Saturday, August 31, 2013

Julia's Banana Bread

I've been to Hawaii exactly one time, specifically the island of Oahu. If I had known about the several well known banana bread places on Maui at the time, I would've stayed there a few days just to try it out. Since I knew I wouldn't be making it back to Hawaii anytime soon, I thought I would give this banana bread from Julia's a try. I got the recipe from the March issue of Bon Appetit and the author describes this banana bread perfectly as a "sultry night, dark in color and sticky-moist". My sister and I agreed it's the best banana bread we've ever had. It's a rich, dark, stick to your fingers type of banana bread. However, it's quite different from what you might typically think of banana bread and so, if that's what you're looking for, you might be disappointed with this.

Nevertheless, I highly urge you to give it a try because it's super simple to make and you can try a little piece of Hawaii without leaving your kitchen, assuming you have the few basic ingredients this recipe requires.
Julia's Banana Bread
Recipe from Julia's Banana Bread Treehouse via Bon Appetit
Makes One 9 by 5 inch Loaf

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt or 3/8 tsp fine salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 large bananas)
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Line a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan with parchment or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, you may also sift the dry ingredients into a bowl.

Whisk the eggs, sugar, bananas, and oil in a large bowl until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 60-70 minutes until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 15 min. Then take the bread out of the pan and let cool completely on the rack. Store airtight at room temp up to 3 days.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chunky Lola Cookies

I was trying to think of a creative title to this post, but realized the name itself was unique and interesting enough. The Chunky Lola Cookie, which hails from Flour Bakery + Café in Boston, is basically a kitchen-sink cookie. The base is a chewy and crisp oatmeal cookie mixed with chopped pecans, bittersweet chocolate chunks, and coconut. You could certainly add whatever add-ins you wanted as that's the idea behind this cookie and how it came to be.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are at the top of my cookie list. However, I don't make them very often since I'm always trying new cookie recipes and for a long time, was on a quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I've since found it, but inevitably will continue to try out new recipes. Even when I would make chocolate chip oatmeal cookies in the past, I didn't usually use the same recipe twice. In my years of making my favorite cookie, I haven't yet come across what I would consider a perfect chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. Many of them have been good, but not quite perfect. However, I recently decided to try these Chunky Lola Cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang and they turned out pretty perfect.
The addition of chopped pecans to chocolate and oatmeal sounded like a sure winner and I liked that the recipe called for an overnight resting period before baking. Many of the cookie recipes in Flour are made the same way and it certainly made for fantastic chocolate chip cookies, so I thought I would give these a try. I made the cookies a bit larger than called for which resulted in a larger chewy center. If you want them more crisp, just make smaller mounds on the baking sheet. I didn't have any coconut on hand, so I left it out, but really this recipe would work with any add-ins you wanted.

These cookies turned out perfectly crisp, chewy, and were still delicious several days after. They're best when completely cooled, though they're still perfectly delicious, soft, and warm fresh from the oven. Surprisingly, they weren't too sweet at all which is often the case if you want chewy and crispy cookies. Everyone in my family thought they were great and I'm happy to have found a chocolate chunk oatmeal cookie that I think will be revisited many times in the future.

Chunky Lola Cookies
Recipe from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang
Makes about 18 cookies

1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp.(1 3/8 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
2/3 cup (140 g) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (150 g) packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (175 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (70 g) rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt or 1/4 tsp fine salt
9 ounces (255 g) bittersweet chocolate chunks, 62-70% cacao
1 1/4 cups (125 g) pecan halves, toasted, chopped
1 cup (120 g) sweetened shredded coconut

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer or wooden spoon, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed for 5 minutes. If done by hand, it will take about 10 minutes. Occasionally scrape down the paddle, sides, and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the eggs and vanilla for 3 minutes until thoroughly combined.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate, pecans, and coconut and mix until combined. On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture slowly and mix until completely incorporated. Cover the dough and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 deg F and position a rack in the center. Drop dough in 1/4 cup balls (I made 2 oz balls) onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Space them about 2 inch apart and flatten slightly.

Bake for 18-22 minutes until the cookies are golden brown around the edges and slightly soft in the center. Let the sheet of cookies cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes until they can be transferred to the wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temp up to 2 days.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Carrots in my Cake, Yes Please!

Recently, I was in one of those moods where I wanted to bake something. While I enjoy cooking as well, it just doesn't provide the same type of gratification that comes from carefully measuring ingredients, mixing them together, and putting something in the oven. I understand that not everyone finds this gratifying. These baking moods also come along rather sporadically which is why there's rarely any consistency in my blog posts. Additionally, they're usually accompanied by a strong desire to try out a new recipe or a new book.

The other day, I happened to be flipping through Flour by Joanne Chang in one of these moods and came across this carrot cake. I'd been thinking about carrot cake for a while since my friend mentioned she likes carrot cake and my sister recently bought a carrot cupcake that I found quite dry and overly sugary.

On a side note, I didn't get the chance to give some cake to my friend, but I will be sure to do so in the near future.

Since I also had an abundance of carrots and pretty much all the ingredients except buttermilk, that was all the motivation I needed to promptly head out to the store and make these that day. You can make a buttermilk substitute yourself since this recipe doesn't require much of it, but for some reason, that thought never occurred to me that day though I've made buttermilk many times before.

I decided to make cupcakes rather than an actual cake so it could more easily be shared. I also left out the walnuts and raisins making them less classic, but despite that, they turned out wonderfully. They were one of the best tasting carrot cakes I've ever had and definitely the best one I've made in recent memory. It's not quite as dark or rich as other carrot cakes I've had, but it's spiced perfectly and the frosting is not too sweet unlike most bakeries. I would definitely recommend including the walnuts and raisins for those who prefer a more traditional carrot cake, but you can't go wrong either way.

Note: When measuring the sugar with a measuring cup, I found that I only had about 180 g of sugar in a packed cup, so that's what I used and it worked great. The original recipe calls for 220 g. Also be sure to leave your cream cheese and butter out for the amount of time it says as it makes a difference. If you've forgotten, warm up your cream cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds or over a double boiler.

Classic Carrot Cake
Recipe scarcely Adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang
Makes one 8 inch 2-layer cake or 12 cupcakes

Carrot Cake
2 large eggs
1 cup (180 g) light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup (150 g) canola oil
3 tbsp. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbsp.(160 g) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt or 1/4 tsp fine salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups (260 g) packed shredded carrots
1/2 cup(80 g) raisins
1/2 cup (50 g) walnuts, toasted and chopped

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temp
12 ounces (340 g) cream cheese, at room temp for at least 4 hours
1 2/3 cups (230 g) powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Candied Carrot Strips(Optional)
1 carrot
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (180 g) water

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Prepare an 8 inch cake pan by lining with parchment, buttering, and flouring. If making cupcakes, line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar for 3-4 minutes on medium high speed. It will take 8-10 minutes with a hand mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Add the mixture to the eggs and sugar slowly and mix on low speed.

In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet with a spatula. When the flour is almost all incorporated, fold in the shredded carrots, walnuts, and raisins. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 80 minutes for an 8 inch cake and about 45-50 minutes for cupcakes until the top is golden brown and the middle springs back when touched. Check with a cake tester. Let cool completely on a wire rack before removing.

For the frosting, beat the cream cheese in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment for a minute until smooth. Add the butter and beat for another minute. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula and add the powdered sugar. Mix for another minute.

Refrigerate the frosting for 2-3 hours until it has firmed up for piping or spreading.

If making carrot strips for decoration, peel the carrot with a vegetable peeler and make lengthwise thin strips with the peeler. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil dissolving the sugar. Add the carrot strips and boil for 10 seconds. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool.

When ready to assemble, remove the cake from the pan and slice into two layers. Spread about half the frosting onto the bottom layer with an offset spatula, top with the top layer, and spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake as a crumb coat. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Then, spread the remaining frosting over the cake. If using, place carrot strips in spirals on top for decoration.

For cupcakes, remove them from the muffin tin and spread frosting on top with a small icing spatula or pipe the frosting on with a piping bag.

Store the cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and remove from the fridge a few hours before serving.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Italian Chocolate Kisses

I've had these cookies bookmarked for the longest time and like most of my other bookmarked recipes, never got around to making them. Then I finally made them and never got around to posting them. It's a vicious cycle, but finally they make their appearance here on the blog many months after. Unlike the journey behind these cookies, you should make them immediately because they're fantastic and deserve to be made. Not only that, those you share them with will love them and thank you for it. The recipe originally comes from Gina DePalma's Dolce ItalianoI got the recipe from Chez Pim.

The recipe is just a teeny tiny bit time consuming, what with the rolling of the cookie dough, filling, and all, but I assure you it's worth it. Just get someone to help you and it will go twice as fast, right? Whenever you sandwich a cookie with filling, it automatically becomes great, especially when the filling is rich chocolate ganache. These cookies are nutty, moist, and super chocolaty. They're not too sweet and just perfectly crumbly.

My cookies turned out a bit more dome shaped than I wanted which made them a bit harder to eat. Next time, I might make them a bit smaller. Like Pim, I also didn't have any blanched almonds, so I just used regular whole almonds and they turned out fine. I also didn't have any dutch-processed cocoa powder, so I used natural cocoa powder and they turned out a bit lighter in color. With my leftover ganache, I made sandwiches out of some cutout cookies I happened to be making at the same time. I seriously urge you not to wait as long as I did before trying these cookies. Make them and you won't be disappointed.
Baci de Cioccolato (Chocolate Kisses)
Recipe adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
1 tbsp granulated sugar + about 1/4 cup for rolling cookies
1 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp (190 g) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (35 g) dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 tsp fine salt
1 cup (2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
1 cup (125 g) powdered sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk (original recipe calls for rum)

Chocolate Ganache Filling
8 oz (225 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp softened butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp liquor, rum, cognac, etc. (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 deg F. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet for 15 min until golden brown. Remove the almonds and turn off the oven. When cooled completely, grind the almonds in a food processor with the tbsp of sugar until finely ground.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, a few minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract and milk. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula and on low speed, slowly add in the dry ingredients. Then add in the ground almonds. Continue beating until everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Cover the dough and refrigerate for an hour until it is firm enough to handle.

Preheat the oven to 325 deg F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone liner. Scoop teaspoonfuls of the dough, roll into a ball, roll in the sugar, and line them on a baking sheet with about 2 inches between them. Bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. The cookies are done when puffed and slightly cracked. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. While the cookies are cooling, make the ganache.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. In a small pot, heat the cream over low heat until it just starts to boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and butter. Let stand a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in the liquor, if using. Let the ganache cool, whisking occasionally, until it is firm enough to pipe. Transfer the ganache to a pastry bag with no tip or a round tip. Pipe mounds of ganache onto the cookies and top with another cookie pressing down gently until the ganache spreads to the sides.

Store cookies in an airtight container up to a week.