National Banana Bread Day

Yep, Feb 23rd is National Banana Bread Day, and monkeys everywhere are wondering why there is a temporary banana shortage.

And I’m wondering why I never make banana bread!

But last Thanksgiving when I was prostrate for 4 days with The Plague (I was certain it was The Black Death, but upon noticing that I was still alive, I concluded that it must simply be The Plague), I managed to lift my phone and feebly surf the King Arthur Flour website. I came upon this recipe for Whole Grain Banana Bread, the KAF 2018 Recipe of the Year. Yes, you heard me, RECIPE. OF. THE. YEAR. That phrase cut right through my fevered haze and gave me enough clarity of mind to hit “bookmark.”

I finally made the recipe today to celebrate National Banana Bread Day . . . and the fact that I did not succumb to The Plague. 🙂

This recipe is definitely a “keeper”, and it’s the easiest recipe ever. No mixer needed. Dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ones in the other . . .

and then you put them together, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and bake. I used 4 mini-loaf pans i/o a full-sized loaf pan and baked them for about 35 minutes. There was enough dough to also make a jumbo muffin.

I used Sparkling Sugar on top of the cinnamon sugar to give it that “Bakery Crunch.”

The cinnamon on top makes them look dark, and the sprouted wheat flour gives this bread a hearty flavor. It’s Very Tastee! (I had some KAF Sprouted Wheat flour on hand and used that instead of the White Whole Wheat flour.)

So if you’re looking for a banana bread recipe that’s not the same ole’ same ole’, give this one a try! They don’t call it “Recipe of the Year” for nothing!

Handy Tip: To prevent any difficulty removing loaves from the pan, cut a small piece of parchment to fit across each pan before pouring in the dough. Since this recipe said to “lightly grease” the pan, I lightly greased the parchment (and the ends of the pan that weren’t covered by the parchment) with melted butter.

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Vanilla-Orange Cranberry Cookies . . .and a change of heart.

I am NOT a fan of dried cranberries. There was a Craisin Incident in 1994.

But earlier this month, I had to make a bunch of cookies for a church event and I wanted to provide a nice variety. In my recipe search, I came across a King Arthur Flour recipe called Soft and Chewy Vanilla-Orange Cranberry Cookies. I knew I wouldn’t like them, but thought they would add variety to the “sweets” menu . . . and surely there are some people at church who like dried cranberries?

I didn’t buy Craisins. The bulk section at Lucky’s Market had some plump-looking dried cranberries, and even though my first thought was “ick”, I bought some anyway. At least they’re kinda pretty, especially next to the orange zest . . .soooo fragrant! (Zesting tip at end of post.)

The dough was really stiff and sticky. I used a medium cookie scoop to place dough balls onto a cookie sheet and froze them for 15 minutes, then placed the firm dough balls into an air-tight container in the freezer. I thawed and baked them a few days later.

They smelled SO good coming out of the oven that I decided to try one, despite the dried cranberries. And ohmygosh I LOVE THEM!! They have a perfect texture: slight crunch on the outside, chewy on the inside. The orange and vanilla flavors are beautiful, and they really complement the cranberry flavor, which wasn’t overly strong. But . . .

the cookies weren’t very pretty. In fact, they looked BORING, despite the sparkling sugar on top. Poor little Ugly Duckling Cookies!

Take them look more appetizing, I decided to try topping them with a drizzle of orange glaze. (If you’re going to add the orange glaze, I’d suggest reducing orange zest in the dough by 25%.)

The recipe says to flatten the cookies, but I totally forgot . . . and they turned out better! Happy mistake! I also baked them at 375 (recipe says 425) and got great results. The cookies were light brown on the bottom, baked through the center, but maintained their chewiness when cooled. They’re much prettier than the first ones I made. They look a bit like “jumble” cookies. Nice!

When they had cooled just a bit, I drizzled them with the orange glaze and sprinkled them with sparkling sugar. The glaze set up nicely! (Orange glaze recipe at the end of this recipe for pumpkin gingerbread.)

You could also use a vanilla glaze if you’re not an orange freak like I am. I didn’t use any nuts or other add-ins. Not needed!

So after a few adjustments, I love the way they turned out. This recipe will definitely be on my Christmas Cookie list for 2019, and I hope you’ll try it, too. It’s a nice “winter cookie” that is deliciously different!

And I promise never to eschew dried cranberries again. Well. . .as long as they are in a cookie, where they belong!



*Handy Tip* I used to accidentally grate my fingers while trying to zest citrus fruits, but I finally figured out the easy way: Hold the fruit in place with one hand, and with the other, lightly drag a microplane zester along the skin of the fruit. You can rotate the fruit on the plate, and keep zesting all the way around. The zest collects in the “walls” of the zester, and you can flip it over onto the plate and tap it a few times to release all of the zest. Quick, easy, no injuries!

Happy Zesting!

A Better Oatmeal Cookie

Tired of the same old oatmeal raisin cookies? Good grief, so am I! But I wanted to make a breakfast-y oatmeal cookie for Coffee Hour, so I went in search of alternatives.

And I found a great recipe for Chewy Apple Oatmeal Cookies on the Taste of Home Website. And it’s an Oatmeal Cookie version of a HOME RUN!

The dried apples (packaged) that I initially purchased for this recipe came from the dried fruit aisle at the grocery store. They were hard, tasted chemical-ish, and were simply not cookie-worthy, so I went to the bulk section of Lucky’s Market and found a container of beautiful dried apple rings that were plump and tastee. (Cousin Leah: *SNACK ALERT* The leftover apple rings make good snacks!)

The recipe calls for 1/2 C. of the chopped dried apples, but I increased the amount to 2/3 C. Next time, I’m going to use 3/4 C. because the more the merrier tastier, right?

Although the recipe doesn’t call for nuts, I added 2/3 C. walnuts to compliment the dried apple and cinnamon flavors. Worked well!

I used a medium cookie scoop – and these do spread a bit while baking – so it made nice, generously-sized cookies. Perfect for all of the hungry Episcopalians at Coffee Hour!

The secret to the chewiness is to take them out of the oven just *before* they look done. They’ll set up as they cool, and maintain a perfect, bendy, chewy texture.

This is such a simple, quick recipe, but it produces a delicious, chewy cookie with a hint of crunch from the old-fashioned oats. And the cookies have a such pleasant “toasty” appearance to go along with the warm, cinnamon fragrance.

These definitely fit into the Comfort Food group. By the way, when is the USDA going to add that group to the Food Pyramid? Along with the SNACK group? I think we should start lobbying for this!

Pumpkin Gingerbread with Orange Glaze

First, thank you to my baking compadre, Cousin Leah, for encouraging me to return to my long-ignored baking blog. I’d forgotten how much fun it is!

Now I’ll get right to the point:  You HAVE to try this recipe! It’s AMAZING!

This is a case of “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Because this recipe (found on King Arthur Flour’s website) has the nicest blend of flavors. EVER! And the flavors don’t just complement each other, they amplify each other.  And the moist texture is to die for.

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One thing that really takes the flavor to the DIVINE level is the crystallized ginger, which melts into the batter as the bread bakes. (It’s listed in the recipe as “mini diced ginger.”) You can find crystallized ginger in the bulk section of Whole Foods or most health food stores.  And be forewarned: while you are dicing it, the amazing fragrance may cause you to slip into a momentary stupor. I speak from experience.

Other notes on ingredients:

  • I did not include the optional pecans or chocolate chips because it simply is not possible to improve on perfection.
  • This recipe offers the option to use either butter or shortening, and I went with butter. And I also greased the pans with melted butter, not baking spray.
  • For the orange icing (SO GOOD!!), I would recommend adding 2 drops of vanilla extract for smoooooth flavor.

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I applied the icing with a pastry brush rather than drizzling it. At first, it was a little thick, but a few sprinkles of milk thinned it out a little for better application. And for yummy looking drippage. MMMMmmm.

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Since these are for coffee hour after church, I made 6 mini-loaves (3 x 5.75″) instead of 2 regular 8 x 4.5″ loaves. When you slice the smaller loaf size into 6 pieces, each slice is just the right size for a single serving.

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This is one of the best recipes I’ve tried in a long time. I hope you will make it, enjoy it, and share it at home or at work.  Or at coffee hour!

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Instead of using the baking spray, which can cause the edges of the bread to inflate excessively during baking, resulting in ugly &/or hard bread edges – oh no! – use a pastry brush to grease the pan with melted butter. The brush really gets into the corners, and it’s super fast. This is also works well on bundt pans, with all their shapes and crevices.

Failure, then Ginger Cookie Success

So after the last baking effort  (Gooey Butter Cake Squares) turned out to be so sinfully sweet and buttery that the Hungry Episcopalians at coffee hour all had to head over to the nearest Catholic church for confession, I decided to contribute to their redemption by baking a healthy treat:

Chewy Sesame Bars

With such tasty, healthful ingredients as these, how could it be bad? Almonds, sesame seeds, coconut, agave, vanilla, and a little sea salt. Yum, right?

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WRONG!!!!!  It was SO BAD.  SO. VERY. BAD.  

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See how it looks like a pan of birdseed? That’s what it tasted like. . . BUT WORSE!

Thinking maybe they would taste better the next day after the flavors blended, I tried them again. They still tasted like bird seed, and had developed a “sawdust” flavor as well. Ack!

So I spread a little agave nectar on top, which  – surprise! –  made them taste like birdseed + sawdust with sticky agave nectar on top. Eeewww!

Then I decided to feed it to the birds, but looked online only to learn that desiccated coconut can kill birds.

Alas, my attempt at redemption was a total failure.  😦

So I regrouped and made Ginger Spice Cookies. Yay! This is one of my top 5 favorite cookie recipes of all time!

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The scrumptious ingredients include crystallized ginger (available in the bulk section at Whole Foods) and molasses.  The recipe calls for light molasses, but I like a bolder flavor so I used dark. And hey, Nut-Averse Cousin Leah, these are nut-free!

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The recipe says to refrigerate the cookie dough, but the cookies turned out a bit flat. So for the next batch, I froze the dough balls overnight, and the cookies turned out all crackly and chewy. Perfect texture!

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If you make these, I would suggest rolling the dough balls in sugar right after you take them out of the freezer and then immediately popping them into the oven while they’re still frozen. That will keep them from going flat. Also, take them out of the oven right before they look done. That’ll give them the wonderful, chewy texture.

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For Prettiness, I topped them with a mixture of demerara sugar + white sparkling sugar.

Some of the Hungry Episcopalians at Coffee Hour said they went really well with coffee. I think they’d also be good with a glass of cold milk.

But definitely not with bird seed!  😉

 

 

 

Gooey Butter Cake Squares

This weekend’s coffee hour baking went WAAAY out of bounds when I decided to make Gooey Butter Cake Squares.

Why out of bounds? Because the recipe required me to break 2 of my own baking rules:

  1. Never use cake mix, b/c blech! and also, it’s not really baking if you’re using a mix.
  2. Avoid any recipes devised by a person who recommends using doughnuts as hamburger buns. Do the makers of Liptor pay her to say that? Is she trying to kill us all?

So yes, this recipe calls for a box of partial hydrogenation cake mix that is used to make the crust.

And yes, it is a Heart Attack In A Pan Paula Deen recipe.

WARNING: THIS RECIPE IS NOT  REPEAT NOT  FOR THE FAINT OF SWEET-TOOTH.

Ingredients: butter, more butter, and then cream cheese. With butter. Do you see why I want to rename this recipe “Plate Full Of Sin?”  But omigosh, these are SO GOOD!

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It’s really a quick recipe. Which is good, ’cause you can start eating them sooner.

You make the crust first, but you don’t bake it before you pour the filling over it.  I pressed the crust up the sides of the pan a little so it would “contain” the filling and keep it from burning.

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And then you mix the cream cheese filling, pour in over the crust, and bake for about 45 minutes. (These had an amazing aroma while baking!)

As it bakes, a thin, puffy crust forms on the top, but it deflates as it cools.

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To speed up the cooling, I covered them and put them into the fridge, which turned out to be a good move. It made the crust nice and chewy, and also made them much easier to cut.

Added a little powdered sugar on top, for Prettiness.

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They travel well if you layer them with parchment paper in between. It doesn’t disturb the powdered sugar the way plastic wrap does.

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Okay, so I broke some rules. But my gosh, these are SO UNBELIEVABLY DELICIOUS that I’m thinking maybe I should break my baking rules a little more often! The Hungry Episcopalians at coffee hour don’t seem to mind at all. 😉

Attention, Chocolate Purists

You like chocolatey-chocolate with nothing else but chocolate? Then keep reading.

Here’s a brownie recipe that Chocolate Purists simply must try. A different kind of brownie recipe. It comes from Dorie Greenspan’s baking book, Dorie’s Cookies, which my friend Diana gave me for Christmas.

Knowing what a total choco-holic Diana is, I decided to thank her by making the very first recipe in the book, Sebastian’s Remarkably Wonderful Brownies.

It’s a brownie like no other: a creamy texture, and a strong chocolate flavor with no “interruptions” of nuts, caramel, etc. Perfect for the Chocolate Purist. It’s nothing but bold chocolate. Very. Bold. Chocolate.  (Please don’t lick the screen.)

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In the paragraph before the recipe, Dorie expounds upon the importance of using Valrhona Cocoa Powder, and insists that it will make a noticeable difference.

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So I shelled out $14.00 for a tin of Valrhona cocoa at my local Sur La Table store, because I know that Dorie doesn’t lie.

These are truly superior brownies. The Valrhona was worth it!

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Many thanks to Chocolate Purist Diana for the awesome baking book! Can’t wait to try more of the recipes . . .