Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake

Just a little public service announcement…

If you haven’t been reading the Bakers Select blog regularly (add it to your blog reader or click on the link in the sidebar–>), I just wanted to point you in that direction. Today’s post includes the recipe for this Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake that I adapted from a whole slew of banana cake recipes. I’m excited to make it again soon, because the one sitting on my kitchen counter isn’t going to last long.

You can click right here or on the photo above to get the recipe. Try it!

 

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Pumpkin chocolate bread pudding

It’s one of those blustery, snowy February afternoons. Little Five is in the living room, being put through his paces by the piano teacher. I’m in the kitchen, sniffling over a fresh mug of tea and the last slice of gingerbread (it does keep remarkably well). But since I’m just reheating dinner tonight in between the Tuesday marathon of piano/karate/extra chorus rehearsal, I thought it might be nice to make dessert. It’s one of those extra things you do for the people you love, like picking up your socks and clearing off the kitchen counter, even if these are not your own priorities.

Even though I’m spent from fighting (and losing to) a cold–not to mention the emotional effort of filling out kindergarten registration forms–this is a homey dessert that takes all of 10 minutes of lackluster effort. Five minutes to dice up all your leftover bits of bread, five minutes to whisk together the custard. If you put the pudding in the oven right after school, people are in a much more cooperative frame of mind concerning homework. Call it aromatherapy.

Pumpkin Chocolate Bread Pudding

1 cup half and half or light cream

1 cup milk

1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree

1 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

10 cups (about 10 oz.) stale bread (not too soft and not too crusty–I used a combination of challah and an Italian loaf), in 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Butter (or use cooking spray) a medium baking dish (8″ x 8″ or a deep dish pie plate). Put the bread cubes and chocolate chips into the dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour over the bread and chocolate and mix gently so that all the cubes soak up some custard. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and let the pudding soak until the oven is ready. Bake for about 40 minutes, until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve warm, with a little vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if you like.

Barley in duck broth and sour cream scones

There is nothing that makes me feel thriftier than making soup from scratch, homemade broth and all. Sometimes my no-recipe soups have tasted a little flat, but I think I’m finally learning.

I saved and froze the carcasses from the two ducks we roasted for Christmas dinner. They had been stuffed with sage, garlic and oranges. The morning of the day I planned to have soup for dinner, I plunked the frozen duck bones into the slow cooker, tossed in a couple carrots, and covered the whole thing with water. I cooked it on high for four hours, and on low for another four. I strained the stock into a big bowl (it came to about two quarts), and then proceeded to make this soup. When the soup was about ready, I decided we needed a little something to round out the meal, so I mixed up these cheesy scones from what I had on hand. The sour cream makes them very tender and light, and a chunk of white sharp cheddar made a nice accompaniment to the soup. A very happy experiment that I’m looking forward to repeating.

Barley in Duck Broth

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 carrots, sliced thinly

4 ounces white mushrooms, chopped (very finely, so they were unrecognizable to my picky eaters, but you can leave them bigger)

2 quarts duck stock (really, any rich homemade stock–chicken or beef would be fine)

1 cup barley, cooked and drained

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1-2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions in olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add sliced carrots, mushrooms, and stock. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat and simmer until carrots are tender. Add thyme and barley and heat through. Taste broth, and adjust seasoning (sherry vinegar, salt and pepper).

 

Sour Cream Scones with Cheese

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup grated cheese (sharp cheddar works nicely)

2 Tbsp. cold butter

3/4 cup sour cream

1 beaten egg

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Either grate cold butter into bowl, or rub it in with your fingers until there are no big lumps of butter left. Stir in grated cheese. Whisk together sour cream and egg, and then stir the mixture into the dry ingredients until moistened. Dump the mixture out onto a floured counter and gently knead and press it all together into a ball. Form into a disk about 1/2-inch thick, and cut into 8 wedges. Bake the scones for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm.

 

Chocolate cake and tomato soup

But no, NOT in the same recipe.

Behold, the cake:

That, my friends, is a Chocolate Blackout Cake. Three layers of devil’s food cake filled and frosted with chocolate pudding and covered in more devil’s food cake crumbs. Get your fork and a tall glass of milk.

The original recipe was created in a Brooklyn bakery called Ebinger’s, and you can read a little history about it here. Google tells me there have been many attempts to recreate the recipe, and though I’ve only tried one and have no opinion as to its authenticity, I can heartily recommend it. Gale Gand shared her version in the latest issue of Food and Wine, and I found it on her own website as well. Compared to some other recipes for blackout cake, this one is streamlined, using the same chocolate custard for both the filling and the frosting. It’s rich, it’s moist, it’s cake AND pudding, for goodness’ sake!

I just thought you should know about it, in case you have a birthday coming up soon, or maybe you’re thinking about Valentine’s Day. Mr. Ten asked for chocolate cake for his birthday last week, and he was not disappointed.

But what of the tomato soup? It’s Friday, it’s cold (we even finally have snow on the ground), maybe you just want something simple for dinner. Grilled cheese (properly known as the Cheese Toastie) and tomato soup. I love a cheese toastie, but I never much liked tomato soup from a can. Too sweet for me, and don’t canned soups tend to have too much sodium and other unnecessary stuff? Somewhere along the line, I tried the tomato soup from New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, and will never go back. I don’t even consult the cookbook anymore. It takes about two minutes of effort, and it still relies on opening a can. And when I answer the what’s for dinner question with, “Grilled cheese and tomato soup,” I get a “Yay!” Sometimes you want a good review even if you didn’t put in a lot of effort.

Tomato Soup

serves 2-3 people (I have to double it)

Open a 28-oz. can of tomatoes (whole, diced, crushed–doesn’t matter). Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Mince or press 1-2 cloves of garlic and add them to the oil. Add a couple shakes of mild paprika (if you like hot or smoked paprika, go for it). As soon as the garlic is fragrant, but not too brown, pour in the tomatoes. Stir and heat through. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender (easiest) or in a regular blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you like, stir in a few tablespoons of cream.

Blue cheese cheesecake

This year I’ve been craving a quiet Christmas. Just a little time to celebrate our blessings in the darkest days of winter. No elaborate craft projects (just one little upcycling sewing project–but I won’t spoil the surprise for the recipient just yet!), no week-long baking frenzy (just a couple of batches of simple cookies so far), no last-minute dash to the mall. I even did all the holiday grocery shopping on Thursday so we don’t have to fight the crowds over the weekend.

What is on the agenda? The Hub and I still need to have our annual late-night gift wrapping session. The kids are looking forward to decorating cookies today. I’m baking up some fragrant gingersnaps so we can pipe designs on them with white glacé icing. (Cookie cutters and multicolored icing are too much for me this year.) I plan to do a little more cleaning–if I’m going to be home all week, I want to enjoy a clean house–and prep a few meals ahead of time. No doubt there will be more cooks than the kitchen can hold on Christmas Day, so I plan to make my contributions early, set the table, and then sneak out of the kitchen to go help assemble some Legos and play with the Christmas toys.

We do have one holiday party to attend, and so last night after the kids went to bed I baked. With the help of my mom and her Gourmet magazine index, I resurrected an old recipe for a blue cheese cheesecake that will make you cry, it’s so good. It comes from the Hub’s well-worn October 1990 issue of Gourmet, and I had never baked it before. It’s impossibly rich, so save this one for a crowd, or you’ll find yourself huddled in a cream-induced coma under the kitchen table.  I think you could also halve the recipe and serve thin slices as a first course with bread and a little green salad.

Blue Cheese Cheesecake

adapted slightly from Gourmet

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1/4 fine dry breadcrumbs

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 pound blue cheese, crumbled

three 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened and cut into chunks

4 large eggs

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine the Parmesan and bread crumbs in a small bowl. Butter a 10-inch springform pan very well, and coat the inside of the pan with the mixture, shaking out the excess. (If you only have a 9-inch pan, you will have extra batter. Do not be tempted to cram it all in the smaller pan–you’ll be setting off the smoke detector and scrubbing out the oven. Pour the excess into a small baking dish or some ramekins and try not to eat it all yourself.) Scald the cream in a saucepan (bring it to a simmer and then turn off the heat). In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the blue cheese with 1/4 cup of the hot cream until the mixture is smooth. Add half the cream cheese and 1 cup of cream and beat again until smooth. Finally, beat in the remainder of the cream cheese and cream and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared pan (no more than 2/3 full) and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake the cheesecake in the bottom third of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the center is just set and the top is golden brown. The cheesecake may be puffed up like a soufflé when you take it out of the oven, but it will sink as it cools.

Let the cheesecake cool completely in the pan on a rack. You can make it ahead, and cover and refrigerate it overnight.

Run a thin spatula or knife around the edge, unmold and serve sliced very thin or as a spread on crackers or toast points as an hors d’oeuvre.

Spinach feta quiche

To be honest, I’ve been struggling with pie crust lately. Blind baked crusts have been emerging from the oven shrunken and puffy, and my pretty crimped edges have turned out deformed. I suspect it’s a case of trying too hard, attempting techniques from a variety of recipes from memory–a faulty and distracted memory, unfortunately.

So I abandoned blind baking for a time and tried this crust recipe. The cornstarch gives a nice crispiness, and though it still shrank slightly, it didn’t make much difference in my deep dish plate, which I like for quiche because it makes a nice hearty slice and I’m less likely to slosh the unbaked custard onto the bottom of the oven. (What? That never happens to you?)

I had spinach, feta and some leftover sliced leeks in the fridge when I made this quiche. You can vary the filling ingredients all you like, but this combination was particularly rich and tasty. We ate it for dinner, and finished the rest for breakfast. Quiche is something I can eat any time of day or night. It’s the little black dress of mealtime. Accessorize with a green salad and a glass of wine for dinner, or add a cup of coffee and some fresh fruit for breakfast time.

And that’s all the fashion advice I’ll be giving out around here. Promise.

Spinach Feta Quiche

Crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. cornstarch

pinch of salt

6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, diced

1 egg, lightly beaten

Filling:

1 cup finely chopped leeks

5 ounces spinach, washed and spun dry

1 Tbsp. butter

1 1/2 cups crumbled feta

4 eggs

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. pepper

Sauté the leeks in the butter over medium heat until they are soft and lightly caramelized. Add the spinach (I ripped the larger leaves into smaller pieces) and stir into the leeks. Cover for a couple minutes until the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch and salt. Add the chunks of cold butter and cut it in with a pastry blender (or use the food processor). With a fork, stir in the egg and mix until a dough forms. You may need to use your hands to press the dough into a ball.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle. Place the dough in a deep dish 9-inch pie plate or tart pan. Trim and crimp the edges and chill for at least 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the cream, sour cream, eggs, nutmeg and pepper in a large bowl. Spread the leek and spinach mixture into the pie shell. Add the crumbled feta, then pour the custard on top. Bake until puffed and golden, 30-45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Käsekuchen in America

Last weekend I inhaled my new library book, My Berlin Kitchen, by Luisa Weiss. Those of you who spent a few years of your childhood in Germany, as I did, might recognize some familiar details. (Like a reference to the ubiquitous textured white wallpaper.) The book is a memoir with recipes, and the recipe that lodged itself in my brain was that for Käsekuchen, or German cheesecake. As a child, whenever offered a choice at a German bakery, I most often chose Käsekuchen. I spent the better part of Wednesday lamenting the high price of Quark cheese at the local specialty grocery ($4.99 for 8 ounces!), and then researching how to make homemade Quark and acceptable substitutions for Quark.

But back to yesterday. After reading a comment on another Käsekuchen recipe I dug up on the ‘net, I dashed over to our regular market that carries a wide selection of international foods. Sure enough, they had Swiss-style Twarog (apparently a Polish version of Quark) at only $3.99 a pound. Sold! I raced back home, mixed up the cake (I did contemplate the other recipe, because I’m fairly certain I used to eat Käsekuchen with a crust, but in the end, I went with Luisa’s simple crustless recipe–turns out, the farina in the pan magically creates a little crust), slid it into the oven, and then dashed off to the preschool carpool line. When we returned home, the warm, vanilla custardy aroma about knocked me over. People need to start baking cheesecake instead of burning scented candles.

I think it must have been that aroma that spurred me to stay in the kitchen and mix up a batch of buttermilk bread dough (that, and realizing that there is but a single slice of bread left in the cupboard), and some chocolate granola (which I fully intend to hoard). Little Four kept himself busy in the basement all afternoon with playdough and some vintage Muppet Show (especially the Joel Grey episode). It was late in the day before I got to the dirty dishes, but by that time I was scraping every last cake crumb and drop of cherry preserves off my plate.

A few recipe notes, especially if you’ve read the book (go read it!). I had to adapt the instructions a bit from the original, perhaps because the cheese I used may not be as creamy as Quark. I first mixed the batter with the paddle attachment on my stand mixer, but the batter seemed lumpy with noticeable curds (see the first photo below), and the recipe said to beat until “smooth and creamy.” I switched to the whisk attachment, which didn’t help. Since I had seen recipes that used a mixture of cottage cheese with a little sour cream blended smooth in the food processor (after tasting the twarog, I think the cottage cheese/sour cream combo would be a fair substitute), I got out the immersion blender and it smoothed out the batter considerably (second photo). Maybe those curds would melt and smooth out on their own during baking, but I didn’t want to take the chance. So I recommend you use a food processor to mix the batter–it’s one step, and the batter will be smooth from the start.

Even with those hiccups, it didn’t take long to put the cake together. It did take significantly longer to bake than the recommended 45 minutes. The center didn’t puff and turn golden brown until 75 minutes in, but this left the bottom of my cake just this side of burnt. I used a dark nonstick springform pan, which unmolded perfectly, but probably contributed to the overly-browned bottom. If your pan is dark, go ahead and put the cake in the middle of the oven (not the lower third), and remove it as soon as it puffs up and gets a little color on the top.

But despite those tweaks, this Käsekuchen satisfied my longing. The kids liked it, too, and I didn’t feel guilty giving them a slice as an afternoon snack. I think it’s even better eaten cold the second day (I tested this theory just for you, dear readers). You don’t even need a plate.

Käsekuchen in America

2 lbs. Quark, or Swiss-style Twarog fresh cheese

2/3 cup sugar

1 T. vanilla extract

4 eggs

3 T. cornstarch

8 T. melted butter

2 T. farina (regular Cream of Wheat, not instant)

2 tsp. baking powder

Grated peel and juice of 1 lemon

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan (I used baking spray) and sprinkle a few extra tablespoons of farina to lightly but thoroughly coat the pan.

Put the cheese in the food processor and blend until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until you have smooth batter, scraping down the bowl several times. Spread the batter into the prepared pan, careful not to smear the farina coating.

Bake for 60-80 minutes, or until the cake has puffed in the center and turned a golden brown. Let cake cool completely in the pan on a rack before releasing the latch and unmolding. Serve at immediately or chill for later. Some people like a little fruit preserves or puree alongside.

Banana walnut cake

I cannot pass the shelf of produce past its prime at the grocery and not bring home those three pounds of bananas for $.69. I just can’t. (It’s a good place to buy eggplant and peppers, too–stuff I’m just going to roast until it’s deliciously shriveled, anyway.) Sometimes the pack goes straight into the freezer, ready for smoothies and one-ingredient banana ice cream and banana bread. Sometimes, if they’re not so terribly spotted yet, they stay on the counter for a few days for peanut butter and banana sandwiches and the occasional meeting with a bowl of Cheerios.

I adapted this cake slightly from this Smitten Kitchen recipe for Caramel Walnut Upside Down Banana Cake. I know, I know. What about the caramel? Well, I believed Deb when she wrote that the caramel is excessively sweet and it hardens too much. So I skipped it. What I think this cake really needs is a generous drizzle of salted caramel sauce. I didn’t get around to it. But you might.

I baked the cake in a 10″ springform tube pan. You can also use a 9″ round pan, or even try some loaf pans or an 8″ square. The tube pan made a plain cake pretty, though, and shortened the baking time to a quick 35-40 minutes.

Little Four took one look at the slice of cake on his plate and said, “Mom! It’s banana bread CAKE! That’s so AWESOME!”

 

Banana walnut cake

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 3/4 cups cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups mashed banana

3 Tbsp. sour cream

1 Tbsp. dark rum (I would add an extra Tbsp. next time)

1/2 tsp. almond extract

3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugars together in a large bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs, then mashed bananas, sour cream, rum and almond extract. Mix in dry ingredients in two additions until just combined. Stir in walnuts.

Spread batter into a greased and floured baking pan (see notes above about size). Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a rack before unmolding. Serve with caramel sauce, whipped cream, ice cream, a dusting of powdered sugar, or nothing at all.

Multigrain pumpkin banana bread (or muffins)

Fall is creeping in, and I’m thrilled. I found one stray can of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and decided it was finally close enough to fall to use it. My family doesn’t seem to tire of muffins or quick breads, even when I stuff them full of whole grains and fiber. I’ve been meaning to mix up a container of multigrain flour, ever since I stocked the freezer with a beautiful variety of flours some months ago. And since I’m trying to cook in greater quantity, but less often, I baked enough for a loaf to eat right away, and some muffins to freeze for lunchboxes and quick breakfasts. This bread is incredibly moist, with a complex, fruity flavor and something reminiscent of gingerbread. I am tempted to retest the recipe with less butter, since there is so much fruit to maintain the moisture. If you try, let me know how it goes!

This recipe looked so easy (mix the wet ingredients, mix the dry, mix them together–done!), but it needed some tweaking. If your ingredients are not all at room temperature, the butter will not mix smoothly into the wet mixture. I had cold eggs and overripe bananas straight from the fridge, and they didn’t play well with the softened butter. But if you cream the butter and the sugar together first, and then add the rest of the wet stuff, you’ll be fine. No extra bowls, either.

By the way, I finally acquired a kitchen scale, and I already love not having to use a slew of measuring cups. You can get along just fine without one, but I’m finding it more and more useful.

Multigrain pumpkin banana bread and muffins

adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup (8 ounces) softened butter

1 1/3 cups (10 ounces) brown sugar (I used dark brown)

6 Tbsp. (4 1/2 ounces) honey

4 large eggs

2 cups (15-ounce can) pumpkin puree

2 cups (16 ounces) mashed banana

2 Tbsp. (2 ounces) apple juice

3 cups (12 ounces) Multigrain Flour Mix (see below)

1/2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

coarse sparkling sugar to sprinkle on top

Multigrain Flour Mix

from Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup oat flour (you can grind 1 cup rolled oats in the food processor)

1 cup barley flour

1/2 cup millet flour

1/2 cup rye flour

Whisk all the flours together in a bowl, then store in an airtight container.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of two 8 1/2″ by 4 1/2″ loaf pans (or one loaf pan and a dozen muffin cups).

Beat butter and brown sugar together. Add the rest of the wet ingredients and beat well.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the multigrain flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.

Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full of batter; then fill the loaf pan (it should also be about 2/3 full). Sprinkle the coarse sparkling sugar on top of both.

Put both pans on the middle rack of the oven. Bake the muffins for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the edges look browned. Remove and cool completely in the pan on rack. Move the loaf pan to the center of the oven and bake for another 35-55 minutes. Cool completely in the pan.

Back to school baking

It’s the first day of school for my fourth grader and second grader. (Little Four has a couple more weeks before Pre-K begins.) You might be under the impression that their lunches are lovingly crafted, homemade works of art, but you would be mistaken. Today their lunchboxes contained applesauce, orange juice, animal crackers, and a thermos of spaghetti and meatballs from a can. They had goldfish crackers and water for snack. Not the best, but not the worst, either.

But hey, now that they’re out of my hair for 6.5 hours each day, I can take a little time to bake something healthy. Our school district has banned all peanut and tree nut products from snack time (which is eaten in the classroom), so I need to pay a little more attention to what we pack. I used up some bananas in banana-chocolate chip muffins (using half whole wheat flour, half all-purpose flour, and a good dose of wheat bran), and then tried something called “breakfast cookies.” I was going to make granola bars, but Miss Seven has a mouthful of orthodontic appliances and shouldn’t be eating sticky foods.

These cookies are 100% whole grain, mildly sweet, nut-free, and full of fiber. I think they are little more like tea cakes or hearty scones than cookies, but they’re yummy. If you can’t find quinoa flour (or don’t want to pay the outrageous price for it here in the U.S.), just use a cup of cooked quinoa and omit the milk (as in the original recipe).

Whole Grain Breakfast Cookies

adapted from Dinner: A Love Story

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup quinoa flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

2 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 cup old fashioned oats

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and milk and beat until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.

Mix flour mixture into butter mixture 1 cup at a time. Stir in oats, sunflower seeds and raisins. With your hands, roll dough into balls about golf-ball size and then flatten into 1/2-inch thick disks. Arrange 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.

Does your child’s school have a ban on nuts to protect those with allergies?