Tweaked rich banana bread

I made this banana bread, also to rave reviews from Cassie and Brigittie in particular. I admit it turned out very nicely and super moist. No pics fanciness, but here were my deviations from the recipe, for posterity:

  • I doubled it, so quantities adjusted accordingly.
  • I added enough molasses so that it was like using dark brown sugar.
  • I used two big bananas and two tiny ones which I think are a sweeter species.
  • No walnuts, a tad more vanilla than called for, and my usual pinch of xanthan gum with the dry ingredients.
  • Added about 1.5 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.
  • Didn’t quite have enough sour cream, so I supplemented with about 1/3 cup leftover cognac-spiked vanilla-bean-infused sugar-sweetened whipped cream from Thanksgiving. Shut up; it worked great.
  • I wound up needing to bake mine for at least 10 min. longer than she called for.
  • If I did it over I might experiment with cutting back on the sugar. Didn’t seem like it truly needed it all, esp. with the richness of flavor that my other additions contributed. (No offense, dear anonymous Internet Janet! Your recipe was a badass base for my compulsive experimentation.)

Classic chocolate chip cookies

This is my idea of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. It’s a variation of a combination of  recipes from Martha Stewart and the back of a Tollhouse chips bag, but with my own tweaks that personalize it.  If you experiment with the amounts of sugar, flour, vanilla, butter, and chips, plus oven temp and time and placement, you can customize it nicely to your liking. I find everyone has a different idea of “the perfect cookie,” but I hope you enjoy mine!

I brought these in to work today, and my coworker Cassie was so effusive and inquisitive in her praise that she finally motivated me to stick them in a proper post with proper instructions. Here ya go, Cassie!

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar*
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 large egg (NOT Omega-3), room temperature if possible**
  • Up to 2 sticks salted butter, room temperature (I use somewhere between one and two sticks depending what I’m after – more butter = less fluffy/cakey, more crispy/chewy. Lately I’m a Full 2 Sticks kinda gal)
  • 1/2 tbsp (or less, if you like) real vanilla – don’t use imitation, buy a good but cheap real vanilla.***
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 12-oz package chocolate chips****
  • Optional – if you’re going to add nuts or dried fruit (dried sour red cherries make a wonderful addition), make sure to remove some chocolate chips to make room for them.  My advice is 2 parts chips, 1 part fruit/nuts/both, for a total of 12 ounces of add-ins.
  • See my personal baking tips for more detailed ingredient advice and techniques.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350ish, and set out your baking sheets (but NOT on top of the oven). Cut up parchment or throw down the Silpat or whatever else you like to do to preserve your cookies’ asses.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar about two minutes, scraping sides and bottom well (especially if using a stand mixer).
  • Add molasses if you’re doing a brown sugar substitution, add vanilla and egg and keep beating.
  • Mix dry ingredients together lazily in a separate bowl, then add this mixture in about three parts, mixing after each addition. Don’t go overboard mixing once the flour is added, or your cookies will get all hard because you’ve teased the gluten out of the flour and accidentally started kneading the mixture like bread. Avoid that. Be lazy.
  • Stir in chips with a wooden spoon or paddle and try to make sure they’re evenly distributed.
  • For easy storage, use your hands to shape dough into balls or patties and keep loosely packed in Tupperware in the freezer for easy removal and baking of just one or two.
  • Chill dough if possible for at least 45 minutes, then bake at 350 degrees for 10-20 minutes, depending *very much* on your oven – check at 10, 12, 15, etc. minutes and remove at the first hint of browning on top.
  • Allow cookies to cool for at least 30 minutes.  For cookies you want to eat immediately, cook a bit longer (but leaving the ones for later to cool even if they seem a bit undercooked will make for softer, chewier cookies even after cooling – salmonella, shmalmonella, I say!)

 

*Best is if you do the whole white sugar but add molasses at egg stage thang.
**Duck is definitely best here! The biggest one in the dozen; be extra careful with shells since they’re thicker and even more unpleasant to bite into.
***An easy way is to do “vanilla sugar” — whenever you use vanilla bean caviar in a recipe, stick the hulls in a spice jar and fill with sugar. Use that sugar to bake things like these cookies. You’re welcome. (Still use the normal amount of vanilla bean extract as well.)
****I just use Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chips, but obviously, fancier chocolate makes for fancier cookies.

Brunch for TEN!?

My lovely friend Jen emailed me the following question today:

If Ginnie was serving brunch for 10 this Sunday, what would she make? :)

And being me, I over-replied. But I realized this might be a heck of a useful post!

For TEN!? What have you gotten yourself roped into?

1) Meat: I’d do ham steak/s instead of bacon or sausage because it’s easier to cook (just sear in pan & voilà) and doesn’t make the house stink like meat for vegetarians. Make ’em look fancy by doing grill marks if you have the requisite apparatus and time and sanity. I don’t like putting much of any kind of sauce or glaze on ham, but something orangey would be nice if you felt like dressing them up. Another plus is that since ham is pre-cooked/cured, you’re not likely to accidentally undercook meat or give anybody a food-borne illness.

2) Sweet: I’d make the Blueberry Pecan French toast recipe from Epicurious since you can prep most of it the night before. Throw in a bit of cinnamon too and use real vanilla bean if you can. Also make sure you use full fat milk or even half and half — nobody eats French toast to be healthy & it’ll taste better. :) I like making it with strawberries instead of blueberries too, but definitely shell out for fresh fruit, not frozen. You could probably sauté apple or banana if berries are too scarce. Use Grade B maple syrup for maple-ier flavor — Trader Joe’s has good prices. You could whip up some cream for a festive addition to this.

3) Egg: Then you can do a big easy vegetable omelet (arugula & fancy mushrooms like oyster or chanterelle?) or scramble, and fancy it up with drizzlings of truffle oil — but keep that part optional on the side if you have kids or other picky eaters to feed. Maybe truffle half of it and stick a little shroom on top to distinguish the truffled half. Go very easy w/ that stuff!

4) Drink: Do a big pitcher of mimosa on ice; more people like those than Bloody Marys or other AM cocktails, and people can always wander into your kitchen to tweak the ratio. (Maybe leave out some decent brandy on the counter if they feel like spiking their version.) Cristalino cava is usually $7-9 per bottle and works great; the normal kind is best but Extra Brut works too. Don’t get the pink. Fresh squeeze the oranges and have extra pre-squeezed from the night before so the fun keeps flowing. I like to use blood oranges if available for a fun look — but don’t fret over orange selection because the reddish peel coloration rarely corresponds to the color of the flesh. Just grab & go and know that any oranges will be delish. :) If you have an opaque pitcher use that instead of clear, because the pulp residue makes clear pitchers look unnecessarily dirty/icky after just one pour.

GOOD LUCK!!! Oh, and this may also be of service.

Holiday Recipes

Found this recipe card on my fridge this weekend, written in Jen’s handwriting. Very mysterious. Copied verbatim.

Recipe #1

1 c peanuts (chopped)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c vegetable oil
2 large lobsters
1/2 head lettuce
1 bowl raspberry JELLO
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c Tabasco

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir for 2 minutes and move to blender. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes, and serve to whoever will eat it.

My personal baking tips

They say there are two types of cooks — bakers and chefs. Bakers are generally thought to be methodical and rule-abiding, and they deal mainly in chemistry. Chefs are innovators and risk-takers, and they deal more in physics. I had always thought myself to be more of a chef than a baker (as evidenced by my complete inability to follow a recipe exactly) — but I believe one can learn to bake even if one’s heart sings a main-course song.

I’ve received lots of compliments and inquiries about my baked goods, and I think I’ve managed to put my finger on the specific chef-like risks that I’ve incorporated into my baking practices with great success. (This is not to say I haven’t had MANY failures — I just don’t blog about those!) So here’s a list of some of the specific tweaks I tend to apply to most baking recipes.

Continue reading “My personal baking tips”