February 26, 2009

Two Banana Walnut Breads

The VEGAN one:

Err um I'm not a vegan but I felt like trying this recipe.  Vegan baked goods peak my curiosity because I can't help but wonder how they work.  I am so used to the old butter, sugar, flour, eggs scenario that it's hard for me to imagine things working any other way.  I'm definitely not averse to trying new things, in fact I think I might even like trying new things too much.  I'm one of those people who, usually to my disadvantage, likes to order something different at restaurants I've already been to even if I know there's that one thing on the menu I love.  But back to vegan.  There is just something so suspicious, so tricky, so... clever? about vegan baked goods.  

In addition to that mysterious enticement, I also wanted to try this recipe because it was raved about on bread and honey and I feel like I can trust them.  But unfortunately, I thought it was just ok.  The texture is moist but a bit too doughy and on the first day, it really didn't taste much like bananas because the molasses and spice flavor overpowered the fruit.  On the second day, the banana taste became more pronounced but it was still kind of mediocre.  Don't get me wrong, it's definitely not bad.  In fact it is totally passable as bread but it's not exactly what I'm looking for when I think banana bread.

I don't know why I haven't learned since my last foray into "low-fat banana bread" that perhaps banana bread just isn't supposed to be low-fat.  Perhaps it's supposed to have a stick of butter in it like the best banana bread I've made so far (over Thanksgiving) and for some reason haven't posted about until now.  So here goes... (read on under the VEGAN recipe)

the VEGAN one
Adapted from the Veganomicon cookbook via bread and honey


3 very ripe bananas
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas.  Add the sugar, applesauce, oil, and molasses, and whisk briefly to incorporate.  Sift in the flours, baking soda, spices, salt and walnuts. Use a wooden spoon to mix until the wet and dry ingredients are just combined (do not use an electric mixer).

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes [mine took 50]. The top should be lightly browned and a knife inserted through the center should come out clean.  Remove from oven and invert onto a cooking rack; flip the bread right side up and let cool.

the BUTTERY one:

This banana bread was great.  Everyone at Thanksgiving loved it and probably ate a little too much of it before digging in to the traditional Thanksgiving fare.  It's moist but in a bread-y way, not a dough-y way, full of banana flavor, sweet, rich and perfect for walnuts.  The recipe is originally "Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts" but despite my chocolate loving tendencies, I can say without a doubt that this doesn't need any chocolate.  It does just fine without it.

the BUTTERY one
Adapted from Bon Appétit


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 large mashed ripe bananas
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9x5x2 1/2-inch metal loaf pan. Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine walnuts and 1 tablespoon flour mixture in a small bowl and toss to coat.

Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in mashed bananas and vanilla extract. Beat in flour mixture. 

Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes.  Turn out onto rack and cool.

February 14, 2009

The Best Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake: the perfect dessert for Valentines day, or perhaps, the birthday of your favorite Southern friend, which as luck would have it falls on the day after Valentines day. I, of course, made this cake for the latter reason.

This was my second time making Red Velvet Cake and my second time using this recipe which, with a few easy changes, is definitely a keeper. The cream cheese frosting is incredible and I'm not even a big fan of cream cheese frosting. It's silky, tinged with vanilla and just down right awesome. The cake has a supremely moist crumb and a subtle, yet rich chocolate flavor due in part to the fact that I upped the cocoa content from 2 tbsps to 1/3 cup (not to give myself all the credit or anything since epicurious reviewers were instrumental in that change).

The recipe is a little finicky- dirtying three separate bowls for ingredients and alternating wet and dry in three and four additions, respectively. And maybe all this attention to detail isn't necessary but I always try to follow the recipe because there must be some reason behind it, right? Plus, I wouldn't want to be at fault for bad tasting cake, but I will surely take the praise for a good tasting (and looking) confection.

And there is nothing quite like Red Velvet Cake. It has such a distinct flavor that is worth every bit of time you may devote to making it. It's always been a crowd pleaser and it's also a cake that not everyone has tried, so if you're on the market for something a little more out there than chocolate cake, Red Velvet is surely the way to go.

Red Velvet Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit
*My only regret is that my cake didn't turn out as red as I would have liked it to be because I only bought 1 package of food coloring, which equaled about 1 tbsp of red coloring. So if you want a redder cake, splurge on two packs of color.


2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured) [I used all purpose, see note*]
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2- 3 tablespoons red food coloring (depending on the color you want)
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs

*substitution: 1 cup - 2 tablespoons all purpose flour is equal to 1 cup of cake flour

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature [I use 1 regular, 1 reduced fat]
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar


For Cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, oil, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions.

Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 27 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely.

For Frosting:
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over top of cake. Top with second cake layer, flat side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.)

February 12, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cake-ies?

I had been craving chocolate chip cookies for awhile.  Nothing fancy, just some buttery, chewy chocolate chip cookies.  But I held out, didn't have enough time to make them, didn't want a huge batch of cookies sitting in my kitchen tempting me.  

But I couldn't hold out any longer.  The cookies in the coffee shop kept starring at me, so I knew I had to make some.  Plus, one of my friends is having a birthday potluck tomorrow, which means that not ALL of these cookies will be entering my stomach and works as a perfectly legitamate excuse to make them.

At first I had been looking at a recipe for Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies.  They looked good and simple, but after waiting so long I decided to be a little more daring with these Banana Chip Cookies of Heidi's.  Of course, I changed up a few things based on the ingredients I had.  Mainly, I didn't include banana chips or nuts and instead made half with only chocolate chips and the other half with chocolate chips, coconut and cinnamon. 

They hardly spread out in the oven and came out looking similar to muffin tops or scones, but I was excited to try one nonetheless.  I mean, they are chocolate chip cookies.  When I bit into one, I was surprised.  It didn't seem like a cookie at all; it was cake-y, soft, not that buttery and with a slightly moist crumb.  I was confused.  Did I do something wrong?  I checked the recipe again and I hadn't, so I suppose this is they way they're supposed to be.

It's not like they're bad or anything.  They're not.  They just don't seem like cookies... at all. With that said, I definitely preferred the variety I made with the coconut and cinnamon over the plain chocolate chip ones, so I'm putting the recipe for those here.  The flavor was layered and nutty from the toasted wheat germ, whole wheat flour and coconut with a subtle spice from the cinnamon.  I think that maybe if I don't think of them as cookies, I might enjoy them more.  So, perhaps, then, they should be called cake-ies.

*Note: I have just realized these, being "cake-ies" and all, taste quite good with a little frosting (chocolate or vanilla, take your pick) spread on top.  So, if you'd like to make frosted cookies (like those totally artificial, yet somehow appealing, grocery store confections), you can press down the dough so it has a flat top before putting it into the oven and frost them after they've cooled.

Chocolate Chip Cake-ies
Adapted from 101Cookbooks

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (toasted) wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup natural cane sugar (or brown sugar) [I used brown]
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips [I used 1/2 dark chocolate/ semi-sweet chips]
1/2 cup unsweented shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, racks in middle/upper middle. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, or stand mixer, beat the butter until lightly and fluffy, then beat in the sugar until it is the consistency of a thick frosting. Beat in the eggs one at a time, incorporating each fully before adding the next, and scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times along the way (important!). Stir in the vanilla. Add the reserved flour mix in two increments, stirring/mixing a bit between each addition (but not too much). By hand, stir in the chocolate chips and coconut and mix just until everything is evenly distributed.

Drop 1 heaping tablespoon of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart and bake for about 7 - 8 minutes, until barely golden on top and bottom. Resist over baking, they will come out dry and not as tasty. Cook on racks.

Make about 24 cookies.

February 3, 2009

Carrot Raisin Walnut Muffins

I've been making a lot of soups lately, partially because it's so cold and partially because it's so easy.  Most simple soups start out the same way: with onions, celery, carrots and maybe some garlic all chopped up and softened with some olive oil in the bottom of a large pot.  Then comes the broth (or even water) and the rest of ingredients.  Boil it until it reduces to your liking and ta-da! Great tasting homemade soup. But I digress.

So it was my new soup making craze that led my eye to some rather good looking carrots in the grocery store a few days ago.  Normally, I never give carrots a second look but this soup kick along with their particularly vibrant orange color and suspiciously symmetrical shape caused me to plop them right into my cart.  And that's when it hit me: Carrot Muffins! I love Carrot Cake, so Carrot Muffins sounded just right.  My desire was further confirmed when I was reading Kath's blog and she pictured a lovely Carrot Raisin Walnut Muffin her husband had brought home from work- Carrot Raisin Walnut, now that sounded perfect.

Since I wanted to make muffins, not cupcakes, I knew I also wanted them to be healthy and I had the perfect recipe in mind.  I have been craving  the flavors from that cinnamon-y Zucchini Bread I made over winter break since I got back.  So, I decided to adapt that recipe to fit the extra ingredients I wanted to incorporate into these muffins.  

And they came out perfectly.  They are a moister muffin without the crumbly topping that some people see as essential to a good muffin, but I am not some people.  In fact, I don't mind at all because they lack nothing in flavor or texture.  The moistness is actually very pleasant especially with the textural interest of the raisins and walnuts.  The spiciness of the cinnamon complements the subtle vegetal sweetness of the carrots while the walnuts add crunch and the plumped raisins provide an unexpected complexity, as well as an added burst of syrupy sweetness.

Carrot Raisin Walnut Muffins
makes about 18 muffins


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce [I think plain yogurt would also work nicely]
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups shredded carrots
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray 18 muffin tins with oil (you could also butter them or use cupcake liners).  Sift first 9 ingredients into a medium bowl.  Stir in the carrots until they are well coated with the dry mixture.  Beat sugar, oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla to blend in large bowl.  Add dry ingredients and combine well.

Transfer batter to prepared muffin tins. Fill each muffin tin 3/4 of the way.  Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.  Cool muffins in pan for about 10 minutes and then remove using a thin knife if needed.  Place onto racks and cool completely.