Saturday, April 30, 2011

Banana Caramel Brownies

About two weeks ago, a wonderful classmate of mine from Stevens Point posted this brownie recipe on her blog "The Baker Chick" and they have been on my mind ever since. Finding uses for overripe bananas is a perpetual dilemma in our house. There are only so many variations of banana bread and banana muffins I can take. I was really excited to see Audra sing the praises of her successful chocolatey treat and secretly relished the thought of finding a new use for that pesky be-spotted fruit.

Adapted from Audra's recipe at "The Baker Chick"

The Ingredients:
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp kosher salt

Banana Layer
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas

Brownie Layer
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
5.5 oz dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

The Process:
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan and set aside.

Prepare the Caramel :
Melt butter in a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat, add sugar and stir frequently until sugar is a golden brown. As soon as the sugar starts to smoke, remove it from the heat and with caution whisk in 1/2 cup of cream. It will bubble up like lava. Whisk in vanilla and salt. Let cool while you make the other layers.

For the Banana Layer:
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the sour cream and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; stir into the batter. Finally, mix in the mashed banana. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.

For the Brownie Layer
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together. Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.

Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. Add 1 egg to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining egg and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Assemble the layers
Pour the caramel over the banana layer, trying to avoid the edges if possible.
Spoon or pour the brownie batter evenly across the caramel layer. Using a spatula, gently spread it over the caramel to make an even layer over the top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool completely before cutting.

*Baking Note: The individual recipes only called for 25/30 minutes in the oven. For some reason though, these needed a bit more. (Maybe because of the caramel.) Start low and add more time if needed.

I made no modifications to the recipe as written.

The Review:
When Audra stated the caramel bubbles like lava when the cream is added, she was not kidding! Be extremely cautious of the steam that will escape as the cream is incorporated.

I did have some issue with the brownie layer. The batter ended up exceedingly fudge like...almost a cement. The tickness made the batter incredibly difficult to "spread" over the caramel and banana layers. I'm not sure where the error may be likely I accidentally used a full cup of flour instead of the 3/4 listed. So instead, the batter was spooned into little island of chocolate afloat in a sea of caramel over the bedrock of banana.

So as a result, I did not have the beautiful layers that posed Audra's amazing photos. The banana cake swelled up to envelope the spooned bits of chocolate brownie with the caramel bubbling up between. I found mine to be finished baking at 30 minutes...which is odd as my oven tends to need more time for most baked goods.

But you know what...they still tasted absolutely amazing. The chocolate was thick, rich and fudge-y, the banana cake was sweet and cloud-like, the caramel was a complex dance of sugar and salt.

These will be made again!

And if you have a moment, and don't mind drooling a bit check out The Baker Chick. Give her a "buzz" for Foodbuzz and "like" The Baker Chick on Facebook to keep updated on her baking adventures. You won't regret it!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Potage of Lentils

A potage, according to Wikipedia, is "a category of thick soups, stews, or porridges in some of which meat and vegetables are boiled together with water until they form into a thick mush." This particular potage is also known as Esau's soup which led me to wonder whether or not it was a dish worth selling your birthright for.

Adapted from Main Courses 365 edited by Jenni Fleetwood

Serves 4

The Ingredients:
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1-2 carrots, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 generous cup red lentils
4 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1-2 lemons, halved
1/2 tsp cumin
cayenne pepper to taste
salt and pepper to taste
sliced lemon and chopped parsley to garnish

The Process:
Heat oil in a large pan. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the celery, carrots, half of the garlic, and all of the potato. Cook for a few minutes until beginning to soften.

Add the lentils and stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes and lentils are tender.

Add the bay leaves, remaining garlic, and half of the lemons to the pan and cook the soup for a further 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon then stir into the soup to taste.

Pour the soup into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. (You may need to do this in batches.) Tip the soup back in the pan, stir in the cumin, cayenne and season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top each portion with lemon slices and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

The Review:
With winter not quite giving up it's chilly grasp, another hot thick soup seemed ideal...especially with sore throats and stuffy noses in our household. I was leery of the amounts of garlic and lemon in the soup, but everything balanced out well. The garlic flavor was subtle, as was the cumin. The lemon added a nice tang without being sour. It was a very tasty soup...though perhaps not as remarkable as the original soup Esau had...


The recipe I used claims this is a Sephardi Isreali soup, though I can find little else about this black eyed pea stew. Stew or sounded incredibly hearty and very simple. And it's vegan and gluten free to boot!

Adapted from Main Courses 365 edited by Jenni Fleetwood

Serves 4

The Ingredients:
1 cup black-eyed peas
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium hot, or 2-3 mild fresh chilies, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
9 oz fresh or canned tomatoes, diced
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken, or beef for a non-vegan soup)
1 oz fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon

The Process:
Put the beans in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heats, cover and leave stand for two hours.

Drain the beans, return to pan, cover with fresh cold water, then simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the onions garlic and chili and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Stir in the cumin, turmeric, tomatoes, stock, half of the cilantro and the beans. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice and remaining cilantro.

My Modifications:
Out of a force of habit, I had set up my beans to soak overnight, though the recipe did not call for that step. Once I noticed the error, I jumped right to the second step...simmering the beans for 30-45 minutes. In the end, they were tender but not mushy.

The chilies I used were 2 red fresno chili peppers. I also used a full 14 oz can of diced tomatoes. I did not find that the extra tomato overwhelmed any of the other flavors in the end.

The Review:
Hot soup. Cold Day. Always a winner!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cinnamon Buns

When I still lived in Hawaii, I had a co-worker who hobbied in all things yeast. He brewed his own beer. He baked his own bread. Occasional I was able to sample the fruits of his labors. One day, sitting on the table in the office was a beautiful hardcover book full of photo after photo of gorgeous artisan breads...focaccia, baguettes, rolls, buns, bagels, made my mouth water.

I have since procured my own copy of Peter Reinhart's book and tried my hand at what I thought may be the simpler of the basic breads. They were all flops. The dough did exactly what it was suppose to, at least to the novice's eye. However, once baked the loaves were dry, dense, mostly crust and without that beautiful golden glow.

But after pressing on, and having minor success with pie crusts and dinner rolls, I returned to the book. The cinnamon buns called out to be made...

adpated from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

makes 8 to 12 large or 12 to 16 smaller buns

The Ingredients:
6 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 Tbsp shortening or unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp lemon extract or lemon zest
3 1/2 cups unbleached bread or all purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or butter milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 Tbsp sugar + 1 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon)

White fondant glaze
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp orange, lemon, or vanilla extract
6 Tbsp to 1/2 cup warm milk

The Process:
*In his book, Reinhart goes into amazing depth about what each ingredient does as well as what happens during every step of the bread making process. It is certainly worth while reading, but is a bit too much info for a single recipe.*

Cream together the sugar, salt and shortening on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or by hand with a large metal spoon). Whip in the egg and lemon extract until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to a dough hook and increase speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough double in size.

Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top of the dough with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for large buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches wide for small buns. Don't roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. Will the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 even pieces each about 1 3/4 inched thick for large buns; or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.

Line one or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren't touching but are close to one another. Mist the dough with spray oil and cove loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size.Preheat the oven to 350 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops while the buns are are warm, but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

For the fondant glaze:
sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 tsp of lemon or orange extract and between 6 tbsp to 1/2 cup warm milk, Briskly whisking until all of the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and use only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

My Modifications:
I followed the recipe as close to the letter as I could. I opted for buttermilk instead of whole milk, and used lemon zest instead of extract. Not having any unsalted butter, I used shortening instead. For the fondant I used vanilla extract in lieu of the citrus suggested. And all mixing and kneading was done by hand as 1) I lack a stand mixer and 2) hand kneading builds character and upper arm strength.

The Review:
This entire experience was a joy to the senses. The tactile joy of kneading the dough. The visual allure of the swirls of cinnamon nestled in the rolls. The yeasty assault on the nose as the the dough rose followed by the divine aromas emanating from the oven as the buns baked. The hushed moans of pleasure as we both partook of our bites. All culminating in that sweet, cinnimony and yeasty bliss upon the tongue.

Yes. These rolls were that heavenly. They will give Cinnabon a run for their money.

They were light, tender and full of delicate cinnamon flavor. The lemon and buttermilk offered just tartness to leave a clean aftertaste. After so many yeast baked good failures, to bite into something this amazing...this complex...and this successful made me feel as though I had summited Mt. Everest.

My only qualms is I fear I may have overbaked them a minute or two...the buns on the outer circle boasted much more crust. And glazes and fondants of confectioners sugar always seem far too cloying. Too overpoweringly sweet without much depth of flavor. A richer butter cream or cheese cheese frosty would probably do these heavenly buns more justice.

When I have the time to watch dough rise again, I will definitely be making these.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Honey Roasted Pork Tenderloin

I wanted something sweet and citrus-y to glaze the pork tenderloin thawing in my fridge. This recipe conveniently used items I already had on hand in my pantry. And unlike many other pork glazes and sauces out there...this one did NOT contain mustard, which greatly appealed to Ross.

adapted from Lisa's recipe at

serves 4

The Ingredients:
lbs pork loin (boneless)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 375.

Season the pork and place in a roasting pan.
In a separate bowl, mix together the honey, juice, oil and thyme. Pour over the pork. Add the broth to the pan. Bake until internal temperature reaches 150 (45-60 minutes) basting frequently.

Strain the pan juices into a saucepan. Reduce until slightly thickened. Serve over the sliced pork.

My Modifications:
The juice came from a small honey tangerine, which yielded a scant 1/4 cup. I used the entire amount which greatly increased quantity and the sweetness factor of the sauce. I also substituted beef broth for chicken.

The Review:
Well, this recipe certainly has the "sweet" portion of my craving down, but it was somewhat lacking in the "citrus" area.

Perhaps my own modification is to blame...honey tangerines are quite sweet, and in the end I fell as though the glaze needed a little bit of tart to balance everything.
But the sauce was almost cloying. Good, but just a bit too floral. The honey was a bit too dominate.

Despite the honey's strength, all of the flavors did shine through beautifully. And I think the beef broth added a much needed depth that most store variety chicken broths just don't have. I had amply salted the tenderloin before drizzling on the honey mixture, which did help as well. But next time a tarter orange, or maybe a small squirt of lemon...something just a tad more sour or help subdue the sweetness.

I wonder how a bit of garlic or ginger might shake things up....