Monthly Archives: February 2014

Banana Coconut Cocoa Nib Bread

If I post yet another bready-cake recipe (which are they, really?), would you believe that I don’t only eat baked goods and brussel sprouts? I admit, though. I have consumed a rather obscene amount of muffins, brownies, bread and cupcakes the past two weeks. There’s been Charlie’s birthday, which necessitated several desserts in the course of a week, a point in my cycle in which chocolate was demanded, and two boys swapping germs like baseball cards. When I’m homebound with the boys, baking is a trusted outlet. A reliable companion to keep my head from banging against the walls. I get fierce cabin fever after a few days. If I can’t get fresh air, I must bake.

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I didn’t bake this yesterday with intentions to share yet another recipe filled with sugar, flour and butter, but then a few things happened. First, I tasted it. Then, I watched the boys gobble up their slices without saying a single word. Lastly, out of the corner of my eye, I caught Harry exiting his office with a huge smile while holding an empty plate, on his way to retrieve a second piece. I knew what I needed to do. You need to try this bread. Cake in a loaf pan. Whatever it is.

Yesterday morning I spied three very sad bananas on our counter. Usually I throw old bananas into the freezer to use in bread or smoothies at a later date, but with a full day at home ahead of me the decision to bake was obvious. For some reason choosing a banana bread recipe isn’t ever easy for me, though. I have a lot of banana bread recipes that I like, but none that are both fairly simple to execute and make me groan with delight. Plenty are fine, but none are swoon-worthy.

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So, I did what I always do when I’m seeking inspiration. I considered my cookbooks and favorite food blogs to decide who was most likely to provide the best hit. After a minute or two of contemplation, Ding! Ding! Ding! Google: Orangette + banana bread. I’m familiar with Molly’s lunacy for banana bread from reading her blog for years (as well as her wonderful first book). Plus, I trust her recipes implicitly. When this recipe popped up including rum and coconut, my decision was made.

I first tasted liquor in banana bread a few years ago. The recipe called for roasting the bananas in rum and sugar before mixing them into the batter. Charlie loved it so much that we joked he would end up at a friend’s house eating banana bread and politely inquire, “Excuse me. May I have some rum in my banana bread?” That bread was delicious, but it’s a relatively time-intensive recipe and I wanted something simpler.

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After consulting my pantry, I knew plenty of changes would need to be made, but I decided to take a chance. Here’s how this bread was born: I didn’t have shredded coconut, but a bag of coconut flakes begged me to be used. I still don’t have rum in the house after mojitos wiped us out, but spotted Marsala and thought it would be a nice pairing with those flavors. I didn’t have any demerara sugar, so I grabbed turbinado because it’s structure is similar. I felt it would yield that same crystalline crunchy crust. I also played a bit with the other sugars, flours and spices because I do things like that. The best moment of inspiration came while fetching my sugars. I happened to spy Theo’s cocoa nibs (purchased for this, also used for this) and emitted a little yelp of glee. I’m never disappointed with chocolate, coconut and banana bonding, but I didn’t want this recipe to fall completely in the cake camp. The fact that the cocoa nibs aren’t sweet was important to me. I figured the sugars and banana would do enough to cover that base. Does using whole wheat pastry flour and making this a little less sweet keep it a bread?

Whatever it is, this recipe jumped to top of my bananas-in-batter list. It’s got the classic banana bread flavor and moistness, but these amazing bonus textures and tastes. A chewy bite from a coconut flake, a deep chocolate punch from a cocoa nib, a quick crunch from the sugary crust. I am so pleased that this bread goodness not despite all the changes I made, but because of them. This bread resulted because of everything I didn’t have on hand and the one thing I did. If all the ingredients had been present, I probably wouldn’t have played around. I always breathe a sigh of relief when my changes turn out, but today’s results called for celebration. An opportunity to post. I am really pleased to have finally found my go-to banana bread. I hope you love it as much as I do.

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Cocoa Nib Coconut Banana Bread

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s adaptation of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s recipe in HomeBaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World

1 1/2 cups of banana puree (from approximately three large, overripe bananas)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/8 tsp distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon Marsala

1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes

1/3 cup cocoa nibs

1 tablespoon turbinado, demerara or dark brown sugar

—————–

Preheat the oven to 350℉. Butter a standard-size loaf pan.

Puree the bananas (using a blender, food processor, grinder, masher- whatever works to get them smooth!) and measure them out.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.

Using a hand or standing mixer, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vinegar and Marsala. Starting with the banana puree, alternate adding in the banana and flour mixture (about 1 cup at a time). Beat until it’s mostly incorporated but some flour still shows. Use a spatula to fold in the coconut, cocoa nibs and any remaining flour that is visible just until it’s incorporated. Do not overmix.

(The batter will be DENSE. After I made it I was so concerned about the thickness that I read all of Molly’s blogpost comments to make sure there wasn’t an error. Were there supposed to be eggs? Was this batter really supposed to be this hard to spread into the pan? Should I add milk? Was this going to be a disaster? Turns out her warning that it will be thick, was quite true but perhaps slightly understated. Think playdough thick. It was denser than any batter I’ve ever made. Despite your fears, assure yourself that the bread will not bake into a brick.)

Plop the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top, and sprinkle it evenly with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a tester comes out clean. Run a knife around the edges and let it cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Turn the loaf out of the pan to allow it to cool completely.

Enjoy this bread within a few days. Keep it tightly covered between servings to keep it moist. (This bread was just as good the next day as the first, so don’t hesitate to make it a day ahead.)

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Before spring comes

I noticed pink blossoms on a tree outside the Green Lake library last week. There are daffodils in my front yard preparing to show off. My garlic is poking out, taunting me with thoughts of garlic scape pesto. In the next few weeks I’ll be planting rhubarb and a few berry bushes. I’m itching to garden, anxious for asparagus and peas. When our CSAs start up again, I will get on my knees and kiss those boxes filled with goodness.

As one season merges into the next I find myself anticipating the upcoming flavors while simultaneously desiring to cook the current seasonal favorites one last time. I don’t want winter to end without another taste of my favorite winter squash dish, hearty soup, and savory pie. And more Brussels sprouts! What?! Yes, even more Brussels sprouts. Before spring comes.

The boys have these feelings about seasonal play, not food. Snow rarely falls in Seattle and the quality and quantity is usually not sufficient for sledding. After a measly snow last December, Harry and I had to promise them we’d take them to the mountains if we didn’t get to sled in the city this winter. So, yesterday morning when we woke up with the potential for hours ahead of sledding and snow play, I felt like we hit the winter jackpot. I also already knew what I’d be cooking for lunch.

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Are you a Brussels sprouts fan? Since so many of my generation were raised with steamed vegetables lacking salt or butter, courtesy of 1980s nutrition fads, we learned to hate them. The majority of vegetables are done a serious disservice by steaming, but I think the sprouts suffer the greatest. They turn into little balls of soggy mush and even smell off-putting. Like asparagus pee. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, eat some asparagus this spring. I guess you’d also have to steam some Brussels sprouts, so maybe just trust me on this.

I turned my nose up at the sprouts of Brussels until I tasted them sauteed with bacon four years ago. (I highly recommend bacon as a gateway food.) I have since consumed them roasted and sauteed (often), fried (once- holy cow!), and raw (several times, sliced for salads). So, I guess I now enjoy them in all forms, except steamed. As long as they are served with a little fat, salt and acid, I eat them quite happily. I even find myself choosing them at restaurants.

IMG_7886Today’s dish is modeled off wood-fired Brussels sprouts we devoured at Essex a few weeks ago. Harry was sold because sriracha was involved. I was sold because aged gouda was present. If I see aged gouda anywhere, I want it. One bite of that salty, melt in your mouth cheese immediately transports me to my year as an exchange student in The Netherlands. I ate cheese daily, so I became quite familiar with the varieties available. One afternoon one of my hosts sat me at a table covered with various Dutch cheeses and we proceeded to sample the varieties while she told me about them. That’s an experience I wouldn’t mind repeating. Daily.

Gouda is a city in The Netherlands, but when referring to cheese it’s about the process used to transform cow’s milk into the traditional Dutch cheese, not a specific type of cheese. Gouda tastes dramatically different depending on age, and of course, different farms yield different flavor profiles. All young cheeses are very soft. They are nearly impossible to cut with a cheese slicer. They retain a chewy bite in your mouth and a very mild flavor. Older cheeses become harder, saltier and stronger in flavor. There is significantly more umami present. They also have a bit of a crunch to them from cheese crystals that form with time. Aged gouda makes me drool.

Harry and I enjoyed the Essex dish so much that I wanted to attempt to create my own version. Sadly, I don’t have a wood-fired oven at home (as I’m sure you do), but I knew that high heat roasting them would impart some of the same caramelized depth. So, I bought some sprouts and cheese, and played around with vinaigrettes to give it a shot. What I made scratches the Essex itch. This is my kind of winter comfort food, with a bonus zing from the sriracha.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Vinaigrette and Aged Gouda

  • 1+ pound Brussels sprouts, stalky bottoms trimmed and sprouts halved (also discard any outer leaves if they’ve yellowed)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha (unless you’re like my Louisiana-born husband, who would triple this)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • A few squirts of dijon mustard (~1/4 teaspoon)
  • Aged gouda cheese

Preheat the oven to 400℉, positioning a rack in the center.

Toss the halved Brussels sprouts with salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread them evenly on a baking pan. (You don’t want them piled up or squished together. They need space to caramelize.)

Roast the sprouts for 20-25 minutes, tossing them once or twice mid-way to encourage more surface caramelization. Roast until they are nicely browned and soft enough for your fork to penetrate.

Make the sriracha vinaigrette. Put two tablespoons of olive oil with the vinegar, dijon mustard and sriracha in a little jar and shake it vigorously until it’s emulsified. (You can also whisk it, but I find this to be sufficient.)

Gently toss the roasted Brussels sprouts with the vinaigrette to coat them. Serve warm, topped with thin slices of aged gouda. (If you’re like my husband, you will add more sriracha at this point.)

Serves two as a main meal, four as a side. Harry and I ate these as a hearty lunch, sharing a few with the boys prior to putting the dressing on. There were no leftovers.

In celebration or consolation

Watching the Super Bowl was incredibly fun for me, at least for the first three quarters. This may seem odd since I’m a Colorado native who cheered on the Broncos during John Elway days, kissing Vance Johnson of the Three Amigos as I passed their poster in my bedroom, but Seattle now has my heart. I haven’t cared about American football since I was young. If I am going to jump on the bandwagon and cheer on a team, choosing the Seahawks is natural. Despite our fair-weather status, we exhibited plenty of loud cheers, enthusiastic jumps and high-fives during the blow-out, but by the fourth quarter, we were simultaneously cringing for the Broncos and cheering them on to score. I felt bad for all my Colorado family and friends who are serious fans.

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Our only sports gear was given to him by family in Colorado when he turned four. Here worn proudly at his fifth birthday as “Farmer Charlie.” He asked his friends to come dressed as farm animals. He turns SEVEN tomorrow! I think I started labor seven years and two months ago 🙂 

Much of why our evening was so delightful went beyond the game. We watched with some of our longest known Seattle friends, with whom we also happened to watch the last Seahawks Super Bowl game in 2006. That sad performance was the last football game most of us had watched until the championship game a few weeks ago! Clearly, we are well suited to watch together. They also don’t have a tv hooked-up, but they finagled a way to bring in reception. Now that’s bandwagon devotion!

Because my friend and I value the quality of food at events more than the sports, we coordinated efforts. To present some green and blue, I made a cheese and cracker platter that included blue cheese, bucheron, aged cheddar, Aran’s glutten-free hazelnut pastry crackers, Dorie’s herbed olives (using green! olives), pickled fennel, fig butter, quince paste, and pistachios. Dinner was her adapted version of Melissa Clark’s garam masala roasted chicken and my simplest kid-friendly kale salad (which EVERY kid ate! Hello?!). She topped it all off with an orange chocolate ganache olive oil cake. If I hadn’t eaten so much cheese, I would’ve considered eating the rest of that cake.

I LOVE THE SUPER BOWL. (It’s got “bowl” for a reason beyond stadiums, I’m sure!)

The five kids mostly played together and watched cartoons, running in and out to check on the game (doubtful) or get nibbles (likely). The four adults had one of our longest uninterrupted opportunities for conversation since 2006. Glory, glory, hallelujah! The kids played independently for longer than two minutes! By far, my favorite part of the night was getting that special time to cheer and chat with friends after far too long of segmented gatherings. It felt like the beginning of a new era. I couldn’t be happier about that.

So, back to the Broncos. I have a still tender spot for my Colorado family and friends. I hope that the blazing sunshine, snow and vivid blue skies help you along. I’m thankful you don’t have Vitamin D deficiencies or serious afflictions of SAD requiring constant caffeine IV drips, which would make this loss even more painful. Maybe this bread will bring you some comfort? Upscale it to a consolation cake if that helps to better nurse the wounds. If you need to rub anything in to Seahawks’ fans, skiing some powder while it doesn’t rain on you would suffice. But this recipe also includes rubbing butter between your fingers. You could pretend it’s a Seahawk.

On the other hand, I’m equally thrilled for my Seattle friends. The enthusiastic showing of 12th man flags, signs and jerseys made this city shine with spirit. Shooting fireworks from the Space Needle with each score was also pretty freakin’ cool! I’m pleased sports fans have something to celebrate after years of let-downs, and food fans had excellent reason to cook and bake all morning. It worked out for all of us.

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His Pre-K and K recess was under the Space Needle’s shadow. He has a whole series of paintings on his bedroom wall and went through a period of selling them for $1.

Thus, either in celebration or consolation, I offer up my favorite carrot bread recipe. This recipe was my first introduction to whole grains baking, courtesy of my fellow bandwagon friend. A few years ago we were lucky enough to live blocks away from each other. She excitedly called me once to see if she could bring me over a muffin because she was so pleased. (I miss being her neighbor.) The muffins made me swoon. Nicely crisp on the outside edges (thanks to turning the muffin on it’s side while it’s still cooling in the pan- see the picture below) and extremely moist on the inside (thanks to buttermilk and butter!). The whole grain flours bring an extra nut-like flour, a welcome layer of depth missing in all-purpose baked goods. The spices hint towards gingerbread or cinnamon pumpkin bread, but it’s allspice shining through without being overbearing. The carrot is a perfect sweet contrast. The streusel compliments in texture and gives you amazing little bites of buttery, crunchy goodness. I find it all very satisfying, like sitting by a fire in a cabin in the snowy woods. I would really like that with this bread. It has yet to happen, despite making this recipe at least once a month in the falls and winters since she gifted me with Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain for my birthday. I should remedy that.

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I prefer to make the bread in a 9-inch round because I yield 12 slices as opposed to 8 muffins. The muffins are lovely, though. I’m just being economical. The bread is absolutely delicious by itself. Wonderful with morning coffee or as an afternoon snack with tea. Great as a sweet note at brunch, fabulous with ice cream for dessert. Yes, I like this bread. A lot.

If you want to keep this very simple and slightly healthier, leave the streusel off altogether. Alternately, dress this up as a fairly nutritious cake by leaving off the streusel and frosting it with lightly sweetened whipped cream cheese. (Beat 8oz room temperature cream cheese with a spoonful or two of powdered sugar, maple syrup or honey. Taste and add more as desired. Gently spread it on the completely cooled cake.)

The first time I made this recipe I was pretty intimidated by all the steps and processes. I had yet to work with pastry, so even the butter rubbing made me anxious. Butter rubbing sounds way too exciting to make me nervous anymore. Anyways, I’ve also since found a method that organized this to my suiting, so I’m sharing accordingly.

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Carrot Bread from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain

Streusel Topping

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons spelt flour*

2 tablespoons oat bran

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt**

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

Dry Mix

1 cup spelt flour*

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon kosher salt**

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated carrots (2-3 medium)

Wet Mix

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

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1) Preheat oven to 350℉. Rub a 9-inch round baking pan with butter.

2) Grate the carrots.

3) Melt the 2oz butter for the wet batter mix so it can cool while you do the other steps.

4) Next, I like to set up two bowls side by side. I put a small bowl (for streusel) on the left and a big bowl (for dry batter mix) on the right. (Pictured above.) Since so many of the ingredients overlap, I measure out the ones used both places at this time. All the streusel ingredients (except the butter- keep it cold) go straight into their bowl, the dry mix ones go directly into the sifter. You can do these in succession, of course. I just find this easier since I don’t have to deal with the flour, bran, sugars and salt multiple times.

5) To make the dry mix for the batter, sift the ingredients into the large bowl. Dump all bits and pieces that didn’t make it through the sifter back into the bowl and gently stir them in. Stir the carrots into the dry ingredients so they all become coated with the flour mixture.

6) Make the wet mix for the batter by whisking together the melted (now cooled) butter, buttermilk, and egg until thoroughly combined. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

7) Make the streusel. Measure and mix together the flour, oat bran, sugars and salt. Add the cold butter pieces to the dry mixture by rubbing it between your fingers into the flour mixture until it feels coarse, like cornmeal. Do this as quickly as you can to help the butter stay cold and solid, which helps the streusel maintain integrity. (Alternately, try pulsing the butter into the flour mixture in a food processor. Just be careful not to overpulse. I would guess five to ten very short pulses would be plenty. Just observe your butter each time. Bigger butter pieces is better than smaller- ideally they should be about the size of a grain of rice. I haven’t done this, so please report back!)

8) Pour the batter evenly into the the pan. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the batter. Lightly press it into it.

9) Bake for 35-minutes (or until done!). Let it cool for at least five minutes after running a knife around the side of the pan to release the bread from the edges. Carefully turn it over, flip it back upright, and finish cooling it on a rack. You can also cool it in the pan if you don’t want to risk getting it out. (Or use a springform pan.)

I love this bread the same day, but I don’t complain when there’s leftovers. The texture isn’t as fabulous, but the flavor is still divine.

*Flours are pretty versatile here if you keep maintain the ratios of whole grain to all-purpose. I have successfully substituted spelt flour with whole wheat pastry flour. I like the spelt better, but I don’t always have it on hand. The pictured cake contains buckwheat flour. I really like buckwheat in this, too, but for your first time trying this recipe, I highly recommend spelt. It lets the carrots shine through more than buckwheat does. You can both see them in the bread and taste them better. The buckwheat makes this lean slightly more savory. So much so that you could eat it alongside lentil soup as a fabulous biscuit substitution. I would surmise that barley, graham and rye flour would all be delicious, too.

**If you can, use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. The size of crystals from other salts could make it too salty. If you use a different type of salt, cut it back by about 75% in both places.