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SHF: Chocolate Caramel Banana Bites

27 October 2006

Chocolate Caramel Banana Bites

The components of these petits fours are as follows: banana cake, spiced caramel custard, dark chocolate glaze, flaked almonds, and burnt caramel drizzle. What's not to like?

Even when I tell you that this cake has been in the freezer for a couple of months, that I obviously have issues with creating that square smooth-dipped look, and that the caramel was just a little too burnt - even so, with a pile of tastes like that, you'll understand why the final bite is more than the sum of its parts. (Those poor squares - they look like they're trying to lurch out of their chocolate coating.)

This cake is one of my trusty friends. I found the recipe over at AllRecipes several years ago and it is my very favorite banana recipe. The cake is baked at a low temperature for about an hour, then put into the freezer to cool. The abuse of your freezer is justified in this case because it helps turn out an extremely moist, rather dense cake. It's not too sweet and it freezes beautifully.

Chocolate Caramel Banana Bites

The custard was my first try at pastry cream and boy, is it a snap! Way easier than I ever thought it would be; I don't know why I've been scared of cornstarch. I added a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and it set off the caramel very nicely.

Overall, I liked how these little squares suit fall flavors and colors; the caramel drizzles even look a little like Halloween spiders, although I'm sure someone more handy than myself could draw much more convincing spidery legs. I was just trying not to burn myself on the caramel or let it cool too much before I got it all squeezed out of the baggie, which eventually sprung a leak and just dumped caramel willy-nilly all over the place. Oh well, more for us.

Chocolate Caramel Banana Bites

The main reason I made these into little squares (other than the fact that you get much more chocolate in each bite when they're small like this) is that this is my entry for for Sugar High Friday, my very favorite blogging event. This is SHF24, and it's hosted by Jeanne at Cook Sister! The theme, obviously, is little bites (of delight) - meaning petits fours, mignardises, and other wee sweet things. Food bloggers just love wee sweet things, so I expect there to be many, many, many adorable entries. Go look.

As for me, I love wee things too, but this recipe would be just as good as a layer cake, with pastry cream stuffed inside and chocolate and caramel dashed over the top. Less portion control, that's all.

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Chocolate Caramel Banana Bites

Chocolate Banana Bites with Spiced Caramel Cream

Banana Cake
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3 large very ripe bananas)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg (fresh grated if possible)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
2 1/8 cups white sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.

In a small bowl, mix mashed bananas with lemon juice, set aside. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Stir in banana mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place directly into freezer for 45 minutes. Let cool completely.

Spiced Caramel Cream
1 large egg
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/3 cups milk or cream, divided
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons water
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream

In a small bowl, whisk together egg and 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Whisk in 1/3 cup of milk until smooth; set aside. Place remaining 1 cup milk in a glass measuring cup and microwave until scalding, about 2 to 3 minutes.

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 2/3 cup sugar with 4 tablespoons water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and cook without stirring until syrup caramelizes and turns a golden amber color. Stir to distribute the color and make sure it cooks evenly.

Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add the hot milk. The mixture will bubble up aggressively, so go slow and be careful. Return the pan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until any hardened caramel has dissolved and mixture is smooth.

Whisk about 1/4 cup of hot caramel mixture into egg and cornstarch mixture. Return entire mixture to saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until custard comes to a boil. Add the spices. Continue to boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in butter until melted and whisk out any lumps.

Transfer the custard to a bowl. Whisk in vanilla extract and salt. Set the custard in the fridge to hurry cooling.

In bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 cup heavy cream at high speed until it forms medium-stiff peaks. Lighten the custard by whipping it with a spatula. Gently fold whipped cream into caramel custard. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Chocolate Glaze
8 oz. dark chocolate
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/2 cup cream

Chop the chocolate finely. Bring corn syrup and cream to a light boil. Pour over the chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Work quickly to dip the the squares before the chocolate cools. (This may not be enough to really coat all the squares - it only did about half of mine. But it's plenty if you just want to coat a cake.)

Burnt Caramel Drizzle
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup cream

Heat sugar and water in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves then leave it alone until the sugar starts turning a deep brown. Stir so it browns evenly and take it off the stove when it's turned a deep amber.

While the sugar is heating, scald the milk in the microwave. Gradually pour it into the caramel - it will bubble up furiously so be careful! Whisk it all together as you pour in the cream, then return to the heat and boil for another minute.

Remove from the heat and let cool a bit. Pour into a plastic baggie and snip a tiny bit out of the corner. Now you can squeeze the caramel right out of the bag in a drizzle.

1. When the cake is finished - cooled and slightly frozen - take it out of the freezer and slice off the edges. Then slice it longwise into long strips. Carefully lift these strips out of the pan and split in half, evenly.
2. Spread the cooled caramel cream on the bottom halves and put the cake tops back on.
3. Put in the freezer for a couple hours, or overnight, well covered with plastic wrap.
4. When the cake strips are firm, take them out and cut into 1-inch squares. Melt the chocolate
5. Dip the squares into the chocolate, or drizzle the chocolate over them, or spread it on. Whatever works for you.
6. Drizzle the caramel over top and press some flaked almonds on.
7. Keep in the fridge, but take out about half an hour before serving to let them soften up a bit.

Posted by Faith at 27 October 2006 | Comments (10) | TrackBack

On Seasonality & Asparagus (With an Egg)

15 October 2006

Asparagus and Egg

Living in Florida messes with my sense of the seasons. When I lived in Ohio, if I saw strawberries in January I knew without a doubt that they were from somewhere far away, trucked in with great expenditure of fossil fuels. Our fields were bound with ice and snow for at least 300 miles in every direction. But in Florida, strawberries are actually in season in January, and a trip to the Plant City U-Pick fields is the thing to do.

So now, when I see asparagus, that sweet spring treat, at the produce market in October, I hesitate briefly, then take advantage of my ignorance of sub-sub-tropical growing cycles to shrug off my guilt about eating something that is so likely out of season. My ignorance makes seasonal produce shopping rather difficult, on the whole; we're on an inverted timetable down here.

All that to say, I don't want to ask you to violate your conscience with this recipe for asparagus with egg. I realize that asparagus is probably even more blatantly out of season wherever you are. It's such an easy dinner, though, that you might be tempted to buy some very, very out-of-state produce. The twist, fortunately, is that this is equally good with other, more seasonable vegetables. Stir-fried chard with soy sauce? Excellent. Shaved, sautéed zucchini? Definitely. You see? You don't have to violate your principles!

Oh, and the tomatoes truly are in season here. I sliced them up, dribbled some yogurt over the top and sprinkled salt, pepper, and a little rough sugar over them. This soaked in and was quite delicious next to the salty, tangy asparagus.

Parmesan Asparagus with a Spanish-Fried Egg

Roasted Asparagus
1 bundle of asparagus (about 1 pound)
Olive oil
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
About 1/4 cup fresh Parmesan, grated
1 teaspoon fresh or dried rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 375ºF. Wash the asparagus and dry thoroughly. Snap off the tough ends. Toss with some olive oil in a glass baking dish and arrange in single layer.

In a medium bowl mix the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, herbs, and salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the asparagus. Put in the oven for about 10 minutes. Check for your desired crispness, though, depending on how thick the asparagus are this time could vary wildly.

Spanish-Fried Egg
Olive oil
1 egg
Salt and fresh cracked pepper

Put a small, heavy skillet over high heat and pour in olive oil to about half an inch. Heat until it is very, very hot. Crack the egg into a cup and slip it into the hot oil. It will immediately bubble around the edges. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the top. Leave in the oil for about a minute, then carefully remove from the heat, remove the egg with a slotted spoon and place on top of the asparagus.

Posted by Faith at 15 October 2006 | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

11 October 2006

Tea Cookies

A couple people asked me for the recipe for the Earl Grey tea cookies I included in my IMBB parcel for Dianna. I posted the recipe yesterday to the Kitchen at Apartment Therapy, so check it out there!

I made a couple varieties of these this week - one with herbal orange spice tea and one with a robust chai mix. I was not completely satisfied with either. Even though both were quite good, Earl Grey gives these a uniquely floral, delicate flavor that suits them perfectly. So if you experiment with these, please let me know how they turn out and what kinds of tea you try.

Be warned: they're incredibly addictive, in their buttery crispiness, so be careful and have some emergency backup taste-testers!

Posted by Faith at 11 October 2006 | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Recipe Review: The Minimalist's Mongolian Lamb

2 October 2006

Minimalist Lamb

One of the things I enjoy about cooking from recipes I find online is that they generally come with user comments or reviews. Whether it's through a personal weblog, Epicurious or AllRecipes, you can usually get a sense of whether something is a tried and true classic, a potential bomb, or simply not worth the ingredients. A recipe alone, untried, is a perilous thing.

When you've got a few comments you can usually tell if it's worth making and, more importantly, the pitfalls to watch out for. How else would I have known, after my second flubbed batch of meringue buttercream, that I needed to whip the butter before adding it to the egg whites? How would I have known, in another recipe, that the salt called for was way too much, or that the canned tomatoes should be doubled?

In this spirit, every now and then I am going to review recipes that show up in publications that I love to cook from but that do not have this cook and review system built in. One of my favorite places to look for new recipes is the New York Times Dining section. Every week I look forward to Mark Bittman's The Minimalist column; I often find great things there.

Here's one from last week, a lamb dish inspired by street vendors - tiny chunks of lamb stir-fried very fast with cumin, soy sauce and cilantro. Deliciously seared bits of meat with crispy outsides and tender middles are the result of just a few minutes' work - good over rice or just plain.

One other thing I like is that this can easily be made ahead and left uncooked and sealed in bags in the freezer. The lamb is chopped so fine that it doesn't take long to defrost and hey presto, five minutes later you have a meal.

I did adapt the recipe slightly and add some lime juice and peppers to make it saucier and kick up the heat. If you don't like things hot, leave the peppers out.

Whole White Cumin

The whole cumin is indispensable - you cannot substitute ground because the cumin here functions like a nut or seed, crunching between the teeth and filling the mouth with warm, toasty flavor.

The single drawback to this recipe is that the lamb must be cubed very fine. If it's not chopped into small, even pieces the meat won't cook fast and evenly. I think you may be able to ask the butcher to cube it finely for you, but I haven't tried that yet. I put about half an hour into chopping extra meat and froze it in the marinade.

Overall, this recipe was a real winner: delicious, healthy, easy, and make ahead, which make it an A+, five stars and four forks - however you want to score it.

Minimalist Lamb

I can't find the recipe anywhere to link to - it's not even in the NY Time archives, strangely - so I am putting my adaptation here. Hopefully the New York Times won't sue me.

Mongolian Stir-Fried Lamb With Chili, Cumin and Garlic
makes about 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds lamb shoulder or leg
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, or to taste
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, to film the bottom of the skillet
2 Thai chilies, julienned
1/2 cup trimmed and roughly chopped scallions, optional
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus extra to garnish
2 limes, juiced

Cut lamb into 1/2-inch cubes (easier if meat is firmed in the freezer for 15 to 45 minutes). Toast cumin seeds in dry skillet over medium heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and slightly darkened - a minute or two. Toss together lamb with cumin, chili, garlic, soy sauce, a large pinch of salt and a healthy grinding of pepper. If you like, cover and refrigerate until ready to cook, up to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, put a tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy skillet or wok (ideally, it will hold the lamb in one layer, or nearly so) and turn heat to high. The skillet needs to get as hot as possible, so give it a while. When really hot, add lamb. Cook, undisturbed, for about a minute, then stir once or twice to loosen lamb from skillet. Cook another minute, then stir again. Add scallions and julienned peppers, if using, and cook, stirring occasionally, until scallions glisten and shrink a bit and the meat is about medium.

If you want a slightly saucier mixture, stir in 1/4 cup water and the lime juice and cook another minute. Stir in the cilantro just until it has wilted. Serve hot over rice, garnished, if you like, with more cilantro.

Posted by Faith at 2 October 2006 | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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