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seeking banana bread perfection

February 10th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

All right, all right…. you don’t want to talk about Winter anymore. I get it. How about we talk Banana Bread?

I grew up with regular and repeated doses of good banana bread. How about you? In our house, Mom would watch those bananas closely, and as soon as a few of them turned to the perfect spotty stage of brown, she would snatch them from the basket, peel them and put them on waxed paper, then mash them to mush with a fork for her golden fragrant loaves of banana bread. With walnuts. Which I hated, and yet, the banana bread was so glorious and perfect that I would carefully pick out the icky nuts and eat the rest. My favorite was the top of each slice, the softest part that often got so moist and tender. I always saved it for last.

I never varied from that banana bread recipe I had. Whenever bananas in my first kitchen made it further than a bowl of cereal, or an afternoon snack smeared with peanut butter, I would do as Mom did, peel them down, mash them with a fork and make a loaf of banana bread. But, as I could now do as an adult, with my own hand mixer, a container for flour and sugar in my cupboard that was always full, with the familiar can of baking powder next to them, I would leave out those gross nuts. My banana bread was spartan. All it needed was banana. Sometimes a smear of soft butter would coat the slice, or maybe peanut butter went on the bread too. But I never needed a reason to stray from the recipe that I’d known all my life. It was banana bread perfection and it was Mom and it was all I needed. When she died, making a loaf of her banana bread was like evoking her memory in my kitchen, with my heart breaking again, through each press of a fork into the banana, turning the flesh to the proper level of mashed for the recipe. Then each bite of her bread would send my very adult mind reeling backwards into the kitchen of childhood, the sunny window, the deeply patterned blue carpet and my Mom, happily peeling spotty brown bananas, the old familiar bread pan on the counter next to her.

I’m not sure what happened the last time I made Mom’s Banana bread recipe, but the first bite put me off quite a bit. It tasted…. I don’t know, odd. Fake, I guess. I was really kind of shocked by the flavor. I’d grown up with this recipe; I’d made it dozens of times since I was a kid and here I was, by leaps and bounds an adult and quite the responsible one too, with a good job, a home and a child and yet, I looked at the slice of banana bread in my hand and it didn’t fit anywhere with the life that I’d found. It didn’t even bring Mom’s face to mind, her laughing smile and the way she would grab my shoulders and squeeze me just a little, making a delighted teeny squeak of her love for me. My mouth, my taste and my opinion had grown right alongside my life, and this recipe didn’t do it for me anymore. Part of me was crushed. It was the familiar flavor of a life that was now gone, and it was failing to bring to me the comfort I was seeking, comfort away from a world of bills, deadlines, a hectic job and single parenting. I didn’t get rid of the recipe because that might feel a little like experiencing Mom’s death all over again. But I haven’t made that particular version for a long, long time.

Ever since then, I’ve been on the lookout for the next best Banana Bread recipe. When the bananas in my house get past their prime, I simply place them in the freezer and wait it out. I search the wide range of recipes available for one that might take me home again, a feeling of nostalgia, of banana bread perfection, a slice that might elicit that memorable squeak of love I recall. At one point, I think I had 10 frozen bananas in there, and part of me mourns the loss of that constant. I have looked over dozens of recipes and rejected most of them; too much fat, too much oil, wayyyyyy too much sugar and in almost all of them, not enough Mom. So I keep searching, finding a few gems here and there to sample in my own sunny kitchen, with it’s warped old bread pans. And the bananas meanwhile, well, they tend to pile up in the freezer, silently waiting to succumb to a fork, a whisk and a hot oven to be baked into a memory that will sustain me through the years ahead.

I’m still looking for that ultimate, that perfect banana bread, and I find that I’m really enjoying the experiments I’m coming across. This current one I’ve found is really quite good, in a clever and surprising way. What appeals to me about this particular recipe is that it includes crushed graham crackers crumbs in the base. This gives it a texture that’s a bit more crunchy than you would expect, and the taste of the graham crackers is really pronounced if you share the slice with a steaming cup of coffee. It’s perfect together, like banana and chocolate, like mothers and baking; with the familiarity of ritual, an old trusted bread pan and a freezer full of fruit at the ready.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

1-2/3 c. graham cracker crumbs (approx. one standard package from a box)
1-1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. natural cane sugar (you can use regular granulated too)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
3 medium bananas (i like to mash two of them fully, then leave the third in chunks for texture)
1/2 c. milk (any kind will do- I like vanilla soy, and almond would be wonderful)
3 T. canola oil (or get crazy and use olive oil- it tastes wonderful)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6-oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a standard 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray.

Place graham cracker crumbs, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl, and whisk well to combine.

In a large measuring cup, add bananas, oil, milk and eggs. Beat lightly with a fork to combine, then add to flour mixture. With a rubber spatula, carefully stir together until just blended with some streaks of flour remaining. Add in the chocolate chips and combine until mixture is fully incorporated. Scrape into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until top springs back when lightly touched and toothpick test comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan for 30 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Need some other inspiration for banana baking? Try these:

Applesauce Banana Bread

Banana Poppyseed Bread

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes

easy like sunday

November 28th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

This is the best kind of morning. It’s so quiet as I’m the only one awake. We decided last night to attend the late church service this morning, so instead of rolling everyone out of bed to get out of the house by 8:30, we’re not needing to be coherent until a few hours later. And when the cats started their pre-dawn routine of scratching at the bed to get someone up, I arose to greet the sunrise with them, affording my hard-working spouse yet another day of extended sleep. Five days a week he rises before the sun to delve into his work, to think and sip his coffee and deal with these cats that somehow think going outside on these dark, cold mornings is a really good idea. And apparently, it is for like 2 minutes, then they race back in for the nearest blanket and cozy fleece bed. The little turds.

But today is my day. And I’ve found an amazing sense of calm in these quiet hours. I can write, and think and plot and dream. I can surf, lurk and sip dark, rich coffee. I can hear myself think and often find some wonders brewing in my own head.

And I can nibble on these incredible Sweet Potato biscuits.

This is my morning; it’s me, the coffee pot, my big mug and a stack of inspiration. It’s the sunrise outside the windows, a fleece blanket on my lap and sometimes a cat. It’s peaceful. It’s contemplative. The birds flit around the feeders outside, gathering in the hawthorn tree while I watch and observe. The cardinal flashes his bright red feathers against the white of the snow. The bluejay squawks. The goldfinch chatter. The crows call from the rooftops and the sun turns the sky from winter’s deep blue to hints of azure and bronze. The sunrises lately have been lovely, even when so fleeting. I’m happy to be sitting here to appreciate them.

It’s my morning time. It’s perfect. And these biscuits? Well, you would do yourself a favor to have a pan of them at any meal, and then steal away one quiet morning with a mug of dark coffee and a few of them on a plate to fill your belly. The lovely hue of orange is one of their many appealing features, but the fluffy, moist and tender crumb that spills out when you crack one open is the best part about them. With a cat, or not; with a sunrise or a bowl of steaming soup, served with any meal they will compliment it highly. They will inspire. Like the sunrise and a quiet morning.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
from The Kitchen Sink Recipes (and from Bon Appetit)

Yield: 12 to 15 biscuits

One 3/4-pound red-skinned sweet potato (yam), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon (packed) dark brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of cayenne pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup chilled buttermilk

Cook sweet potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, cool, and mash.

Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 425°F. Butter bottom and sides of 8- or 9-inch cast iron skillet (or 8- or 9-inch cake pan).

Whisk flour and next 5 ingredients in large bowl. Add cubed butter to flour mixture; toss to coat and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk 3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes and buttermilk in medium bowl. Add to flour mixture; toss with fork. Gather mixture in bowl, kneading until dough comes together. Turn dough out onto floured work surface and pat into 1-inch-thick round. Using 2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits, flouring cutter after each cut. Gather scraps; pat into 1-inch-thick round. Cut out additional biscuits, until the dough has been used.

Arrange biscuits side by side in prepared skillet or pan. Brush with melted butter. Bake until puffed and golden on top and tester inserted into center biscuit comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Turn biscuits out and gently pull them apart.

Just a few days left of National Blog Posting Month!!!

build me up, butternut

November 19th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

(photo from “That’s Yummy”)

We’re woefully into November’s gray and flat winter light. The cloud cover expanse across the sky is leaden and heavy and daylight begins to fade around 4:00pm, yet even in the best of midday light, the ability to take a good photo often is a crapshoot. I don’t really mind the changes that come around this time of year, this first adventure into winter, the shorter days and descent into wool sweaters, layers, warm socks and extra blankets on the bed. The coziness of it is good, it’s necessary, and there’s a lot of it that can be so soothing- like the leaping blue flame under the daily tea-kettle, the ritual of a warm steaming cup to carry me through the late afternoon; there’s the presence of the strands of tiny twinkling lights we’ve used to adorn certain areas of our home- the stairwell for those dark, dark mornings, the top of the cupboard in the kitchen, and the fancy festooned bakers rack in the corner of our kitchen.

The tiny lights are nice in those early mornings before the dawn when Mike is awake; it provides enough light to get the coffee pot going and the cat dishes filled without having that eye-burning glare that we encounter when first out of bed. The stairwell lights guide him safely down in the darkness. We put these lights up many years ago at Christmas time, and they’ve proven to be so useful that we never removed them. In those gloomy November afternoons they add a warm touch to our home, along with the singing tea kettle, and those steaming cups. Add a candle or two and you can chase those dark hours away a lot easier.

A good warm oven and simmering pot on the stove does that too. I recently came across a recipe for Butternut Squash Pasta, in Gourmet magazine’s Best of 65 Years cookbook. It was a simple process of cooking cubed squash then tossing it with garlic and pasta, but I thought to take it one step further and create an awesome squash puree to mix in with pasta, creating a saucy topping that clung to every single bite.

Problem was, as delicious as it tasted, it looked just ghastly. Imagine, brightly colored orange squash mixed with cooked whole wheat pasta. Oh gads…. it was homely as all get out, but tasted glorious and superbly like comfort in my bowl. I do recommend it, even if I can’t show you the result. Roast your halved butternut squash until it’s good and soft. Scrape the flesh into a bowl, add a little broth or milk to help thin it, then mash it smooth. You can whiz it in the food processor too. The resulting puree should be thick, close to the texture of canned pumpkin, and can be used like canned pumpkin, which, after all, is squash right?

Having the use of pureed squash on hand made it a cinch to whip up a batch of muffins too, and after finding a recipe for Whole Wheat Muffins with Pumpkin and Quinoa on Fork, Knife and Spoon, I knew those had to somehow come out of my oven in the near future. With a little trip towards the healthy side of muffins, these little beauties came out bouncy soft, only the slightest bite of sweet and full of chewy nibs of quinoa blended with the sweet taste of roasted squash.

Touched inside and out with toasted coconut, they had a lot going for them. A bite for breakfast, a quick pick me up snack or a nice late night treat before climbing under piles of blankets, they fill in all parts of your day with a compliment for your tummy. Follow the link to Kate’s blog  ( I know! Another Kate! ) for the original recipe. I doctored mine up to utilize what I had on hand for my version.

Whole Wheat Muffins with Quinoa and Squash

2 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/2 c. cooked quinoa
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/2 t. sea salt
1 c. cooked butternut squash
1 egg
3/4 c. buttermilk
3 T. oil
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. shredded coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 and spray muffin pans, or line with paper. You will get approximately 18 muffins.

To cook quinoa- measure one cup of water in a saucepan and place over medium burner. Rinse 1/2 cup of quinoa in a wire strainer under cold running water, shaking to rinse thoroughly. Place quinoa in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10-15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Remove pan from heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then scrape cooked quinoa onto a plate and spread out to cool.

When cooled, measure flour and quinoa into a large bowl. With your hands, gently toss together until blended, and quinoa appears the size of tapioca pearls. Add in baking powder, soda, spices and salt and mix thoroughly.

In another bowl, measure buttermilk, then whisk in syrup, egg, squash, oil and vanilla. Whisk together, then add to dry ingredients with coconut. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold ingredients together until incorporated. Do not overmix. Scoop into muffin tins, about 2/3 full and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until tops are browned and spring back when touched. Allow to cool in muffin pans for 15 minutes or so, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

And without even realizing it, I’m more than halfway through NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. It’s proven to be way easier than I anticipated, but with 4-1/2 years of archives to wander through and re-introduce, I’m never at a loss for material.

moving on, with baking

November 1st, 2010 | 7 Comments »

“October gave a party, the leaves by hundreds came.
The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples, and leaves of every name.
The sunshine spread a carpet, and everything was grand.
Miss Weather led the dancing, Professor Wind, the band.”

Goerge Cooper, ‘October’s Party’

That sums up our October, doesn’t it? A more glorious month has yet to be seen, if you ask me. This year has shown us some amazing weather, and I know that many, many people thought summer was too hot, too muggy, too much ‘Summer’, I guess, but to me, it was just what Summer should be. And then for our reward, the heat index fell, the nights became more comfortable and we got October. Blessed, glorious, magnificent October.

“Bittersweet October.  The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause
between the opposing miseries of summer and winter“
~Carol Bishop Hipps

For what it’s worth, Summer wasn’t miserable. Just normal. And Winter is only miserable if you choose to look at it that way. Several years ago, I took up Cross Country skiing again, having not touched the skinny skis since I was a young girl. I forgot how magical it is to slide over the snow, in a quiet wood or on the trails and I’ve loved the benefits it gives me from the exercise. So I tend not to dread Winter like I’ve done in the past. And of course that means I really pray for a good snow cover. My apologies to those who hate everything that happens between now and Springtime.

But here we are in November, and it’s often a fairly gloomy month. That’s just not my cup of tea. There’s no eye-popping color, no crunching through ankle deep leaves, or mind-boggling glimpses of cobalt blue sky. It’s just November, the countdown to holidays and crazy chaos and the beginning of the dark season.

So I do what any other sane and hardened Northern dweller will do to combat these coming days. I turn on the oven, fling items like flour, baking powder, cinnamon, milk and eggs all over the kitchen and come up with something comforting and slightly sweet, something to draw me back. To rein me in, so to  speak. Last year I made a big effort to try and embrace Winter and all it’s darkness, with it’s amethyst sunsets and opalescent snowfalls. It made a huge difference so I am hoping it works again this year.

Along with a heightened attempt to change my attitude about Winter, so my baking has taken on a new aspect, and changed so dramatically from when I was little. I balk at making baked goods laden with shortening, oil and tons of refined sugar. Delicious, yes. Healthy- not at all. So I’m always on the lookout for recipes that support that, yet offer abundant flavor and comfort.

Like Peanut Butter Banana Bread.

These are two of my favorite tastes, together in a moist, tender load studded with chopped peanuts. While it’s not health food at all, it’s created with a lean towards the ‘Better for You’ angle, using very little fat and only a small amount of sugar.

I’ve been experimenting with sugar content in a lot of my baking recently. Instead of using white sugar, I’ve subbed in maple syrup, or honey or brown sugar for my recipes, often reducing the amount drastically. The results have been wonderful- good flavor and texture without the item being so sweet as to cross your eyes. Now I am not ignoring the fact that subbing one sugar for another is actually better, but instead I am focusing on removing white refined sugar from my diet completely. Sugar is sugar, yes. The goal is to remove refined products, which also includes white flour. All my baked goods are also being made with whole wheat flour too, including this bread.

I love the balance of peanut butter and banana in this bread. The PB is a subtle undertone to the delicious banana taste, and the addition of chopped peanuts (in this case, they were honey-roasted which I can’t recommend enough) adds a nice textural crunch to the moist bread. This recipe calls for ground flaxseed, and while I often add that to my baked goods even when it isn’t called for, in this recipe it’s a vital component and adds a nice nutty touch. Here’s the original recipe, with my substitutions in parentheses.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread
from All Recipes

  • 1 1/2  cups  mashed ripe banana (I used 3-1/2 large bananas- more than it called for but delicious nonetheless)
  • 1/3  cup  plain fat-free yogurt
  • 1/3  cup  creamy peanut butter
  • 3  tablespoons  butter, melted (I subbed canola oil)
  • 2  large eggs
  • 1/2  cup  granulated sugar (I omitted this)
  • 1/2  cup  packed brown sugar (I increased this to 3/4 c. and it was perfect)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour  (I used all whole wheat)
  • 1/4  cup  ground flaxseed
  • 3/4  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground allspice
  • 2 T. chopped roasted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350° and spray a standard loaf pan with cooking spray. Alternatively, you could use an 8×8 baking pan too, with adjusted baking time.

In a large bowl, combine bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, butter, eggs and sugar and stir until thoroughly combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, spices and chopped nuts until uniform. Add to wet ingredients and stir just until blended. Do not over-mix. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Baking time will be shorter if using the 8×8 square baking pan.

If desired, sprinkle chopped peanuts over the top of the loaf prior to baking. I loved how this added a nice crunchy touch to the finished product.

soundtrack days

March 22nd, 2010 | 6 Comments »

I’ve noticed lately that my days seem to be having their own soundtracks. We’ve become a kind of soundtrack world, what with the abundant use of iTunes, the earbud generation and the incessant need to insert any type of sound into the hours. These are the playlists of our lives, what we exercise to, the music in the background while we work, what blasts from our computers as we clean, or cook or just manage the day.

What I’ve been noticing is that each day seems to have it’s unique sound, a type of music that fits to the mood, weather and sense of self that we connect with through our waking hours. While most of us have our favorite music, I wonder how often we switch out the tunes in an attempt to match the feeling of a particular Friday, or a lazy Sunday afternoon or a bright shiny Wednesday morning. Rainy days have their own soundtrack, and sunshine makes music like nothing else. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just sit down with an old Warner Bros. cartoon medley, and see what I mean. The Disney animators of old knew exactly how to use music to create a wordless story, to set mood, to create action. Remember the original movie version of Fantasia? It was all about matching music to mood. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with it’s gentle Springtime lilt and angry Summer thunderstorm movements are a perfect example. I can’t ever listen to composer Paul Dukas’ famous orchestral work ‘The Sorceror’s Apprentice’ without seeing Mickey Mouse, flashing lights and thousands of brooms. Music sets the tone and starts the imagination, it inspires and ignites us.

And food fits into the sense of every day, much the same as music. We all know those lustrous summer days that beg for a juicy grilled burger and corn that’s fresh from the field, the springtime air that makes you dream of salads, fresh peas and asparagus. Winter speaks like soup, or a hearty stew simmering in a pot and then there’s those days that nothing else will do besides a long slow fire and the smoke of a perfect BBQ. Rain and baking, as I recently discovered, sometimes are the best of friends.

I love having music on when I’m elbow deep in the creative process in my kitchen. With iTunes radio, a huge selection is at my fingertips and with a few clicks I can have the perfect background to what I’m doing. I recently was faced with a rainy day that felt like it would perfectly match with soft cafe jazz, a warm oven and a pan of muffins to make it complete. Sitting at the top of my To Make pile on the counter, the place where inspiration lives with just a few shufflings of papers, was a recipe for Fig Muffins with Lemon Honey Cream cheese filling, and oh how that magically blended itself into the saxophone, the steady patter of spring rain outside the door and the gentle rhythm of mid-week. With a loaf of 10-grain bread from my dog-eared copy of ‘Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes’ and a steaming cup of tea, it was about as right and perfect as it could be to give chase to the gray sky.

Of course, I am a bit head over heels for figs, so it likely didn’t hurt that one of my most favorite fruits was the superstar in this moist and tasty breakfast treat. But when you blend up a lovely fragrant batch of sweet honey and lemon flavored cream cheese and bake up these muffins with it’s delightful hidden center, the result alone may have been enough to push the clouds aside for a ray of sun to enter the house.

Lemon is another true love I’ve found with baking. There’s something about the zesting and the juicing and the way the yellow oval resembles a bright July day that always makes me eager to place a few in my basket at the market. For me, the lemon scented cream cheese alone may be the path to a better day, with or without jazzy backdrop, whether it’s raining or not and I was so glad that I made the whole container into this fragrant mix. I will find ways to consume the leftovers. Like spreading it copiously all over these muffins, because I’ve discovered that with some food items, there simply can’t be enough of a good thing.

What kind of soundtrack defines your days? Do you change up your music to suit your mood??

Fig Muffins with Honey Lemon Cream Cheese filling

adapted from Eating Well magazine, February 2010

Preheat the oven to 400° and line two 6-count muffin pans with liners. You can use cooking spray too, if you like.

1  4-oz container cream cheese, softened
2 T. honey
1 T. fresh lemon zest
2-3 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 t. fresh ground nutmeg

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more zest or juice if desired. I love a good tart flavor.

For the muffins:

2 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. sea salt
1 T. ground flaxseed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. turbinado sugar (you can sub in brown sugar if you don’t have turbinado)
1 c. buttermilk (I used vanilla soymilk)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 c. chopped dried figs

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt and ground flaxseed. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, buttermilk and oil and whisk until blended and uniform. If you’re using turbinado, don’t worry if the sugar doesn’t dissolve fully, just whisk until blended. Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry and stir until just incorporated, then add the figs and gently fold together.

Spoon batter into muffin cups to half full. Add about a tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture to the center of each muffin, then cover with more batter. You shouldn’t see the filling, but don’t worry if you do. I spooned a smaller amount of cream cheese on to the tops of each muffin, but you don’t need to do that. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with more turbinado sugar, or another sanding sugar if desired, then bake them for 13-15 minutes, or until they spring back when pressed.

Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then take them out and allow to cool fully on cooling rack.

disappearing gingerbread

March 12th, 2010 | 13 Comments »

I can safely say that gingerbread, or anything molasses-flavored, is going to go over well in my house. Some people have their chocolate, their Proustian moment that renders them poetic. Apparently ours is gingerbread. And it turns us into stealthy nibblers.

I made a small pan of Martha Stewarts’s Chocolate Gingerbread, primarily as an olfactory impetus in ridding the house of the scent of bacon that I had cooked that morning. I don’t think the pan had even fully cooled before I slipped a knife through it and created a set of imperfect squares for us to sample. It was amazing; rich and moist with the tiniest hint of chocolate among the deep taste of molasses. Griffin and I nodded in agreement over this newfound treat. I pulled plastic wrap over the top and set it on the counter.

And then, a day later, there were considerable gaps in the pan. The next day, even more was gone. Something was amiss, because I’d only had one piece.

I can’t say I fault anyone for freely indulging in this treat. What I love about gingerbread is the lack of cloying sweetness that comes with most desserts. Gingerbread has enough going for it to give it dessert-like status, but it’s also like a teabread, and can be treated like a snack, or even a bit of your breakfast too. It partners equally with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, a mound of yogurt or even topped with fresh whipped cream.

Or even just eaten out of hand, with a napkin to catch the crumbs.

This recipe, from Everyday Food, yields a moist and superbly tender cake, owing to the use of sour cream in the base. It’s a simple quick bread style recipe that takes minimal effort, but can taste fancy enough for a party, that is, if you can keep it around long enough.

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Gingerbread Cake
from Everyday Food

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for pan
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line bottom with a strip of parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides; butter paper. Dust paper and sides of pan with cocoa; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa, flour, ginger, pumpkin-pie spice, and baking soda; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, brown sugar, molasses, egg, and sour cream until smooth. Add flour mixture; stir just until moistened (do not overmix). Stir in chocolate chips. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top.
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely. Using paper overhang, lift gingerbread from pan. Transfer to a cutting board, and cut into 16 squares. Before serving, dust bars with confectioners sugar, if desired. (To store, keep in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days.)

I skipped the parchment step, instead just using cooking spray on my 8×8 pan. I did not add the chocolate chips, and probably would keep them out of future uses of this recipe. I just don’t think they’re necessary. The molasses taste was rich, the chocolate not so noticeable. I think that the addition of some extra cocoa would make it more balanced- and in future use I may reduce the molasses to 3 T. and increase the cocoa to 1/3 c. to see if it makes a difference. I also thought about the addition of 1 oz. melted bittersweet chocolate to increase that aspect a bit, and may try that. I don’t keep pumpkin pie spice on hand. I used a teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon each of nutmeg and allspice.

If you’re interested in other gingerbread recipes, you can find more gingerbread love with just a click.

The flavor of Winter

January 6th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Cranberry and orange is a classic combination, and even the thought of it brings me swiftly back to Christmas as a child when my Mom would pull out her superbly old hand-cranked food grinder and clamp it to the counter edge to make a fresh cranberry-orange relish that filled our kitchen with the lively tang of oranges and the tart haze of cranberry. My sisters and I loved standing at the counter turning the crank of that grinder while Mom fed whole cranberries and oranges into the hopper, the pop and crunch of the fruit filling our ears while the mouth dripped it’s ruby mass into the bowl underneath. It was the scent of the holiday for us, more than a fresh ham baking in the oven, better than her scratch mincemeat or a simmering apple pie. I can zest an orange in the burning July sunshine, wearing shorts and a tank-top, and I will immediately be transported back to wintertime, as a kid again in Mom’s kitchen, fighting my sisters for a turn at the grinder. Back then, the tart cranberries were not to my liking, but I absolutely adored that smell.

The mix of cranberry and orange seems to be everywhere right now, and for good reason as fresh cranberries are in season. For some delicious winter baking, I grabbed it with both hands and enjoyed the promise of greatness found in this match.

There were scones first…..

I had to backtrack to find out exactly where this recipe came from, but thankfully came across it on LoveFeast Table so I can be sure to give proper credit. I’ve linked the recipe for you because I seriously suggest you make yourself a pan of these before too long. The flavors speak of winter, they require you to pour a steaming coffee to sip alongside, and will make you smile happily with delight. We all need that in the chilly months ahead.  This past year has been a big one for me in terms of muffins and scones. I like being able to put together a batch if the moment seems right, and you really can’t lose with anything that has some semblance of chocolate in it. Even when the chocolate is white. And these scones are tender, moist and airy. You’ll never purchase a coffee shop hockey puck again.

Then, even while there were still a few scones left over, I forged into a Cranberry Date and Orange quick bread to bring to one of our Christmas gatherings. It was so hard for me to wrap these loaves and slip them in the freezer to await our celebration, because when I knocked them out of the pans to cool, the smell that rose from them reached into my nose and tickled it immensely. I had to walk out of the kitchen in order not to rip a chunk off one to sample. Thankfully, we ended up with plenty of leftovers.


2 c. all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat)
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt (I started using sea salt in baking and I love the results!)
1 egg
1/2 c. orange juice
Grated peel of 1 orange
2 T melted butter or margarine
2 T. hot water
1 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c. chopped dates
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts (or pecans- but either is optional)

Heat oven to 325°. Spray a standard 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, dates, water and butter. Heat to a low simmer, stirring occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes. Some of the berries should start popping but you want them to retain their shape as much as possible. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange juice and zest. Allow to cool until barely room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Beat egg separately. Add egg and cranberry mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in nuts, if using. Spoon into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Harvest Tea Bread

September 16th, 2008 | 2 Comments »

Harvest Tea Bread

1 c water
1/2 c. dried cranberries

2 T. dried currants
1 T. orange juice concentrate
1 t. balsamic vinegar

Bring water to a boil. Add fruit, concentrate and vinegar and allow to simmer to a thick paste- approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and spread on plate to cool to room temperature.

Zest and squeeze juice from one medium orange and reserve

In a large bowl, stir together:
1 c. sugar
1 c. chunky applesauce
1/3 c. oil
2 eggs
3 T. milk
2 medium sized tart apples, shredded
1 T. fresh orange juice
1 T. orange zest

2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg

Gently stir dried ingredients into wet until just combined. Fold in cooked fruit until loosely swirled.

1/4 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease & flour two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans.
Pour batter into loaf pans. Sprinkle with topping and drizzle 1 T. orange juice on each pan
Bake for 50 – 55 mins.or until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 20-30 minutes then turn onto cooling rack. Can be wrapped well and frozen.

Blueberry Bran Muffins

January 1st, 2007 | 3 Comments »

Blueberry Bran Muffins

Mix in bowl until blended: 1 ½ c. buttermilk; 2 large eggs; 2 T. butter, melted; ¼ c. oil; ¼ c. real maple syrup

Add: 1 ½ c. All Bran cereal

Mix to combine and allow to sit at room temp. for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add in: 1/3 c. minced dried apricot, mango OR peaches (I used peaches this time)

In separate bowl, sift together 1 ½ c. AP flour; ½ whole oats, or packaged 7-Grain cereal (like Bob’s Red Mill), ¼ c. brown sugar, 1 t. EACH baking powder and baking soda, ¼ t. salt.

Add in wet ingredients, blend only until incorporated; stir in 1 c. frozen blueberries

Scoop into muffin tins sprayed with non-stick cooking spray or lined with paper cups. Bake at 425° for 20-25 minutes until tops are firm and slightly browned. Cool 5 min. in pan and remove to cooling rack.

Pumpkin Maple Muffins

October 3rd, 2006 | 2 Comments »

Pumpkin Maple Muffins

*Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk these ingredients together in a large bowl:
1 3/4 C. whole wheat pastry flour (or substitute any whole wheat flour)
1/2 C. pecan meal (1.5 oz. pecans, ground)
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon

In a separate bowl, whisk together these ingredients:
1/3 C. maple syrup
1/2 C. packed brown sugar
1 C. pumpkin puree (I use canned)
1/2 C. buttermilk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 C. butter, melted
1/3 C. raisins

  1. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
  2. Immediately spoon batter into a greased 12-cup muffin tin.
  3. Place in the center of a preheated 375 degree oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  4. Check muffins after 20 minutes, muffins are done when you lightly touch the top of one of the muffins and it springs back.
  5. Let cool for five minutes in the pan and then remove muffins and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Here’s what I did differently. I had no pecans, and I am not a huge fan of them (my mother was the Pecan Queen in a previous life, and then she became my mom and made everything with pecans….I, however, have a choice now) but I did have almonds so I ground up those and used those instead. I had no real buttermilk, so I did the milk/vinegar trick. I used 2 tbsp. of butter instead of 4, and subbed in some unsweetened applesauce and of course, since I am a flaxseed freak, I ground 2 tbsp. of those little beauties and added them too. I skipped the raisins.
FABULOUS…moist, earthy, wholesome, grain-goodness and so flavorful.


And the best part, naturally, Griffin took one bite of a ‘warm from the oven’ specimen and fell over on the carpet, rolling around moaning. He is following his Mom’s footsteps in his passionnate love for anything food. Plus, he really doesn’t like pecans.

recipe from Nicole, of Pinch My Salt food blog