Banana Bread

I love bananas. Not only are they delicious, but they’re accessible and go well with pretty much anything. I have yet to meet anyone who hates bananas (besides Ree but I’ve never met her, though). I am down to eat bananas in any shape, way or form; except when they’re brown and spotty. I know what you’re thinking; “that’s when bananas are their best because they’re super soft and super sweet” but I don’t like eating them straight up when they’re at that stage. When they are, they’re closer to death via trash can than being eaten.

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When picking my bananas, I try to get them as green as possible so that they’ll ripen to my liking at home. I find that the bright yellow bananas at the supermarket get all spotty and close to death when I bring them home quicker than the greener ones. I like my bananas bright yellow, with the slightest tinge of green because they’re not too sweet but a bit tart, starchy, and delicious. I’ll even eat them plain yellow and with minimal spots but as soon as they start getting really spotty and turn black, they’re dead to me.

The last hand of nanners we brought home got spotty fairly quickly. I’m not sure why it happened so fast but I purposely let a pair of them get even closer to their death; right before any fruit flies showed up for the funeral. I had been dying to make banana bread (heh no pun intended), so I took advantage of the situation. It’s one of the two ways I’ll eat a banana on its death bed; the other being in a smoothie. Even though I needed a third for this recipe, I trucked on with my two lonely, almost dead nanners.

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I chose this recipe for one reason and one reason only: there’s booze in here! If you know me, you’ll know how much I love putting liquor in almost everything I bake. The irony here is that I barely drink. I raid my dad’s liquor cabinet regularly when baking. He hates it but I do it anyway! My mom got a bottle of Jim Beam Honey Bourbon for Christmas, which he swiftly added to his collection since she’s not much of a liquor drinker. I’m not much of a drinker either but when I saw this, I had to taste it. I’ve heard a lot of good things about bourbon, and wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I popped open the bottle and took a swig. It was warm, sweet and went down easy. I think the best thing about drinking liquor straight up is that warming sensation it leaves going down your throat, and this stuff definitely does that! We still had a bit left in the bottle, so I threw some of it in the batter.

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The banana bread loaf came out a bit short, probably because I only used two bananas, but it was delicious. The loaf developed this beautiful brown crust that covered the soft and tender cake. The bananas are front and center, bringing their distinct taste and sweetness forward. Although it is virtually undetectable, the honey bourbon added just a tiny extra bit of sweetness to the bread that you just can’t get from sugar. Overall, it was just yummy. I fought my impulse of wanting to add chocolate chunks but I may have to next time. Toasted walnuts would also go extremely well in this cake.

I don’t know what it is about banana bread, but it makes me want to intentionally kill all my bananas just so I can make more!

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Deb’s Jacked Up Banana Bread – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 2 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 3/4  light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon honey bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Up to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix.
  3. Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Like nuts in your banana bread? Throw them in! Toasted and chopped walnuts or pecans would work fabulously in here. Same goes with chocolate chunks (just don’t toast them!) 
  • Want a super chocolatey banana bread loaf? Deb got your back.
  • I used honey bourbon but feel free to use whatever dark rum you have, or leave it out entirely if you’d like. 
  • The original recipe uses 1/3 cup of salted butter. If using, omit the 1/2 teaspoon of salt. 
  • Did you notice this is a one bowl wonder? 

Cinnamon Raisin Coconut Bread Pudding

A large bag of sliced white bread recently came into my possession, and I didn’t really know what to do with it. In my house, we eat homemade whole wheat bread (~special snowflake alert~) because it doesn’t make my head hurt, and because it’s easy to make. We stopped buying bread months ago, so eating a slice of processed white bread (or anything highly processed, really) brings an unwanted sugar shock to my body. Since I didn’t want the loaf to go to waste anyway, I decided to make something with it.

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I have never made bread pudding before. It has been on my list for quite a while but I never got around to actually making it. I feel like a bread pudding made with whole wheat bread would be really weird, so that’s why it was still on my list. I’ve always dreamed of eating a challah bread pudding, but that’ll probably be another time. Anyway, with this bag of white bread in hand, I finally took the plunge.

Bread pudding is basically a custard. It actually reminds me of baked French toast; which could probably be a loosely based version of this depending on who you ask. I reckon if you leave the slices whole, it’d be a baked French toast. So, this custard. I am actually really familiar with custards; thanks to my mom, the flan queen. This custard isn’t exactly like my mami’s flan but they are similar. It’s egg and milk based; the two main ingredients in custard. Granted, my mami’s flan has a higher ratio of eggs and milk, but I think I’ll discuss that at a later time 😉

Anyway, this bread pudding is kind of another version of my blondies because I threw a bunch of random things in here that I had lying around my cupboard. I had some coconut milk left over from some caramel sauce, sweetened shredded coconut from a batch of cookies, raisins left over from my breakfasts, and of course the star of the show: the white bread. Technically, you’re supposed to use day old bread but considering we were keeping this loaf in the fridge, I used it as is. I also threw in some cognac because booze makes everything better (and because I ran out of vanilla and wanted some extra flavor in there). I did get a little heavy handed with it, though. Oops! I topped it with some turbinado sugar for crunch before baking and before I knew it, I had bread pudding.

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I gotta be honest. Another one of the reasons I kept putting off making bread pudding was because of something else. One of my neighbors loves bread pudding, so she tried making one. Her final result was a thick and gray blob that had nuggets of dry white bread. How the bread was still dry in there is beyond me, but it turned me off the stuff forever. I was terrified that this bread pudding was going to end up tasting like a regular slice of dry white bread. Thankfully, it didn’t! It was actually kind of amazing. The bread was completely soaked in this boozy and spicy custard; its insides were soft and moist, each bite melting in your mouth. There was a hint of crunch with every bite, thanks to the turbinado sugar topping and toasted coconut shreds. The raisins plumped up, adding some chewiness against the softness of the custardy and crunchy bread pudding.

It was so good; I ate it warm, room temperature, and cold from the fridge! It was delicious every single time. I still got the sugar shock from the bread (and the sugar) but it was so worth it, I’d eat it again in a heartbeat; despite the consequences. I’m glad I actually made this because it really got my gears going. There are so many different variations that I want to try, including a challah bread pudding. I’ll just try and remember to go easy on the alcohol next time 😉

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Cinnamon Raisin Coconut Bread Pudding – adapted from allrecipes.com

Makes one 9″ round pan, or 8×8″ square pan

  • 9 slices of white bread, cubed (crusts included)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups of coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon rum (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, divided
  • 1-2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, for topping (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cube or break bread into small pieces and place in an 8×8 inch square baking pan (or 9 inch round pan). Drizzle the melted butter over bread, and sprinkle with the raisins and half of the shredded coconut.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine eggs, coconut milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and rum if using. Beat until well mixed. Pour over bread, and lightly press down with a fork/spoon/spatula until bread is covered and soaking up the egg mixture. Sprinkle the remaining coconut and turbinado sugar.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly tapped. Cool slightly before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • If you’d like a thicker custard, sub one of the whole eggs for one egg yolk. 
  • It took every ounce of my being to not throw chocolate chunks in here. Use whatever toppings you’d like or have on hand; it’s bound to be delicious anyway!
  • If you have a crust aversion, cut them off the slices of bread before cubing. 
  • You can also use milk, half and half, or heavy cream in place of the coconut milk. 

Brownies

Brownies are one of my favorite chocolate desserts. We go way back, but they have been forgotten recently as my sister and I have been on a blondie kick for the past couple of years. Yes, it has been years since I made a batch of brownies! Crazy, but true. When my sister and I were teenagers, we’d make brownies regularly. So much so, we knew the recipe by heart. There was always a box of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate in my pantry, ready for when the craving would strike. Contrary to what I might’ve stated in the carrot cake post, brownies were really one of the first things I learned to bake on my own. The carrot cake was just a resurrection of my inner baker years later.

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Back in the day, we had a family PC. It was supposedly for the family but really, it was just for me and my sister as we were the only ones who even knew how to use a computer. We still have one but laptops rule the house now. The PC came with a small binder of CD-ROMs that included a variety of programs; one of which was a virtual cookbook. Mind you, this was before I realized that the internet had food related websites, so I stuck to this CD-ROM dearly. It was called MasterCook 5, and it was no doubt my favorite CD to use on the computer. I’d sit there and flip through the various recipes, looking for ones with pictures and video demos. The very first dessert I made by myself was from that CD, but that’s another story for another post ;).

Anyway, the brownies were an instant fave between my sister and I. We were the only ones who ate anything chocolate in our house (still are, actually), so whenever we made these, it was just for the both of us. We’d eat them piping hot out of the oven with spoons, or room temperature and cut into squares. It was our everything.

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Over the years, we stopped baking brownies and at one point, I stopped baking period. These days, that isn’t the case but I had yet to bring back my sister and mine’s first love. When I mentioned brownies to my sister, she instantly agreed and had about as much excitement as she did back in those days. As soon as the chocolate started melting over the double boiler, I got smacked with nostalgia. It took me right back and just overwhelmed me with excitement, too.

Now, these aren’t the exact brownies my sister and I used to make but they are pretty darn close. Deb came to my rescue, again, with her brilliant recipe. This one bowl wonder uses semisweet chocolate, giving these brownies a mellow chocolate taste.  They are low on flour and sugar, which produces a dense and slightly squishy brownie. I swear, I was transported to my teenage years after taking the first bite. They were chewy, fudgey and moderately sweet. It was definitely chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so. The top was crackly and slightly crunchy; adding that little bit of texture to an otherwise soft but dense brownie. These babies were a delicious hit with everyone we shared them with; raving that they were “the best” brownie they’d ever had.  Even the non-chocolate lovers thought they were amazing! I am so happy I decided to revive my love for brownies, and for the trip down memory lane. I’m sure these will become a regular occurrence, like they used to be.

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Brownies – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes one 8×8″ pan; cut into 16 2″ squares

  • 3 ounces (85 grams) semisweet chunks
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment, extending it up two sides, or foil. Butter the parchment or foil or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted.
  3. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even.
  4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free. Let cool and cut into squares. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used a bit of cognac in place of the vanilla because I had run out. It was undetectable!
  • Stickler for accuracy? Use a ruler to make sure each square is even. 
  • Make sure that water does not get into the chocolate when melting over a double boiler; any water will seize the chocolate! Since you’re melting the butter and chocolate together, there’s a chance it may not happen but still, be careful!

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

Before making this recipe, my sister decided she wanted to make it herself. I asked her if she would write a guest post and she accepted! Below is my sister Marilyn’s guest post! Enjoy!

Currently, Lucy is the resident baker at our apartment but there used to be a time where I was the baker. I could make brownies at the drop of a hat and I knew that recipe by heart, too (not anymore; something else has taken its place). Nowadays, she makes everything and if I’m craving anything in particular, I just ask her. Unless they’re plain blondies. She doesn’t really like making them for me without a million other ingredients (i.e. the “everything but the kitchen sink ” blondies she made a while ago) but sometimes I just need that brown sugary goodness without any extra fluff.

Anyway, this time I decided to try my hand at baking again and because I tend to live dangerously (not really), I decided to make sticky toffee pudding cupcakes with a caramel sauce. You can blame the recipe I found in an old issue of Runner’s World.

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The cupcakes looked delicious and I was totally game to try their recipe until I read it completely (rookie mistake!) and saw I needed pastry flour. Normally, I wouldn’t mind buying the special flour but when you’re trying to save money (and space), it’s better to use what you have. So off I went to look for a more accommodating recipe.

After a little research, I found this cake recipe from King Arthur Flour. Now, this recipe also includes the caramel sauce but if you have any dietary restrictions like me (I’m lactose intolerant), then you have to go on the search for alternatives. I found a recipe for a vegan caramel sauce that used coconut milk instead of regular cream and it’s adaptable enough that if you want to add butter, you totally could (personally anything that doesn’t contain much dairy, is a godsend for me. And Lucy. I’ll leave the reason why, to her).

This recipe used only figs but I had some dates hanging around so I decided to use both. I used small to medium sized dried figs and chopped about eight to nine of them to get half a cup and for the dates, which were roughly the same size as the figs, I chopped up about seven to eight. Their size totally depends on your haul of the dried fruit, just aim for half a cup of each if you decide to do it like I did. The recipe also suggests their brand of cake flour (duh) but I had another kind lying around and the cakes came out pretty awesome anyway.

After chopping up the dates and figs, I put them in boiling water and let them sit for about 15 minutes while I got everything else ready. The recipe uses custard cups or ramekins as the baking receptacles and it yields about six, but I used a cupcake pan instead and got nine cupcakes using a ¼ cup sized ice cream scoop to portion them out.

If you plan on trying this vegan caramel recipe, be warned that while it reduces, it will pop and bubble all over the pot. It can be a little scary and you’ll want to stir it while it reduces to control the sputtering but trust me, just let it do its thing for twenty minutes (no matter how scary). Once time is up, you can stir and it will turn from a bubbly looking mess to a smooth caramel sauce. I only made half of the recipe since Lucy and I are the only ones that were going to eat it, and it was enough for all nine cupcakes.

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The cakes were delicious. They were perfectly moist and spongy. You could taste a little bitterness from the molasses but the figs were definitely front and center. The sauce was sticky and delicious. Personally, I found them delicious both separate and together but Lucy found them a little too sweet with the caramel sauce, and thought the coconut was  a little overpowering (whatever, Kyle).

For this first foray into baking after such a long hiatus, it was fun. BUT! I spent a good chunk of time freaking out while making this recipe because Lucy was watching me the entire time. She had me all frazzled and running all over the place because she took it upon herself to question my every move, and quizzed me on the recipe (I had no idea baking had an oral exam portion). It was a miracle you couldn’t taste my nerves and fears in them.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes – adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes six small puddings, or nine standard cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup dried mission figs, chopped; about 8-9 figs
  • 1/2 cup dried dates, chopped; about 7-8 dates
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • ¼ cup soft butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons dark molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cake flour, sifted before measuring
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter six ¾-cup silicone baking cups, oven-safe custard cups, or line nine wells of a muffin pan. Combine the figs, dates and boiling water and let it sit for 15 minutes.
  2. After the 15 minutes, puree the figs, dates and boiling water until smooth. Set aside.
  3. For the batter, beat the 1/4 cup butter, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder until fluffy.
  4. Add in the egg, then the molasses and vanilla.  Slowly incorporate the flour, taking care not to overmix.
  5. Add in the puree and baking soda, and stir into the batter.
  6. Pour into the prepared baking cups or lined muffin pan. If using molds, place them on a baking sheet.
  7. Bake the cakes for 18 to 22 minutes, until a cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center. Remove from the oven, and cool in the molds or cups.

Coconut Caramel Sauce – adapted from A Full Measure of Happiness

Makes about 1 cup of sauce

  • about 1/2 a can of full fat coconut milk (from a 14 oz can)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter (optional, for vegans and those with special tummies like me!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Add the coconut milk, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt to a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring this mixture to a boil, and let it cook until thickened and bubbly; about 20 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and let stand one minute. Add in the butter (if using) and vanilla extract, and stir. Use immediately or store the cooled sauce in a jar or airtight container in the fridge.

Marilyn’s Tips:

  • Make sure your dried fruit is completely soft to make pureeing easy.