Yes! We have no bananas Banana Bread

There are so, so very many bananas in my freezer.  I swear that the Pie doesn’t eat the fresh bananas simply so I will chuck them in the freezer in anticipation of me having a banana bread fest.  He loves banana bread.  More than he loves me. Honest.

This recipe comes from my magic book, though I think Kristopf actually gave it to me, ages ago.  Who knows where he got it from.  I was about ten or twelve at the time, which would put him at about fourteen or sixteen.  What teenage boy makes banana bread for fun?

Anyway.

Me being me, I of course have modified the original recipe, and I generally use more bananas than is really necessary.  It makes the finished loaf a little more crumbly but it ups the banana-y-ness to the max.  I also generally make these loaves in bulk, usually three at a time (I have three pans) but sometimes more, and then I wrap what we don’t eat tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for another day.  Or give it to KK.  Or both.

I thawed the bananas in a bowl on my counter overnight and they were nice and blackened and soggy.  Today I made the recipe below, but I did it in triplicate.  If you make the single version that I’ve outlined below you should end up with two loaves.

The Pie, having nothing to keep him occupied, decided to help me today.  He has never made banana bread before.  He absolutely refused to touch the bananas in their black skins.  He promised me he would do all the raw chicken touching for the rest of our lives if I would do the banana stuff.  I’m okay with that.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

You’ll need 5 defrosted or very ripe bananas. Peel those gooshy suckers into a bowl.

Dissolve 1 tablespoon baking soda in 3 tablespoons hot water.  Of course, it doesn’t really dissolve, but if you keep stirring it you can get a temporary suspension.

Pour this into the banana mixture and mush it in with a fork until the bananas are all separated into small pieces.  The Pie helped me with this part, but under duress.  Set them aside for the nonce.

In a large bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1 cup room temperature butter (that’s half of one of those 1-pound blocks), and 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar until fluffy.

In yet another bowl or measuring cup, whisk together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder.  Set that aside, too.

Pour your banana mixture into your egg mixture and stir that up as well. 

The mixture should look slightly curdled at this point, and weird tendrils of banana fibre will stick to your mixing utensil and may gross you out.  The Pie said, at this point, “This – making banana bread for the first time – is kind of like seeing a woman give birth.  It’s something that you can’t un-see, and it will always affect how you see it in the future.”

Fold in your flour mixture, a little at a time.  If you want to put in chocolate chips or walnuts or whatever, now is the time to do so.  The Pie is a purist, however, so we have ours plain.

If you are following my lead and doing more than two loaves, do all your batches separately (in case of measuring mistakes) and don’t mix your wet and dry ingredients together in the other batches until you are ready to bake them.  Don’t want no chemical reactions to start too early.

Divide your batter between two greased loaf pans and smooth the tops.  I’ve been having trouble getting my extra-crumbly loaf out of the pan in one piece, so this time I decided to line them with parchment paper to ease the passage.  It was an experiment that worked out really well because it was a snap to use the edges of the paper to lift out the cooked loaves.  Then I just peeled off the paper and left the loaf on the rack to cool.

Bake for 60 minutes until dark brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Turn out and let cool on a wire rack.

This stuff is good hot, it’s good cold, and as I said above, it freezes really well.

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Devil (‘s Food Cake) Made Me Do It

I have designated certain days in my life as chocolate cake days.  You know, those days where things tend to go wrong, and you end up with FLOOR PIZZAThat kind of day.  Normally I turn to the convenient comfort of cake-in-a-box (similar to garlic-in-a-jar but probably not quite as good for you), but recently I’ve been more interested in the process of making one from scratch, and doing it was way easier than I expected.  You, my lovely readers, get the benefit of my experience here.

Seeing as I had recently made an angel’s food cake, it was only fitting that I make a devil’s food cake as well.  You may not know this but traditionally the angel’s food and devil’s food were made concurrently, as the angel’s food used all the whites of the eggs and the devil’s food used all of the yolks.  Modern devil’s food cakes are much lighter affairs these days and generally use whole eggs (and less of them), but I think they would be a nice accompaniment to each other even without the egg symbiosis.  I still have the yolks from the other cake, but I’m going to make them into a masterful pudding sometime soon.

I got this recipe from David Lebovitz, and this is his American-in-Paris masterpiece.  I picked it because of his pictures of the icing on the cake.  I’m such a sucker for chocolate frosting, especially a ganache.  I also thought this recipe had an interesting improvement of putting coffee into the mix.  Coffee and chocolate are always a good combination.  His recipe calls for unsalted butter and salt, but I just use salted butter and I rarely add salt to anything.

Okie dokey (never really sure how to spell that).

Put your oven rack in the centre of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.

Butter up two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and place pretty circles of parchment paper (not to be mistaken with waxed paper, that would be a bad idea) in the bottom of each.  I used a compass because I have a good attention to detail (the Pie called me a nerd for doing so but HE’s the one who wrote a remote sensing exam today).  Put those pans somewhere and work on the other stuff.

Sift together 9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 1/2 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose because that’s what I had), 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder in a bowl and set that sucker aside for a spell.

In yer mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter (or a stick, or 4 ounces) and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar until creamy and fluffy and stuff.

Add 2 eggs, one at a time.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl on occasion.

Mix 1/2 cup strong coffee and 1/2 cup milk together in a measuring cup (or some other form of vessel).

Add half your dry mixture to the creamy butter goodness in the mixer and stir.  Don’t forget to keep scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Add in the milky coffee and stir that up.

Finally, add the second half of the dry mixture to your bowl and mix that up as well.

Divide your batter between the two buttered and papered pans, smooth it flat, and bake for 25 minutes.

You can tell it’s done when you stick a toothpick in the centre and it comes out clean.  I found that mine took an extra five minutes.  Make sure the cake is completely cool before you think about icing it.  When removing from the pan, run a spatula around the edge to loosen the sucker. Due to time constraints, I actually made up the cake part the day before, then wrapped it tightly in plastic over night, and made the frosting the next day.

While it’s cooling (or sitting politely in plastic wrap) you can make your lovely ganache frosting.

In a double boiler or a bowl set over (but not touching) a pot of barely simmering water, melt 10 oz good quality chocolate (your preference for the type) in 1/2 cup cream.  Just so you know, an ounce of chocolate is one of those squares in the boxes of baking chocolate.

Be very careful removing the top of your double boiler, as escaping steam can burn.

Remove from heat and cut in 3/4 cup butter.  Whisk until butter is thoroughly melted and mixed in and the mixture is smooth and velvety.  Let your ganache cool until it’s spreadable, which could take up to an hour (your cake will take probably this long to cool anyway).  Be sure to give the cooled ganache a good whisk to fluff it up a little.

Pop your cooled cakes out of the pans and remove the paper. 

Put one half of the cake on the plate of your choice.

I made another modification here.  I took the leftover frozen glaze from the previous angel’s food cake and decided to put it on this one as well.  It seemed fitting.  All I did was defrost the glaze and whisk it up a little.  It was slightly lumpy after its time in the freezer but it tasted the same.

Smooth a generous amount of your cooled ganache over the top of the first cake. 

Plop the second cake on top of that frosted layer and go nuts covering the whole thing with luscious ganache (or, in my case, glaze it first, then go nuts). 

The cake was very moist and I didn’t do a crumb coat, so you’ll notice a few crumbs here and there in the frosting. 

I also decided to jazz it up a little by drizzling melted 2 oz white chocolate over it.

As with most cakes, you should eat it the day it’s made but it’s pretty good the next day as well.  And the day after that, and the day after that.  Just keep it wrapped up.  Om nom indeed.

Strawberry-Glazed Angel Food Cake

Angel food is one of my favourite cakes, always has been, even since I was a child.  My mother would rarely make it because without a stand mixer it’s kind of a pain in the ass.  With my lovely Kitchenaid this whole shebang is a breeze.

This is one recipe where I follow the rules to the letter.  You really can’t mess with the science of this cake. Angel food is basically an enormous meringue with flour and sugar suspended in it, so you have to be pretty rigid with how you make it.  You also absolutely NEED a tube pan or bundt pan to make angel food cake.  The batter won’t cook evenly without that empty space in the middle.  Trust me, I’ve tried it.  Bad things happen.  Tube pans are generally better to use than bundt pans simply because the tube on the pan is generally taller than the rest of the pan to allow you to invert it, or the pan comes with legs on the top that let you do the same thing.

I got this recipe a few years ago from Cooking for Engineers, and I think it’s fantastic.  It’s a good way to fancy up an easy cake.  The only change I made to this recipe was to double the amount of stewed strawberries, as the last time I made it I didn’t feel like I had enough.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

In a bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups cake flour or all purpose flour and 1/3 cup granulated sugar.  Then sift that stuff together with a sifter.  I like the handheld squeezy sifters because they make my life easier and they’re fun.  You want to sift your solids a couple times to make sure the sugar and flour are fully incorporated.

Now you need the whites of 12 eggs (about 1 1/2 cups).  You can either separate them yourself or buy them in a carton – the choice is yours.  Just make sure that if you separate them yourself you don’t get any yolks mixed in with the whites – whites don’t get all that fluffy when there is fat mixed in.  We’ll figure out something to do with the yolks another time, but until then you can wrap them tightly and put them in the freezer.  Bring the whites to room temperature.  You can do this quickly by putting the bowl of whites inside another bowl of warm water. Room temperature whites will make a bigger foam than cold whites.  FACT.

Put your whites in your mixer and let ‘er rip.  When the whites begin to look frothy, add in 1/4 tsp salt and 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.

When the whites have formed soft peaks, whisk in 1 1/2 tsp vanilla and then whisk in 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, a little bit at a time.

Soft peaked meringue

When the whites have formed stiff peaks (ones that don’t droop), stop yer mixin’ and take the bowl out the mixer.

Stiff peaked meringue

Sift the flour mixture onto a thin layer on top of the whites, a bit at a time, and fold in gently with a wide spatula.  Be very gentle so you don’t disturb the millions of little bubbles.  Keep adding layers of flour until you’re out of stuff to sift, and keep folding until it’s all in there.

Fold gently - don't disturb the foam!

Gently scoop the mixture into a spotlessly clean and un-greased tube pan (grease + meringues = not so good).  Level the top with a spatula and ease it into the oven for 35 minutes, until the top is a lovely golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and immediately invert the pan.  I like the old wine bottle trick, where you invert the pan and stand it on the neck of a full bottle of wine.  Inverting the pan prevents the very fragile cake from collapsing on itself as it cools, and putting it on a wine bottle allows for sufficient air flow underneath to speed the cooling process.  Don’t touch the cake for a couple of hours until it is completely cool.  Not to fret – the cake will not fall out on its own – you didn’t grease the pan, remember?

The old wine bottle trick

While the cake is baking/cooling, you can make your strawberry goo.  You can also do this the day before, which is handy if you’re having a dinner party.

In a pot, combine 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and 8 oz frozen strawberries.  Now, the last time I made this recipe I didn’t have enough strawberries, so I decided to up the amount.  Therefore, I dumped in an entire package of frozen strawberries, which was 600g, or about 21 oz.  This was a goodly amount for my purposes, but it does end up leaving you with a lot of extra glaze.  I froze my extra glaze for some invention at a later date.

Anyway, stir your pot mixture to dissolve the sugar while you bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes.  I don’t recommend covering the pot and walking away.  Bad things happen.  My house still smells like burnt sugar.  Keep an eye on that sucker.

The strawberries should be super gooshy at this point.  Remove the pot from the heat and strain your solids from your liquids by pouring the mixture through a sieve into a measuring cup.  Make sure to get as much liquid as possible from your solids and set them aside.

Mmmmetric . . .

Return the liquid to the pot and bring it to a simmer again.  Whisk 1 tbsp corn starch into 3 tbsp water and pour the suspension into the syrup.  Bring the syrup to a boil again, stirring often.  This will activate the starch and cause the syrup to thicken.  When it does, remove it from the heat.   Set the syrup aside to cool, then refrigerate for a while until cold.

Cooling the goo.

Now back to the cake.  Once it is completely cool you can set it upright again.  Run a thin knife between the cake and the pan to loosen it.  Make sure to run the knife around the tube as well.  If your tube pan has a separating bottom, you can now just lift out the bottom panel and run your knife around that to free the cake.  If not, jimmying the knife around and jiggling the cake itself generally helps to get it out of the pan.

Knife that sucker.

Put the cake on a clean surface, and using a long serrated knife, cut the cake equally in half horizontally.  Try to keep your lines straight.

Cut it in half horizontally.

Remove the top half of the cake and set it aside.  In the bottom half, use a spoon or your fingers to scoop a shallow trough in the cake all the way around, like a wee moat.  You can eat the bits that you scoop out, mmmm.  Fill the moat with your strawberry solids, all the way around.

Fill the trough with solid goo. I mean strawberries.

Put the top half of the cake back on and pretend that you never cut it at all.

Take your chilled glaze and, using a spatula, silicone brush, spoon, or whatever is easiest, coat the entire cake, even in the little hole, with the glaze.

Blazing Glaze!

Put the glazed cake aside until you are ready to serve it.  A little bit of time also allows the glaze to set a bit.  Right before serving, whip yourself up some cream, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups whipping cream, with 1 tbsp granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla.  Over-whip the cream a bit so it’s stiffer and maintains its shape.

Slather the whipped cream all over the cake, even in the hole in the middle, until it’s evenly covered.  You can go for the smooth-looking approach by using a long knife, or you can go crazy with whorls and cowlicks and whatever.  I like to dump about 2-3 cups of fresh sliced strawberries all over the top and into the hole before serving. Oh man, oh man . . .

Slather with whipped cream and strawberries right before serving.

Cover left-over cake (hah, as if that’s even possible) with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a week, if it lasts that long.

Wrap the cake with plastic wrap and it will keep for a few days, though it will sag a bit.

Blueberry Muffins with Yogurt and Lemon

The Pie had some classmates over to collaborate on a project, and I never feel like a good host unless I have something to serve for a snack. This recipe makes about 24 muffins, which leaves you with some to eat now and some to freeze for a time when you aren’t at leisure to bake.

These blueberry muffins are a modification on the classic recipe, and they’re super easy and super moist.  They remind me more of a cupcake than a muffin.  The yogurt keeps the batter dense and soft, while the lemon and nutmeg make for a tangier taste.

I mix these by hand because the batter is supposed to be lumpy, and I find an electric mixer tends to overmix.  I also prefer using a large whisk to do all of this, as it keeps flour and liquids from sloshing all over my kitchen.

Preheat your oven to 400°F and spray two 12-muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.

Use a whisk to prevent flour clouds from attacking you.

In another, smaller bowl, whisk together 4 large eggs, 2 cups plain yogurt, 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup melted butter, the juice and zest of 2 lemons, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

This gooey mass will be muffins soon.

Add the wet stuff to the dry stuff and mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened (a whisk will help you to prevent overmixing).

Add 1 to 2 cups frozen blueberries (depending on how berry-full you like your muffins) and mix in.

Add in as many frozen blueberries as you can handle.

Spoon generous amounts into the prepared muffin pans and sprinkle the tops with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar.

Bake about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the middle muffin comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the pans for a few minutes, then use a fork to gently pry out the muffins and place on a rack to cool completely.  Once cool, the muffins can be stored in plastic freezer bags and frozen for a couple of months.

Eat as soon as possible, or freeze for future snacking.

Key Lime Pie – Messing up a classic.

I am not a perfect person, and it is my habit to make mistakes when trying new things.  And this blog is not about the perfect dessert or the best paint job – it is about experiments in grown-up living.   What follows, then, is not the first, and not the last, of my epic fails in the kitchen.  It has, however, inspired me to try again to see if I can get this right.  I have added it to my DIY To-Do list on the right-hand column.

***EDIT: The Pie wanted you to know that, despite the aesthetics of the thing, this was the best-tasting pie I have ever made.***

I found a pound of key limes at Sobeys about a week ago so I thought I would make some key lime pie. Obviously.

Key limes made in Mexico?

Key limes are smaller and sweeter than their more common cousins.

You can use regular limes, but purists will tell you it's not the same.

Now, key lime pie and lemon meringue pie are easy.  Really easy.  I decided to experiment a bit with the recipe.  The problem was that I was missing certain ingredients, which inspired me to experiment still further, and I was also coming off a rotten day, so making mistakes in the kitchen only added to my general frustration.  DON’T BAKE WHILE ANGRY.

The recipe I will give you below is how I should have done it, and I will explain as I go about how I actually did it.

I have two very shallow 8″ pie plates, and this recipe filled both of those.  I also have a deep 14″ pie plate, and it would probably fill that one by itself.  One of my next purchases is going to be a standard 9″ pie plate.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Start working on your crumb crust.  In a bowl, mix together 1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs, 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, and 2 tbsp granulated sugar. In the normal recipe, you would use plain graham crumbs and leave out the coconut.  But that wasn’t fancy enough for me.

Getting fancy with the crust.

Add in 1/2 cup of melted butter and stir until the mixture is crumbly but still dry.  You should be able to squeeze a handful of the crumb mixture between your hands and have it stick together, but not be greasy.  My major failing with the crust is that several of the recipes I was using for inspiration had me add an entire cup of butter, which made my crust soggy and prone to collapse.  You might need more than 1/2 a cup to make your mixture cohesive, but you shouldn’t need much more than that.

Put your crumb mixture into the pan and pat it up the sides and across the bottom evenly.  For a nice, flat crust surface, press a slightly smaller pie plate into the larger one to smooth the edges.

Press a smaller pan into the larger one for smooth crust.

Place your crusts in the oven and bake them for 10 minutes.  Let cool and ‘rest’ while you do the rest of this.

Take a pound of key limes (about 24) and gather the zest of about half of them.  I use a fine food rasp from Lee Valley with a zester catcher.  It makes my life a lot easier.  I recommend you pick one up.  You can use a wood rasp as well (that’s pretty much what this is, anyway).

Pick up this rasp from Lee Valley.

Zesting 12 tiny limes took quite a while, and only rendered about 2 tbsp of zest, but that’s all you really need.

Careful when rasping - it's easy to get your fingertips caught.

Now we juice the limes. First, roll each lime on the counter while pressing with your hand.  This will bruise the flesh inside and make them easier to juice.

Cut all the limes in half and juice those suckers.  This took forever for me because the juicer kept sliding all over the place.  I had to put down a silicone baking mat, kind of like this one from KitchenAid, to get the thing to stay still.   Have patience.  You should end up with about a cup of juice.  Feel free to add more from a bottle if you feel you need more.

Juicing 24 tiny limes is a pain.

After this, I was already frustrated, and things started to go downhill for me.  As I’ve said, I put too much butter in my crust, which had sagged to the centre of each pan.  I pressed paper towels into the molten crust to remove excess butter and shored up the edges as best I could before baking them again and letting them cool.

This is easiest with a mixer.

Moving on … separate 6 egg yolks and plop those suckers in the bowl of your mixer.  Most recipes say to use 4 yolks, which is what I did, but I had problems with the stuff setting.  I will explain why shortly.  Add your zest to the bowl along with 2 tbsp granulated sugar and mix on high for about 6 minutes until the stuff is pale and fluffy.

Pale and fluffy.

At this point you add your condensed milk.  All the other recipes call for a 14-oz can of condensed milk (or, if doubling the recipe, two cans).  What I have discovered, however, is that a 14-oz can is slightly over 400 mL, while the available cans in Canada seem to only contain 300 mL.  Also I only had one can and I needed two.  I did, however, have a 500 mL can of baker’s coconut milk (this is why I added the coconut to the crust).  I figured adding the coconut milk would make the filling not as sweet, which is why I added a bit of sugar to the yolks and the zest.  I might even add more sugar next time.  Anyway, the coconut milk makes everything a little more runny, so that is why I suggested using 6 yolks instead of 4, just to make sure everything sets.

So you add in your coconut milk and your condensed milk and mix it on high again for another 5 minutes or so, until thick.  Pour in the lime juice and mix until incorporated.  Pour into the cooled crusts and bake for 25-35 minutes or until the filling has just set (as in, it shouldn’t be liquidy).  Cool on a rack, then chill for at least an hour and serve with whipped cream.

Having only used 4 yolks, I had trouble getting my pie to set, though it was all right after I had chilled it.  It was certainly not a pretty pie, but I plan to make up for it.

Not very pretty, but still tasty.