banana bread cupcakes

February 12, 2011 § 8 Comments

Our freezer is full. Not just a little bit full, not just completely full, but is finally at that point where no matter how hard you push, and no matter how logically you reorganize, there is simply no physical space for that one last thing to fit. I’m not a huge freezer girl, but this is starting to cramp my style.

Part of the problem is that I seem to enjoy filling the freezer with awkwardly shaped objects and then leaving them there for several months. Last time I tried to shove one tiny tupperware into the freezer, a whole bunch of stuff fell out (bouncing wildly across the kitchen floor), and behind all of the clutter were those bananas I forgot about! And that is why we have no freezer space. So I had to use the bananas immediately.

I was looking for a recipe that would give me fluffy, cakelike cupcakes, and I completely missed the mark. These cupcakes are dense, moist and banana bread-y. Luckily that’s pretty delicious too. The cupcakes were cute and tasty, but the best variation was when I microwaved the ganache and poured the warm chocolate all over the extra little cake I made with leftover batter. If you don’t need to transport your dessert, definitely do it this way – just unwrap the cupcakes first to avoid accidentally eating the paper in your haste to devour the chocolate. Not that I would ever do that.

Banana Bread Cupcakes with Ganache – adapted from Martha Stewart
If you can serve this warm, you should seriously consider remelting the ganache and pouring it on top – it’s crazy good.
Yield: 12-14 cupcakes

Cupcakes:

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
    1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 ripe bananas)
    2 large eggs
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Ganache:

    4 oz good-quality milk chocolate
    2 oz dark chocolate
    2.5 oz heavy cream, gently warmed
    2.5 tablespoons butter, warm room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in center of flour mixture. In well, mix together butter, mashed bananas, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to incorporate flour mixture (do not overmix). Dividing evenly, spoon batter into muffin cups.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan; cool completely on a wire rack.

For ganache, gently melt chocolate in microwave or on top of double boiler. Add cream and stir until smooth. Let sit until no longer warm, about 15 minutes. Gently whisk in butter, without stirring too vigorously so as to avoid forming air bubbles. Use immediately or wait for it to thicken over the next hour, depending on the consistency you want to work with.

sprouts salad

February 7, 2011 § 12 Comments

Look, I made green things! Now, don’t be alarmed. Although this seems wildly out of character, this salad is in fact a perfect match for me because of two important characteristics: firstly, it is delicious; and secondly, it is highly fattening.

I went to a potluck recently where I was specifically requested to bring a salad-y thing, in an effort to avoid those standard potluck situations where everyone brings cookies and no one brings vegetables and then everyone feels sick after. I had trouble at first though, trying to think of a salad that seemed winter-appropriate. The ground is still covered in snow, I’m wearing three sweaters as I type this, and salad greens are not high on anyone’s list of things to eat.

Once I expanded my definition of the word salad, though, the options were endless. I roasted brussels sprouts at high heat, toasted spiced pecans, and threw in a handful of gruyère, making a hearty winter dish that is both filling and contains vegetables! It was at room temperature, so I declare it to be a salad. It also vanished pretty quickly at the potluck, so salad or not, it’s definitely worth making.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with Spiced Pecans

The quantities are a bit approximate: aim for the sprouts/nuts/cheese ratio that will make you happiest. Also, this dish would be great served warm; just leave out the dressing.

Salad:

    2 pounds brussels sprouts
    olive oil for drizzling
    pinch salt
    3 oz gruyère, diced
    1 1/2 cups pecans
    1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    1/4 teaspoon cayenne
    1/4 teaspoon salt

Dressing:

    1/4 cup olive oil
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    pinch sugar

Preheat oven to 450°F and position rack in upper third of oven. Trim ends of brussel sprouts and cut in half. Toss with olive oil to coat, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then arrange on baking sheet with cut sides down. Roast until browned and tender, 20-25 minutes.

Lower heat to 325°F and line a baking sheet with foil. Toss pecans with vegetable oil. In a small bowl, mix sugar, cayenne, and salt, then add to pecan mixture and toss to coat. Scatter on baking sheet and toast, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, 10-15 minutes. Let cool completely.

For dressing: mix oil and vinegar with sugar to taste. In a large bowl, combine cooled sprouts, pecans, and gruyère. Add as much dressing as you like; there’s already oil on the nuts and sprouts so you may only need a little.

blizzard cake

February 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

I was out of town over the holidays when the massive snowstorm hit the northeast. At work they declared the first snow day in seven years and I missed it! Because I was in Canada! The irony was deeply irritating. I almost wanted to go back home just so I could take advantage of the snow day, but unsurprisingly, it was snowing in Canada too, so I stayed indoors instead.

A couple weeks ago, though, we got hit by blizzard #2, and I had the chance to hole up indoors, hiding from the harsh weather and feeling excessively cozy. I also was seized by the urge to make a snow-appropriate cake, but only on the condition that I didn’t have to go outside to buy any missing ingredients, which I was pretty sure would lead to a melodramatic death by snowstorm. Luckily, I always have butter and cream cheese in the fridge (healthy person that I am), so it wasn’t too hard to come up with a feasible recipe. I had to substitute the sour cream and reduce the orange peel, but really, who likes citrus that much anyhow? No one, that’s who.

This cake is perfect comfort food, and should ideally be eaten while drinking hot chocolate and feeling very smug about being indoors while it snows outside. Although the layers look fancy, it’s really not much work. Apparently it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow – although I personally don’t believe it because clearly all the snow is already in towering mountains on my driveway – and if so, I might just make it again.

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Spiced Layer Cake – adapted from Epicurious
I found that there was just barely enough frosting to coat the cake. I liked the ratio, but if you’re a frosting fanatic you might want to up the frosting recipe by a half.
Cake:

    2 cups all purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 teaspoon ground cardamom
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 cups sugar
    1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
    1 tablespoon grated orange peel ( I used 1/2 teaspoon)
    4 large eggs
    1 cup sour cream (or if it’s snowing, subsitute half creme fraiche and half yogurt)
    1/2 cup whole milk

Cream cheese frosting:

    2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
    2 cups powdered sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans and line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour pans; tap out excess flour. Sift first 8 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and orange peel in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture alternately with sour cream and milk. Divide batter among prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer pans to racks and cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely.

For frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Beat in sugar, then vanilla. Chill until ready to use.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with third cake layer. Cover top and sides of cake with remaining frosting.

applesauce cake

January 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

Although I wasn’t particularly good this year, Christmas brought a heaping pile of shiny new kitchen gadgets. I wouldn’t have predicted a couple years ago that I would get excited about small appliances, but now the arrival of a stand mixer at my doorstep is thrilling! I’ve somehow become a kitchen dork. I immediately wanted to make towering cakes and extravagant meringues and all sorts of exhausting things, but then I remembered that I don’t really know how to use a stand mixer yet. So in an rare moment of wisdom, I decided to start small.

That turned out to be an extremely good idea. I picked a simple applesauce cake: one layer, cream cheese frosting. I spilled flour everywhere, and accidentally wildly overbeat the batter by my apparent inability to understand basic speed controls, and it was still delicious! I even somehow managed to leave an unmixed swirl of applesauce running through the cake, and this indestructible cake rose perfectly anyhow.

This recipe makes a gently spiced, moist and dense cake. You can cut it into breakfast squares if you’ve already abandoned your New Year’s resolutions, or save it for dessert – either way, it’s very welcome on a chilly January day. And apparently, impossible to mess up, so give it a try!

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Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
– adapted from Gourmet

For the cake:

    2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    1 stick unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup packed light brown sugar
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    2 large eggs
    1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
    1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped

For the frosting:

    5 oz cream cheese, softened
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 cup confectioners sugar
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices, and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

Make frosting:

Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated. Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.

face cookie

January 11, 2011 § 5 Comments

Whenever there are catered events in my department, inevitably they feature platters of gigantic cookies the size of my face. Because I am a very creative person, I naturally started calling them ‘face cookies’. I’m not sure whether they actually taste any better, or it’s just my attraction their sheer size, but they’re completely irresistible, and I always seem to be capable of eating an entire face cookie myself.

Then, in a flash of brilliance, I realized that I could make cookies at home that were also giant, and thereby also more delicious! And here I think bigger really does taste better, because the size makes for a high proportion of gooey center, which we all know is the best part. This recipe is pretty perfect for giant cookies: it’s a sturdy dough that manages to bake fairly even across the gigantic cookie, yielding crispy-chewy texture that’s incredibly addictive. Also, the strategic placement of a bittersweet ganache both balances out the sweetness and increases the adorable quotient.

I gave this cookie to a great friend for her birthday, and I recommend you all do the same! Firstly, because it’s even cuter when you use candles for hair. And secondly, because you will otherwise eat the whole thing at once. After all, it’s only one cookie.

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Giant Cookie – Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

    1 1/2 cup flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup white sugar
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
    1 egg
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a medium bowl, mix together dry ingredients and set aside.

In a medium/large bowl, cream the butter and both sugars. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Line a large (11X17-inch) baking pan, preferably unrimmed, with foil or parchment and press the cookie into a circle. I pressed my cookie into a 9-inch circle, about 1/4 to 3/8-inch thick. When it bakes, it spreads to about 11 inches (Mel points out that this fits perfectly onto a 12-inch round cardboard circle you can find at most craft stores, if that makes transportation easier.)

Bake for 13-16 minutes until the cookie is lightly golden brown. Let the cookie cool completely on the baking pan – this helps the cookie stabilize and set so it can be easily lifted off the pan. Once cool, gently use the foil to lift the cookie off the pan.

Ganache

    100 g good-quality bittersweet chocolate (around 60%), chopped
    35 g heavy cream

Combine chocolate and cream in a bowl and microwave on low in short intervals (30-60 seconds). In between microwaving, whisk the mixture, and stop microwaving as soon as it becomes smooth. Pipe onto cookie in happy faces.