Tag Archives: homemade

My Favorite Banana Bread

25 Feb

When I first began baking, I insisted that everything I made was absolutely delicious. I fiercely defended my rock-hard pound cakes, puddle-shaped sugar cookies, and acridly-sweet brownies. Over time, I learned that one must accept failure in order to develop outstanding recipes. Few baked goods come out perfect after the first try, and even then, an experienced baker will elevate them from great to excellent. My tireless pursuit of the perfect banana bread taught me this invaluable lesson.

When it comes to classic American treats, everyone has different preferences. Through sampling countless banana breads, from bakeries and my own kitchen, I formulated an ideal version in my mind. A moist, fragrant loaf with a tender crumb and cake-like consistency, this recipe achieved my goal.

This bread appeals to banana purists. Beating the butter and brown sugar creates a light, fluffy texture and a nice lift to the crust. This technique yields an end product closer to a tea cake than a spongy, dense quick bread. Even though it’s wonderful plain, sliced thick and smeared with a dab of butter, I can’t wait to spice it up with chocolate chunks, nuts, and coconut flakes. Because even my perfect recipe offers infinite opportunities for improvement.

Recipe adapted from Donna Hay Magazine via Sweetie’s Home

Adding a handful of walnuts provides a pleasant crunch and toasty flavor.

  • 8 tblsp (1 stick) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups of mashed, ripe bananas (about 4 large bananas)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan with butter. Using a stand mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the honey and beat for another minute, or until thoroughly combined. Reduce the mixer to medium speed, and add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla extract and banana and mix until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and walnuts. On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until just barely combined. A few streaks of flour are OK.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread and allow it to cool completely.

Lemon-Rosemary Scones with Golden Raisins

8 Jan

When I joined my high school student newspaper staff, I learned about the concept of evergreen articles. In journalism, the term “evergreen” describes stories that remain relevant over long periods. I think this same concept can be applied to baking. No matter what ingredients are popular at the moment, people will always be on the lookout for certain basic recipes.

Brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and blueberry muffins are classics that every home baker should have in his or her arsenal. Cream scones also belong in this category of essential baked goods–buttery morsels with slightly crunchy tops and fluffy, tender interiors. Despite this pastry’s seeming simplicity, all the renditions I tried came up short from the light-as-air scone of my dreams. So I turned to Baking Illustrated, a source known for extensive testing and detailed instructions, and finally found what I was searching for.

These cream scones provide an ideal base for all sorts of add-ins. The rosemary’s herbaceous flavor offsets the pastry’s richness and contrasts well with the tangy lemon zest and plump, sweet golden raisins. To achieve flaky, buttery layers, it is key to handle the dough minimally and efficiently. Use a food processor to prevent the dough from overheating, and cut the scones with a sharp knife to ensure maximum lift. And there you have it! An endlessly adaptable cream scone recipe that will never go out of style.

Look at those flaky layers

Basic cream scone recipe courtesy of Baking Illustrated

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, preferably a low-protein brand such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury
  • 1 tblsp baking powder
  • 2 tblsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 tblsp cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (or other dried fruit of choice)
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1 tblsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 tblsp finely diced fresh rosemary

Yields 8 scones.

1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 425° F. Mix the lemon zest and rosemary into the cream, and allow it to steep in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl. Place this mixture into the workbowl of a food processor equipped with a metal blade. Scatter the chunks of butter evenly over the dry ingredients. Cover and process with 10 one-second pulses, or until the dough resembles coarse pebbles.

3. Remove the blade and transfer the mixture back into the separate bowl. Gently stir in the cream with a fork or rubber spatula until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. Transfer the dough and loose flour bits to a clean work surface and knead the dough until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds.

4. Gently press the dough into an 8-inch round cake pan, release the round, and cut it into 8 wedges using a very sharp chef’s knife or bench scraper. Place the wedges 1/2 an inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until the scone tops are lightly brown, 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Peanut Butter Blondies

3 Jan

At the beginning of January, most food blogs share healthy recipes to help you recover from holiday indulgences and commit to your New Year’s resolutions. Even though I am all about kale salad right now (because it tastes delicious), maintaining a truly healthy diet requires balance. An article I read in the New York Times re-affirmed this belief. I love to bake and consume sweets almost every day, but in moderation, which is key. If my diet centers around fresh produce, whole grains, and lean meats, there is nothing wrong with enjoying quality, homemade baked goods. Which leads me to these peanut butter blondies.

Peanut butter is a quintessential American food. However, despite its ubiquity, most people either love it or they hate it. My dad was of the latter camp, and for years, I tried in vain to convert him. I slathered peanut butter on brioche toast, sandwiched it between shortbread, and even sacrificed some of my beloved Girl Scout cookies to the cause. These magical little bars finally inspired him to see the light.

The blondies have an undeniable peanut flavor without being too rich or overpowering. The saltiness of the roasted peanuts contrasts perfectly with the sweetness of the chocolate chunks, and best of all, the batter takes minutes to mix up in a saucepan. My dad ate two in a matter of minutes, and was disappointed when they were all gone. So, what are you waiting for? It’s 2014. Let’s celebrate with some peanut butter blondies.

Recipe courtesy of Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 tblsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup well-stirred natural, salted peanut butter (smooth)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz) semisweet chocolate chips or chunks

Yields 16 blondies.

1. Line the bottom and all four sides of an 8-inch square pan with foil. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350° F.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the brown sugar and peanut butter. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to beat in the egg, vanilla, and half of the peanuts. Stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.

3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining nuts and chocolate chips evenly over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the nuts have toasted, the top is golden brown, and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan. Cool the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then lift the ends of the foil and allow the blondies to cool completely on the rack. Use a long, sharp knife to cut into squares. The blondies may be stored in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

Weekly Snapshots

8 Nov

Lunch at one of my favorite places in L.A. I have an entire post dedicated to this lovely spot coming up. In the mean time, can any locals guess where this is?

As the end of my first semester of college draws near, I have been swamped with endless reading assignments and essay deadlines. I cannot believe time has passed so quickly–my weeks spent mostly in the library, nose buried in a pile of books. My workload has not allowed for much experimentation in the kitchen, nor have I longed to do so, quite honestly. While I maintain a healthy diet, my meals have slipped into a monotonous pattern dictated by simplicity and efficiency.

This past week, anything that I could pile onto whole wheat toast (homemade tuna salad, almond butter and bananas, and scrambled eggs with basil) qualified as dinner. My breakfasts have been sad repeats of a granola bar and fruit, usually wolfed down while power-walking to class. So this weekend, I look forward to indulging in foods I crave during the school days. This means obligatory visits to my favorite breakfast café and the newly opened Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Glendale. That’s what weekends are for, right?

image-4

Every week, my mom surprises me with a different, hand-made flower arrangement in my room. One of the top three reasons I love coming home (after a good, long shower and clean sheets).

Flatbread pizzas from The Bread Lounge in the Downtown Arts District.

Homemade salad topped with the most perfectly soft-boiled egg. Eggs add richness and satisfaction to any vegetarian meal.

My family and I went out to our first dinner in months at Connie & Ted’s in West Hollywood. It doesn’t get much better than classic American desserts, done right.

Cloud-like Lemon Cupcakes

3 May

Recipe courtesy of Sifting Focus

For the cake:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the frosting:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • Juice and zest from 2 lemons
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

Yields 24 cupcakes.

1. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter to soften.  Beat on medium speed, until it is light in color, about 3 minutes.  Add the sugar and continue to beat until very light, scraping down the sides and across the bottom of the bowl at least once. Beat in the lemon juice and zest.  On medium speed, blend in the oil.

2. On the lowest speed, blend in the yolks, one at a time, mixing just to blend.  Blend in the whole eggs, one at a time, mixing just to blend.

In a separate medium bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. On the lowest speed, blend over half of the flour mixture into the batter.  Continue on the lowest speed and blend in half of the buttermilk.  Continue adding the remainder of the flour until all is incorporated.  Blend in the remaining buttermilk.

3. In a separate mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Beat just a little beyond this soft-peak stage.  Stir about one-quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten.  Then fold the rest of the whipped cream into the batter.

4. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners using a small scoop or tablespoon.  Fill slightly more than one half full.  Gently tap the tins on the counter to release any air bubbles.  Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of one of the center cupcakes comes out clean.  Switch the tins half way through to insure even baking.

5. Remove the cupcakes from the oven to a rack and cool in the tin for 10 minutes.  Remove from the tin and cool completely before frosting.

6. To make the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, thoroughly mix together the butter and cream cheese. Add the lemon juice, zest, and salt and mix to combine. On low speed, add the confectioner’s sugar, one cup at a time until you reach the desired spreading consistency. To finish, frost the cooled cupcakes and serve.

This lovely spring cupcake recipe comes from the newly-launched blog, Sifting Focus. I have had the pleasure of getting to know the creative force behind Sifting Focus, Mary. A talented baker, Mary has thoughtfully advised me on numerous questions and concerns I have had. I have confided in her in everything from demoralizing kitchen failures to challenges with photography. We have exchanged notes on our favorite cookbooks and bakeries from around the country. I vividly remember sending Mary an email after I successfully baked dessert for a Christmas party of more than 30 people. Jubilant language and exclamation points filled the message. I was thrilled to be communicating with someone who could resonate with my excitement at accomplishing such a task. It is incredible how blogging has connected us, two people from completely different backgrounds, bonding over a mutual love of food and baking.

For six months after we first met, I eagerly awaited the debut of her blog. When it finally launched in February, I was blown away. Mary’s writing was eloquent and personable, her photographs were beautiful, and her recipes looked delectable. Every item appeared so delicious that I was left with the difficult choice of which to try first. After much deliberation, I decided upon these light lemon cupcakes. What makes these treats so airy is the freshly whipped cream that is folded into the batter before baking. The cake’s texture resembles that of a cloud, irresistibly soft and puffy. The dough contains a subtle tanginess from the lemon juice and zest, complemented perfectly by the decadent cream cheese frosting. After this experience, I cannot wait to try more recipes from Mary’s fabulous site.