Sunday, January 29, 2017

Upside-down Banana Coffee Cake

I have to admit it, my brain is hard wired. By hard wired, I mean that it is constantly running with heavily detailed thoughts of this and that. I have yet to master the ability to think of nothing or empty my head. Remember the Harry Potter scene where Albus Dumbledore takes his wand and pulls out thoughts from his head and puts them in a magic bowl for future reference? Wish I had a magic bowl these days.

So here I am today, with my brain running in high speed, trying to focus on baking. I had many different ideas come to mind when I stumbled upon this recipe. However, there were some factors that eliminated a lot of the flavor combinations I came up with. One of them was that every fruit is not suitable for the upside-down thing. The other factor is that lately I have been disappointed with the produce department at the grocers. I do need an answer to the billion dollar question-is there really a big demand for rock hard fruit or fruit that will be rotten in the next hour?

Anyhow, the end result was that I still stuck with banana, the chosen fruit that was in the recipe. I bought some of the little or mini bananas for this recipe. I find them to be sweeter than the standard. The conversion was 6 of the little bananas to the 2 medium bananas.

After completion, I decided that the banana was a good choice. Slightly warmed, the pecan topping paired with the bananas over the moist, fluffy layer of cake is a pretty tasty way to start the day. I  think my brain slowed down just a bit when I had my piece, actually allowing me to focus on just how delicious a good slice of coffee cake can be.

Upside Down Banana Coffee Cake
adapted from Southern Living/Sept 2006

2 eggs, separated
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs rum
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter( divided into 1/4 cups or half sticks)
3/4 cup white granulated sugar (divided into 1/4 and 1/2 cups)
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups baking mix (I used Bisquick brand)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 medium ripe bananas 
Pull out a 10 inch cast iron skillet and add 1/4 cup of butter. Once melted, use a pastry brush to brush up the side interior of the skillet. Add the rum and swirl the skillet around to make sure the interior bottom is covered evenly with the butter and the rum is mixed in and remove from heat. Top evenly a layer of brown sugar and then an even layer of toasted pecans. Set aside.

Fill a medium size bowl with the remaining butter (1/4 cup) and 1/2 cup of the white sugar. Cream together until light and fluffy. Add one egg yolk and beat for 30 seconds and repeat with the second egg yolk. Using a small bowl, whisk together the milk and the vanilla extract. Then pour it into the butter sugar mixture. Add the sour cream and beat until all is evenly blended. Set aside. Then preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk the cinnamon and baking mix together in another bowl. Then fold this dry mix into the wet egg/milk/sugar batter. Using another bowl, fill with the egg whites. Beat egg whites until they are at the soft peak stage. Continue to beat and as you pour in steady stream of the remaining sugar (1/4 cup). Beat time is complete one the whites are at the stiff peak stage. Fold the beaten egg white/sugar blend into the batter.

Peel the bananas and cut the width in half, forming 2 equal pieces. Take each half and slice lengthwise into three pieces. The end result should be 12 pieces, about 2 1/2- 3 1/2 inches in length. Arrange the pieces on top of the pecans in a spoke pattern. If using mini bananas, just slice each lengthwise into 2 pieces.

Spoon the batter over the bananas and use a spatula to smooth out evenly. Place filled skillet in oven and bake until golden on top and tester comes out clean. This should take about 45-50 minutes.

Once baking is complete, let skillet cool on rack for 10-12 minutes. Then invert onto serving platter or cake board. Serve warm.
Tips and Notes:
1. To make sure the cake to comes out easily, the edge must be loose from the side of the skillet prior to inverting. If after the 10 minute cooling it still seems stuck, run a knife around the edge before inverting.

2. The topping is very sticky, so once inverted do not remove the skillet until after 5 minutes, to make sure gravity works.

3. If your skillet retains a lot of the sticky pecan mixture after cake removal, scrape out and add it to the top of the cooling cake.

5. Do not try to create in another type of pan, the skillet insures a better result when inverting the cake.

6. If you want to decline on purchasing the baking mix, you can use one of the various recipes from the net to create the baking mix blend.

                               **LAST YEAR:Caribbean Bars**

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Inside Out German Chocolate Cake

I guess today I am doing a little reflecting on life. When I was a kid, life was just a playground. When I was a teen life became dramatic because problems felt like the end of the world. Now at this point in life I realize that it is the struggles in life that has shaped us into who we are today.

Knowing that there are more problems to come-some will be worse and some not, helps to change your perspective about the problem. It allows you face the problem head on with some dignity.

Then the day after you have dealt with the problem (which is my favorite part), is the rebirth. The beginning of a new day. Which means its time for some birthday cake! This sweet German Chocolate cake recipe is a keeper and a wonderful choice on such a day. The traditional icing as a filling and the chocolate glaze ladled over the top amps up the standard in quite a delicious way.

So enjoy a slice of this special cake and focus on the many things that a new day can bring. After all, you just successfully drove over a bump in life's journey. Enjoy!

Inside Out German Chocolate Cake
adapted from Epicurious

6 tbs melted butter
1/8 tsp almond extract
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup and 1 tbs dutch cocoa

1 tbs vanilla extract
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
7 oz sweetened flaked coconut
4 oz chopped pecans/volume is 1 cup

1 1/4 or 2 1/2 sticks of cups of butter
10 oz semi-sweet chocolate (chopped bar or chips)
3 tbs light corn syrup

Prepare 3 round 9 inch cake pans by oiling the interior and lining the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fill a large bowl with the melted butter, egg, egg yolk, milk, vanilla and almond extract. Beat on low speed until blended. Set aside.

In another bowl, sift together the salt, baking powder, baking soda, flour and cocoa powder. Whisk in the sugar. Empty the sifted ingredients into the wet mixture and stir together until it becomes like a thick frosting. Pour in the boiling water and stir again until thoroughly mixed in.

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the batter and fill one cake pan. Repeat this process for the other 2 cake pans. Should you have any batter left after the measurements, divide evenly into the 3 pans.

Place the cake pans in the oven, starting with 2 on the upper third and one on the bottom third of the oven racks. Bake for about 10 minutes, then rotate pans 180 degrees and switch racks. Let bake for another 10-15 minutes. Cakes are done when tester comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and place on cooling rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the outside edge of the cake and inside edge of pan, then invert onto racks. Peel off the parchment carefully and re-set the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Once the cakes are done, then it is time to make the filling. Take out 2 baking sheets. Fill one with the chopped pecans and one with the sweetened coconut. Spread the contents of each pan out evenly. Put the coconut pan on the lower third rack and the pecan pan on the upper third rack. The total baking time for both will be about 12-18 minutes, however, the contents of the pans will have to be stirred every 4-6 minutes. Once toasting time is complete, remove pans and set aside. Then re-set the oven temperature again, this time for 425 degrees.

Take a baking pan and place a pie pan in the center. Fill the baking pan full of water until it comes up to the halfway mark on the pie pan. Fill the pie pan with the sweetened condensed milk and mix in the vanilla extract. Seal the top of the pie pan with foil. Place baking pan water bath with pie pan in the center into the oven. Set the timer for 45 minutes. After this interval, remove the pan and add more water in order for the level to get back to the original depth. Place in oven and bake again until milk is thick and brown. This should take about 30-45 minutes. Once done, empty contents into a heat proof bowl and stir in coconut and pecans. Cover and set aside.

For the glaze, melt the butter in a saucepan and remove from heat. Stir in the corn syrup and the chocolate. Continue to stir until all is melted and reserve out about 1 cup. Chill the cup in the refrigerator for about an hour or place in freezer and check periodically until it reaches a spreadable frosting consistency.

For assembly, place pieces of parchment on top of a round cake board, covering the circumference and about 1 inch in width. Place one cake layer in the center of the round. Measure out half of the filling and place it on the cake. Use a spatula dipped in water, smooth out the filling evenly and leave about 1/4 inch border of cake on the edge. Repeat with the second layer. Then place the third layer on top.

Take out the spreadable frosting and frost sides and top of cake. Should you not have enough for a thin coat, chill some more from the saucepan to finish. Lastly, pour the glaze from the saucepan over the cake, so it drips down the sides. Should some of the sides not be covered, use a spoon and scoop up the excess glaze that has dripped to the bottom. Spoon over the sides not covered.

Place cake in fridge to set for about 1 hour. Before serving, carefully remove pieces of parchment paper around the base of the cake. Then bring cake to room temperature and slice.

Tips and Notes:
1. The butter/chocolate glaze may not be your preference, but bear in mind the filling is designed to be the stronger of the two. A sugary glaze or sweet ganache may be too much in combination with the filling.

2. The layers of this cake are not thick. Should you desire more thickness, increase the ingredients and bake time of the cake batter.

3. There are many ways to cook the condensed milk, but this method is a little safer than boiling the can. Also, the hue and thickness of the cooked milk is a personal preference for the filling.

                                  **LAST YEAR: Apple Dulce De Leche Empanadas*

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Italian Christmas Pastry

Let's face it, pastry is perfect if you are looking to get away with thick bread type of breakfast rolls and scones. It is always the pastry filling that takes center stage in flavor rather than the shell that houses it. This is true for eclairs, cream puffs and other types of pastry.

With so many cream filled pastries out there on the market, the fruit and nut type of fillings have become forgotten. This italian type of recipe moves the pastry spotlight from cream to fruit/nut fillings.

In review of recipes across the net, there was not any particular one that had the flavor combination that I favored. After some thought and experimentation, I came up with dough that has a touch of citrus flavor and a filling combination of orange, cranberry, cinnamon and walnuts.

The things I liked about this recipe was that the dough did not have any rising time, so it came together quickly. The filling was fairly easy as well, with the simple task of mixing together and leaving sit overnight. It was the assembly where the test of skills came in, but I was in the mood for this type of project. Also, I feel the reward in the effort was the stunning appearance as well as the taste of these delicious coils.

Italian Christmas Pastries
by flourtrader

1/2 cup orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 lb chopped walnuts
1 lb dried cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs cinnamon

3 eggs
zest from 2 lemons
3/4 cup Limoncello liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
4-6 cups flour
toothpicks (to hold coils together)
1 cup of honey (topping)

Start by making the filling. Mix the orange juice and orange liqueur together in a medium size bowl. In another, smaller bowl, stir the cinnamon and sugar together until thoroughly blended. Mix the dry with the liquid mixture. Add the chopped walnuts and cranberries, stirring until everything is coated with the wet batter. Cover and let sit overnight on the counter.

The next day, you will complete the process with making the dough, forming the pastries and baking. To make the dough, sift together 4 cups of flour with the baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside. Using another bowl, whisk together the eggs, zest, extract, vegetable oil, liqueur and sugar. Measure out 1/4 cup and reserve, setting aside for later.

Clear off a flat surface for the dough. Pour sifted ingredients onto the surface and form a well in the center. Pour some of the wet blend into the center and mix with a fork or clean hands. Pour more of the wet batter out and mix with the flour and repeat the process (not using the reserve) until a smooth dough is formed. You may need to add more flour in the process. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and dust a baking sheet with flour.

Separate the dough into 8 equal balls. Place 7 on a cookie sheet and cover. Prepare another flat surface by dusting with flour. Take the 8th dough ball and roll out into a long rectangular strip, about  1/4 inch thick and 5-6 inches wide. Using a knife or a fluted pastry wheel, cut off all edges to make even and cut lengthwise into 2 strips. Use the excess to patch and repair holes, dampening with reserved wet mixture. 

Using the filling blend, make a line of filling down the center of one of the strips. Now comes the tricky part... Fold the side edges of the dough upwards and start coiling into a circle. The dough edges must remain upright so the filling does not spill all over the pan when baking. Once the circle is formed, use toothpicks to hold together and transfer to the prepared baking sheet(s). Keep in mind that the pastry does not expand very much when baking.

Continue to form the pastries until all the dough and filling is used up. Should the balls of dough dry out during this process, use the reserved wet mixture to dampen the outside and knead into dough ball before rolling out.

Bake pastries until lightly browned.This should take about 25-35 minutes. Remove and place baking sheet on cooling rack. Warm up the honey in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds. Then brush the warm pastries with the honey and let cool completely.

Tips and Notes:

1. Make sure that your coils are not overfilled, the filling should be 1/2-3/4 inch wide when placed onto the dough strip.

2. When preparing the filling, consider how chunky you want it. Make the walnut pieces as small as you want and cut up the dried cranberries if you prefer. The smaller the chunks, the easier to work with.

3. Remove the toothpicks after 15 minutes cooling time. The longer you wait increases the chance of the pastry crumbling.

4. I tried several methods when forming the coils. Folding over and then placing upright to coil is more difficult.

5. Coil the dough around easily, do not make real tight; the toothpicks will help them hold together.

6. After you coil two strips, stir the filling ingredients so the liquids do not settle to the bottom in the time it takes you to assemble all the coils. A watery filling will spill out of the pastries and burn onto the pan when baking.

                                   **LAST YEAR: Pistachio Financiers**

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Almond Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Today's post is a milestone for my blog, it is the 500th post. Yes, it is actually hard to believe I have made and posted that many items. There are lots of blogs that die off after the first two years, but I am happy to say after all these posts, my passion still remains. There are so many projects and things I have yet to try and master, it is hard to even imagine stopping. Now on to this recipe...

When someone mentions shortbread cookies, visions of English teatime comes to mind. However, these type of cookies have such a wonderful flavor, it is impossible to limit them to eating only at teatime.

The traditional shortbread cookie is a 1-2-3 part blend. One part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour. This particular recipe is not exact to those specifications in regards to the flour content, but it does not detract from the taste.

Shortbread can have many variations. For today's post, I decided to create a teatime cookie with a touch of chocolate. Also, even though it is a butter cookie, the additional flavor of almond was added. The almond flavor is derived from the almond flour and almond extract. This recipe makes 2- 2 1/2 dz cookies.

Almond Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
by flourtrader

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup almond flour or meal
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1-2 tbs almond extract
3/4 cup mini choc chips
1 cup or 2 sticks of butter (room temp)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the two types of flour in a medium size bowl and set aside.

Then fill another bowl with the softened butter and almond extract. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping at intervals to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Sift the powdered sugar into this mixture. Beat again until the sugar is distributed into the butter.

Take out a wooden spoon and mix the flour blend into the butter batter until a dough is formed. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Shape the dough into balls and place 2 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Then flatten into circles about 2-3 inches in diameter. Place in oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. Let cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to rack to completely cool.

Tips and Notes:

1. The amount of extract you use is according to how strong you want the almond flavor in the cookie.

2. Almond meal or almond flour can be used, depending on your preference. Almond meal is not as finely ground as flour. I used almond meal and, as you can see by the picture, there are flecks of almond showing in the cookies.

                                 **LAST YEAR: Orange Liqueur Bundt Cake**