I’ve been on something of a tear recently in regards to cooking and baking. I’ve been trying new recipes left and right (some of which even turn out well, natch), cooking dishes for potlucks and parties, and baking goodies for trips. In lieu of doing other tasks I really should be doing – ironing and vacuuming my floors, for instance – I’ve been in the kitchen. Lately, it’s just been so relaxing, almost like an escape from some of the less pleasant parts of life right now.
In truth, usually my zeal for cooking ebbs and flows depending on how busy I am with work and friends (and if I’m dating someone … somehow I cook less when I’m out and about – and I realize that sounds sad!). Nothing kills the ability to cook like coming home from week-long work travel to a pantry and fridge void of fresh fruits, veggies, and meal options in general. But here specifically, I think I’ve just been procrastinating on other responsibilities which I don’t want to deal with at the moment. In short, I’ve been distracting myself with cooking. Oh, how negligent of me! But oh, how much fun it is!
I won’t go into the things I really should be doing right now, but I will go into the delicious delicacies I’ve been whipping up. Unfortunately, I intended to publish this post two weeks ago, but it’s finally getting done now. Anyway, first off was a foray into the realm of breakfast. My love of pancakes has been pretty well documented here, here, and here, so it was only natural that I should investigate a new type of pancake, right? I’ve been devouring Molly Wizenberg’s book My Homemade Life, and her recipe for Dutch pancakes really caught my eye – of course. It was quick and easy, if a bit daunting size-wise for breakfast. However, it baked into to a light and fluffy poofy cake of a thing which reminded me strongly of the indulgent Yorkshire pudding my family makes every Christmas dinner. That, of course, is baked with drippings from our standing rib roast instead of cream, but the texture was nearly identical. These were, however, a bit egg-y for me – but just a touch. I wonder how these pancakes will turn out if I use one egg and little more cream, or if I keep two eggs but increase the amount of flour and cream. And on another note, the vanilla really helps make this pancake sweeter than Yorkshire pudding, lending it a typical breakfast-y flair. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this breakfast for one, especially when you’e looking for something to distract you longer than it will take to pour out a bowl of cereal.
Dutch pancake (adapted from Molly Weizenberg of Orangette)
You might be tempted to use and oil spray, even a butter-flavored oil spray, instead of the butter in the pan, but don’t give in! The butter makes the edges crispy and seems to assist the pancake achieve an inimitable fluffy height (at least until it falls slightly a few minutes later). Trust me – I’ve tried both!
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup half-and-half cream
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- dash vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Butter an 8-inch cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet and place over low heat.
Meanwhile, in a blender a hand-held blender’s container, mix the flour, eggs, salt, cream, and vanilla. Blend until everything is well blended and plenty of air is incorporated into the batter. Pour the mixture into the warmed skillet, then carefully put the skillet into the oven. Bake the pancake for 18-22 minutes; you’ll know it’s done when it has risen to a golden brown puff and the center has fully cooked. Remove the pancake from the skillet and onto a plate, then top with whatever you desire: butter, maple syrup, powdered sugar, browned apples, stewed prunes and oranges (my personal favorite), fruit preserves, or even a fruit syrup.
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And next up was a recipe that ended up not taking all that long to bake, although it wasn’t the best use of my time in retrospect. You see, I’d had a busy week at work – going in early and leaving late – and was preparing to leave for vacation to Tennessee on Saturday. But when Friday night rolled around and my good friend Chris was hosting a house party to welcome his friends to a his new house, I couldn’t go without bringing something to munch on. Naturally, I can’t just buy something on the way – that’s not my style! I had no idea what to bring and lacked inspiration due to my job sucking every synopsing brain cell dry at the time, but luckily the Epicurious gadget on my iGoogle.com homepage flashed a truly tempting recipe for Pear-Chocolate Upside-Down Cake. Well, it was too late to buy ripe pears for the cake, but I knew bananas would pair even better with the chocolate cake.
So, Friday night came and I found myself at the kitchen counter instead of packing my suitcase for the next day. This recipe was fairly simply but was a two-parter. Caramelizing the bananas made a soft and gooey top for this cake, and the cake itself was an easy batter to beat up (literally). Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste the cake – I hate bringing a new dish to a party without knowing how it will turn out – or even take a photo of it until I brought it to Chris’s house. Well, I will say that removing it from the pan was a bit of a pain – and that you really should place the cake, still in the pan, on the stove over low heat for a few minutes before serving to melt the sugar and loosen the bananas – but mine did turn out, literally, okay; only a bit got stuck in the pan.
Lady Luck was not fully on my side that night, however, because not five minutes after plating, the cake was almost gone! People raved about the cake, and from the inch-square portion I managed to steal from the last remaining crumbs I can attest to its silky soft texture and perfectly sweet flavor. Bananas + chocolate = taste sensation! This is a great recipe to bring to a party, and your guests will rave. Case in point: one guy at Chris’s house actually said to me after eating it: “You will make someone a great wife!” Wow – that’s one heck of an endorsement if I ever heard one!
Upside-down caramelized banana chocolate cake (adapted from Epicurious.com)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 3 firm but ripe bananas, cut in half and sliced into thirds lengthwise
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, broken up
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup whole milk
Butter a 9-inch round baking pan. To make the caramel topping, put the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan (one with a tight-fitting lid) and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then cover and cook for 2 minutes. (Covering in this way allows the steam to wash down the sides of pan, which will prevent any sugar crystals from forming.) Uncover the saucepan and continue to boil the sugar, gently and slowly swirling the pan as needed to cook the caramel evenly, until it becomes a dark amber color. Occasionally wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water; you may not need to do this. Carefully pour the caramel into the prepared pan and allow it to harden lightly. The pan will be very hot from the sugar, so take care in moving it if you need to. Fan the banana slices on top of the caramel in a circle around the perimeter, filling in the center with the remaining slices.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. To make the cake, place the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat and melt, stirring occasionally. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Transfer the melted chocolate to a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sugar. Using a handheld mixer with beaters, beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake bounces back slightly when touched. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a plate, leaving the pan on top of the cake for 5 minutes before you remove it. Serve the cake warm.
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And finally … by the time Saturday rolled around, my To-Do list was as long as ever. I still hadn’t packed but a few things and my floor still wasn’t vacuumed. But, knowing that some kind of snacks and breakfast food were needed for the road trip – the drive from New Jersey to Tennessee is eleven hours and continental breakfasts at hotels are usually abhorrent – I felt I’d be sorry the next week if I didn’t bake up a batch of scones to bring along. These would be something special for my mom and I to enjoy together, them being seasonally flavored and favorites of us both. So, I altered my preferred scone recipe by adding 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, using brown sugar instead of white for deeper flavor, and throwing in the usual fall spices (save nutmeg, which I sometimes get sick of). The recipe was pretty easy to throw together, although the dough was too sticky to be able to make pretty scones – thank goodness for the glaze to cover up, somewhat, the scones’ craggly crowns. That glaze, by the way, is what Sarah at In Praise of Leftovers uses on her pumpkin cookies; it’s perfect for these as well. Thanks, Sarah!
In the end, I was really glad I took time out from my rushed weekend to bake these. Not only did they taste fantastic (although slightly rougher in texture than my previous scone recipe, for which I used cake flour – and from now I think I will continue to do so), but they were terribly convenient. Even though my mom and I made sure to eat our way through Tennessee’s culinary delights, having this delicious and handy emergency goody was a Godsend. These are definitely a do-over. So, no regrets, procrastination and all; hey, I get it all done in the end! And even though I do sometimes cook to distract myself from the rest of life, I firmly believe it’s time well spent. Amen to that!
Pumpkin scones with a butter-brown sugar glaze
For the scones:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (or use 2 cups + 2 Tbsp cake flour for lighter crumb, which I prefer)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp ginger
- 4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 cup half-and-half or milk (not skim)
For the glaze (recipe from Sarah, aka the Leftoverist©):
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 tsp milk or cream (I used half-and-half with good results)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 425°F. Prepare a baking sheet with a nonstick baking slip or a light coat of grease.
Whisk the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter. Try not to leave big chunks. In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg with the cream, then stir in the pumpkin and sugar. Stir this wet mixture into the other ingredients, folding a bit to be gentle on the dough. Don’t overmix! Knead the dough on a liberally floured surface, using equally liberally floured hands. Don’t knead more than a dozen times (personally, I didn’t knead the dough but “faux kneaded” the dough in the bowl because it’s a pretty sticky dough, and they turned out fine). Form into an 8″ disc and cut into six to eight wedges, depending on how greedy you are about your scone size. You can also make two smaller discs and cut those into six wedges. Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet. Bake for twelve minutes; they should be lightly golden. Remove to a wire cooling rack.
To make the glaze, melt the butter, sugar, and milk in a small saucepan over low heat; stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let it cool a bit, then stir in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar, whisking to dissolve the mixture into a smooth glaze.
Place a sheet of waxed paper under the cooling rack to catch any dripped icing. Spoon about a tablespoon of glaze (depending on the size of your scones) over each scone. I let the icing drape over the sides a bit, but not so much so that it covered the entire top of the scone. Let the glaze dry to the touch before packing the scones for storage. They will keep out of the refrigerator for 4-5 days; after that, stick them in the fridge.