Monday, July 30, 2012

Cocoa Glazed Banana Bundt Cake

Et voila, the first cake I baked in our new apartment!

This gorgeous thing was the product of a very domestic day alone - my wonderful husband was at work for two days straight in Pittsburgh, so my kitchen and I got reacquainted in a very intense way.  After the cake came out of the oven, those insane sprinkly pancakes found themselves on the stovetop, and broccoli fritters made it to the dinner table a few hours later.

First of all: SO. MANY. DISHES.
Second of all: SO. MUCH. DELICIOUS.

This cake is chock full of scrumptious, moist, banana flavor and the quick-and-easy glaze tastes like hot fudge.  The baking method for the cake is easily one of the most interesting I've ever encountered: the cake stays in the oven for nearly two hours at a low temperature, then immediately makes its way into the freezer for an additional hour.  The resulting cake is insanely moist and flavorful, and the outside doesn't get super dark like many banana cakes are wont to do in a hot oven.  Though it took time to bake, I was absolutely thrilled with the quick prep (especially with my new KitchenAid 6-quart pro!!) and the delectable result.  Thank goodness I found some people to help me consume it, or this delicious cake would have become 10 new delicious pounds around my waist!

I highly recommend this recipe.  If muffins or banana bread sound boring the next time you have overripe bananas, go for cake!

Banana Bundt Cake
Source: adapted slightly from My Baking Addiction

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Place a rack at the center of the oven and preheat to 275˚F.  Thoroughly grease and flour a 12-cup nonstick bundt pan, or use a baking spray with flour to coat it.

In a small bowl, mash the bananas.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until pale, light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well until fully incorporated, then stir in the vanilla.  Alternately add the buttermilk and the flour mixtures to the bowl of the mixer, mixing until combined and smooth.  Stir in the mashed bananas.

Transfer the batter to the prepared bundt pan.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  
Immediately transfer the pan to the freezer for about 1 hour.  Remove the pan from the freezer to a rack for at least 3 hours.

When ready to serve, invert the cake onto a serving plate or cake stand and prepare the glaze.

Simple Cocoa Glaze

1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (I used Mexican vanilla)
2-3 tbsp half and half or whole milk

Combine powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly.  Switch to a spoon and add vanilla.  Gradually add the milk or half and half until a thick but pourable glaze is formed.  Spoon over the top of the cake and allow the glaze to drip down the sides.  Give it an hour or so to set slightly, then slice and serve.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Birthday Cake Pancakes with Adults-Only Vanilla Cake Glaze

 My birthday was a week ago.

There was no cake.
Which was totally my own fault - my layer cake pans were in storage and I totally ran out of time to make myself a cake anyway.
And don't get me wrong, my birthday was incredible!

That morning, I had to wake up super early to drive half an hour to a class I was assisting with.  Before I woke up, Jon had left the apartment, and he came back with my favorite pancakes as a surprise.  When I got back from work that night, a dinner of pan-seared salmon with pesto and parmesan-crusted baked zucchini was almost ready - I'm blessed with a husband who can cook really well!  And then, before the night was over, he took me downtown to The Chocolate Bar for drinks and dessert.  The day was not extravagant or big or blown-up, but because I got to spend so much time with my new husband, it was perfect.

Birthday with no cake?  Weird!
So this weekend, I made up for it.

I present to you: Birthday Cake Pancakes.
Also known as the best pancakes EVER.

It's Funfetti in pancake form!
Could anything BE more perfect??

Um, yes.

Birthday Cake Pancakes with a boozy Vanilla Cake Glaze.

Cake mix.  Vanilla.  Sprinkles.  Topped with powdered sugar, more vanilla, half and half, and CAKE VODKA.

Please, for the love of all that is good, invite some girlfriends over and chow down on these suckers.
And depending on how much glaze you use, you might wanna pick a chick flick and stay put for a while ;)

Birthday Cake Pancakes
Source: barely adapted from My Life as a Mrs. via Rachel Cooks' pancake party
Serves: 4-6

1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cake mix
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp butter or coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles
Butter, for the griddle
Adults-Only Vanilla Cake Glaze, for serving (recipe below)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cake mix, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs, milks, butter or coconut oil, and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix together until combined.  Fold in the sprinkles.
Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low to medium heat.  Preheat the oven to its lowest temperature setting and have an oven-safe plate ready.  Add a bit of butter, allow it to melt, and spread it out.  Using a 1/4-cup measure, add the batter in rounds and allow them to cook until the edges are set and the tops are covered in popped bubbles.  Flip and continue to cook until the pancakes spring back when pressed with a spatula.  Remove pancakes to the plate and place in the preheated oven while you cook the remaining batches of pancakes, adding a little bit more butter to the pan or griddle before each batch.  Serve with syrup or glaze and ENJOY!

Adults-Only Vanilla Cake Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 to 2 tbsp cake flavored vodka
1-2 tbsp half and half

Using a spoon, stir together the ingredients, starting with the lowest recommended amount of liquid and adding more if necessary, until a smooth and slightly thick glaze is formed.  Spoon liberally over Birthday Cake pancakes and enjoy!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cherry Vanilla Cake with Almond Streusel

What do you do when you have fresh cherries in the fridge?

Snack on them.  Endlessly.

At least, that's my husband's philosophy.  He's a snacker by nature - he will walk by the fridge about 15 times a day just to grab a handful of strawberries or a couple cherries.  If I look in the refrigerator at the end of that day, I'll be shocked by the depleted store of fruit!

See, I buy food with a purpose.  I try to only shop once a week, buying exactly what I think we'll need for meals and structured snacks for the week.  Fruit, for me, goes into cereal, salads, or baked goods, and I try to have the amount in the fridge that I'll need for whatever project I have in mind.
So you can imagine that having a snacker for a husband...complicates things sometimes.

It has, however, alerted me to the kinds of things that he really likes.
It works like this: if it disappears under my nose, it's a favorite.  So based on that criteria, I try to use the supply that's left to make little treats that he'll like.

Like this cake, for example.

I felt the urge to bake, saw this gorgeous cake pop up on Two Peas and Their Pod, and decided to adapt the recipe to what I had on hand.  The cherry supply - which started at close to three pounds - had been drastically depleted by snacking, but I had exactly enough left for the cake!

I changed the recipe up a bit to include only what I had in stock, but whether you use the original recipe or my adaptation, I can pretty much guarantee you'll be happy.  The original recipe uses almond extract in the cake, almond paste in the streusel, and an almond glaze.  I left off the glaze entirely, swapped out the almond extract for an extra dose of Tahitian vanilla extract - which is heavenly when combined with fruit - and used slivered almonds to add a crunch to the streusel topping.

The day I made this, I left it on the counter to cool while I went to work.  Jon got home before I did, and let's just say I'm lucky I came home to a whole cake!  He told me it took all his willpower to keep his hands off of it, but I don't think he regretted the wait when we cut into it after dinner: it was soft, moist, and bursting with flavor.  Neither one of us was displeased with the idea of having a piece every night after :)

I don't have a cherry pitter, so pitting and halving the cherries was thus a lengthy and messy process.  It was totally worth it for such a delicious and versatile cake, but I'd definitely suggest investing in one!  It takes the cake from a special occasion cake to something you could make and eat any night!

Or any morning.
Say, a lazy Friday morning while watching Boy Meets World in your pajamas.

Not like I actually do that...or anything...

Cherry Vanilla Cake with Almond Streusel
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

For the cake:
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp Tahitian vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups sweet cherries, pitted and halved

For the streusel:
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds


To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚F with a rack placed in the center.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar until pale yellow and very fluffy.  Add the egg, vanilla extract, and buttermilk and mix until combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined.
Transfer the batter into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top and arrange the cherries on top of the batter.
To make the streusel, crumble together the butter, flour, and brown sugar with clean hands.  Add the almonds and toss together, then cover the top of the unbaked cake with streusel.
Bake at 350˚ for 10 minutes.  Then, lower the oven temperature to 325˚ and bake for another 40-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch.  Allow to cool completely in the pan.  Slice and serve as desired, for breakfast, brunch, or dessert.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Last-Minute Meals: Southwestern Frittata

You know those days when five o'clock rolls around...and you have nothing planned for dinner?

Or those days when you have a dinner planned...and it's just not going to happen?

I had a day like that last week.
When days like that roll around, I look into my fridge and freezer and hope that whatever is in there will yield something remotely tasty and nutritious.

Lucky for me, I came up with eggs, spinach, salsa, cheese, leftover brown rice, and frozen peppers and onions.  Add some olive oil, heat and a few spices, and there was dinner: a southwestern frittata!

For those of you who have never had a frittata (and seriously, you are missing out), it's an Italian-style flat omelette that gets cut into wedges and served; it's made from eggs and anything else you want to throw in.  It's also the fastest meal in the history of meals!  It's a great weeknight option and a very well-rounded vegetarian meal - and don't forget that eggs are involved, so it can be a quick brunch too!  In case you couldn't tell, I'm a total frittata convert!

The next time you're in a crunch for any meal, preheat your broiler, heat up a skillet and pull out that carton of eggs!  Let the leftovers in your fridge inspire you :)

Southwestern Frittata
Serves 6

1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
6 large eggs
4 large egg whites (I used 1/2 cup of egg whites from a carton - they're awful convenient!)
1-1/2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp hot chili powder
1 large handful baby spinach leaves, torn
1/2 package frozen bell pepper and onion blend
2-3 oz cheddar, jack, or pepperjack cheese, shredded
Salsa, for serving

Preheat the broiler on low.  Heat the olive oil in a large, oven-safe, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the frozen peppers and onions and cook until hot and soft, stirring occasionally.
As the mixture on the stove cooks, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, milk, and seasonings until smooth.
Move back to the stove.  Add the spinach to the skillet and stir briefly, then pour the egg mixture over the vegetables.  Cook, lifting the edges to allow uncooked egg to flow underneath, until the bottom of the frittata is golden brown - about 3 minutes.  Sprinkle the cheese over the top and transfer the pan to the preheated broiler for 3-5 minutes, checking frequently, until the cheese is melted and the top of the frittata is golden and puffy.  Take out of the oven and allow to rest for about 3 minutes.  Slice, top with salsa, and serve - enjoy!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Just Because...

I haven't stopped looking at these since the day I saw the first one.

All these beautiful photos of the best day of my entire life ©Ayres Photography, Hamburg, NY

Monday, July 2, 2012

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies

I was not raised to be a cookie baker.

Strange, right?  Usually that's the first thing a kid will learn how to make.  But I grew up in a house with a mom who only made cookies once a year: at Christmas.  And those were cut-out sugar cookies.  Never (or at least hardly ever) was a homemade chocolate chip cookie seen emerging from our oven.

Instead, we made chocolate chip bars: from-scratch Toll House recipe cookie dough was pressed into a 9x13 pan and baked until still slightly gooey in the middle, then cut into squares or rectangles for consumption.

We were famous for those suckers.  With a hint of extra vanilla, two heaping cups of semisweet chocolate chips, and the precise right baking time that left them super soft and anything but dry for days and days, they were the perfect bake sale or party treat, and every friend I ever had in high school knew to be on the lookout for Angela's Chocolate Chip Bars.

But there's just something about cookies that you can't really replace.
As a form of baking therapy, the constant rotation of pans in the oven and the intoxicating scent of warm butter and sugar makes cookie baking immensely satisfying - when you have the time, that is.  And after visiting Levain Bakery in NYC, I knew I'd never be satisfied until I could make cookies anywhere close to that delicious on my own.

Now, the trouble for me is not in the dough - I've got cookie dough making down to a veritable science, complete control sampling :)  The trouble is in the baking time.  For someone who's used to sticking things in the oven and leaving them there for 20+ minutes at a time, short baking times and constant attention at the oven is, well, weird.  And a major guessing game.

It took me ages to photograph these cookies - not because I wanted to tweak the recipe at all, because I'm pretty sure what changes I made to an already excellent recipe made these the most addictive cookies of all time, but because I wanted to get the baking time exactly right for perfectly photogenic cookies.  I'm still not sure I've nailed it yet, but this third batch was by far the best - light golden brown and still super soft, so I have hope.  If you're experienced in the cookie world, feel free to leave me some advice!

Baking time correct or not, these cookies are definitely worth trying.  They're my husband's favorite kind - oatmeal raisin - from an excellent recipe that I found on David Lebovitz's blog, doctored up with a little whole wheat flour, molasses, sea salt, and pecans.  And my lord, are they tasty!!  Enjoy warm or at room temperature (or in a sundae? hmmm...).  If you don't want to risk consuming them all at once, bake a small batch, then roll the rest of the dough into balls and flash-freeze them, then store them in a freezer bag till a cookie craving hits!  A little self-imposed portion control never hurt anyone ;)

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies
Source: adapted from David Lebovitz, originally from Flour by Joanne Chang

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
2/3 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup packed light brown sugar 
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp unsulphured molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick)
1-1/2 cups raisins
scant 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a very sturdy hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy - about 5 minutes.
In a separate bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, whisking together thoroughly until no clumps of baking soda remain.  Stir in the oats, raisins, and pecans.
Returning to the mixer, add the eggs to the butter and sugars one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in the vanilla extract and the molasses.  Gradually add the flour and oat mixture on a low speed to the creamed butter mixture until well combined.
Chill the dough, covered, for a few hours or overnight - optional, but recommended.
To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, a silicone baking mat, or (in a pinch) foil sprayed lightly with cooking spray.  For giant cookies, (cause who doesn't like a giant cookie??) drop the dough in 1/4-cup sized* balls spaced evenly on the baking sheet.  Place in the preheated oven on a rack centered in the oven.  Midway through the baking time, rotate the baking sheet so the cookies bake evenly.  If necessary, flatten the domes of the cookies with a spatula.  Bake the cookies for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops are just starting to brown - don't overbake them!  You'll be sad.  Remove from the oven, cool completely on a wire rack, and enjoy!

*If you make smaller cookies, you'll need to drop the total baking time.  Rotate them after about 7 minutes and check on their doneness starting at 15 minutes.