As we engage in our competitions, we bakers sometimes encounter recipes that do not fit the week’s theme, but which we are nonetheless compelled to bake. Some recipes look so interesting that we have no choice but to try them, even if they aren’t going to earn us votes. For those special occasions, we turn to Mandy’s Test Kitchen! Come on in and sample the first batch of our extracurricular bakes!
La Maison Mizer, on the shores of beautiful Laid Étang Par La Saleté, hidden away in idyllic Walton, KY. Apart from the ever-changing flag identifying its occupants as lovers of classic science fiction, the house seems nearly identical to its neighbors. But if one were to enter these hallowed halls, tour the Kitchen Of Champions, then find one’s way downstairs to the Great Hall, one might find, in the farthest corner opposite of The Throne Of Games, a door.
It is a rather unremarkable door. Perfectly serviceable, of course, but the kind of door that contractors purchase by the truckload to fill the doorframes of entire subdivisions. Opening this mundane looking portal would reveal little of immediate interest. Just a storage room full of memories and neglected furniture. But if one were to remove the manhole covering what appears to be a sump pump basin, and climb down the cold, claustrophobic ladderway inside, down to the the rickety old mine cage, then descend several hundred feet, past the sentry robots and security lasers, one would find one of the most jealously guarded and lethal installations on the planet. This is Mandy’s Test Kitchen.
Mandy’s Test Kitchen is not safe. If the experiments don’t kill you, Mandy just might. This is her domain, and she rules it with an iron fist. But from this crucible of terror and discovery come miracles. Foods to tempt the angels. Mandy’s Test Kitchen is wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid. So join us now, if you dare, and partake in the strange and fearsome marvels to be found in Mandy’s Test Kitchen!
Experiment #533D733234: SLEEPYTIME BREAD
This may look like a super dark pumpernickel, but it is actually a sourdough loaf. I had never tried my hand at sourdough, and despite following the instructions to the letter, the final loaf felt wet and doughy. So I put it back in the oven for ten minutes at 400°.
That was the plan, anyway.
At some point during those ten minutes, I fell asleep. For an hour and a half. But the bake didn’t end there. My nap had completely erased the memory that I had put something in the oven. So once I woke up, I noticed there was, at one point, a fleeting scent of toast in the air. But it went away quickly, and I got on with my day. I checked my email. I played some games on my phone. I watched at least three full episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Once, and I swear this is true, I went to the kitchen and got a drink out of the fridge, which is ONE INCH away from my oven. I didn’t even notice it was on. Nothing jogged my memory. Not until dinnertime, when I saw the temperature display and long expired timer light. It was then I knew that terror lurked behind my oven door.
Scientists must record everything truthfully and completely, even their failures. Especially their failures. And, if we are to truly improve ourselves and our craft, so must bakers. And the truth is this: I can’t believe this thing didn’t catch on fire. After letting my sourdough and shame cool overnight, I took these pictures. You can see where the charred corpse of my efforts cracked and split as it cooled. But I couldn’t. I only noticed the cracks once I looked at the photographs. In real life this loaf looked almost entirely black, with only the split top recognizable enough to mock my failure. I may as well have baked this thing in a kiln.
Those cracks, it turned out, ran far deeper than I would have imagined. I attempted to cut this with my watermelon knife – the closest thing to a saw I keep in my kitchen – but it was unnecessary. As soon as I dragged the blade across the top, the loaf fell to pieces along the fault lines that ran through it. Shameful.
Because I felt I I deserved it, I tasted my bake. Not the incinerated outer parts, but the interior near the core, where I thought it would be safe. It wasn’t. The texture was that of a particularly well made crouton, but charred foulness permeated everything. Even by the most generous standards it was entirely inedible. Fortunately my fellow bakers had better luck.
Experiment #4DD35D35: APPLE SPICE MUFFINS
Next up we have Mandy’s Apple Spice Muffins. Pretty much anything you put in front of me with the words “Mandy’s,” or “apple,” or “spice,” or “muffin” in the name will be gobbled up immediately. But all four of those at once? Just don’t get your hands between me and the food, that’s all I’m saying. That’s a good way to lose some fingers.
As everyone else thoughtfully tasted their muffins, carefully weighing the texture against the balance of flavors and whatnot, I was unwrapping and devouring my third. And I’m glad I was being a greedy little piggy, because all my chewing meant I could only listen to what was happening around the table. Instead of comparing her bake to something someone else had made, by calling this her Test Kitchen, Mandy, with the gentlest of intellectual nudges, had shifted our male lizard brains from thinking of her food as competition to seeing this as a problem solving exercise. We all listened to what she wanted to accomplish with her muffins, and then began brainstorming ways to help her get there. She had removed the pressure to vote and replaced it with a goal to be achieved as a group. I’m very serious when I tell that this is why I believe that women, by and large, are better than men, and should be given positions of authority. All of our brains were like engines running flat out, but Mandy was the only one with a steering wheel.
The muffins were delicious, but not without problems. Mandy was unhappy with the way the apples had sunk to the bottom. I have heard – but never tried – dusting fruit lightly with flour before adding it to batter will reduce the chances of it falling out of the mixture as it bakes, which I passed along.
My main problem with these muffins is that they were too tender and cakelike for my preference. When I think of a muffin, I’m looking for something more dense than cake or bread. Something with body and heft. But these were so light and so spongy they reminded me of injera. The flavor was definitely worthy of a good muffin, but the texture needed work. I’m looking forward to tasting them again when Mandy revises her recipe!
Experiment #370D453D3253234: BYTOPIAN SHEPHERD’S BREAD
Straight from Heroes’ Feast: The Official D&D Cookbook comes Dan’s Bytopian Shepherd’s Bread. It’s a sort of hybrid carrot cake/raisin bread with a defensive shell of almond slivers that grants a +1 armor bonus vs. bite damage.
As you can see below, Dan created an absolutely beautiful loaf, and it tasted every bit as good as it looks. Unfortunately this was one of the batch of photos that were inadvertently downsized during cloud storage, so they’re pretty low res. But don’t hold that against Dan; his Bytopian Shepherd’s Bread was good. Damned good. He probably should have held off and entered this later into one of our regular competitions. He would have gotten far with this one.
And now it’s time for…
Chris’s Taste Test is where Chris tests things by tasting them. It’s super self explanatory. I’m just typing this paragraph because having two images too close together looks tacky. Blah-bitty blah blah. Words, words, words.
Taste Test #5003443: SCHOKO BANANEN
All the way from Austria (via Jungle Jim’s), I give you Schoko Bananen. I bought this out of pure, irresistible curiosity. I had no idea what to expect. There are approximately 62 billion tiny words on the back of this box, and it wasn’t until I got home that I finally found some English ones. So what are these things?
Chocolate covered marshmallow gum with banana flavor. Gross. But you can’t fault the manufacturer for false advertising. When you bite into one of these, you can, in fact, taste every one of those things. First you’ll notice the far too sharp chocolate flavor. It is reminiscent of chemical flavoring and is immediately unpleasant. Next, the extremely odd texture of the filling. It is part marshmallow, part mashed banana, and partly unidentifiable alien substance. I’ve never experienced another texture quite like it. It makes your tongue say, “What the hell is this?” There is a definite flavor of banana and bubblegum, but no chewing gum texture. Just an aggressive mélange of clashing flavors that seem less like a singular candy and more like a mouthful of random jelly beans.
Should you buy these? Not if you like chocolate. The chocolate, despite being paper thin, has a powerful, synthetic funk. And not if you like bananas. The banana flavor is here, but it tastes like overripe, mushy bananas with too much black on the peels. And a little cloud of flies orbiting them. Not if you like gum, because these are not gum, no matter what the package says. And not if you like marshmallows, because the marshmallow flavor lasts exactly as long as the first bite, after which the chocolate and banana assert their foulness.
However, you might sincerely consider buying these if you are diabetic. I have found that when carbohydrate withdrawal hits, just one of these is enough to quell any cravings for 10-12 hours. And it has been impossible for me to tolerate more than two of them at a time. By the time you’ve finished eating the second one, the idea of eating sweets of any kind is sickening. They’re like the world’s cheapest and least intuitive diabetes medicine. They make you fucking hate sugar.
Taste Test #20073332047335393: ROOT BEER FLOAT CHEESE FUDGE
My aunts and uncles recently took a road trip to Ohio’s Amish country, because old people like to visit backwards places to verify with their own eyes that no unauthorized progress is being made. Satisfied that the present had not yet intruded upon the traditional Amish occupations of farming and raping children, they partook of the third and fourth most popular activities of these “good” Christian folk: retail supply and agritourism. You know, like what Jesus used to do.
While they did find the cheese shop selling this fudge in Amish country, this particular confection did not actually come from the Amish. I want to make clear that, according to what I can find online, Heini’s Cheese Chalet is not an Amish business. That being said, they do make a big deal of buying milk from numerous local dairies, so it’s possible that child molesters might profit indirectly from their business. Shop to promote positive change, folks. You wield more power with your money than you know.
Despite the folksy, homespun image the Amish country business people love to perpetuate, the ingredient list tells the true story. Fudge mix (whatever the hell that is), caramel color, and artificial root beer flavor. How old school! Just like grandma used to make. But how does it taste?
Nothing called Root Beer Float Cheese Fudge has any business being remotely edible, let alone tasting as good as this stuff does. It is DELIGHTFUL. The milkiness of the cream cheese gives the fudge a smooth dairy flavor reminiscent of ice cream. It doesn’t taste exactly like a root beer float, but it tastes more like a root beer float than anything else that requires chewing. If you enjoy root beer at all, even occasionally, I’m confident you’ll like Root Beer Float Cheese Fudge.
That’s all we have for this installment of Mandy’s Test Kitchen. Thank you for joining us on this special episode of The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition. We’ll have more of Mandy’s Test Kitchen in the future, but next week it’s back to the competition as our bakers battle for top place in Birthday Cake Week!
Until next time, bon appétit!