Salted Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread

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Banana bread freezes really well, and so it’s a great thing to make in advance for something like my upcoming shindig. Because it’s a fancy shindig, I wanted to make it with a bit of a twist on my traditional recipe. And while I’m on the bourbon caramel theme this week, I figured I might as well make me some fancy banana bread! I used my original recipe (see link above), but instead of using very ripe (pre-frozen) bananas I used yellow ones, because I wanted a few chunks in my banana bread. And of course I made up a bourbon caramel sauce, which I borrowed from the Minimalist Baker. So first we’ll make up the sauce, and then we’ll re-make our old classic banana bread.

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This caramel sauce! I’m definitely of the Keep It Simple, Stupid school of thought, so I love the 4-ingredient easiness of this recipe. And now I want to drink the stuff. It’s amazing. I doubled the original recipe because I anticipated loving it and wanting to drink it, but it makes a decent amount for a generous swirl of caramel throughout the banana bread (if you leave like half a cup leftover for yourself to eat with a spoon).

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 19Start with 2 cups granulated sugar and plop that in a medium saucepan together with 1/2 cup water (in this 4-ingredient recipe, water does not count as an ingredient. It evaporates so technically it doesn’t exist!). Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 1

Heat that on medium high for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t stir: just swirl the pot occasionally.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 5You’ll get bored, but you can’t leave. So enjoy a glass of bourbon while you’re waiting. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 4

The sugar will begin to boil, and then, as the water evaporates, the bubbles will get smaller and smaller.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 12Eventually the mixture will turn a lovely amber colour and will only be kind of fizzy. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 13

At this point, remove it from the heat (turn off the burner) and, whisking the whole time, drizzle in 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream. Don’t freak out as it fizzes and foams up around you. Just keep whisking. I usually sing a song to a volcano god while I do this. I always feel like I’m summoning a creature from the depths when I do science-y things like make caramel.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 14When you’ve got the cream all whisked in and the whole thing has calmed down, put the pot back on the still-warm burner and tip in 2 tablespoons bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark). This time it will only fizz a little bit. Add in as well a few pinches of salt – I used fleur de sel. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 15

Pour into a heat-safe container and let cool before storing in the fridge. If you want to use this for other things then just warm it up a bit and then it will become pour-able again. I kind of like the finger-scoop-y texture of it when it’s cold though.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 17I’m having a hard time giving up even a little bit of this for banana bread. But I gotta do what I gotta do. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 18

So. Let’s do some banana bread. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two loaf pans with parchment paper.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 25Grab 5 bananas. You can use overripe or frozen bananas but this time I decided to use ones with a bit more substance to them – of course I waited too long to do the recipe and they’re a little spotty but whatever. Nobody ever said I was the proactive blogger. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 22

Mush, mush, mush ’em into a small bowl together with 1 tablespoon baking soda that has been “dissolved” in 3 tablespoons hot water. Put that bowl to one side for a minute.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 23Grab another, medium bowl and plop in 1 cup room temperature butter. Beat that silly with 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar until you get a serious case of the fluffy butters. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 24

Then crack in 2 eggs and beat that until it’s a coagulated mess. Mmmm … Line this bowl up with the banana bowl and leave those for a few minutes.

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In ANOTHER bowl (this time a decent-sized one), sift together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 29Now we put it all together. Beat the banana mixture into the egg mixture and then tip it into the flour mixture. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 31

Fold the flour mixture into the banana mixture until it’s all combined.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 33NOW, glop a bunch of your caramel sauce into the batter and kind of swirl it through gently. Don’t let it get too mixed in – you want streaks. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 34

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 35Tip the batter between the two loaf pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the loaves are cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 36

Use the parchment paper to lift the loaves out of the pans and let them cool completely on a cooling rack.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 39Freeze or cut and serve with butter. MMMMMMM!

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Eggless Chocolate Egg Cookies

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Necessity is the mother of invention. These cookies were a necessity. They were made under less-than-happy circumstances. We’d just come to the realization that Indy was no longer safe living in our house and we had to take him back to the breeder as soon as possible in order to avoid compromising his physical and mental health and to start the hard road of Gren’s anti-anxiety conditioning right away. To say we were abjectly miserable would be a gross understatement.

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So I made these cookies as a bit of cold comfort for the situation. I’d already braved the supermarket with sunglasses and a hat to hide my red eyes in order to take advantage of half-price Cadbury Mini Eggs, but when I got back I discovered I was completely out of eggs, and I just didn’t have it in me to go back. So I simply went without. And here’s the recipe for it.

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In a bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.

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In another, larger bowl, cream together 1 cup butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 1/2 cup brown sugar.

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You can do this with a mixer but I did it by hand so as not to wake up my sleeping dogs. We were all having a spectacularly bad day.

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Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 cup milk or cream.

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Now gradually add in your flour mixture and stir until everything is uniform.

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Grab about 1 cup chocolate eggs (Cadbury’s are the best) and smash them up a bit (or don’t smash them, that’s up to you). Chuck them into the dough and mix it around. Now I don’t usually have the patience to chill dough but this stuff is much easier to manipulate if you chuck it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

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When you’re ready to bake, set your oven to 325°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Form the dough into little balls and press them onto the baking sheets. These don’t expand very much so you can make them whatever size you want.

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Bake for about 10-12 minutes and remove from the oven to let cool completely on the sheet, on a rack. I don’t recommend moving these until they’re more or less cool as they’re a little unstable when hot.

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Impressions Ornaments

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I saw this leaf imprint necklace at Happy Hour Projects and I thought it was neat. While I wasn’t that interested in the jewelry aspect of it, I thought that the technique would make for some great Christmas ornaments. What you need to do this is simply some oven-bake polymer clay (like Sculpey) and some leaves or other items to make impressions in the clay. Everything else, the silicone work surface, the craft paint, the bits and bobs, those are all up to you. A note on polymer clay – it is not food-safe. Whatever you use to cut or otherwise work the clay should not be used for food items.

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So. Grab your clay. I used a plain white. Work some of it between your hands to soften it and then flatten it onto your work surface. I’d aim for a thickness between 1/8″ and 1/4″.

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Then take a leaf or whatever else you’d like to impress, and place it on the clay. This leaf is about 2″ wide, to give you an idea of scale.

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Press the leaf into the surface of the clay so that it leaves a full and detailed impression. You won’t get as much detail with the small leaves on polymer clay as you would on natural clay (like with the clay leaf bowls) simply because the substance is more resilient.

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Carefully remove the leaf and then cut it out with a cookie cutter or knife. You can cut it off-centre or however you would like. I’m not grading you on these.

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Use a skewer or some other pokey object to put a hole through for stringing.

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We even got Grenadier in on the action, though he wasn’t happy about it. If you want him to step on something, suddenly his paw is a delicate flower and he can do no harm. If you don’t want him to step on something, he will immediately put his full 40lbs of weight behind it.

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So these impressions were not as deep as I would like.

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But they worked out well enough that I figured they’d do.

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Place your finished items on a sheet of parchment and bake at 275°F for 15 minutes per 1/4″ of thickness of your clay. Let them cool completely before handling.

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Done.

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Now we paint. If you want. I used some craft paint  and a small paintbrush to swipe colour over the impression.

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This one I used a dry paper towel to wipe it off, which left the colour on the majority of the ornament.

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This one I just filled in the leaf part as close as I could.

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Then I used a wet flannel cloth to wipe it gently off.

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The Gren ones took a few applications of paint.

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Then I strung them with some hemp line and some wee bells.

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These would make a great addition to your gift wrap arsenal, a cute personalized stocking stuffer, or you could give a few to a person just starting to collect their own Christmas ornaments.

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Nutella Blondies

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For the end-of-year potluck for our softball team, the Pie elected to make these ooey-gooey sticky-sweet masterpieces. If you’re in the mood for a serious sugar overload, then this one is for you. The original recipe makes one 8″ x 8″ pan of thin squares. We doubled it to create a slightly thicker version in a 9″ x 13″ baking pan, so the recipe below reflects that.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter your pan. Line it with parchment paper and butter it again. Because of course you need the extra grease in this recipe.

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Now, melt 1 cup butter (I know, that’s a lot of butter) and set it aside to cool a bit until it’s not molten.

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Pour the slightly cooled butter into a big bowl with 2 large eggs, 2 cups brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons vanilla extract. Whisk that together until smooth.

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Plop in 2 cups flour and stir until combined.

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Next add in 2 cups peanut butter chips, or half peanut butter chips and half chocolate chips (we ran out of peanut butter ones). Stir that up.

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Spread your dough/batter into your pan. It’s easiest to spread into the corners if you butter your hands and press down.

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Next, heat up 2/3 cup Nutella (or comparable chocolate hazelnut spread) and pour it in long lines on the surface of your blondie batter.

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Use a skewer or knife to drag the hazelnut spread horizontally across and through the batter to create a marbled pattern.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, and then set on a wire rack to cool completely. These will look slightly underbaked, but they’re supposed to be gooey. So when it’s cool, cut it into small squares and enjoy!

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Clay Leaf Bowls

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My mother is an artist and as such has a lot of artist friends. When I was a kid, a couple of them ran various art schools and camps and to show support, my mother sent me. I have very little artistic skill, but I loved the camps, because I got to learn new techniques and work with my hands. I especially loved working with clay. I once made a beautiful pistol replica (I was a weird kid) but it blew up in the kiln so I never saw the fruits of my effort. My lack of skill hasn’t stopped me in the years since, and when I saw these beautiful dishes from Urban Comfort, I thought, “I can do that!” So I did.

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First, you need to gather yourself some leaves. Go for the fresh ones, as they’ll be the most flexible. In these sorts of projects everyone seems to go for the beautiful fig leaves and things like that. Well, figs don’t grow in this Arctic wasteland. So I went with what was available: various forms of maple (it is Canada, after all), some ornamental grapes, random roadside vegetation … What ended up working the best, however, in terms of creating easy dishes, was from my own backyard: hostas, nasturtiums, and the gorgeous morning glory that has been tumbling over my fence all summer.

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Then grab yourself some air-dry clay (this means you don’t have to shove it in a kiln, though if you have access to a kiln, you should probably use it for these as it will make them much more durable). I picked up a 5kg block of it for $17.49 at DeSerres (actually, I had a gift card, so it was FREE).

Clay Leaves 1

Grab a hunk of it and roll it out to your desired thickness. I used a fondant roller to get a smooth surface. The leaves look better in clay about 2mm (~1/8″) thick, but that makes it much more fragile to handle, so you probably want to aim for around 5-7mm (~1/4″). I use this Kitchenaid silicone mat as a work surface for anything non-toxic, including pies. It’s amazing and portable and easy to clean.

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Now, I did find that if I went straight to leaf pressing and cutting from this stage, my clay was too firmly stuck to the surface to get a good result.

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Accordingly, I carefully peeled the clay sheet off the mat and flipped it onto a piece of parchment paper and went from there. It was just easier and made sure both sides of the sheet of clay were smooth.

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Then you grab your leaves and flatten them into your clay. I used the fondant roller again to get them in there nice and good.

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These ones I am not turning into dishes – I just wanted to see what effect they would create.

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It’s neat.

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Use tweezers to get tricky ones out of the clay and pick out any stray bits of debris.

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You will have some folds and wrinkles in your leaf, just because it’s hard to press something flat that isn’t naturally flat. But don’t freak out – it just adds to the texture.

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Once you’ve gotten your leaf carefully removed you end up with this lovely impression, veins and blemishes and all.

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Use the tip of a small sharp knife (Xacto, paring, whatever) to cut along the edge of the leaf and carefully peel away the excess clay.

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This was way easier to do with round leaves than with the pointy ones, as you can see, and the round ones made better dishes anyway.

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Make a little ring out of aluminum foil and pick up your clay leaf. Bend the leaf into a more natural shape (which it will want to do anyway) and set it inside the ring to dry. Feel free to play with curling the edges up and down, in the way that the leaf would do in nature. I left mine to dry overnight, then I flipped them over (with support) to dry on the bottom for another night.

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Now you’re done! It’s up to you what you do with them next. They’re pretty fragile still, so nothing hardcore. My biggest morning glory ones broke along their vein fault lines just from picking them up wrong.

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But they make pretty neat little dishes for small items, such as jewelry.

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This leaf with a stem makes a nice holder for rings.

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The larger nasturtiums make neat bowls for pocket change. In Canada we recently got rid of our penny, but with both our $1 and $2 denominations in coin, we still have plenty of change kicking around!

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And these grape leaves make a good place to keep your spectacles, if you’re the type of person who forgets where you put them.

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Because the clay is uncured, it tends to scrape off and leave a residue, so I wanted to finish them off a bit. I used an ultra-fine sandpaper to smooth off the edges of each dish. Make sure you do this outside in a well-ventilated area. Not only does the clay dust get everywhere, but you’re also likely to inhale a bunch of it if you’re not careful. Dust off each piece completely before you do anything else. Compressed air is handy for this, but make sure to do it outside.

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I then painted each piece with an outdoor satin sealer that adhered pretty well to the clay surface. I like the soft shininess of it and the fact that it didn’t sink into the porous clay and discolour it.

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Some of the finished dishes. The one on the left is my favourite, because it’s so thin and delicate. I’m betting good money that whomever I give it to will break it within a week, and it won’t even be that person’s fault.

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And some of the bigger ones. I made so many that pretty much everyone on my gift list is getting at least one. And because of that handy gift certificate, this cost me nothing but time!

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S’mores Cookie Bars

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We’re having a beautiful fall, where it’s nice and crisp at night but during the day it’s glorious and sunny. So I can still pretend it’s summer with a summery dish. Right? Right. The Crockpot Gourmet has this kid-pleasing concoction that I knew would be a hit at a family potluck, so I gave it a whirl. Or at least, I thought about it. I REALLY want to make this in the crock pot. Because I think it would be the ultimate in awesome. The problem is that my crock pot is very narrow and deep and would not work at all for making cookie bars. So I modified the cooking technique a little bit in order to do this in the oven. And then, because I could, I also modified the recipe by playing around with the proportions and taking out some of the sugar.

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I got very excited because I had to buy Teddy Grahams for this recipe. I haven’t had those little cookies since I was a kid. I couldn’t find the actual brand name ones for this but I found the generic equivalent and I think it was probably passable in any case.

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Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and then butter a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

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In a small bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cocoa, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together 1 cup butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar,  and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until it’s super fluffy.

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Then, add in 3 large eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla and beat that up as well. Start adding in your flour mixture, too, a little at a time.

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I ended up adding about 2 tablespoons cream, just to make the whole thing a bit more cakey.

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Smear your dough into the baking dish and smooth it out.

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Now sprinkle about 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips over the surface.

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Add to that about 1 1/2 cups honey Teddy Grahams.

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Then about 30 marshmallows.

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Tent some aluminum foil over top so it covers the container but doesn’t touch the marshmallows. This will keep them from burning.

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Bake the whole thing for about 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out almost clean.

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Remove the foil and set the dish on a wire rack to cool completely.

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I think I might add more marshmallows next time, considering how much they disappeared.

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This Teddy Graham survived. Mostly.

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Slice the whole thing up into pieces and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

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Playing with Puff Pastry

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D’you remember, a while back, where I had leftover puff pastry and leftover cream cheese icing, and I made a thing? Well.  I did it again. I had some leftover cream cheese icing from the Pie’s Spider-Man spice cake, which I had chucked in the freezer to keep.  There’s almost 2 cups of this stuff.

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I had also chucked in there some strawberries that I had stewed when they were on their last legs, so they were pretty much freezer jam.  There’s about 3 cups in here I think.

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Then I bought some puff pastry.  So this thing had to happen.  First, I preheated the oven to 375°F and lined some baking sheets with parchment paper.  Leave your puff pastry in the fridge until you need it or it will be soggy and hard to work with.

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Then I cracked 2 eggs into the cream cheese frosting (you can find the recipe in here) and beat it until it’s smooth.

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I laid out the puff pastry (pre-rolled, woo!) and cut it into 9 squares.

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I put a teaspoon of the cream cheese batter in the centre of the square and followed it up with one of fruit.

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Then I pinched the corners together and sealed it as best as I could (which turned out to be not very well) and bunged them in the oven for about 12 minutes, until the pastry was golden and the innards were solid-ish.

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I set them on a rack to cool.  This made 18 of them.

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I still had plenty of cream cheese and strawberry stuff left and the oven was already on, so I added them together and chucked in about half a cup flour plus 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

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I scooped that into cupcake cups, and baked those for another 12 minutes, until the centres came out clean when tested with a toothpick.

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Those also went on the rack to cool.

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And now I have dessert for our softball team, made from stuff I had in the freezer!  One of the people I fed it to dubbed the pastry bits “Jammy Fantastics,” which I kind of like.

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