Fluffy Banana Bread

This incredible banana bread recipe was given to me by my friend Aparna (Thanks Aparna!). I love this recipe because there is very minimal clean up. Just one wooden spoon and one mixing bowl. I played with it a little every time I made it so I’ve decided to consolidate all the changes and post the new recipe here. Nuts and chocolate chips were added to previous versions of this recipe but I found that they were distracting to the fluffy texture – the key feature here.

Ingredients

  • 4 large very ripe bananas
  • ⅓ cup oil (canola/avocado)
  • ⅝ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1½ cups cake flour (essential for the pillow-soft texture)
  • ½ teaspoon apple pie spice (or cinnamon powder)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. With a wooden spoon, mash bananas in a large mixing bowl. I like to leave some chunks.

3. Mix in the oil, sugar, egg, and vanilla.

4. Sprinkle the baking soda, salt and apple pie spice over the mixture and mix in.

5. Add the flour last, stir till just moisten.

6. Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes or till a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 30 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. (Note: Bake for 30 minutes if using muffin tin. Makes 12 muffins).

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Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Mousse and Mascarpone Frosting

Valentine’s Day! The first excuse  occasion of the year to make a cake. I saw this cake on  Chef Dennis’ Google+ post and knew that Chris Henry would love it (and I wanted to use up my huge stash of frozen strawberries from last summer).

Method

Cake. The first problem was that the recipe called for FOUR 9 inch round tins. I have ONE 9 inch cake tin and nope, I refuse to buy another 3 baking tins just for this recipe. Then I remembered a layered carrot cake recipe in Cook’s Illustrated. It solved the very scary problem of tender cake crumbling when sliced through horizontally simply by not doing it. The cake was baked in a cookie sheet, divided into 3 rectangles and then stacked on top of each other. I decided to do the same. Except that on baking day, I realized that I was almost out of parchment paper…why does these things happen to me?? I only had enough to line a smaller and deeper rectangular cake tin so I decided that would have to do, maybe I would have a very tall and narrow cake?chocolate cake slab I made the cake portion exactly according to Chef Dennis’ recipe except that with my bigger cake I had to increase the baking time by 15 minutes, to a total of 40 minutes. I appreciated how the recipe reminded me to let the wet ingredients for the cake to warm up to room temperature before adding them to the softened butter. I usually forget to do that, add fridge cold eggs to my creamed butter and end up with solid butter lumps in my batter.

As per the instructions, I let the cake rest in the tin for 10 minutes then turned it out onto the wire rack and it promptly cracked. This might be because the recipe was working with 4 thin discs while I had a huge slab.  On hindside I should have expected this and followed the method utilized by most cakes in the Ottolenghi’s Cookbook and wait at least 3 hours before turning the cake out. Oh well, there would be lots of frosting right? Frosting covers everything so I decided to press on bravely. In any case the cake smelled heavenly so I wasn’t about to toss it out because of how it looked.

However, it was also apparent that I would have to slice through my cake horizontally into 2 slabs and make another vertical cut because the slab was pretty thick. 4 layers of that would not make a structurally sound cake. I left it to cool for 4 hour before attempting any dissecting and it went surprising well!

Strawberry mousse. Instead of passable early season fresh strawberries, I used my stash of frozen strawberries from last summer and the strawberry syrup was DELICIOUS.  The flavor was obviously more muted after folding in the whipped cream so the strawberry flavor could probably be enhanced if I decrease the amount of cream in the mousse. It is also probably worth a try to dissolve the sugar in hot water then add it to pureed strawberries to avoid boiling (and driving off some volatiles) the strawberry puree- sugar mixture.

Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting. The original recipe required 16 oz of mascarpone, 4 cups of icing sugar and 4 oz of melted choclate. I like frosting but that does sounds a little excessive and I prefer a lighter, whipped cream based frosting. I got some inspiration from this Martha Steward’s mascapone frosting recipe with 8 oz of mascapone, 1/2 cup of icing sugar 1 cup of cream and yes there was plenty of subtly sweet frosting to go around. I still wanted the vanilla and chocolate in the frosting so I added them to the whipped mascapone and icing sugar before folding in the whipped cream. However I misread Chef’s Denis’ recipe and forgot to add in the chocolate gradually so that might be why my mascapone mixture was lumpy after I dumped all the chocolate in at once 😦

Results

A pretty cake this is not but does it taste good? Oh yeah. The tangy strawberry mousse balances the rich chocolate cake and mascapone frosting perfectly. Would I do it again? Definitely and I’m sure It would look much prettier the next time.

The Recipe

Chocolate Cake
  • 2⅔ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  1. Prepare a rectangular cake tin (preferably a baking sheet) with parchment paper and lightly coating the sides and paper with butter
  2. Preheat oven to 350°C.
  3. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa and sugar together, set aside.
  4. Make sure that the butter, yogurt and eggs are at room temperature.
  5. In the bowl of your mixer whip the softened butter and yogurt together .
  6. Add the eggs one at a time fully incorporating before adding another, and remember to scrape down your bowl in between each addition.
  7. Add vanilla and mix until blended.
  8. Add the dry ingredients and mix with the electric mixer just enough to blend them into the wet ingredients.
  9. Spread batter evenly using an offset spatula in the prepared tin/baking sheet.
  10. Bake about 40 minutes (for rectangular cake tin, with convection switched on) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Cool on wire rack for 3 hours then remove from pan to continue cooling.
Strawberry Mousse Filling
  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 2 cups sliced cleaned strawberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 envelope gelatin
  1. Sprinkle gelatin over ¼ cup water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. In a food processor, puree 2 cups sliced strawberries and ½ cup granulated sugar until smooth. If using frozen strawberries, a grainy puree is fine, the ice crystals will melt when heated.
  3. Transfer strawberry mixture to a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add gelatin to strawberry mixture, stirring constantly until gelatin dissolves.
  4. Cover and chill until slightly thickened about 30 minutes, stir the mixture every 10 minutes. (For food safety reasons, I let the mixture cool off to room temperature before sticking it into the refrigerator to avoid raising the temperature of the refrigerator.)
  5. Whip cream at low speed until foamy; gradually increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form.
  6. Fold whipped cream into strawberry mixture until well blended. Cover and chill 30 minutes or just until mixture has thickened enough to be used as filling.
  7. Spread about 1 cup Strawberry Mousse between each cake layer, cover and chill for 3 hours or until mousse is set.
Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting
  • 2 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 8 ounces Mascarpone
  • ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips to garnish top of cake
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler/ saucepan put on a simmer burner.
  2. In an electric mixer, whip the cream just until stiff peaks form but do not over whip to avoid a lumpy frosting. Remove into a bowl.
  3. Mix the confectioner’s sugar and mascarpone with the electric mixer till light and fluffy, mix in the vanilla and drizzle in the melted chocolate slowly while mixing continuously.
  4. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture in 3 additions.
  5. Frost the assembled cake immediately.
  6. The cake should be refrigerated but the flavors (especially the strawberry mousse’s) comes out best if the cake is rested at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Flourless Almond Butter Cookies

Got an email from a couple of friends asking if they could visit Clare and I went “YES!” immediately, not because Clare needs visitors but because I’ve been wanting to try out this Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies recipe so I need some people to share the calories with.

Trial 1: Swapped the peanut butter for almond butter, used more eggs in a sub-batch

Ingredients

14 cookies

  • ½ cup natural roasted almond butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp natural vanilla extract
  • ½ large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp sea salt for sprinkling

I used almond butter instead of peanut butter because I used up all of my peanut butter after 3 batches of PB&J cheese cakes. Anyway almond is supposed to be more health healthy than peanut right? The proportion of sugar does seem a little excessive but I don’t have much cookie baking experience, especially flourless ones, so I decided to just stick with the recipe for now.

Method

The appeal of this cookie recipe is it’s simplicity. No creaming the butter and sugar with the mixer and risk waking up the sleeping princess.

Since I made a half batch of the original recipe which calls for a whole egg, I beat the egg first and added half of the egg by weight into the almond butter, sugar and vanilla and just whisked it all up with a hand whisk.

As there is no flour in the recipe, I expect the cookie to be crumbly so I wanted to test if adding more egg into the batter would result in better binding and a more well-received texture. Anyway what was I going to do with half an egg??

Therefore I dropped 1 tbsp rounds of half of the original batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper – Batch 1A. I added the remaining half an egg into the rest of the batter ( so this batch got 3X the amount of egg compared to Batch 1A) and similarly, dropped 1 tbsp rounds onto the parchment paper. I flattened the rounds with my fingers and made hash patterns with a fork before sprinkling with coarse sea salt. I made just one set of parallel fork prints on Batch 1A and criss-crossed hash patterns on Batch 1B, the more eggy ones. Into the preheated to 350 °F oven at the they go, for 20 minutes, the baking sheet was rotated at the 10 minutes mark.

Results

My taste tasters arrived a little late so by then Chris and I have devoured almost everything but 4 cookies. The two taste testers independently agreed that they preferred Batch 1A. Batch 1A was indeed crumblier than 1B but this finer texture was more appealing.

Final Recipe

Yields 14 cookies

14 cookies

  • ½ cup natural roasted almond butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp natural vanilla extract
  • ½ large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp sea salt for sprinkling
  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Mix all the ingredients, except for the sea salt.
  3. Drop table spoon-sized “cookie dough” onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The shape of cookies does not drastically change after baking so this is a good one for cookie cutters if you need a break from those sugar cookies.
  4. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional) and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet half way through baking. Enjoy.

PB&J Cheese Cakes

While waiting for Little Miss Clarey to wake up from her very very long nap, I decided to clear out the fridge. Out goes the half used, jumbo package of cream cheese from Costco. Wait a minute, didn’t I also have a sensible 8 oz package of cream cheese? Found it after more rummaging! It expires in…2 days. Need to use it now!

My regular go-to cheese cake recipes requires 3 packages of cream cheese and anyway I don’t have any heavy cream, maybe it’s time to try a new recipe. Food Network’s Peanut Butter Cheese Cake Minis looks good except that I don’t have any peanut butter cups (my most hated candy, just because). I do however have lots of natural peanut butter AND graham crackers that I want to get rid of so maybe I can make something work. Well it did work, except that I wasn’t very happy with it so even though I did manage to use the cream cheese, peanut butter and graham crackers (woohoo!), I bought more of them for trial 2, 3 and 4…

Click here for the final recipe

Trial 1: Piped peanut butter into the cheese cake batter

Ingredients (6 regular cupcake sized cheese cakes)

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 3 white chocolate chips and 3 dark chocolate chips

Method

I can’t help reducing the amount of sugar in recipes and the safest bet for this recipe seems to be eliminating the sugar in the crust since most graham cracker crusts recipes don’t require sugar at all. So my crust was just a simple mixture of graham cracker crumbs and butter, pressed into 6 of my special (alright, they are from Safeway) foiled cupcake paper liners. They look a little crumbly but I decided to leave it and judge after baking instead of adding more butter at this point.

Preheat oven to 350 °F (note to self: 370 °F on Wright Ave’s oven).

For the cheese cake batter, I beat the cream cheese at speed 8 on my KitchenAid mixer for 1 minute, then mixed in the flour, sugar and vanilla extract at speed 6 for another 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through mixing. The egg was also beat in at speed 6 till the batter was well mixed. I then divided the batter into the 6 graham cracker crusts, there was enough batter for 1 more cupcake so I just poured that into another liner.

To insert the peanut butter into the cheese cake batter, I spooned the peanut butter into a piping bag, put on a tip and SQUEEZED away. Not such a bright idea. The thick peanut butter didn’t get piped out easily and I had to use a knife to scrape the peanut butter off the tip to end each dollop.

Oh well, finally each of the 6 cheese cakes got some peanut butter ( I left the crustless one plain). I placed a chocolate chip on each just for fun and in they go into the oven for 20 minutes.

Results

2 cheese cakes

The cheese cakes looked fluffy and soft out of the oven. I tried one once they have cooled for about 15 minutes since the recipe didn’t call for any refrigeration. Hmm..I wasn’t very impressed, it just tasted like an extremely sweet but otherwise tasteless sponge cake. Oh well, I decided to stick them into the refrigerator since I do usually prefer my cheese cake cold.

3 hours later, I tried another one and it tasted much better cold. The cheese cake’s texture firmed up and the tangy cream cheese flavor could be discerned.

I LOVED the peanut butter in the cheesecake, it added such a nice surprise to boring old cheesecake but I just wished that there was more of it! I want each bite of my cheesecake to have some peanut butter, but Chris (the guy in my life who I have to try very hard to please) thought that  having peanut butter throughout might make the cheese cake too heavy. My brilliant idea: let’s make it his favorite, PB&J. That should make the peanut butter less dry.

They weren't great but we still polished them off.

They weren’t great but we still polished them off.

The crust was a little too crumbly for neat eating so Jazzie had too great a time vacuuming up the crumbs under the table.

Trial 2: Spread peanut butter and blue berry jam on top of the graham cracker crust

Modifications

1) The cheese cake itself is a little too sweet for me and since I’m going to be adding blueberry jam, I decided to reduce the about of sugar in the batter by 25%.

2) I will also add ½ tbsp more butter to the crust to take the joy of if Jazzie’s life and of course add some blueberry jam to the peanut butter and spread it across the whole crust.

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2½ tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
  • ⅜ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp natural peanut butter mixed with 1 tbsp blueberry jam
  • 3 tsp of blueberry jam

Method

Graham cracker crusts

I crushed the graham crackers and added the extra ½ tbsp of butter before pressing them into the cupcake liners.

PB&JTasting as I go, I settled on the proportion of 3 tbsp peanut butter to 1 tbsp blueberry jam for the PB&J mixture. Instead of messing about with the piping bag, I just spooned the mixture directly onto each crust and smoothed them out with the back of the spoon. For 3 of the crusts, I added an extra teaspoon each of jam on top of the PB&J mixture, just to test if more jam makes things better.

The cheese cake batter was prepared as before, though with less sugar. This time, there was enough batter for 8 cheese cakes (6 with crusts and PB&J, 2 plain). In they go again into the 350 °F oven for 20 minutes.

Results

Tada! Products from round 2, after refrigeration.

Tada! Products from round 2, after refrigeration and after a few disappeared into my tummy.

I used the positions of the chocolate chips to mark the different kinds of cheese cakes here. Extra jam = choco chip in the middle, no extra jam = choco chip to the side, plain = no choco chip.

Chris didn’t care if the cheese cake had extra jam, just PB&J was enough to make him happy! I preferred those with extra jam but overall I still felt that even more jam would make things even better.

I also loved having PB&J in every bite but the problem was that with the crust and thick layer of PB&J, there weren’t much cheese cake at all in each small cake…

Trial 3: Less crust, more jam, more cake

Modifications

1) Instead of using 10 graham cracker for 6 crusts, I shall use 8 graham crackers (60g) for 8 crusts. The amount of butter for the crust shall remain the same (higher ratio of butter : crackers) for even better binding.

2) Thicker cheese cake layers by dividing the cheese cake batter between 8 cheese cakes with layers of crusts and PB&J, instead of 6 crusted,PB&J cheese cake and 2 plain cheese cakes.

3) More jam per cake by changing the PB&J mixture to 2 tbsp peanut butter and 2 tbsp jam.

Ingredients

  • 60 g graham cracker crumbs
  • 2½ tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
  • ⅜ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter mixed with 2 tbsp blueberry jam

Method

Only managed to prepare the crust and PB&J mixture before Little Missy woke up

Only managed to prepare the crust and PB&J mixture before Little Missy woke up. Oh well, the cream cheese needed time to warm up anyway.

Crushed the graham crackers and mixed them with the melted butter.

Next, I mixed the PB&J.

I over stirred the PB&J mixture a little, the mixture was a much more attractive swirl of brown and purple before I gave it another two stirs…

Pressed the graham cracker crusts (graham cracker crumbs and melted butter) into 8 cupcake liners and dropped ½ tbsp PB&J mixture on each.

Whipped up the cheese cake batter as before and scooped them into the liners

Decorated with chocolate chips because I like chocolate. Shove them into the 350 °F oven before Clarey burst into tears.

Yay! Looks much better after cooling and 3 hours in the fridge.

Results

Look at the pretty layers!

Look at the pretty layers!

I’m pretty satisfied with the product for this trial. There is a nice balance between crust, peanut butter, jam and cheese cake and I know this is really pretty good because cH and I still find this good after having at least 6 cheese cakes each in the past 2 weeks! Off to the pool I go after posting the final recipe.

FINAL RECIPE (for now)

8 cheese cake minis

  • 60 g graham cracker crumbs (1 pack of Honey Maid fresh stack)
  • 2½ tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 ounce cream cheese at room temperature
  • ⅜ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter mixed with 2 tbsp blueberry jam
  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Mix the graham crackers crumbs with the melted butter and press them into 8 cupcake liners in a muffin tin.
  3. Mix the peanut butter and jam, do not over stir for pretty swirls. Spoon ½ tbsp for each crust.
  4. Beat the cream cheese at high speed till fluffy (speed 8 on my KitchenAid for 1 minute), then beat in the flour, sugar and vanilla till well mixed (speed 6 for 40 seconds, scraping down the sides halfway). Beat in the egg till well mixed (speed 6).
  5. Divide the cream cheese batter among the 8 cupcake liners, decorate with chocolate chip if desired.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, chill before serving.