Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BAHnana-walnut-chocolate-buckwheat bread

I can imagine there are a few cocked up eyebrows around regarding the title of this post. It's a joke that came about when E was buying banana bread from a cafe. The French pronounce the letter "a" as "ah", so naturally it came out something like "Can I have some Bah-nana bread please?"

The lady behind the counter started cracking up so hard and handed him the slice, repeating "Bah-nana bread Bah-nana bread". The joke has stuck ever since. It's been some time now since that incident, but everytime we meet up with the gang, someone still repeats "BAh-nana bread" to him. lol.

Having been busy during the weekends which is usually my baking day, and after a wonderful long weekend away eating, drinking and making merry at Hunter Valley (we're now very happy owners of 5 bottles of boutique wines), I'm feeling more than ready to get back in the kitchen again. NQN is hosting a Banana Bake-off, and I've just been waiting for those bananas to brown nicely.

I haven't met someone who doesn't enjoy banana bread yet. Early mornings in uni usually means a detour to the Architecture cafe for some banana bread. I especially love mine toasted as it causes the crust to crunch up and caramelize nicely - it's my favourite part! E usually has the task of finishing whatever I can't, and he wasn't too impressed when I handed him a brown bag once, revealing a slice of banana bread with the edges nibbled away neatly. Oops.

I've baked my banana breads into muffin-sized ones which are perfect for brekkie on the go (also helps in my portion control! heh) The addition of buckwheat flour gives a pleasant, grainy nuttiness which I adore and the few dark chocolate chunks are quite the treat. And as usual, I've mooshed in more bananas and toasted walnuts than the original recipe calls for, but reduced the amount of sugar which the natural sweetness in the bananas nicely compensated for. Yummy!

Bahnana-walnut-chocolate-buckwheat bread (makes 6)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of baking soda
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 ripe large bananas, mashed
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
a handful of dark chocolate chunks
Garnish: (Optional)
1 large banana, sliced or dried banana chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place oven rack to middle position. Line muffin trays with paper cupcake holders.

Lightly roast the nuts in a frying pan over medium heat, taking care not to let it burn. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nuts. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients (banana mixture) into the dry ingredients just until combined and the batter is thick and chunky. (The important thing is not to over mix the batter. You do not want it smooth. Over mixing the batter will yield tough, rubbery bread.) Scrape batter into prepared pan and place the slices of banana on top of the batter for garnish. Bake until bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the bread from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. This bread can be frozen.

adapted from Joy of Baking

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cheesecake popsicles - April DB challenge

If there's any faster way to ruin a diet, it's to pack all your calories into innocuous little bite-sized pieces. They look so harmless in that state cos they look well, kinda tiny, and that means we can sort of waive off the calories right? Oh sure. Just wait til you put one in your mouth. Oh it's incredibly good. You ooooh and aaaahh and mmmm for a bit as you savour the last creamy traces.

You're about to take another bite when it hits. *Blank stare* Um, it's finished? Your eyes get drawn almost by what you're certain is some sort of magnetic field over to the tray of popsicles. The little devil on your shoulder who's been yelling and screaming and stamping his foot all week as you fill up on your whole foods, fruits and veggies is suddenly quiet. Oh yep, he's smirking. Before you know it, you pop one more, and another, and then what the heck, might as well stop counting and then before you know it, you can kiss your waistline goodbye.

Apart from the calorific stampede, the DB April challenge was quite the experience. As you can see, the challenge this time was a tweak on an all-time favourite - cheesecake! I've always loved thick, creamy cheesecakes, my absolute fave being the Chicago Cheesecake from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (which you incidentally can't find in Sydney). The gelatin-versions just don't cut it for me. If I'm going to have it at all, I rather go all the way. Sort of reflects my attitude to life. Yeouch.

This month's task was chosen by Elle and Deborah taken from Jill O'Connor's Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey cookbook. The idea was to make cheesecake pops - perfect for a party I reckon - and dip them in a flavouring of your choice. Chocolate was the featured dip, but I was a tad skeptical of that and decided on a caramel au buerre sallee (salted caramel) coulis as well.

I may not have mentioned it, but curiosity is a main driving force for this blog, as is the love for all things sensory in life. Creating foods that I have never attempted or tried before and capturing the details of it all on film gives me a kick like no other, probably akin to a piece of music that transports you to that higher plane, or standing in front of a gorgeous scenery which sucks all the words out of you. For me, it's not knowing what to expect out of the end product til you see it and taste it. When it's great, fantastic. Sometimes it's not, and you just keep tweaking it til you find that perfection.

Thus it is no surprise that this was also a first-attempt at baking a cheesecake, let alone trying to make them into pretty, edible things! I was so pleased when the cheesecake crust took on a lovely golden hue. The texture was how I liked it to be exactly - the full crumbly, tangy taste of cream cheese which coats the inside of your mouth, accented by the addition of lemon (the recipe did not call for it, but I added the juice of one lemon in). The one grip that I had was the amount of sugar in it - I found it a bit too sweet. Some folks might like it like that though.

After leaving the cheesecake to firm up in the fridge, I scooped the little balls with a spoon and quickly shaped them in my palms, after which a bamboo skewer was inserted into it. The whole batch was left to freeze, and later coated with tempered chocolate. Here's where I deviated again and used heavy cream to make a dark chocolatey ganache in place of shortening (that is something that sounds dodgy to me and I would never ever want to buy). It worked out pretty alright, as did the salted caramel coulis. A couple were dipped into crushed graham cookies.

Overall the popsicles seemed to work quite well with the chocolate surprisingly, but I much prefer the salted caramel. Although if you ask me, I would make the cheesecake again and eat it on its own (the purist in me adores the simple, unadulterated taste of foods as it should be). The recipe can be found at the Daring Bakers blog. Hope you'll have as much fun as I did!

Note: I made only half the amount of cheesecake called for and found that the addition of the juice of 1 whole lemon gave it just the right amount of tang. The salted caramel coulis can be made by melting by reducing 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of water into a dark syrup over med heat. Add 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream, 3 1/2 tbsps of butter and 1 tsp of salt.