Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Whole Grain Banana Cake

K, a Brazilian national, was making muqueca, a Brazilian fish stew that JG and I had had at a little restaurant in Cambridge, just around the corner from where K & A used to live. By happy coincidence, it was also the first day of Carnivale, the perfect day to have a Brazilian get together. I had planned on making some banana bread to take over as a hostess gift and had measured out the wet and dry ingredients separately so all I'd have to do was mix it together and bake it after I got off work.

Then I got a message from A, asking if I could bring dessert. Sure!... but what do you pair with fish stew? Avocado mousse seemed too fussy... and I already had my bread measured out to bake... but bananas aren't native to South America... but they've been grown there for a couple centuries now... and I don't know how much time I'll have after work. An extra cup of sugar turned my quick bread into a cake. I'd already put coconut milk [an essential Brazilian cooking liquid] in my wet ingredients, but what else could I add? Avocados are usually mashed with sugar and eaten more like a fruit south of the equator, but I wanted something a little more savory and I wanted a drizzle... Brazil nuts and cashews [cajus] are both native so I stopped at the store on my way home and bought both, but the cashew had a more assertive flavor that I thought would work with the bananas.
All in all, I was pretty pleased by my thrown together dessert.

Recipe: Whole-Grain Banana Cake

You can reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup for banana bread. I omitted most of the butter usually called for since I was using coconut milk, but I did brown some for flavor. I usually put ginger and cardamom in my banana bread, but cinnamon is a native Brazilian spice. I could have candied the nuts, which would have been nice, but I just toasted and salted them... you could also just buy them either way.

3-4 bananas, the older the better

1 1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar [or 1 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar]
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 Tbs butter
1 small can coconut milk [5.5 ounces]
1 Tbs cider vinegar [you could use caju juice if you can find it]
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

1 ripe avocado
3/4 cup Salvadoran Crema [or creme fraiche, or sour cream plus a little sugar]
1/4 cup cashews, toasted or candied, crushed

Set oven to 350F. Place bananas on a foil-lined baking sheet and let sit in the oven while it comes up to heat, then continue roasting until their skins blacken and split. [Or roast them in a toaster oven 350F for 15 minutes or so]. Meanwhile, measure out the dried ingredients into a large bowl. I even put the sugar with the flours to mix it like a quick bread. Oil and flour a 8.5x5 bread pan or 9-in. circular pan.

Once the bananas are done, pull them out and set aside to cool a bit. In a small skillet, brown the butter [don't burn!] and pour into a medium-sized bowl or large glass measuring cup. Add bananas, sans skins, and any accumulated juices. Mash or puree [I use an immersion blender, but leave one banana out to mash for chunks] then whisk in coconut milk, vanilla, and cider vinegar.

Once the oven is ready [mine is slow] whisk eggs into wet mixture. Form a well (pit) in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour/scrape in the wet mix. Gently fold ingredients together until very few streaks remain. Pour/scrape into prepared pan and bake ~75min. for bread pan or ~45 min. for cake pan or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. Move to a cooling rack (or a cold stove burner) and let cool 10 minutes before unmolding and 1-2 hours before cutting. Garnish with avocado cream and chopped cashews.

Avocado cream
Puree avocado with 1/2 cup cream. Mixture will thicken to a whipped cream. I stirred in another 1/4 cup to thin it out a bit but it still didn't drizzle. You could also just puree the avocado with 1/4 cup powdered sugar and make it more like a frosting.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Whole-Wheat Mexican Chocolate Cookies

I always have to suppress an eye-roll when people talk about baking as chemistry. It's not real chemistry. I mean, some of the more avant guard pastry may be, and there are chemical reactions involved in baking, but most home baking is a matter of approximate ratios of flour/sometimes sugar/butter/salt/sometimes egg. You don't have to level off every cup and teaspoon perfectly... eyeballing it works in most cases. You might start off with a quick bread and end up with a cake, but that's because they're not that different... muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. That said, it is possible to throw off your ratios inadvertently -- like forgetting to reduce one ingredient when halving a recipe or accidentally grabbing the 1/3 cup instead of the 1/2 cup -- and it change the texture quite a bit. Still edible, but not quite right.

In the case of these particular cookies, there is a certain point where the batter is basically a soft chocolate mousse... a really, really good chocolate mousse with caramel notes of browned butter, earthy cocoa and espresso and just the right amount of cinnamon. If you eat enough of the dough at this stage you can actually throw off your ratios significantly, rendering the final dough too dry and unfit for anything but a cookie crumb crust base. It, um, happened to someone I know...
Recipe: Whole-Wheat Mexican Chocolate Cookies
These cookies are very thin with a delicate crumb, in part because of the pastry flour. I've only managed to reduce the butter by 25%, but since they're so thin you get a lot of cookies and each one packs a pretty satisfying chocolaty punch. Sometimes I roll them thicker ~1/4” if I want something sturdier to make sandwich cookies. You can omit the sesame and cinnamon for a more basic chocolate cookie flavor, or add 1/8 tsp cayenne for a hint of heat.

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp sesame seeds

8 oz. (16 Tbs/2 sticks) cold butter (divided use)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp espresso powder
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs vanilla

Combine first five dry ingredients and set aside. Brown 4 Tbs butter in a small skillet until golden brown and fragrant. Pour into bowl of your standing mixer and add cocoa, cinnamon and espresso. Turn on low speed and stream sugar into running mixer. [This helps cool it a little so you don't melt the rest of the butter.] Once sugar is fully incorporated, slice remaining butter into large pats and add to somewhat cooled mixture. Increase speed to high and beat until creamed… 2-3 minutes. The color will go from almost black to a rich brown like chocolate frosting. Reduce speed to medium and add eggs yolks, then vanilla. Beat until batter is nice and thick.

Now you’re just a few eggs and some refrigerator time shy of a mousse. DO NOT EAT MORE THAN A SPOONFUL OF THIS LOVELY BATTER OR YOU’LL RUIN YOUR COOKIES! Add the flour mixture, ½ cup at a time and waiting until flour is mostly incorporated before adding next scoop. Divide dough roughly in half and dump into Ziploc bags or wrap in plastic wrap before flattening into disks. Chill dough for 15 minutes, refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze indefinitely [Allow to come to a cool room temp before rolling out]. If chilling, turn on oven to 350F so it'll be ready when you are.

Unwrap dough and place on parchment paper, keeping plastic wrap spread over top. Roll dough to 1/8” thick, remove plastic, and cut into desired shapes. Using an offset spatula or a thin pancake spatula, move shapes to parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes. Once done, slide cookies, parchment and all, onto cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before removing from parchment.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Duck? Duck or Goose?

It's another 65F day here in Austin. A great day to wander around Lady Bird Lake. There're tons of waterfowl overwintering here, but this guy's my favorite.

I think he's a goose, but he may be a duck... I really don't know. He was about six times bigger than the wood ducks and he posed for me for a good 20 minutes. I have no idea what I'm going to do with my goose-feet series, but they were just so interesting. What can he possibly use his crocodile claws for?