Monday, September 13, 2010

The Search for the Best Banana Bread (★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆)

The Story:

I don't know about you, but I'm extremely picky about my fruit. I have a preferred way to eat each one. Apples have to be firm and crisp. Grapes can't be mushy. Peaches need to be in a half-ripened stage. And Bananas...well, they're the most complicated of all. I've found that there is about a "two-day" window, in which bananas are edible. When they are almost ripen...mostly yellow, but with still a tinge of green. Before that they are tasteless and leave a sticky film in your mouth. After that, well there's not much you can do, unless, you freeze them right away. If you miss that window there is only two options: Garbage or Banana Bread.

...And that leads us into how this post came about. My sister was coming over for breakfast because she had just gotten back from her honeymoon...and I was in desperate need of some sister time. I had planned to just make coffee or maybe some pancakes because we are not big breakfast eaters, but I saw two bananas on the counter on the brink of extinction and I decided to take pity on them. Thankfully, my brother had my cousin and his friend over so I would have more than enough mouths to finish off the loaf.

I looked around for the best banana bread I could find. I searched cookbooks, the Internet, etc. And I came upon this recipe that people were raving about. It even called for sour cream. Sold. Hook, line, and sinker. Flours Famous Banana Bread

The Method:

I followed the recipe just as it indicated. I debated for awhile on whether or not to include nuts, because I know that often causes issues. Personally, I like nuts if they are cooked in the bread. So I did a quick "allergy" one? Good. :) The recipe only made one loaf. I'm used to the recipes I use making two loaves so I was a little sad. But then we didn't have days of leftover break getting stale and expanding our wastes so it worked out.

The Results:
The bread turned out really well. It was moist and delicious. I can't say that it's the best recipe out there, but it was a very good one just the same. My brother raved about it, and he's a professional banana bread connoisseur. So if you're looking for a new recipe or just something to save those pesky bananas then here you go!

...And there was enough to send home to my sister's husband!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

S'more Cupcakes Please! (★ ★ ★ ★ ☆)

The Story:
Well, by now we know that I'll use any excuse to bake...especially cupcakes. Because you can decorate them! It was my sister's wedding rehearsal dinner and I was trying to decide on cupcake that would fit the theme and "wow" the guests. Because sometimes you bake for the praise. ;)

Being the middle of July, I figured I'd do some sort of 'refreshing' cupcake--like strawberry lemonade (which I have yet to do, but mark my words--its on my list!). But that felt more like a 'bridal shower' cupcake as opposed to an event where there would be men involved. So what did that mean? Just one thing. Chocolate.

Chocolate + Summer = S'mores. It's a perfectly scientific equation.

I scoured the internet for interesting ideas and finally settled on these as my inspiration. A graham cracker crust? Singed marshmallow topping? Score!  S'more Cupcakes

The Method...
Because these cupcakes required a little bit of assembly, I decided to make the cupcake part the day before so I could just frost and decorate them the day of the rehearsal. I do this alot actually, which takes alot of the stress out. No more waiting till the cupcakes are cool enough to frost so I can finally leave the house with them. We have an extra dining room so I find that this is often where I store my bald cupcakes over night.

The Crust:
I made the crust according to the instructions on the "Holman..." blog. I actually found a shot glass in one of our cupboards to help pack the crust into the bottom. But before that, I was using a regular spoon and that worked just fine.

The Middle:
For the chocolate pieces, I used chopped chocolate chips because I had them on hand. It was nice to know that those were on the inside of each cupcake, but you couldn't really tell once they were actually cooked and finished. I knew this would happen because we used to cook massive amounts of marshmallows into our brownies, which gave them an extra moist gooey texture...but you couldn't actually SEE them. Same goes with the same amount of melted chocolate.

The Cake:
I decided just to go with a Devil's Food box cake mix, since I was going to have to make a crust. I didn't want to spend ALL day on the cupcakes. I find that Duncan Hines & the Betty Crocker Super Moist chocolate cake mixes are really good. So I default to those alot without feeling too guilty.

The Frosting:

Attempt #1-Fail.

Ideally, what I wanted was a marshmallow frosting that I could toast to get that "perfect" s'more look...with just a hint of brown, delicious crispness on the outside and gooeyness on the inside. Since my last attempt at marshmallow frosting failed, I decided to go a different route. My ingenious plan involved marshmallow fluff and a toaster oven. Needless to say, it didn't work. I had never used marshmallow fluff before so I didn't know that the second you open the jar the fluff deflates into a runny mess. Piling that stuff on a cupcake is a chore AND expecting it to magically fix itself and toast in the oven...well, that is just plain stupid. But try I did... and fail I did even more.

Attempt #2-Go To Success.
Since my dreams of the perfect marshmallow topping were obviously not coming true...I resorted to my trusty back up. Pillsbury Cream Cheese frosting. I try to keep one stashed in my pantry for such emergencies as this. I was a little worried about the cheese flavor ruining the s'more theme, but actually I think it tasted just fine...alot better than those way-too-sweet vanilla frostings.

Finishing Touches:
To me, this is the most important part. I'd even put it before taste. Because an ugly cupcake, is an uneaten cupcake. And an uneaten cupcake is a sad, pathetic, lonely mass incapable of fulfilling its life's destiny. And frankly...I just can't have that.

I wanted the top to convey the cupcake's theme/flavor so I decided to place a Hershey's chocolate square (this time I've got to go with the classic) and graham cracker crumbs. Because the original plan for frosting didn't work out I decided to put individual mini marshmallows on the tops as well. It still bothered me that I could have that authentic "roasted" look...I even went so far as to toast the mini ones in the toaster oven for a while...but they were too gooey to transport from the pan to the cupcake in one piece. Boy did I wish I had a kitchen torch.
The Results:

Some things don't turn out the way you plan...and if you are an obsessive planner like me, you'll find that more often than not that's exactly the case. So you've got to just roll with the punches. The cupcakes turned out great. I loved the way they looked, even if it wasn't my first choice. The crust on the cupcake was amazing. Definitely worth the extra time...and they tasted good. Win-win.