how well I was going to get through this busy, over-scheduled week, I mixed the baking powder into the brownie mix, along with the water and oil.

45 minutes later, I learned that I am too smart for my own good.

And that an egg-less brownie mix is not so good.

I was folding laundry and ironing, and the whole apartment smelled like Betty Crocker had moved in.  When the timer went off and I pulled the pan out of the oven, I saw that the brownies looked like something that would make Betty Crocker gnash her teeth and then glare at me.  She'd probably also rip off her apron and throw it at my face.

The brownies were a goopy mess, and no, I shouldn't have left them in for longer {lest you're thinking I was hasty in judging my own brownie disaster}.  The edges were burnt, and I know a brownie disaster when I see one.

Moral of the story:  don't overthink the brownie mix.  You don't have to be Julia Child every time you touch a pan.  Just get out the water, oil, and egg, stir 40 strokes like the box tells you to, and move on with your life.

Also, don't run out of eggs.  Ever.


  1. This made me smile. And I'm sorry for being one of the people who forced you into baking servitude this week. :)

  2. My week is shaping up to be like yours I think. I've got lots of apples to use as well (we went to the Orchard yesterday), but I don't know when I'll have time to use them!



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