Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Black Bean Brownies

Daddy found a new recipe that he wanted me to try - black bean brownies.  I have actually seen this recipe a few times, and was intrigued, but too wary to try it. But he was feeling daring, and, hey, they're brownies, so how bad could they be?

It starts with the wet ingredients...

...which are then mixed in a blender. Or in a bowl with an immersion blender, in my case. Once the wet ingredients are well blended and smooth, the dry ingredients are added to the bowl.

 A little more blending, then add in some chocolate chips.

Just a bit more blending... fold in just a few more chips and bake!

You have to be careful as these bake - if you over-bake them, the consistency becomes chalky, so I started checking on them a little early, and pulled them from the oven as soon as the middle set.

They looked and smelled pretty good!

After 15 minutes of cooling in the pan, I lifted the brownies from the pan using the parchment paper liner and set it on the cooling rack to cool completely. I then proceeded to do some chores around the house... folding some laundry, washing some dishes... you know, just keeping busy.

At some point in there, I noticed that little man had wandered off and become very, very quiet.  So I ran to the kitchen.

He found the brownies.

And apparently really liked them.

So I cut them into squares and tasted them myself.

Little man has good taste.

Little miss loved them, too. Even when daddy told her what the secret ingredients was!

 Nicely fudgy, deliciously rich - these are brownies without the guilt!  We'll definitely be making these again.

Flourless Double Chocolate Black Bean Brownies
(only slightly adapted from cHow Divine)

1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (I used a 15 ounce can - measured out perfectly)
1/4 cup canola oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon instant ground cinnamon
1/4 + 1/4 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used 1/4 cup semi-sweet mini chips and 1/4 cup regular semi-sweet chips)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
powdered/confectioners sugar for dusting (Optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9″ x 9″ (8″ x 8″ works too) baking pan by lining it with parchment paper. Leave enough parchment paper on the sides to create a sling. This will make it easier when you lift out the end product.
Add all of the wet ingredients – beans, oil, eggs, and vanilla – together in a bowl. Using an immersion blender, pulse the mixture a few times to get the ingredients to come together. Then blend fully until the mixture is smooth. Add the dry ingredients – cocoa, sugar, cinnamon and baking powder to the bowl. Again with the immersion blender, pulse a few times again and blend until the mixture is smooth. Add half of the chocolate chips (this is where I used the mini chips). Pulse a few times again and blend until the mixture is smooth. The chocolate chips do not have to completely disintegrate.
Add the other half of the chocolate chips to the mixture. Fold in the chips with a spatula (do not blend). You want these chips to remain whole. Alternatively, reserve the chips to sprinkle on top before baking. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. If you chose to reserved the chips, sprinkle them on now. Bake for about 20-23 minutes, until the center is set - do not overbake.
Allow the brownie to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Lift the brownies from the pan using the parchment paper and transfer it to a cooling rack to cook completely. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Cut them into squares and enjoy!

Cook’s Note: It’s important that you don’t over-bake these brownies. Due to the nature of the ingredients, the brownies will become powdery or cakey if you over-bake them. Just bake until the center sets.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

January Daring Bakers' Challenge - Speculaas

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!

I was very excited when I began reading this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge. I have heard amazing things about this thing called "speculaas," but had not yet tried it.  Turns out that speculaas actually refers to a blend of spices rather than the dessert itself.  Pretty cool. 

But then I saw the rest of the recipe.  The gevulde speculaas that we were being asked to make is a layered cookie bar type dessert with two layers of a speculaas spiced dough surrounding a layer of (homemade) almond paste. It looked and sounded delicious, but there was one problem. Little man is allergic to nuts.

The first thing that I did was ask Francijn if there was something that I could use to substitute the almond paste that would still be traditional.  Several of the awesome members of the Daring Bakers' community chimed in with very helpful suggestions, but the one that stuck in my mind the most was actually that of our hostess. She mentioned that the spice mix goes well with apples.

And from there, and idea was born in my head.

But it was really outside of the box, as far as the challenge was concerned... and I usually try to keep relatively close to the given challenges. I mean, I go creative, but within the general idea of the given recipe.

But my idea stuck, so I went with it.  Dutch spiced dough... apples... I wanted to make a pie.

I started with the spice mix.

While some bakers were extra daring and found whole spices to grind themselves, I had most of what I needed already in the cupboard, already in ground form.  The only one of the "mandatory" spices that I was missing was mace, so I used nutmeg as a substitute, since they are related to each other, and my spice cabinet is bursting already...

Once my spices were combined, the dough came together super easily.  Simply combine all of the ingredients together and knead them until they form a dough.

My "dough" never fully came together - it stayed pretty crumbly, but this actually worked well for my full idea, so I simply wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, refrigerated it for a couple hours, then proceeded with my plan.

I pressed half of the dough into a pie plate and put it in the oven to bake for a bit. As it baked, I prepared my pie filling, cooking down some granny smith apples with some more of the speculaas spices.  I also took some more of the dough and re-crumbled it together with some old fashioned oats for a crumb topping. After all - speculaas is a Dutch spice mix - doesn't it make sense to make this a Dutch apple pie?

Once the crust was par-baked, it was time to fill it up!

Despite the fact that this sounds like a lot of steps, this actually came together really easily. And by the time it came out of the oven, the house smelled amazing.

And the taste was even better. The slight heat of the spice combination worked so well with the apples, and the cookie type crust was delicious. Par-baking the crust made sure that it didn't get too soggy, and the whole thing worked together deliciously. I was a little disappointed that my crumb topping stayed very crumbly... I might add a bit more butter next time, but overall, this was a delicious success.

Francijn, thank you so much for introducing me to the delicious world of speculaas and for challenging me to try something new and delicious.

To see the other speculaas desserts baked up in the kitchen this month, you can check them out here.

Speculaas Spiced Dutch Apple Pie

Speculaas Spice Mix:
cinnamon - 40 to 60 % of the total amount
ground cloves - 1 or 2 parts
mace - 1/2 or 1 part
ginger - 1/2 or 1 part

white pepper - 1/2 or 1 part
cardamom - 1/2 or 1 part
coriander - 1/2 or 1 part
anise - 1/2 or 1 part
nutmeg - 1 or 2 parts

A convenient way to mix the spices is as follows:
Take at least 1 or 2 teaspoons of ground cloves, ½ or 1 teaspoon of mace and ½ or 1 teaspoon of ginger.
Add to taste ½ or 1 teaspoon of white pepper, ½ or 1 teaspoon of cardamom, ½ or 1 teaspoon of coriander, ½ or 1 teaspoon of anise, and 1 or 2 teaspoons of nutmeg.
Measure or weigh the amount of spices you have now, and add an equal amount of cinnamon.

I started with 1 teaspoon of cloves, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of ginger. To this I added 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom. I then added another teaspoon of nutmeg. I then added about a tablespoon and a half of cinnamon and mixed the whole thing together until very well combined.

For the Speculaas Dough:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
a pinch salt
2 tablespoons speculaas spices
3/4 cup (1½ stick) unsalted butter

Put flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.
Cut the butter in dices and add.
Knead until smooth.
Feel free to add a little milk if the dough is too dry.
Wrap in clingfoil and put in the refrigerator for two hours.

For the Apple Filling:
3-4 large granny smith apples
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon speculaas spices
Melt the butter in a large sautee pan over medium-medium high heat. Add the apples, sugar and spices and cook, stirring to ensure that the apples are well coated with the sugar and spices, until the apples begin to soften and the mixture is syrupy. 
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the apples to cool.

For the Crumb Topping:
1/4 of the prepared speculaas dough
2/3 cup rolled oats

Combine the dough with the oats with your finger tips until the mixture is crumbly (my dough was crumbly to begin with, so this was easy).

To prepare the pie:
Preaheat oven to 350 degrees.
Press half of the speculaas dough into a 9 inch pie plate and bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes. If it begins to puff, you can prick the pie shell in a few places with a fork or toothpick.
When the pie shell is removed from the oven, carefully pour in the prepared apples, then top with the crumb topping mixture.
Return the pie to the oven and bake for 40 minutes more, watching to make sure the edges don't burn.
Allow the pie to cool for a bit before cutting.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Painted Bread for BBD#56

While learning new recipes is (almost) always fun and delicious, learning a new kitchen technique is something that I do not focus on quite enough.  So when I saw the theme of this months Bread Baking Day challenge, I was intrigued.  This month's challenge, hosted by my dear friend Jenni, is all about beautiful breads - any kind of bread, as long as it is deliberately beautified using any beautification technique we choose. And, believe it or not, there are plenty. You can use herbs, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, or a variety of painting of stenciling techniques to create gorgeous images right on the crust of any loaf of bread.

While all of the techniques looked impressive, the one that caught my eye was one referred to as "loaf painting," where images are painted onto the surface of the bread. The usual medium, from what I have seen, is a mixture of instant coffee grounds and egg yolk, though one very successful and talented bread artist actually creates colors using concentrates of various ground grains or seeds. 

I do not have instant coffee, so I chose to create a concentrate using dark cocoa powder as the base of my "paint".

I simply combined one part dark cocoa powder and two parts water in a small saucepan and whisked the mixture over medium high heat until it reduced significantly into a thick paste.

Then, using an egg yolk, I created different concentrations to see if it would effect the color of the finished product.  I saved some yolk itself, had one mixture of more yolk than cocoa concentrate, one of mostly the cocoa with just a bit of yolk, then I had the pure concentrate, too, in case I needed more.

As far as the bread was concerned, I wanted a simple canvas, so I chose to make baguettes using the french bread recipe I used when making fougasse.  I baked the loaves just until they started to turn golden, then little miss and I started painting.

She was amazed when I told her we'd be painting on bread.  We used the different "colors" as best as we could, but it didn't give quite the color variation we were hoping for.

 All of the cocoa variations looked the same, and the plain yolk, rather than just adding shine or highlight, like I'd expected, still looked pretty yellow when baked.

Regardless, we both really enjoyed both the process and the finished loaves.

Little miss was worried that the bread would taste like chocolate due to the cocoa paint (I served the bread with soup at dinner that night and she didn't want chocolate minestrone...), but it didn't effect the flavor at all.

I am not much of an artist, but I think I want to try my hand at this again. I think this technique would make a fun centerpiece at an event or big dinner, and that being able to customize loaves for friends, families or occasions is a very fun skill to add to my repertoire.

I can't wait to see the round-up of this challenge to see the other beautiful loaves created this month. Thanks for the awesome topic, Jenni!

Decorated French Bread Baguettes
(bread recipe from J's Kitchen, painting technique adapted from Chef Tess Bakeresse)

For the bread:
500 grams bread flour

5 grams active dry yeast
10 grams salt
375 ml water

Stir yeast into the flour until evenly distributed. Stir in salt, then water, and mix until the dough begins to form.
Transfer the dough to a clean work surface. Continue mixing/kneading the dough by stretching it out and folding it over onto itself repeatedly and from each direction. Continue working the dough until it comes away cleanly from the work surface and is not (or, for me, is less...) sticky.
Move the dough to a floured area of your work surface, and shape the dough into a ball (as best as you can - it is still a wet dough). Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled (large!) bowl, cover it with a tea towel (or plastic wrap) and allow it to rest for at least one hour.
After the dough has rested, turn it out (carefully) onto a floured work surface. Generously flour the top of the dough, then cover with a tea towel and allow it to rest for another five minutes or so.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each into a baguette. Set baguettes onto a baking sheet, spray with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for another hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Just before placing the loaves in the oven, dust the tops with flour and slash the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.
Bake the bread for about 15-20 minutes, just until the loaves begin turning golden brown.
Carefully remove the loaves from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.
Using your prepared "paints" (method I used below), paint your design onto the crust of the breads.
Return breads to the oven and bake for at least five more minutes, until the breads are done.
If you are using multiple colors or shades, start with the lightest color first and return the loaves to the oven for a few minutes to set the "paint" prior to layering the darker colors on top.
Remove completed breads from oven and transfer to wire rack to cool.

To prepare the "paint," combine one part cocoa powder and two parts water in a small saucepan. Whisking constantly, heat the mixture over medium high heat until the mixture is thick. It will reduce quite a bit.
Set the cocoa concentrate aside to cool.
Once the cocoa concentrate has cooled, carefully separate an egg - you need the yolk here. Reserve the white for another use (or to egg wash the loaf when you are done, if you want). Mix the yolk up, then combine a small amount of the concentrate with a small amount of the yolk to create a paint-like consistency. Theoretically, you can vary the shade by varying the amount of concentrate/yolk in each mixture. This didn't work for me, but I have complete faith that it should.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sourdough Surprises #10 - Sourdough Babka

Oh my gosh, I didn't even realize until I sat down to write this post that this is the TENTH Sourdough Surprises post - TEN months of sourdough challenges! I can't believe we're almost to a year! Maybe it's just me, but I think that's exciting!

I have really enjoyed all of the challenges so far, and have loved seeing all of the super delicious things that you can make incorporating sourdough, but this month's challenge might just be my favorite so far.

This month we wanted to make babka.  And it was an extra challenge because we could not find an actual sourdough babka recipe to reference or use as inspiration! So we studied babka recipes and realized that they tend to be enriched doughs, very much like brioche dough, that are filled and rolled into swirly delicious loaves.  So we decided that we'd work off of sourdough brioche recipes (I chose this one), then use "regular" babka recipes to inspire our fillings and rolling techniques (I chose this one, as my sister has made that babka with tremendous success several times).

The dough came together extremely easily. Basically, you measure out all of the ingredients, with the exception of the butter, right into the bowl of your mixer.

Then mix to incorporate, let the mixture rest, continue mixing, incorporate the (copious amounts of...) butter, and you're done.

Well, not done done. Then you let the dough rest. For fifteen hours. Planning ahead is key for this one. I made my dough in the afternoon one day so that I'd have the whole next day for turning it into my babka.

The next morning, the first thing that I did was prepare my filling. I doubled the filling recipe, looked like it made enough to make two loaves. It was as simple as combining sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and a touch of salt.

And then it is time to roll. Literally.  The dough was very wet and sticky, so I needed to keep flouring my surface, but the it handled beautifully, and was soon very large and very thin. I sprinkled half of the filling over each rolled piece, and then sprinkled mini chocolate chips on top for good measure.

Then each piece was carefully rolled and twisted and set into a greased loaf pan to rest once more.

I wasn't sure quite how long to let it rise this second time... the different babka recipes I'd looked at, not to mention sourdough brioche doughs, each had different guidelines, so I decided I'd just play it by ear... or... sight... and see if and how much the loaves grew during this second rest.

Much to my delight, the loaves really did rise, and within a couple of hours, filled out the pan very nicely.

But before putting the babkas in the oven, there was one more component left to add - the delicious streussel topping. Now, not all babkas include this, but it wouldn't feel like a true babka without it.  So I combined powdered sugar, flour and butter to create coarse crumbs...

...which were then liberally sprinkled on top of each loaf.

And then they baked. Now, I had no idea how long I would need to bake these. The brioche dough recipe that I followed indicated that the brioche loaves made with this dough would need 20 minutes at 400 degrees to bake. The babka recipe that I was following indicated that a babka would need 55 minutes at 375. I had no idea what to do.

So I decided to preheat the oven to 400, then lower it to 375 as soon as the loaves went in.  And then I started checking it at 20 minutes, judging my crust and color.  All told, 49 minutes after going in, the house smelled amazing, and out came these.

I didn't want the bottoms to become soggy, so after a few minutes cooling in the pans, I turned them out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Then came the hardest part. The waiting. Until breakfast the next morning.

But a few quick cuts told me that the waiting was way worth it.

This very well might be my favorite sourdough creation yet. The bread had a slightly crisp crust and a beautifully soft and airy crumb. And the delicious chocolaty, cinnamony swirls were a a delicious pairing with the slight sourdough tang in the dough.  So. Delicious.

I think I ate half of that first loaf all by myself.  This is dangerously delicious, and I can't wait to make it again.

Now go and check out all of the other beautiful and delicious babkas that were baked this month!

One last note - I know that this recipe looks long and a little bit daunting. Don't let that scare you - it is not difficult, if you break it into its components, and it is well worth the time and effort.

I have submitted this bread to YeastSpotting, a weekly roundup of all kinds of yeasted deliciousness!

Sourdough Babka
(based on Double Helpings and Cooking Light)

makes two loaves

For the dough:
500g Flour
250g Sourdough Starter
30g Sugar
10g Salt
3 Eggs
200g Milk
300g Butter

Cut the butter into 1cm cubes and allow to soften at room temperature.
Combine to all ingredients except for the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer, then mix on low speed to form a stiff batter (adjust milk quantity if required).
Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes, then continuing to mix (on low speed) for 10-15 minutes. The batter should start to resemble a soft dough, but will not have the quite same degree of elasticity.
Slowly add the cubes of softened butter as the mixer continues on low speed, and mix just until no lumps remain.
Place your dough into a covered container (or simply cover the bowl of the stand mixer that you've just used to make the dough) and leave to rise in a cool place for about 15 hours.

For the filling:
(these measurements, other than the chips, are doubled from the source recipe)
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional, more or less as desired)

To prepare filling, combine cup granulated sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

To prepare the loaves:
Place half of the dough on a generously floured surface; roll dough out into a large, thin rectangle. Sprinkle half of filling over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Roll up dough tightly, jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam and ends to seal. Holding dough by ends, twist dough 4 times as if wringing out a towel. Fit dough into a greased loaf pan. Repeat with second half of the dough and filling.
Cover loaves and let rise 2-3 hours.

For the streusel topping:
(these measurements are quadrupled from the source recipe - doubled for two loaves, then doubled again so that there would be plenty of toping for each loaf)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoon butter, softened

To prepare streusel, combine powdered sugar, tablespoon all-purpose flour, and softened butter, stirring with a fork until mixture is crumbly; sprinkle streusel evenly over prepared and rested loaves.
Cover loaves again and rest for another 20-30 minutes.

Baking and finishing:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Once the oven is preheated, place loaves into the oven, close the oven door and then lower the temperature to 375.
Bake at for 49 minutes (approximately... start checking at about 45 minutes) or until loaf is browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool bread completely on wire rack before slicing.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sourdough Sandwich Loaf for #TwelveLoaves

When this month's Twelve Loaves theme was announced, I will admit that I was a little... confused. The theme was "Clean Slate." The idea of that theme was that, after all of the indulgences of the holidays and the end of the year, this would be a month to bake fresh and simple.

Sounds straightforward, right? Then I saw some of the submissions prepared by the hosting crew. And while they all look delicious, several of them were not what I consider simple. And I bake a lot of bread products.

But I suppose that simple and fresh and starting with a clean slate can mean different things to different people, and, to be honest, that is the good thing about a challenge like this - that it is open to interpretation and that each baker is free to choose something that inspires them.

For me, hearing clean slate, fresh, simple... I was thinking as few ingredients as possible. Back to the traditional methods of bread baking.  Which automatically made me think of sourdough. But I was also thinking of expanding simple to the uses of the bread - and what better, simple meal, incorporating bread, than a sandwich?

So I decided to try my hand at this sourdough sandwich bread.

The dough came together relatively easily, but was very, very stiff. I had intended to knead this loaf entirely by hand, but wound up needing my KitchenAid to help me out.

On a side note - little miss had a friend over while I was preparing this dough, and this friend had never made homemade bread. She was so excited to watch, and even more excited when I told her that (if she washed her hands...) she could help me knead it. Talk about back to basics - nothing more fun than passing on an appreciation of fresh, homemade goodness to kids!

Anyway, once the dough was fully kneaded, it was time to let it rest and rise. Overnight. Again - back to basics, one of which is time.

In the morning, the dough is deflated, shaped, and placed into a loaf pan, where it rises yet again.

And then, almost 24 hours after beginning, it is time to bake.

The finished loaf smelled delicious but was much heavier than I'd expected! But the fully developed sourdough flavor is really great, and makes for a fun change from my usual sandwich loaf.

And it made for some super delicious sandwiches.

I will say, it worked best with the delicious turkey and cheese sandwich you see above. It does not make good PB&J bread. But it was decent for grilled cheese, so not too shabby.

And feel free to check out all of this month's submissions here.

Sourdough Sandwich Loaf
(from Sour Salty Bitter Sweet)

(makes one loaf)

2 cups 100% hydration sourdough starter, refreshed
3 cups flour (all purpose, bread, wheat or any combination you choose) (I used bread flour)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons oil (I used canola - any liquid fat will work(
2 teaspoons sugar (or other sweetener of your choice)

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until most of the flour is moistened and it begins to form a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Scrape the dough onto a rolling mat or lightly-floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary to prevent it from sticking to you too much. If it’s very sticky, let it rest for 10-15 minutes, which allows the flour to absorb more moisture, and then continue kneading. Knead for 10-15 minutes total, or until the dough forms a smooth ball with a taut surface and a small piece of dough stretched between your fingers forms a membrane that you can see light through(i.e. a “baker’s windowpane”).
My dough was very stiff and I needed my stand mixer to help me out - just use your dough hook attachment.
Place the kneaded dough in lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3+ hours, or until doubled in volume. Rising time will vary based on your sourdough starter. I let it rise overnight, although if you don’t want any sourdough flavor, you might want to limit it to 5-6 hrs. One way to test if it’s risen enough: if you make an indentation in the risen dough with your finger, it should take more than a minute to “heal.”
Punch the dough down to gently deflate it, then turn it onto a clean surface and knead a few times. Shape your loaf and place into a greased loaf pans. Let rise another 2-3 hours, or until doubled again - it should be rise above the rim of the pan.
Preheat the oven at 350F for 15-20 min before baking. Slash the risen loaf down the middle with a sharp knife, if desired (I didn't). Bake 35 min or until crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom.
Cool on wire racks, allowing the loaf to cool completely before slicing.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Chocolate Banana "Ice Cream"

Did you notice something missing in my posts last month? Because of the crazy, busy hectic-ness of the holiday season, especially for food people, lovely folks who run the Secret Recipe Club decided that we all deserved one less stress in our month, and suspended the SRC challenge for the month of December.

But now it's a new month and a new year, and I am super glad to have a new SRC post to share with you today.

The blog I was assigned for this month was Join us, pull up a chair, written by the super awesome Heather.  As I read through her blog (and her family blog, too!), I was amazed at the similarities between us. We both have two kids, an older daughter and a younger son (and the age difference between the two seems to be about the same, too!), we both love food, and we both love involving our little ones in our food adventures!

The hardest part this month was choosing which recipe to make. See, when I browse through my assigned blog for the first time, I open a new browser window, then right-click on any recipe that might be a contender and open it in a new tab.  By the time I finished browsing, I had over a dozen tabs open.

I finally settled on one for this post, but made a few in the process... and plan to make plenty more!

Heather has a lot of different ice cream recipes on her blog, many of which caught my eye, but with little man's milk allergy, what really spoke to me was her Chocolate Banana Faux Ice Cream recipe. While it's not the most complicated of recipes, it was the simplicity that intrigued me.

And it doesn't get much more simple than this. Three ingredients, a blender (or immersion blender, in my case) and a freezer.  That's it.

And the results?

Surprisingly amazing.

Everyone loved it - even those of us who can have "regular" ice cream.

And it's so quick and easy that we made another batch later that week.

And it's so simple that we have ideas for so many variations on it. How cool that we now have a delicious and easy ice cream substitute for little man to enjoy!

And, in case you're curious, this honey chicken is delicious, and deserves its own post. Heather, I'll be sharing that one soon! And these cinnamon honey roasted chickpeas  are super addictive. Betcha can't eat just one!

Chocolate Banana Faux Ice Cream
(from Join us, pull up a chair)

4 bananas (ripe)
8 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons honey (or agave nectar)

Slice the bananas into a blender, or a bowl if you are using an immersion blender.  Add the cocoa and the honey (or the sweetener you chose).
Blend until smooth - you don't want any lumps.
Pour into an airtight, freezer safe container and freeze.
It should freeze within just a couple of hours!


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

King Cake

I was trying to think of something special to make this weekend when I saw a headline on my How-To Of The Day headline ticker offering a how-to on making a king cake to celebrate the Epiphany. 

While we weren't celebrating the Epiphany (the twelfth day of Christmas), I was completely intrigued by the idea of making a king cake. Apparently right now, between the day of the Epiphany (January 6th) and Mardi Gras (February 12th, this year, though it varies) it is king cake season.

So I decided to make one!

I searched around to find a different recipe than the one in the how-to, and chose this one. Not only did it look delicious, but the recipe made one single loaf, whereas most that I'd seen made two. Which meant that I would neither wind up with too much bread nor would I have to do any division. Score!

The most recognizable part of a king cake is the decoration - it's usually festively decorated with colored sugar sprinkles in the Mardi Gras colors of green, purple and yellow (gold).  The only color of sanding sugar that I have in the house is red. And I didn't want to buy three colors. So I made my own.

It's actually super easy to do. All you need is sugar and food coloring.

I found that one drop of food coloring for each two tablespoons of sugar gave me the richness of each color that I was looking for, but you can make it as light or dark as you want my adding more or less sugar or food coloring - it's completely up to you!

The dough is a pretty simple sweet, enriched dough. The filling is a simple mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, nuts and butter. I substituted raisins for the nuts so that little man could enjoy the bread, too.

The dough is then rolled up jelly-roll style and then shaped into an oval.  Another rise, and then thirty minutes in the oven and I had a beautiful, deliciously golden, nicely risen loaf.

But it wasn't done.

Once it cools all the way, it is time to decorate it!

One thickened confectioners' sugar glaze and three homemade colors of sugar later, it was looking fun and festive!

And it was all ready just in time for little miss's after school snack.

While the kids' favorite part was the sweet, sugary glaze (no surprise), the whole thing was a delicious hit.  I may just have to make another for Mardi Gras next month!

And, in case you are both familiar with king cake traditions and curious, there were no little plastic babies hidden in mine. The closest I had was little a plastic army-guy. So I skipped it.

Mardi Gras King Cake
(from The Galley Gourmet)

makes one 12-inch oval cake

For the dough:
1/2 cup milk (I used coconut milk)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until bubbles appear around the edges.  Add the butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the sugar.  Let stand until bubbled and frothy, about 10 minutes.  Add the cooled milk mixture, the eggs, remaining sugar, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg.  With the mixer on low, knead in the flour one cup at a time.  Increase the speed to medium-high and knead until smooth, about 5-7 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead into a ball.  Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, and place in a warm, draft free place until doubled in volume, about 60-90 minutes.

For the filling:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans if using, and flour.  Pour in the melted butter and mix until a paste forms; set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

When the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough into a 10x24-inch rectangle.  Spread the filling (it won't be smooth and even) over the dough.  Starting with the widest end, roll up the dough into a jelly roll, pinching the seems well.  Bring the ends together to form an oval, pinching the end seams, as well.  Place the oval onto the prepared baking sheet.  Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm draft free place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375° F.  Bake the cake for 30 minutes, tenting with a sheet of foil the last 10 minutes if it appears to be browning too quickly.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing and decoration:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons milk (I used coconut milk)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Colored sugar crystals (I made my own, simply adding one drop of food coloring to each 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, milk, corn syrup, and vanilla until smooth.  Place the cake (still on the rack) over a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the icing over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.  Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors as you go.  Allow the icing to set before slicing.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cocoa Crackle Cookies

Every year, little miss has a very important job on Christmas Eve. 

She has to choose what kind of cookies we should bake for Santa.

A few years ago, she received a fun Sesame Street cookie baking book, so that is the first place she turns to make her decision. She had it narrowed down to just a couple, but finally chose cocoa crackles. Because daddy told her that Santa really likes chocolate.

These cookies are super easy to make, and I love the crackle effect when they bake.  The kids love rolling the balls of dough in the powdered sugar, too. It's a bit of a mess, but I think Santa thinks they taste even better when the kids help make them.

The recipe claims to make 3 1/2 dozen cookies, but I must have rolled the dough balls too big, because I only got about 2 1/2 dozen.  But they were absolutely delicious, so no one complained about the extra large size.

And, as far as we could tell, Santa was very happy.

Cocoa Crackles
(from Yummy Cookies)

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add the flour mixture and mix until combined.
Place the powdered sugar into a shallow dish.
Roll teaspoonfuls of the chocolate dough into balls, then roll the balls in the powdered sugar until they are well coated.
Place the balls about two inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 11-12 minutes or until the cookies are set and no longer shiny. Cool cookies on the cookie sheet for two minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Gingerbread Cheesecake

We have a New Years tradition in our house. Well, it begins a few weeks before New Years.  And it always brings me back to the very start of this here blogging adventure. 

My first post (well, the first actual food post) was about the first ever gingerbread house that we made. It's crazy to look at that post now and think that the little three and a half year old girl helping me out is now a big first grader. And a big sister... But that first gingerbread house is what started our tradition. Each holiday season we bake and build a house and little miss decorates it with as much candy as she can. 

Then on New Years Day, we break it apart, letting out all the joy, love and luck that was baked and built into it, filling our home with all sorts of positive energies for the year ahead.  Fun and constructive while also being fun and destructive (breaking apart that house can be hard!)

Okay, so come New Years Day afternoon, we were trying to figure out what to bring for dessert to the family's traditional pork and sauerkraut and lentil dinner.  Daddy wanted cheesecake, which made me think of this awesome, delicious looking gingerbread version I'd seen the week before.  But it called for gingerbread cookie crumbs for the crust.  I lamented to daddy that I wished I had some leftover gingerbread cookies to crush up in order to make this. And he looked at me like I was crazy.  "Shell," he said, "you have so much baked gingerbread just waiting for you!" and he pointed to the battered, broken, good-luck house on the table.


Crust ready, it was time for the filling. The recipe in the link above looked good, but after doing all of those Willow Bird Baking challenges, I know that Juile's basic cheesecake recipe is an absolute winner, so I just adapted that for the gingerbread flavor by adding molasses and traditional gingerbread spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove). Worked like a charm.

Rather than bake a large cheesecake, we made this individual-sized by using a muffin tin rather than the usual springform pan.

I am not sure what went wrong in the baking process - if it had something to do with the reduced size or what, but all of my mini cheesecakes cracked and sank.

But aside from that, they were absolutely perfect. Silky smooth texture plus delicious gingerbread flavor. Talk about a win-win!

Everyone really enjoyed them, and even asked to keep some of the leftovers!

Now, the recipe as I made it made both more crust and more filling than I needed for the twelve-well cupcake pan that I used, so I baked up the extra in a pie plate.

Next time I really want to make a full sized version of this, but these were the perfect dessert for the end of the holidays. And what a delicious way to share the good luck our our gingerbread tradition with the rest of the family!

Gingerbread Cheesecake
(inspired by That Winsome Girl, cheesecake base based on Willow Bird Baking)

for the crust:
2 cups gingerbread cookie crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine butter with cookie crumbs until all crumbs are moistened. Scoop into wells of muffin tin and use a small cup (shot glass?) to press the crumbs in and shape them up the sides to create mini crusts. Alternately, you can press it into the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan. Bake for 6-10 minutes to set. Allow to cool.

for the cheesecake:
3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
a dash of ground nutmeg
a dash of ground cloves

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until well blended. Beat in the flour and spices. Add in the vanilla and molasses, and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Pour or scoop (if doing the mini version) the filling into your prepared and cooled crust(s).
Bake for about 40 minutes - the top(s) will be lightly browned and may have cracked.
Allow to cool completely and chill for a few hours in the refrigerator.

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