Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nana Nutter Bread

I've been meaning to make this banana bread for several weeks since I've been craving a warm slice of banana bread. It's one of my favorite desserts and it's just so simple to make. I've been purposely buying a few more bananas than usual when I go grocery shopping, but the banana eaters in my house have been doing a good job of getting to them before they've been ripe enough to bake with. It's alright with me, but it's just delayed my plans to make this banana bread until recently.

Peanut butter and banana is one of my favorite combos and I don't think I could ever get tired of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I prefer smooth peanut butter on bread, but I happened to have a jar of extra crunchy peanut butter in the pantry. So, it's been a constant reminder to try out this recipe during my banana gathering journey the last couple of weeks. If you don't have crunchy peanut butter, smooth would also work.

The recipe is one I've had bookmarked ever since I flipped through Baked Elements by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito many months ago. Then I saw it again here. It's the first recipe I've tried of theirs and I can absolutely understand what the fuss is about now. I was afraid it would be too sweet with the peanut butter, bananas, and sugar, but it was perfect. I did leave out the chocolate chips though. The peanut butter flavor is prominent but doesn't overtake the banana and the texture is just stunning textbook banana bread. The picture above doesn't do it justice since I just had to cut into it before it cooled enough. I only have an 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pan, so my banana bread got a little darker than expected, but the crunchy top part was my sister's favorite part.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread
Adapted from Baked Elements
Makes one 9x5 inch loaf

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt, half the amount of fine table salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 heaping cup of mashed bananas, about 3 medium bananas
1/2 cup vegetable/canola oil
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup peanut butter, crunchy or smooth

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Butter and flour a 9x5 inch loaf pan or line with parchment paper. Sift the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl, set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs a bit before adding in the bananas, oil, milk, and peanut butter. Mix thoroughly for a few minutes until combined. Fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just combined.

Transfer the batter to the loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Start checking at about an hour. Let the banana bread cool for about 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Banana bread will last well wrapped at room temp for a few days.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Custard Pie

I've been seeing strawberry-rhubarb recipes everywhere and since the strawberries are fresh and sweet right now, I thought I would make a pie that's been on my mental to-make list forever. The pie was very easy to put together and if you have a pie crust made already, it takes no time at all although you do have to let the pie cool before you can dig into it.
I used my standby pie crust recipe and used more strawberries/less rhubarb for the filling. I thought the taste was pretty much perfect although it was a bit sweet for my taste. I've adjusted the measurements in the recipe below. I used a 9.5 inch pie plate rather than a 9 inch, so my pie is bit thinner and more cooked than I would like. I also didn't mix the custard filling enough. Watch the video here to see what it should look like. If you are also using a larger pie plate, you can also increase the filling recipe. However, everyone that tasted it still thought it was fantastic. The pie really tastes best chilled the day it's made. It still tastes good the next few days after, but not as amazing as when it's fresh.

Strawberry Rhubarb Custard Pie
Pie Crust from Martha Stewart, Filling Adapted from Chef John of Food Wishes
Makes 1 9 inch pie

Pie Crust
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp fine salt, double the amount of kosher salt
1/8 - 1/4 cup iced water

Pulse the butter, sugar, salt, and flour in a food processor until the butter is the size of peas. Gradually add just enough iced water as the processor is running until the dough just holds together when squeezed in the palm of your hand. Dump out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a round disk. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days or freeze up to a month.

When ready to use, roll out the pie dough to a round big enough for a 9 inch pie plate. Fit into the pie plate, crimp, then freeze for 10 minutes.

2 1/2 cups sliced rhubarb, 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, quartered
3 large eggs
1 1/8 cups granulated sugar
3 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 tbsp. butter, diced
2 tbsp. strawberry jam
1/4 tsp water

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Mix the strawberries and rhubarb together and pour them into the cold pie crust.

Whisk the eggs, sugar, milk, flour, nutmeg, and salt together in a large bowl thoroughly for a few minutes. Pour the filling over the rhubarb and strawberries slowly to ensure not overfilling. Place the diced butter over the top of the pie and give the pie a tap before putting it into the oven.

Bake the pie for about an hour on the middle rack, rotating the pie halfway through, until the custard is just set. Check on the pie at about 45 minutes. Remove the pie and let cool on the counter.

Warm the jam and water in a small pot or stainless steel measuring cup over low heat and brush it over the pie focusing on the exposed fruit.  Once the pie has cooled to room temp, refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Pie will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Taro Tapioca Dessert Soup with Taro Balls

As I've said before, dessert is not very typical after a Chinese meal. That's not to say that there aren't desserts in the Chinese repertoire, there are quite a few. Dessert shops specializing in Chinese desserts are in fact quite popular, especially amongst younger generations. Larger Chinese restaurants occasionally serve some type of dessert soup, but it's usually an afterthought. The problem for me is that in my area, I've come to expect disappointment when it comes to dessert after a restaurant meal. On a typical day, you get a passable but not great bowl of dessert soup, most likely red(azuki) bean. On a good day, you may also have a selection of puddings, although they were probably made from a package. On a bad day, you get a watered down lukewarm bowl of dessert soup that's not much better than having no dessert at all.
Growing up however, restaurants seemed to put more care into dessert. Occasionally, there would be almond jello, mung bean soup, coconut tapioca dessert, and mango pudding. I understand where the changes are coming from though. Customers don't usually order dessert, so dessert is only given for free when you're dining with a larger party. However, I think that if you're going to serve dessert at all, you might as well do it right. Most Chinese dessert soups are also very easy to make, so there's not really any excuse for not putting in the little effort needed.
Today, I'm sharing a recipe for one of my favorite dessert soups, Taro Coconut Milk Tapioca(
芋頭椰汁西米露). This is one of those recipes where measurements don't really matter as long as the general methods are the same. With the addition of whole milk and sweetened condensed milk, this Taro Coconut Milk Tapioca is much milkier than the ones typically found in restaurants. For a lighter flavor, just use more water in place of the milk. I also made some taro balls to add in inspired by a Thai dessert. I used much more tapioca than was necessary, so I've adjusted the measurements in the recipe below. I'm always surprised by how much liquid tapioca absorbs and how much it expands. How fluid your dessert soup is also depends on how much taro and taro balls you add. To get your desired consistently, just add more or less milk or water. I also didn't make it very sweet at all, so adjust to your desired sweetness and use any kind of sweetener you like. This dessert can be served warm or cold because the tapioca starch in the taro balls keeps them soft. For chewier taro balls, use all glutinous rice flour. I steamed the taro so that I could control the water content and doneness of it for the taro balls, but you could also just boil the taro if you like. Use a large taro or a portion of one with the purple lines running through it for the best flavor.

Taro Coconut Milk Tapioca with Taro Balls
Makes about 20 servings

About 4-5 cups peeled and diced taro
1/3 cup mini tapioca pearls
2 14-oz cans of coconut milk
2 cups milk
11/2 cups water, plus more for steaming and boiling
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Steam the diced taro over a medium high heat for about 15 minutes until very tender. Set aside. Meanwhile, bring a heavy duty saucepan filled at least 2/3 full with water to a boil over medium heat, add in the tapioca stirring immediately and then occasionally afterwards. Let the tapioca simmer for about 5 minutes until almost translucent, then turn the heat off and let sit for another 5 minutes covered. Drain the tapioca and run under cold water until cooled. Set aside.

Taro Balls:
1 1/2 cups of taro, mashed
3/4 cup glutinous rice flour
3/4 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Large pinch of salt

To make the taro balls, mash 2 - 2 1/2 cups of the cooked taro to end up with 1 1/2  cups of mashed taro. Add a pinch of salt, the granulated sugar, tapioca starch, and glutinous rice flour to the mashed taro. Mix with your hands to incorporate everything as best as you can. Add in about 1/4 cup of the coconut milk, reserving the rest for later. Form the taro mixture into a dough with your hands adding a few tablespoons of water as necessary to bring everything together. Roll the dough into small balls, about 1/2-3/4 inches in diameter. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add in the taro balls and let them cook until they float. When they are done, drain them and set aside.

To bring everything together for the dessert soup, heat the remaining coconut milk, milk, water, and sweetened condensed milk in a large pot over medium-low heat. Once everything is heated through and mixed thoroughly, add in the remaining cooked taro, mashing some of it if you like. Add in the tapioca and the cooked taro balls and stir to combine. Serve warm or cold. Taro Tapioca will last for a few days when stored in the fridge although the taro balls will start to soften if left for too long.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

An Eggy Chiffon Cake

Ever since I started making Chinese Chiffon Cake several years ago, my dad has been reminiscing about the chiffon cakes he used to have that had an even stronger fragrance of fresh eggs. There are many things that just don't taste the same as they used to according to my dad. I think this could be due to the fact that our food system and our food resources aren't the same as they used to be, at least where we live. Despite that, I've made many attempts to come as close as I can to that flavor by changing up my original Chinese Style Chiffon Cake recipe. Unlike the process in which I come up with new variations and flavors by adding things, I eliminate any flavors that might compete with the eggs' natural fragrance and try to use the best eggs that I can get. I came the closest to that elusive memorable flavor by taking out the vanilla, using water, and using eggs that I found at my local farmers' market. However, it still wasn't quite good enough.

About a month ago, I decided to try my luck again. This time, I thought I would just forget trying to go any further with my other recipe and instead look for a super basic traditional recipe without any additional liquid or leavening agent to maximize the egg flavor. I couldn't find one I liked, so I improvised from a few different recipes. I'm happy to say that I think this is the very best I've done and will be able to do since there is basically nothing but eggs, sugar, a bit of flour, and oil in this cake. The cake is super fragrant, leavening agent free, yet still perfectly fluffy.

Since there is no leavening agent in this cake, it could be a bit more temperamental. In order to whip egg whites best, you want them at room temp rather than straight from the fridge. Eggs however, separate best when they're cold. So, I separate the eggs first, let them sit for 15 minutes if I can, and then whip them. The recipe here uses almost the same amount of sugar as my other recipe, but there is less than half the amount of cake flour and no additional liquid. On paper, it seems like it wouldn't work, but it does.

Traditional Chinese Chiffon Cake
Makes One 10-inch cake

8 large egg yolks
8 large egg whites
145 g granulated sugar
90 g cake flour
100 g(a bit less than 1/2 cup) vegetable oil
large pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F and have a 10 inch not nonstick tube pan(angel food cake pan) ready, ungreased.

Sift the flour 3 times, set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, salt, and 50g of the sugar (reserve the rest for later). Whisk for several minutes, until it turns pale yellow and thick ribbons fall from the whisk. Mix in the oil and whisk well.

In another large bowl with a clean whisk or in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they start to foam. Add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff.

Whisk a third of the beaten egg whites into the egg yolks and mix until blended. Fold in the rest of the egg whites gently but not timidly with a spatula until just blended. Be sure there are no large clumps of egg whites left as this will leave wet spots in the finished cake.

Fold in the sifted flour a bit at a time trying not to lose any volume until well incorporated. Pour the batter into the pan. Pour the batter slowly along the edge of the mixing bowl to break up any large air bubbles if you'd like. Tap the pan to pop any remaining bubbles. Bake until set and golden brown, about 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

As soon as it comes out of the oven, invert the pan onto a cooling rack so the cake won't collapse, let cool completely. To unmold, run a knife around the edge and remove the cake, run knife under the cake to remove the bottom. It's easier to remove if you slice through the cake but you can also just slip the center out or serve it on the pan. Cake will last several days covered at room temp.