Posts Tagged baking

Alex’s Chocolate Chunk Banana “Brownies”

Banana Brownies 2

Yes, I realize they look like muffins - but they're actually intended to be brownies.

My brother has always had a thing for bananas. I don’t know what it was about them. I mean, I liked them as a kid, but Alex loved them. One of his favorite snacks to make was a “banana milk shake,” a term that I think my mother came up with to re-brand banana smoothies as something much more indulgent. He was a fan of the banana ice cream they served down the street at Prince Puckler’s, still my favorite ice cream shop in the country. And now that he’s a post-college grad trying to make it as a playwright in Chicago, one of his more bizarre frugal dinners it to make banana omelets. Yes. Bananas. In an omelet.

Okay, so I’m not sold on the banana omelets, although Alex will defend them to the death. But I started thinking about bananas when I was wondering what to get Alex for his birthday. Usually, I’m a pretty boring present giver – I go for the amazon gift certificate, or, once in a while, a book. But I decided to do something different this year – I decided to make him his very own banana baked good recipe.

Now, you’ll notice that the title of this post is for banana “brownies” and yet the photo clearly looks like muffins. But consider this discrepancy merely a deficiency of my kitchen – I actually don’t own a square baking pan, and it just didn’t seem right to bake them in a round pan. Plus, for shipping purposes, the individually packaged muffins are pretty sweet. But, rest assured, while you can bake these in muffin tins, they are intended to be baked in a 9×9 inch square cake pan.

I adapted this recipe from my own banana bread recipe, as well as a butterscotch brownie recipe from The Joy Of Cooking – one of the few sources I could find that had recipes for “brownies” that didn’t actually contain chocolate. Since Alex is such a banana fiend, these are heavy on the fruit – they’re best made with really old bananas that are beginning to blacken on the outside. They’re chewy and moist, sweet with the banana flavor, and punctuated with chunks of chocolate. I used bittersweet chocolate but I’ll actually use milk chocolate when I make these again – the sweetness of the milk chocolate would be a more harmonious compliment to the banana flavor.

So, happy birthday Alex. And yes, I realize that I’m writing this a week after your actual birthday. But, um, can having your very own handmade recipe make up for that?

Banana Brownies 1

Oh, and I also ate two.

Recipe: Alex’s Chocolate Chunk Banana


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The Lowdown on Chocolate Substitutions


Sometimes you just don't have the right one on hand.

I recently got this question from a friend, and thought that others might be interested in the answer – what to do when your recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate and you only have bitter or semi sweet? It’s a common question for those of us with imperfectly stocked pantries – unsweetened chocolate is one of those things that I rarely have on hand unless I’m planning to make brownies.

So if you’re in a pinch, The Cake Bible rule of thumb is to substitute two ounces of bittersweet/semi sweet chocolate for every ounce of unsweetened, and for every ounce of bitter/semi sweet chocolate used, to remove 2 tablespoons of sugar from the recipe. I recently attended a chocolate tasting at Biagio Chocolates – an event organized by Robyn Webb for DC Foodies Do Good, where I learned that unsweetened chocolate is a combination of cocoa solids and coca butter, whereas semi and bittersweet chocolate is a combo of those two ingredients and sugar. When you’re substituting one for the other, you have to account for the differences in cocoa content, and how the sugar content affects the overall sugar content in of the recipe.

So, there you have it. Are there any other substitutions that people would like to learn, or have questions about?

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When Life Gives You Cookie Dough, Make Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

Lemon cheesecake cookies - the first of many sugar cookie experiments.

When life gives you lemons you’re supposed to make lemonade, but what about ten pounds of sugar cookie dough? The excess dough I had left over from last week’s TogoRun cookies presented me with quite a dilemma. As I’ve mentioned before, this dough failed to hold its shape, making it unsuitable for last week’s cookie project.

Since I rarely ever make sugar cookies – I usually find them too sweet for my taste – I turned to Twitter for ideas. The lovely Alejandra sent me this Real Simple article about creative uses for sugar cookie dough, which gave me the idea to make thumbprint cookies. I also had a lot of pre-zested lemons left over, and I already knew I wanted to use them for lemon curd. So I decided that, if life gave me lemon curd and cookie dough, I would make lemon cheesecake thumbprints.

I need to digress here for a moment, because you really need to know just how wonderful this lemon curd is. This is the third time that I’ve made this particular lemon curd using a recipe from The Cake Bible, and each time I make it I fall a little more in love. While some lemon curds can be cloying, this is tart and fresh, and really tastes of lemons. Mixed with cream cheese and a little sugar, it made a pungent, creamy, refreshing filling that was good enough to eat on its own.

My other little twist on these cookies is that I rolled each of the sugar cookies in orange scented sugar before baking them, which gave them a deeper citrus note and a nice sparkle. But in the end, the problem with these cookies was the dough – although I shaped them into little thumbprints and even froze them before hand, they still spread out like crazy and my perfect little indentations were lost. I ended up spooning the filling in circles on top of the cookies. Instead of perfect little thumbprints, they looked like a sugar cookie crossed with a lemon danish.

I can’t in good conscience call these thumbprint cookies, although that’s what they were intended to be. But they were still pretty tasty – I liked the tartness of the filling set against the sweet cookie base (which is still too sweet for my taste, but whatever). Were I to make these again I’d bake the cookies slightly less – the brown edges were crispier than I wanted them to be. And I’ll definitely be using the filling again – hopefully in proper thumbprints next time.

Only nine pounds of dough to go.

Lemon Cheesecake Cookies 2

Man, I'm going to be really sick of sugar cookies by the end of this.

Recipe: Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

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Life Gave Me Lemons: Winter Citrus Cupcakes

Winter Citrus Cupcakes 1

A cupcake for winter - and a photo taken in early morning winter light.

I wish I lived in California for a lot of reasons. The food, the wine country, the weather, the Bay Area, the lefty West-Coasters – there’s many things to love about The Golden State.

But last week I discovered a new, previously unexamined reason – I could grow my own citrus. Nonna, whose parents live out in San Francisco, brought me back lemons from her father’s lemon trees that grow in their backyard. And no, I can’t imagine living in a place where lemons are actually able to grow in one’s backyard. That’s not something that happens in Eugene, Seattle or DC.

Since I’ve started baking more, I’ve begun to look at citrus fruits as treasure troves. You can use the fruit itself in savory salads or salsas, or in desserts, like trifles. You can juice them, and then use the juice to make curds, flavor batters, or make cocktails. You can candy the rinds and coat them in sugar for an elegant cupcake or cocktail decoration. And the oils in the skins are incredibly pungent – adding just a little to your cake or cookie batter will perfume the entire dough. There’s something incredibly satisfying about rubbing lemon zest into sugar and seeing the sugar turn a vibrant yellow color, and smell of fresh, tart lemons.

Needless to say, I was very excited about these lemons. And I happily turned them into citrus cupcakes this weekend, which, in my opinion, are one of the best remedies for the winter doldrums. I made them for a friend’s volunteer meeting and they seemed even more appropriate given the weekend’s snowfall. The cake has a mellow buttery flavor and fine crumb that’s brightened with lemon and orange zest.

This was my first time experimenting with meringue buttercream, where you make a meringue base from whipped egg whites and sugar before adding the butter. I loved the flavor – I added lemon curd and orange juice to the frosting, which gave the buttercream a lovely, tart, bright flavor. But the texture was still a little greasy for my taste – the mouth-feel was just too much like straight butter. I’m intrigued with this new frosting, don’t get me wrong. I think it has potential. But it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.

These cupcakes may be a little labor intensive but it’s the winter. It’s the time for us to hole up in our kitchens, dreaming of California gardens filled with lemon trees.


Lemons. Pre-cupcake.

Recipe: Winter Citrus Cupcakes

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The Downside of All Those Silicone Spatulas


There's a problem with these spatulas.

One of the things that I loved about reading Julia Child’s Memoir, “My Life In France” is her descriptions of her cookware. By her own admission, she was quite the kitchen gadget fiend, and outfitted her kitchen with professional equipment long before kitchenware companies marketed “professional” lines to home chefs. But what really struck me was how durable all her equipment was – her copper pots, giant stone mortar and pestle, and sturdy whisks were meant to last a lifetime.

By comparison, a lot of the stuff in my kitchen is plastic. Spatulas? Plastic. Cutting boards? Plastic. Plates? Plastic (well, melamine). For awhile I had plastic mixing bowls, although I upgraded to those nesting glass ones. Even my new food processor (which I love with the fire of a thousand suns) has a large plastic ring in the lid that allows it to latch closed.

And don’t get me wrong, I love me my silicone spatulas. But especially now that I don’t have a dishwasher, I’ve realized that there’s a big downside to plastic – it smells.

Like, it really smells.

Whenever I chop garlic on one of my plastic cutting boards, no matter how hard I scrub them, they always smell faintly of garlic. My silicone spatulas have a vaguely savory, garlicky smell, borne of stirring various tomato sauces and stir fries. My flat silicone spatula I use for flipping eggs smells . . . well, like eggs. And my Tupperware smells like soap – I’ve actually had to throw some of it away because it made my food taste soapy.

The smell thing is a huge problem for baking – like, if you’re chopping tomatoes on a garlicky cutting board, it’s not the end of the world – but if you’re chopping chocolate or strawberries it’s a big problem. Once I made a vanilla custard that had an “off” savory flavor – it took me awhile, but I realized the culprit was my spatula. Before rolling out pastry, I always sniff my cutting board to make sure that it doesn’t smell strange. And the one time I made a garlicky sauce in the food processor, I had to wash the lid a couple times in the hottest water I could before that plastic implement in the lid stopped smelling like garlic.

So far I’ve dealt with the plastic problem by trying to have separate plastic tools for my pastry and baking, but I always worry that something will leak through and I’ll end up with an off-tasting frosting. The food processor lid is especially worrisome, since I don’t really want to have to buy a separate lid just for processing savory stuff.

I know that plastics are the future and everything – but sometimes I wonder if they’re just creating a whole other set of problems to deal with. Especially for us bakers without dishwashers.

Does anyone else have this problem?

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What Are Your 2010 Culinary Resolutions?

I want to make this cake so badly - in fact, it's a New Year's Resolution.

I’ve been waiting for months to write this post. I realized pretty early on last year that 2009 wasn’t for me, and I’ve been hanging my hopes on 2010 ever since then. I even wrote down a long list of reasons about why 2009 is now tied with 1995 (7th grade) and 2005 (the year after I graduated college) as one of my worst years. But then I scrapped it. After all, I’m not here to tell you why 2009 was hard. I’m here to tell you that 2010 has arrived, and it’s going to be awesome.

I’m already compiling a list of new years resolutions, which include the usual things, like going to the gym regularly, laying off “white” food (bread, potatoes, white rice), and upping my consumption of vegetables. And in case anyone was tracking my list of 2009 domestic resolutions, I still don’t have a headboard, nor have I established a personal filing system. So I guess they’re on the list too.

But rather than share my long list of dull personal resolutions, I’ll just stick to the pasty-related ones. Because, seriously, that’s one of the main reasons why 2010 is going to be awesome – I really want to up my pastry game. Here, in no particular order, are the kitchen projects I want to tackle this year:

  • Homemade marshmallows.
  • Try my hand at candy making.
  • Macarons (not to be confused with Macaroons).
  • Actually make a classic french buttercream frosting (yes, the one with the sugar syrup) that doesn’t dissolve into a puddle.
  • Try various laminated doughs: puff pastry, strudel, and croissants (my last attempt, while tasty, wasn’t quite perfect).
  • Génoise.
  • Take a cake decorating class – so I can finally figure out how to make the sides of my frosted cakes perfectly smooth.
  • Get used to making bread and cakes using a kitchen scale (one of my Christmas presents to myself).
  • Make the cake on the cover of “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes” (another Christmas present).
  • Either take a class or regularly practice piping, since my piping skills are woefully underdeveloped.
  • Buy cake strips (little strips of silicone to put around your cake pans that keep the heat from penetrating the side of the pan too quickly, resulting in flatter, more uniform cake layers).
  • Practice decorating cakes/cupcakes with fondant.
  • Finally buy gel paste (a much more color-intensive way of tinting frosting than food coloring).
  • Finally go to Baked and Wired. (Still have not been!)

And, in blog related projects, I’d like to switch this baby to a custom template. Not that I don’t love this layout – I think it’s just time for a change. I’ve also been working on a new logo with a friend from choir, and I’d like to actually get it on the site, as she’s done some really lovely work.

As for you? Anyone have some crazy thing that you want to cook this year? Anyone planning on making some head cheese? Sausage? Tripe?

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Christmas Traditions – Grandmother Kroener’s Rolls

Rolls 2

The most anticipated dish on my family's Christmas table. No, really.

I can’t really believe that it’s Christmas Eve – this holiday season has gone so quickly that it’s like it barely happened at all. The DC snow storm definitely put a damper on my Christmas shopping, so I’ve been spending today madly running around trying to get all my shopping done. But it actually feels nice to be out doing errands – I spent a total of 8 hours on planes yesterday, and it feels so good to move around.

I don’t have a lot of time to write (and my parents don’t have WiFi, which is a challenge for a blogger and Internet addict like myself), but I wanted to leave you with one final post before Christmas. It’s a family recipe and one of our most sacred Christmas traditions. It’s a recipe for rolls.

These rolls have a very special place on our holiday table. The recipe was passed down from my father’s grandmother, to his mother, to my mother, and now I’m giving it to you. My mother only makes them three times a year – for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Because my mother saved them for special occasions, the rolls took on a rather mystical quality in our household. When we were little, my siblings and I talked about “the rolls” with the same awe and reverence that we talked about Santa Clause.

And it’s no wonder, because the rolls are addictive. The texture is light and bready, and the yeasty dough is just a little sweet. The salt in the dough gives them a savory kick, which is heightened when they’re spread with butter. For a bread lover like myself, the sweet/savory/yeasty flavors and soft texture is irresistible. My standard Thanksgiving meal growing up was a piece of turkey, a little stuffing, and seven or eight rolls.

It goes without saying that I’m super excited to eat the rolls tomorrow.  And I know that, no matter where I am, they’ll always have a place on my Christmas table. Maybe now they’ll also have a place on yours.

Merry Christmas!

Rolls 1

Rolls, in process.

Recipe: Grandmother Kroener’s Refrigerator Rolls

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What to Bake on a Snow Day

Snow day

It's a perfect baking day. What will you be making?

It’s snowing in DC – like, really snowing. There’s a blizzard warning until 6:00 pm tonight and, according to Twitter, DC has already made a mad rush on its grocery stores.

So you’ve stocked up on milk, eggs and (hopefully) even flour – and you’re holed up in the house. This can only mean one thing – epic baking day. I mean, like, epic baking day. It’s a day to bake something complicated and difficult – although not something that needs multiple days worth of rising time (unless you anticipated this baking day and made your bread starter last night).

Good things to bake on a snow day:

  • Cinnamon Rolls – What could be better after coming in from a snowy walk than a hot, warm, gooey cinnamon roll? They’ll take some time to rise, so you can have a leisurely day of baking while watching the snow.
  • Croissants – this is what I’m going to be making today, myself. The rising time isn’t that long, so I can fit it in a day, but because you have to roll (or “turn’) and rest the dough several times you have to be around all day.
  • Gingerbread cookies. These are perfect for a snow day – they’re time consuming because you have to make the dough, chill it, and roll them out, and you can spend time decorating them with royal icing.
  • Guinness Bread (or really, any rustic artisan loaf). This is my own recipe, adapted from The Bread Bible, and I’m seriously thinking about making it today too. The rising time isn’t that long, and there’s nothing more homey and comforting on a snowy day than bread dough rising in your kitchen. I would make this and serve it in thick slices, slathered with butter and sea salt, and eat it with a cup of tea while watching the snow.

What will you be baking today?

Snow day 2

View from my apartment window. So pretty.

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Local Desserts – Poached Pears With Almond Ice Cream and Shortbread

Poached Pear 3

I didn't realize how beige this would be until I put it all on the plate.

Check out my guest post on Going Green DC for a recipe that features local farmer’s market fare for a holiday dessert. The ginger poached pears with almond ice cream and shortbread is a play on Julia Child’s pear and almond tart I made last weekend.

Happy holidays!

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Salty and Sweet Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

Salty and Sweet Chocolate Thumbprints

These cookies did not survive for long after I took this photograph,

In case you missed it, yesterday the Washingtonian Web site featured ModernDomestic in their weekly “blogger beat” feature. The interview with reporter Emily Leaman was really fun to do – mostly because I got to do what I already do here: write about baking. Thanks for everyone’s feedback on the piece – your comments and kudos are very flattering. I’m touched.

However, I know what you’ve come here for, which isn’t to hear about my press coverage (well, except my parents, aka my biggest fans). And, really, I’d much rather be writing about the cookies I made for my friend Victoria’s going away party last Friday.

It was a bittersweet affair, since Victoria, a fellow choir member, was abandoning us for Boston. But it was also a party, and parties are generally fun, even if they celebrate departures. I decided that I wanted to make cookies, since I often overlook them in my current quest to make ever more complex and “impressive” desserts. Which is silly, because cookies are actually really hard to get right. The Washington Post just did an annual cookie feature and interviewed pastry chef Tiffany MacIssac on the complexities of cookies (check out my own interview with MacIssac here).

Maybe I don’t make cookies often because I, too, find them challenging. Take chocolate chip cookies. I can use the exact same recipe, and it will yield entirely different cookies – sometimes they’ll be thin and spread, and other times they’ll be chewy and thick.  Cookies are also prone to burning because they’re small and delicate – I’ve probably burnt more batches of cookies than all other baked goods combined. Plus it’s hard to make cookies pretty – my cookie dough is always rolled unevenly, or my drop cookies end up being all different sizes.

So yes, cookies are a veritable mine field of baking challenges. But, that being said, these salty chocolate thumbprints with chocolate ganache came out really well. Victoria’s party was well supplied with treats and food and I wasn’t sure they’d get eaten. But they were all gone by the time I left.

These cookies owe their magic to the salt, which brings out the chocolate and gives them an addictive salty-sweet quality. I adapted them from a Martha Stewart recipe, but decided to use my own ganache recipe for the filling. The ganache is fudgy and deeply chocolatey, and adds a rich, creamy note to the cookies.

My one note of caution is to not over bake the cookies – you want them to be soft and crumbly, and the centers should be fudgy. The soft cookies and rich ganache melts in your mouth, followed by hit of salt and sweet. Believe me, they’re a little unusual, but I find them completely addictive.

As I mentioned in the Washingtonian article, cookies make great holiday gifts, and any friend with a sweet tooth would be happy to receive a tin of these. Just take care – you may find yourself eating them all before you can package them away!

Salty and Sweet Chocolate Thumbprints 2

Wouldn't you want to get these for Christmas? I know I would.

Recipe: Salty and Sweet Chocolate Thumbprints

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