November 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’m a huge fan of banana bread. Well, actually, I’m a huge fan of homemade banana bread. I’m not sure why, but I find that most coffee shops and grocery stores seem to specialize in dry, artificially flavored banana breads. It is so easy to make a moist, tasty banana bread full of sweet banana flavor, I’ve just opted to only consume homemade banana breads. The one not-so-secret tip that I’ve found makes a huge difference is to use really, ripe bananas– and I mean, REALLY ripe, overly ripe in fact. When I have some bananas sitting on my counter that are accumulating more and more brown spots, to the point where their only purpose seems to be attracting fruit flies, I just pop them in the freezer. I leave them there until I am ready to make the banana bread, which could be months later. The day before I make it, I thaw the bananas in a bowl in in the fridge (the bowl is important because they will let off a lot of liquid). When I’m ready to use them, I peel them and place them in a new bowl. They are slimy and brown and all-around unappetizing, but so sweet and add the perfect amount of moisture to the banana bread, you won’t regret using them.
My favorite recipe for banana bread is Mom’s Banana Bread from Cooking Light. I don’t follow all of their suggestions for making a light version of banana bread, although I have a feeling this would be just as delicious. Here, I’ve also spiced it up just a bit for fall by adding some pumpkin. Oh, and of course, there were also some chocolate chips. Here’s what I used:
- 2 ripe bananas (approx. 2/3 cup mashed)
- 1 cup pumpkin
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup butter (softened), plus more for buttering pan
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground cinammon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 8 oz. chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan with butter or cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until well-mixed.
3. Add mashed bananas, pumpkin, milk, sour cream and egg whites. Beat well.
4. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinammon and nutmeg. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients in the mixer and beat until just blended.
5. Add chocolate chips (if desired), and mix well.
6. Pour batter in to greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out clean.
7. Remove from the loaf pan and let cool on a cooling rack before serving.
Notes on this loaf: As much as I professed my love of bananas above, I’m not that huge a fan of pumpkin. BUT, I loved the subtle pumpkin flavor in this bread. I thought it really complemented the banana. I couldn’t stop eating just the batter for this bread. I had even decided to add the chocolate chips to mask a bit of the pumpkin flavor, but I’m actually sad that I did that. Imagine that!! Although the chocolate was very tasty, the banana and pumpkin flavors would have been more prominent without the chocolate, and the bread would have seemed more appropriate for breakfast, rather than dessert. It didn’t really matter though– I enjoyed it any time of day.
October 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
This Halloween, I’ve been inspired by the many examples of chocolate bark made with Halloween candy, like this one here, and this other one here. Every year for Christmas, I usually make a couple of batches of peppermint bark, and it is soooo good, I needed to extend the usefulness of that recipe to more holidays. So, I thought about many varieties of Halloween bark, but it seemed best just to turn one of my favorite Halloween candies in to it’s own bark. Fortunately for me, I seemed to know a lot of kids that despised coconut (my sister included) back when I was still trick-or-treating, so I was able to trade my boring Three Musketeers and Hershey’s bars for Mounds and Almond Joys. Here’s what I used to transform one of my favorite Halloween treats, the Almond Joy bar, into some tasty bark:
- 120z. white chocolate
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1/2 cup crushed slivered almonds
- 6oz. dark or semisweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup toasted coconut
- 8 mini Almond Joy bars, chopped in to quarters (optional)
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler or (carefully!) in the microwave.
3. When the chocolate is melted and smooth, add the almond extract and mix well. Add the crushed almond slivers and mix well.
4. Pour the melted chocolate mixture on to the prepared baking sheet and spread it using a spatula so that it is about 1/8 inch thick. (This will most likely cover about 1/2 to 2/3 of the baking sheet. It doesn’t have to cover the whole thing– just try to make it rectangular. And, of course, it’s ok if the edges are messy.)
5. Put the baking sheet in the fridge and let cool for 1 hour.
6. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When it is ready, toast the coconut on a baking sheet for approximately 5-8 minutes.
7. After the white chocolate layer has cooled, prepare the dark chocolate ganache. Heat the heavy cream until just boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl and stir consistently until the chocolate is completely melted, smooth and shiny.
8. Add the toasted coconut to the chocolate and mix well. Pour the melted chocolate over the white chocolate layer and evenly spread using a spatula.
10. When ready to serve, chop the bark into squares with a sharp knife. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. If stacking bark pieces on top of each other, cover each layer with parchment or wax paper.
Notes on this bark: I was quite happy with how this turned out. There are many options in terms of how you combine the chocolate layers and the almonds and coconut. I think the use of coconut extract would also be a good option instead of the almond extract. I usually don’t add as much cream to the dark chocolate as I did in this recipe (in order to have a harder ganache), but I liked the softer texture of this ganache for this particular bark. It makes it quite reminiscent of an actual candy bar. I highly recommend trying it!
October 25, 2010 § 1 Comment
It was a rainy weekend here in the Bay Area. What better way to spend it than lounging in a comfy chair, drinking tea and watching the rain drip down the window? Sounds lovely, but somewhat sadly, that’s not how I spent my weekend. Even so, I still made some scones that would complete this little daydream of mine, and enjoyed them perfectly well on the go from one place to another. I used a variation of Martha Stewart’s scone recipe as a base, and then spiced it up a bit. Here’s what you need for these comforting fall treats:
- 3/4 cup peeled and diced apples (2 small or 1 large)
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 3/4 cup rolled oats
- 6 tblsp granulated sugar
- 1 tblsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 8 tblsp chilled, unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup half-and half, plus 2 tablespoons
- 2 tablespoons raw turbinado sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, 5 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
4. Cut the chilled butter in to small pieces and add to the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter in to the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form.
5. Stir in 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half until just moistened. Add the apples and mix until they are evenly distributed.
7. Using a dough scraper or sharp knife, cut the round in to 8 sections. Transfer the pieces to the lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the remaining half-and-half. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.
8. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack.
Notes on these scones: I think these turned out quite well, and there are very few changes I would consider making to the recipe. Some things I might tweak for next time would be to add more oats. Or maybe to incorporate a toasted oat topping, instead of the sugar crystals, just to highlight the oat flavor a tiny bit more. It might also be possible to get away with using less butter, but I didn’t want to risk it for this particular batch…maybe next time. Or maybe not.
October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
This past weekend our friendly downstairs neighbors/landlords were kind enough to invite us over for dinner. They offered to prepare a delicious feast, complete with tasty margaritas, and in return, we offered to bring dessert. Since I didn’t have a lot of time to be slaving over a dessert, but I wanted to bring something that both appeared and tasted impressive, I opted for this chocolate raspberry tart. (It also didn’t hurt that we had recently purchased a full flat of raspberries as a last-ditch effort to hang on to summer.)
I have made this before for another dinner party, and posted some photos of it earlier (here), following a recipe from Fine Cooking Chocolate!, but I wanted to change it up just a bit. The original recipe calls for a gingersnap crust. I’m a pretty big fan of gingersnaps, but for my taste, I felt like this detracted from the main show here: chocolate and raspberries. So, in this version, I substituted a chocolate cookie crust, which I think added the same great texture as the gingersnap crust, but kept the flavors balanced and highlighted the richness of the chocolate. This tart could be made in many different ways, so feel free to use your own favorite crust, but here’s how I did it:
For the crust:
- 6 oz. finely ground chocolate cookies (I used Newman’s Own Chocolate Alphabet Cookies)
- 2 1/2 tblsp granulated sugar
- 4 tblsp melted, unsalted butter
For the filling:
- 2 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
- 10.5 oz chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- pinch of table salt
To prepare the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 11 inch tart pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, use a fork to mix together the
ground cookies and sugar.
3. Drizzle the melted butter over the cookie crumbs and mix well with a fork.
4. Pour the cookie crumb mixture in to the tart pan and spread it evenly over the bottom. Use your fingers or a hard object to press the crumbs in to the bottom of the pan and up the sides of the pan, trying to achieve just under 1/4 inch thick crust.
5. Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. Set aside to cool.
1. Process 1 1/2 cups of fresh raspberries in a food processor or blender and then pass through a fine sieve. Collect 3/4 cup of strained, raspberry puree and set aside.
2. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat it until it just boils. In the meantime, chop the chocolate and place it in a medium size bowl. (I used this 73% Dark Chocolate Cacao from Alter Eco. We are limited to soy-free and non-nut contaminated chocolates in our house, so this often means splurging a bit for chocolate-centric desserts. This chocolate also has some cacao nibs in it, which adds a very small amount of crunch.)
3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk quickly, melting all of the chocolate.
4. Mix in the raspberry puree and the salt.
5. Pour the ganache in to the cool tart shell. Refrigerate until the ganache is firm (approximately 1 hour).
5. Add the raspberries (as many as you’d like! I accidentally ground up too many of them and didn’t have as many left as I wanted for tart decoration) around the edge of the tart and chill again in the refrigerator before serving to make sure the ganache is firm.
Notes on this tart: This tart is really quite simple, but tastes decadent, so there’s no reason not to make it. I also recommend adding a dollop of softly whipped cream as a sweet complement to the rich chocolate. My only complaint about this particular recipe is that the crust turned out a bit too crumbly. Keeping the crunch in the crust is very important for having some contrasting texture in the tart, but I was a little worried about it crumbling in to too many pieces (mostly on the sides were the crust was a bit thinner) and ruining the otherwise elegant presentation. So, I might add more butter next time, or maybe just make a larger amount of the cookie crumbs to make it a tad thicker. I’ll definitely be sticking with the Chocolate Alphabet cookies though– they aren’t overly sweet and they have a deep chocolate flavor. And who doesn’t want alphabet cookies in their dessert?
October 15, 2010 § 1 Comment
Cheese! And bacon! In a biscuit! Sounds pretty heavy, I know, but these biscuits actually turned out light and fluffy and not at all like the gut bomb I was worried they would be. I made these as a breakfast treat last weekend and I was limited by what we had in the pantry and fridge because I didn’t feel like trekking to the store. I essentially took a basic cream biscuit recipe, messed it up a bit, and then added some cheese and bacon. Here’s what I used:
- 5 slices crispy bacon, cooled and chopped
- 1/4 cup shredded gouda cheese (or your other favorite cheese)
- 1/4 cup cubed gouda cheese
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tblsp sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 cups half-and-half
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
3. Mix in the cheese and the bacon.
4. Add the half-and-half and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough just forms.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand until it is smooth, approximately 30 seconds.
6. Divide the dough into approximately eight handfuls (or large spoonfuls) and drop onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
7. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
Notes on these biscuits: These biscuits were quite tasty on their own– no butter, gravy or any other condiments required. This dough bakes up light and fluffy, and the cheese and bacon add a nice contrasting texture. My one complaint is that they could have used a bit more cheese flavor. This may have been due to the use of relatively mild gouda, so I might choose a sharper cheese next time, or add more shredded cheese to the dough. I liked the combined use of both shredded and cubed cheese because the cheese flavor gets integrated in the dough, but there are still pockets of crispy, backed cheese thanks to the cubes of cheese.
I was not intending to make drop biscuits with this recipe, but I had some trouble handling the dough as it was very wet. It just seemed easier to drop the biscuits on to the baking sheet rather than cutting them out. So, that’s what I did and it turned out pretty well. The craggy texture allowed for a lot of corners of yummy, melty cheese. You can’t go wrong with that.
October 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
These treats normally go by any number of other names, but, I have to say, I’m not a big fan of any of those other names. I much prefer the more descriptive but boring: toasted coconut chocolate chip bar. The main inspiration I had for these bars was to use up some pantry ingredients (namely, coconut and chocolate chips). Not much of an inspiration, I know, but you can’t taste that in the final product. They turned out moist, chewy and delicious! I adapted the recipe from Baking Illustrated. Here’s what I used:
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 12 tblsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) packed light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray, if desired.
4. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
5. In another medium bowl, mix the melted butter and brown sugar. Mix in the eggs and vanilla.
7. Add the chocolate chips and toasted coconut and fold into the mixture.
8. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth slightly on top using a rubber spatula.
9. Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes, until the top is shiny and crackly.
Notes on these bars: These bars were not exactly what I expected out of the oven. For some reason, I imagined them to be a little bit more cakey, and less dense. But, I’m glad I imagined wrong. I think the density was actually perfect, and lead to a very moist and perfectly chewy bar. These were really great right out of the oven (I kept cutting off bigger and bigger pieces before they had even cooled!), but they also kept very well in an airtight contained for almost a week! There is really only one small change I might consider next time: add more coconut. I love coconut, so I could always have more, but I think the flavor here was a bit too subtle. Maybe 2 cups of coconut would have worked just a bit better? I’ll let you know how it turns out next time.
October 3, 2010 § Leave a comment
I know it’s fall. It is already October. It really snuck up on me this year though. I was not prepared. We had no summer here in San Francisco. Not that we ever have much of a summer, but this year, it was especially absent, thanks to the ever-present marine layer. But, early last week, the temperatures soared, and it actually felt like summer. A hot summer. Just for a few days.
On one of these hot summer days, I happened to be at the farmer’s market and someone walked by me with a flat of bright red strawberries. They were so fragrant, I actually smelled them before I saw them. I instantly had an idea that would beat the heat and help me justify buying so many strawberries: strawberry sorbet.
I cobbled together a recipe from a few different sources, but it was pretty much inspired by David Lebovitz and his recipe for strawberry frozen yogurt. Here’s what you need:
- 16 oz. fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons Triple Sec
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- pinch of salt
1. Mix the berries, sugar and Triple Sec (or another liquor you prefer) in a bowl. Cover the bowl and set aside for 1-2 hours at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
3. If desired, pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer in to another bowl to remove any strawberry seeds.
4. Chill for 1 hour.
5. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Notes on this sorbet: The flavors were really quite spectacular, if I do say so myself. Of course, it is essential that the strawberries were perfectly ripe and juicy and sweet, and really needed no doctoring at all. But, the lime juice and the Triple Sec added a great hint of citrus, and also highlighted the strawberry flavor.
My main problem with this recipe was that the sorbet did not freeze in my ice cream maker. The last time I used my ice cream maker, I also was unable to get a frozen product, so I think there is some kind of problem with it. I have the standard Cuisinart home cook’s ice cream maker, and although I froze the canister for two days before hand, that didn’t seem to be enough. After leaving the mixture in the ice cream maker for quite some time, I ended up transferring it to an air-tight container and putting it in the freezer. During the first couple of hours of freezing, I stirred it around a few times, and then let it freeze overnight. This was less than ideal, because the texture ended up being something more akin to italian ice rather than a creamy sorbet. The flavor was still delicious, but that was not the texture I was hoping to achieve.
I also did not end up with a great yield for this recipe. It yielded approximately 2 cups of sorbet, but I think this was because I decided to strain it, and a lost a lot of the mixture to my strainer. So, my recommendation would be to increase the recipe maybe 1.5 times if you are planning on straining it– or do a better job straining than me!
Overall, the strawberry sorbet was a pretty good send-off for summer. I think I can move on to fall now.