Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Last Weekend of Summer = Gingerbread

The new school year begins Monday (groan), so this weekend was my last chance to have fun, relax, and of course – bake!

We woke up to a very chilly morning – temperature in the 50s – went for a nice long stroll and then headed to the farmers market. Among other things, we left the market with some big beautiful very ripe (but slightly bruised) peaches for only 50 cents a pound! My first thought was peach cobbler, but then we decided they were just too sweet and juicy to cook – so we ate them fresh.

Later in the day, inspired by the early autumn weather I suppose, I decided to make some gingerbread (In case you've never had any, it is one of those breads that is really a cake). Well let me tell you it was delish! We (just the two of us) ate nearly half the batch this evening. It needed no embellishments, just a nice cup of hot tea.

To give credit where credit is due, I worked off the following recipe

I made several slight changes, here’s my exact recipe:

½ C. Whole Wheat Flour
¾ C. All Purpose Flour
1T. Cocoa Powder
1 t. Ground Cinnamon
1 t. Ground Ginger
¼ t. Ground Nutmeg
½ t. Baking Soda
Pinch of Salt
½ C. Granulated Sugar
½ C. Milk
2 t. Lemon Juice
¼ C. Canola Oil
½ C. Molasses
1 Egg
1 t. Vanilla Extract

1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees; make sure a rack is situated in the middle of the oven. Spray or lightly grease an 8 or 9 inch square pan, set aside.

2) Combine the milk and lemon juice, set aside.
**The original recipe called for buttermilk – I hate buying it, because I never use it all, so I substitute “sour milk” by combining milk and lemon juice. You should let the milk and lemon juice mixture set for a couple of minutes before combining it with the remaining wet ingredients.

3) Combine the flours, spices, baking soda and salt.

4) In a separate bowl, combine the “sour milk,” oil, molasses, egg, vanilla, and sugar.

5) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stir until well combined.

6) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-35 minutes, until a tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

I let mine cool in the pan, and then dusted the top with a little powdered sugar, just for pretty.

This is one of the easiest and tastiest things I’ve ever baked; I hope you like it too.

While my postings are sure to become sparse as I get back into the groove of grad school, I will be making baklava sometime in the next couple of weeks, so tune in for that.

Happy back to school everyone!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Banana Bread: Healthy, Wholesome, and Oh So Good

I like just about every fruit; bananas are one of my year round stand-bys. I buy them every single week. On their own, in a bowl of cereal, with some peanut butter, any way you slice it I’ll eat a banana. As much as I like them, it never fails that one or two get too ripe before I can eat them. Of course, I can’t let them go to waste, so banana bread it is (I think Alfred plans it this way – because he loves banana bread). In the last couple of years I’ve tried several different recipes – some are too dry, others too moist – after some tweaking I think I’ve finally developed my favorite banana bread recipe. Oh, and it just so happens that it has very little fat, and a healthy dose of whole grains.
Tip: If you don’t have time to use your ripe bananas right away, freeze them, then thaw when you are ready to make the banana bread.

Makes 1 Loaf
2 Cups of Flour (I highly recommend you try 1 Cup All Purpose, 1 Cup Whole Wheat – it tastes great and it’s good for you! Alfred actually says this mixture makes the best banana bread – it imparts a little chewiness.)
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
Pinch Salt
2 large, very ripe Bananas
2 Eggs
½ Cup Granulated Sugar
¼ Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
2 Tablespoons Milk (or Soy Milk)
½-1 Cup Nuts (use however much and whatever kind you like - pecans, walnuts, or black walnuts are all good)

To ensure that the bread rises well and browns properly, make sure your oven is preheated to 400 degrees, and make sure a rack is situated in the middle of your oven. Next, prepare your loaf pan so the bread will not stick. I use a neat trick I read about a few months ago – lightly oil your pan, then dust the inside with granulated sugar (rather than flour) – it creates a lovely sweet crunchy crust.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt. (As an aside, the way you measure the flour can have a big impact on the outcome of all baked goods. Depending upon how you measure it, you can get widely different amounts (in weight) of flour. If you put your measuring cup in the bag and scoop it full you will pack a lot of flour into your cup. Most professional bakers either weigh their flour (rather than measuring by volume) or they begin by stirring/whisking the flour in the bag to aerate it a little, then lightly spoon the flour into the measuring cup, once the cup is full, level the top with the back of a butter knife. I always measure my flour this way.)
In a separate bowl mash the bananas; mix in the sugars, eggs, vanilla, oil and milk until thoroughly combined.
Sift (or simply pour if you don’t have a sifter) the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients; fold together until just combined – don’t stir too much or the texture of the cooked bread will be unpleasantly tough. Fold in the nuts.
Pour into the prepared loaf pan, bake in the center of your oven for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool on a rack or a plate.
After cooled, store at room temperature wrapped in foil – unlike plastic wrap or air-tight containers this will ensure that the bread stays fresh, but it lets in a little air so the top doesn’t get gooey (which Alfred hates!).

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!
P.S. You can easily turn this into banana nut muffins, just bake in a muffin pan at 400 degrees for around 20 minutes.