Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Best Blueberry Banana Muffins

I always think I can combine two or three recipes to come up with my perfect muffin. So far my attempts at a banana blueberry muffin that has yogurt and oatmeal and whole wheat flour in it have all baked up as little flavorless lumps.

I decided to adjust my sights a little. Banana and blueberry were givens, as those are two things I have in abundance because I cannot survive without an abundance of bananas (brown speckled and ripe) and blueberries (frozen- from my childhood home blueberry farm). Yogurt was in the fridge and whole wheat flour on the counter, so I decided to forego only the oatmeal. Which I suspect was the culprit anyway...

When I first started baking, Martha was my muse, and so it's only fitting that I turned back to her in this moment of need. Thus, I adapted her Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffin and found them AWESOME.

These muffins bake up fluffy with perfectly rounded tops, studded with blueberries and banana bits. They tastes buttery. Complex. Delicious. I ate like 4 within an hour of taking them out of the oven. I wish that was an exaggeration.

Blueberry Banana Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 or 3 very ripe bananas, mashed- 3/4 cup
1/3 cup vanilla yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1.5 cups blueberries (frozen is fine)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a spray oil to grease a 12-cup muffin pan. You can also butter and flour the pan or use cupcake liners.

Mix the flours, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Mash the bananas and mix them with the yogurt and vanilla. In a large bowl using a hand mixer, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated. Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients, mixing between each addition until just blended. Don't over-mix. Stir in the blueberries and divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each to the top.

I made a ripe-banana shrine to these lovely, lovely muffins.

Also, I've been listening to this song non-stop and I thought I'd share. Zach Hurd- Changing Landscapes

Friday, March 4, 2011

Chocolate Turtle Cheesecake

I think we can all agree that it's hard to know what to get dads on gift giving holidays. And no matter how much my dad actually loves getting socks, I still feel like a schmuck every fathers' day, birthday and Christmas as he opens his gift and feigns surprise. "Just what I wanted! Socks! I was afraid you were going to break from tradition and get me something else this year..."

Which is why it's nice be able to hand him an additional package, one that I can identify with desiring. Dad's favorite candy is the delicious chocolate turtle.
photo from Demet

Chocolate covered-caramel smothered-toasted pecans are dad's idea of a good time. And if we're lucky, he'll gift us with one chocolate turtle each.

We can only assume they're called turtles because of the vaguely turtle shape... although if I ever see turtles that look like this in my local pond, I'm going to have serious questions for our waste management center.

While I'm of the opinion that nuts ruin many a perfectly good dessert, I think this is a pretty winning combination. It's an incredibly easy way to dress up a dessert, too, just add chocolate, caramel and pecans. Plain old vanilla ice cream becomes a turtle sundae! Chocolate cake gets a turtle makeover! Turtle brownies! And the reason we're here today: Turtle Cheesecake.

I think a lot of people are intimidated by cheesecakes because of the long bake time, the longer cool and chill time and the very real risk of crackage. However, a cheesecake is pretty non-fussy when compared to cakes and tarts. After the crust, it's just mix-and-go! The only secrets are planning ahead and a water bath. I now use a water bath every time and cheesecake fissures are a thing of the past. And the beauty of the turtle cheesecake is that even if there are cracks, they're hidden under the turtle topping.

Turtle Cheesecake, recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan and Emeril Lagasse

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
First, prepare the crust:

2-3 cups finely crushed oreos (depending on how thick you like your crust) (a food processor makes this so easy!)
6-10 T melted butter (don't over-do the butter when it comes to an oreo crust. Add it until it just sticks together when you pinch the crumbs, before it looks all moist.)

Combine the butter and the oreo crumbs, then press the mixture to the sides and bottom of a springform pan. Bake the crust for 10-15 minutes. Let it cool while you make the cheesecake filling.

Filling Ingredients:

2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips or (preferably) roughly chopped dark chocolate

Place a pot of water on the stove to boil for the water bath. Get out a baking or roasting pan large enough to fit the springform pan.

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the sugar and mix a minute more (the smoother this batter is, the better). Scrape down the sides and add the vanilla and eggs, blending well between each addition. Finally, add the salt and heavy or sour cream and mix until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour the cheesecake filling into the crust and smooth the top. It's a good idea to put aluminum foil around the bottom and sides of the springform pan to make sure that no water leaks in and makes your crust soggy. Put the cheesecake into the baking pan and pour the hot water around it so that it comes half way up the sides of the cheesecake pan.

Bake the cheesecake at 325 for about an hour and a half, until set. You can tell its set because if you shake it, the whole surface moves only slightly, opposed to the middle still jiggling. Turn off the oven and let it cool with the door propped open, still in its water bath, for about an hour. After the hour, place the cheesecake on a rack to come to room temperature. (When I'm feeling lazy but have some time, I'll take the cheesecake out of the oven after baking and let it come to room temp in the water bath.)

Chill the cheesecake in the fridge for at least four hours, preferably over-night.

Before serving, make the topping.

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups pecan halves or chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup caramel sauce*

Pour the cream over the chocolate and microwave for about 45 seconds. Let sit for a minute and then whisk until smooth. Pour it over the cheesecake. Let set in the fridge for 10 minutes. Finally, sprinkle the top with the pecans and drizzle the caramel sauce over the whole thing.

*You can used a jarred caramel sauce, but of course I recommend making your own. Here's a great recipe.

You can find this and more treats over at sweets for a saturday.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Caramelized Bread Pudding with Cinnamon and Chocolate

Oh my gosh! So many people are getting married this summer! I'm estimating that we will attend at least 6 weddings this spring/'s starting to remind me of the summer after college when all my friends tied the knot. I spent all my savings on gifts and bridesmaid dresses that summer.

Don't get me wrong, weddings are a blast and I'm so excited for all of our almost-married friends, but your boss starts looking at you funny when you tell him you'll need another weekend off for - "Let me guess, Mikaela. A wedding." Yup.

And that's not even the craziness thing that's happening...even crazier is that the first round of friends to get married? The ones from the summer after college? They're starting to have BABIES. Mind-blowing. BABIES. Inconceivable.

We want kids, lots of them even, but as we always say...just not right now. Sorry mom.

That said, I'll tell you what we do want right now, what marrieds and singles and parents and children all want right this very minute, even if they don't know it: We all want BREAD PUDDING.

Specifically we all want this bread pudding, and that is because it has a very high custard-to-bread ratio. Nothing is more disappointing than dry, clunky bread pudding, but I'll give you the secrets to bread pudding nirvana:

1. Chocolate layer on the bottom.
2. Only one layer of bread, smothered with butter.
3. A veritable waterfall of custard.
4. Hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.
5. And...wait for it...a caramelized top. That's right. You brulee the top before serving. Could this get any better? No! I attest it could not.

This layered bread pudding is a FANTASTIC respite from the dense bread puddings that seem to have been made from pureed bread.

The recipe is adapted from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques, phenomenal cookbook filled with recipes for entire meals organized by season. Every recipe is pure gold.

There's also a helpful video of Suzanna Goin making this bread pudding at Martha Stewart's website.

Caramelized Bread Pudding with Chocolate and Cinnamon

2 T unsalted butter, softened
5 slices brioche or white bread, crusts removed
3 egg yolks
3 eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 t salt
1 cup dark chocolate, chopped or chips
plus about a tablespoon of sugar for the caramelizing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the bottom of a 9x9 baking dish with the chocolate.

Butter one side of each slice of the bread, cut it into quarters, and layer on top of the chocolate. The edges of the pieces should overlap a bit, but there should be only one layer of bread.

Whisk the eggs and egg yolks with the brown sugar, then whisk in the cream, whole milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour the custard over the bread slices, and use your fingers to push down on the bread slightly to make sure it's not dry anywhere.

Place the bread pudding baking dish into a roasting pan and into the oven. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water so the water comes half way up the side of the bread pudding dish. This will help it cook evenly and keep the custard smooth.

Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes until the bread is slightly puffed up and the custard is set. Let cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle the top of the bread pudding with sugar and caramelize with a torch or under the boiler. If using the boiler, watch it carefully so it doesn't burn and the custard doesn't curdle.

Scoop out of the pan with a large spoon to serve, making sure you get all of the yummy chocolate on the bottom.

Mmmm, enjoy. Seriously, this is so good I want some right now...I know what I'll be making at the restaurant tomorrow!