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.

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.

blueberry bran muffins

January 6, 2011 § 7 Comments

After a full month of copious overeating, I’ve finally recovered enough to make it back into the kitchen. I never thought I would be tired of eating chocolate, but apparently that day has come. I arrived back home from holiday travels to an empty cupboard and went on a rampant grocery store trip, returning triumphantly with piles of brightly coloured vegetables and an assortment of whole grains. Which I bought in bulk. I feel very virtuous.

So my first steps back into baking were gentle: I made bran muffins. How unlike me! And they were delicious – moist, bran-ny, and didn’t leave me in a food coma. The original recipe says that they have no sugar, but since they have both honey and molasses in them I’m not quite prepared to make that claim. As baked goods go though, these are probably the healthiest things I’ve made (although that’s not a particularly high bar), and perfect for a winter breakfast.

I made my muffins fairly small so I ended up with leftover batter. Being way too impatient to wait for the first batch to bake, I dumped it in a loaf pan and made blueberry bran squares. These are not very sturdy, but just as tasty. I also made a few muffins without blueberries, so that I could compare the outcome – I’m such a scientist! My conclusion was that both were great, and this recipe is worth making. I know the bran ingredients might seem a bit obscure, but once you find them they’re incredibly cheap. I paid 54 cents! It’s a good way to start the new year. Especially if you eat two.

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Blueberry Bran Muffins – Adapted from Farmgirl Fare
I strongly recommend weighing your dry ingredients for this, because the brans can pack dramatically different amounts into cups, and my volumes didn’t match up very closely with the recipe.

Yield: 12 gigantic muffins, or 12 small ones and 8 bars.

    2 cups (3oz / 86g) wheat bran
    1 cup (5oz / 141g) oat bran
    1 cup (6oz / 170g) whole wheat flour
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 large eggs
    2/3 cup (5oz / 156g) milk
    2/3 cup (5½ oz / 156g) yogurt
    1/3 cup (2¼ oz / 65g) canola oil
    1/3 cup (3¾ oz / 108g) sweet molasses or cane syrup
    1/3 cup (3¾ oz / 108g) honey
    1 teaspoon (6g) vanilla extract (optional, I didn’t use this)
    1 1/2 cups blueberries (or substitute cranberries, or 1 cup raisins, or leave them out entirely)

Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a muffin tin or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine wheat bran, oat bran, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, yogurt, canola oil, molasses, and honey (and optional vanilla) and mix well.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just until combined. Fold in blueberries with as few strokes as possible.

Generously fill muffin cups with batter. I had a lot of batter left over, so rather than make giant muffins I put it in a greased loaf pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes for small muffins and thin loaf, or 20 to 25 minutes for large muffins. Cool muffins in pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pan and serve warm, or let cool on a wire rack. Possible eating options: butter, honey, and peanut butter are all delicious. These are also reported to freeze well, though I haven’t tried it.

quick cranberry cake

November 1, 2010 § 35 Comments

I went on a bit of a baking bender last weekend. Possibly making up for a dry spell, I churned out cookies, brownies, bread, and a cranberry cake. It all sounds very impressive until I admit that I haven’t actually cooked dinner in almost two weeks. It’s surprising how far sandwiches and eating out will take you, but at this point I’m pretty much relying on the cranberry cake to count as my ‘fruits and vegetables’ serving. Cranberries are practically a vegetable, right?

If you’re too busy to cook though, this cake is both quick and totally more worth the effort than real food (although I do recommend occasionally eating vegetables). I made it because I saw cranberries at the store for the first time this year and fell over myself in excitement to get them, narrowly avoiding taking out the nearby shoppers in my haste.

I love baked goods with cranberries, and this cake is a perfect example of why: it’s moist and dense and sweet, but the tartness of the cranberries in every bite balances it all out. It’s also seriously easy: one bowl, 10 minutes of mixing, then pop it in the oven. Out comes a cake that, despite its simplicity, and the fact that there are several other desserts sharing its spotlight, disappears surprisingly quickly.

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Cranberry Cake – adapted from Vanilla Garlic

    3 eggs
    2 cups sugar
    3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons whole milk
    2 cups flour
    2 1/2 cups cranberries (12 ounce bag)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13 pan or a 10-inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar for 5-7 minutes, until eggs have increased in volume and stream into ribbons when you lift the beaters. Add butter and vanilla and beat until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Beat in milk and salt.

Stir in flour, then fold in cranberries. Scrape batter into prepared pan.

Bake for approximately an hour, until a tester comes out clean (but there might be cranberry juices on it). Cool on a wire rack. If using springform, run a knife around the cake and then unmold.

dimply plum cake

September 14, 2010 § 11 Comments

I can’t really get behind the saying that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve spent hours wandering bookstores, mired in indecision, and the only thing that finally jolts me out of it is getting distracted by a pretty cover, and then just buying that one out of desperation. How should I know if it’s a good book until I’ve read it? Isn’t this what covers are for?

By the same token, my ever-wandering attention was captured by this recipe mainly because of the name: Dimply plum cake! Charming, no? And with legions of Dorie Greenspan fans having already given it a test run for me, I knew it was worth trying. My first attempt was unfortunately in a temperamental oven that left the insides gloopy and the outsides burnt. But it looked so promising, with silky batter studded with gorgeous plums, that I finally gave it a second chance when I was back home.

And I was glad I did, because it was a success. It’s a simple, orange-scented cake with a sturdy crumb, which is definitely needed to hold up the plums and their delicious juices. Even though I used a bigger pan than was called for, I couldn’t fit in more than two-thirds of the plums, but I put this down to me having mutant monster plums rather than any fault of the recipe. The cake isn’t too sweet and I suspect it would be great for breakfast as well as dessert, but I can’t actually tell you, because mine was all gone before it even had the chance to cool.

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Dimply Plum Cake – from Dorie Greenspan

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
    5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
    3/4 cup light brown sugar
    2 large eggs
    1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or sunflower
    Grated zest of 1 orange
    1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    8 purple or red plums, halved and pitted

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan (I actually used a 9-inch and still couldn’t fit all the plums).

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom.

In another bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each egg. Beat in the oil, zest and vanilla – the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are just incorporated, no longer.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums cut side up in the batter – Dorie usually makes four rows of four plum halves each, I managed this once but the second time I could only fit three – and jiggle the plums a bit just so they settle comfortably into the batter.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is honey brown and puffed around the plums and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up. Once fully cool, you can wrap the cake and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days, during which time it will get softer and moister.

perfect winter cupcakes

November 15, 2009 § 10 Comments

cupcake1

I made beautiful cupcakes today. I wanted to post about them immediately, but couldn’t think of a single intelligent thing to say. After attempting in vain to come up with something, I concluded that intelligence is a bit too much to expect from me on a Sunday, and I would just put pretty pictures.

platter

But slowly as the day meandered on, I kept wanting to describe the glories of these wonderful cupcakes. I bought fresh cranberries for the first time ever, and they’re gorgeous and enticing and really gross if you just eat them straight from the fridge. Turning them into baked goods, however, is genius. They cut through the sweetness of most desserts, and when you bake them into cupcakes the results are enough to compel one to write a blog post, however uninspired one might be.

ingredients

The concrete details: these cupcakes are adapted from multiple sources, enough that I feel comfortable calling them my own invention. The base is a pear-cranberry spice cake with white chocolate chunks: this probably could have passed for a muffin until I slathered it with frosting, which I am prone to doing. The cake was moist and sweet and punctuated with the tartness from the cranberries – I never realized how much I love cranberries! It came out great. I iced it with a white-chocolate cream cheese frosting, because I wanted some tanginess to counter the white chocolate. Then I topped them with candied cranberries, to look icy and winter-appropriate. I’m really happy with how these turned out: the result was extremely delicious, and the cake itself is pretty quick to make. I have to admit that it got a little more time-consuming as I added frivolities, but these would be great unfrosted too. Given that easy option, don’t miss out on the deliciousness!

Update:
I entered these cupcakes into the Bon Appétit contest: please go vote for me here!

cupcake5

Pear-Cranberry Spice Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Cranberries – adapted from Epicurious, Cupcake Bakeshop, and Key Ingredient

Yield: I got 24 regular cupcakes plus 6 miniatures

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Bosc pears (1 pound), diced
  • 1 cup cranberries (thawed if frozen)
  • 3.5 ounces (100 g) white chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. In a large bowl, beat together sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla with an electric mixer until combined well. At low speed, mix in pears, cranberries, and chocolate. Mix in flour mixture until incorporated.

Spoon batter into cupcake liners until two-thirds full. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes for regular cupcakes and 15 minutes for minis. Cool completely before frosting.

At this point, your cupcakes should look like this:

unfrosted

Candied cranberries

  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar plus extra for rolling
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, dissolve sugar in water. Lower heat to barely a simmer. Add cranberries and simmer for 5 minutes, or until softened. Remove from heat and strain cranberries, discarding liquid. When cranberries are cool enough to handle, roll in granulated sugar and place on waxed paper until ready to use.

Frosting

  • 8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, plus more if desired
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt the white chocolate in the microwave, stirring periodically. Allow to cool for 2 minutes or so.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy. Beat in cream cheese thoroughly. Beat in the melted white chocolate.

Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat at low speed, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar to arrive at the consistency and sweetness you like (I stayed at 2, and refrigerated briefly before using).

Note: Once you get into melting white chocolate, you need to make sure your chocolate is real, and not the sneaky artificial stuff. I used Callebaut, which is ridiculous, but Green and Black’s and Lindt also make good bars.

Second note:
although most cupcakes should be stored at room temperature, these do better in the fridge. The cream cheese frosting holds up better, and because they’re made with oil instead of butter, they stay soft.

in honour of brains

October 28, 2009 § 6 Comments

cake3

In case you didn’t know, approximately 30,000 neuroscientists descended upon Chicago last week for their biggest scientific conference. Wherever I turned there were people in glasses, milling around with laptops and poster tubes. And really, that’s how any good party starts, right?

In all honesty, a large gathering of neuroscientists is actually pretty amusing to watch. This became obvious when I entered the Metra, where dozens of bewildered scientists were trying and failing to figure out public transit. Academic skills do not necessarily translate into the real world. Luckily a passerby took pity on us, and that became the theme of the visit – wherever we went Chicago natives would smile kindly and ask ‘Brain conference?’. Apparently we do not quite blend in with the normal folk.

cake1

The point being, brains are very important and useful. In celebration of this fact, I decided to let science inspire my baking! Yes, it is nerdy. I don’t care. Anyhow, one of the symposiums was about nutrition for brain health – this stuff is often kind of flaky, but there’s actual research on it too. I unfortunately could not attend these talks (i.e. I accidentally slept through them), but some of the main contenders were berries and walnuts – clearly the building blocks of something tasty. They also mentioned salmon, but I chose to omit that.

So, despite the lack of concrete evidence, I decided to make blueberry coffee cake – because, well, why not? The recipe is adapted from Rose Beranbaum’s gorgeous new cookbook. She’s very meticulous, and this is reflected in her recipes, but I was in a bit of a rush and not quite so careful. I did however follow the instruction that amused me the most – to take out your cake when it reads 208°F on an instant-read thermometer. How very precise!

assembly

Anyhow, this cake is yummy. I think I still slightly prefer my standard coffeecake recipe, which must wait till spring due to its use of rhubarb, but it’s good to branch out. Given that it’s October, this recipe probably would have been better in its original form, with apples rather than blueberries. Even in this dramatically out-of-season rendition, though, it was moist and sweet and perfect with a cup of coffee. Try to show more self-control than I did, and wait until it’s cooled – it really is better that way. And as an extra plus, you can feel good about eating it cause it makes you smart! (results not guaranteed.)

slice4

Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake – adapted from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes

Topping:

  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped coarse
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter, melted
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Cake:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
  • 6 ounces blueberries, fresh or frozen (about 1 cup – you can use whatever seems sensible)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment, and grease the parchment.

Begin with the topping: mix together walnuts, brown sugar, white sugar, and cinnamon. Reserve 1/2 cup to use for filling. To the rest, add flour, butter, and vanilla and mix briefly with fork until mixture is coarse and crumbly. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes to firm up butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, 3 tablespoons sour cream and vanilla until combined.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and remaining sour cream. Mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened, then raise speed to medium and mix for about 2 minutes, until batter comes together. Add egg mixture in two additions, beating for 30 seconds after each.

Scrape 2/3 of batter (approx. 18 ounces) into the cake pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle the reserved 1/2 cup topping over the batter. Drop the remaining batter overtop and spread it evenly. Sprinkle with blueberries.

Bake for 35 minutes. Break up crumb topping with fingertips so that the largest crumbs are about 1/4-inch balls. Remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle crumbs over top. Return to oven until cake tester comes out clean and cake springs back to the touch. Or you can check with an instant-read thermometer, which should read about 208°F.

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