Banana Strudel

The other day I was offered some homemade caramel sauce by a friend. Not being an idiot, I of course took her up on her offer, but that left me with the dilemma of what to eat it with! While I was tempted to just get a spoon and dive in, I decided to kill two (three?) birds with one stone and try out a recipe for banana strudel, which would also utilize the rapidly browning bananas on my counter and the half-package of phyllo in my freezer. (I would also have been able to use up the heels of a loaf of sandwich bread, but when I got them out they had already started to get spots of mold, so I threw those out and had to use fresh sandwich bread instead.)

This strudel couldn’t be easier to make– you just toast up some fresh breadcrumbs, add cinnamon and chopped nuts (I used walnuts but pecans or hazelnuts would also be nice), and roll it all up in some phyllo dough. For the record, a package of Pepperidge Farm brand phyllo has two sealed rolls of 20 small sheets each, so I made four strudels with my half-package, which was perfect. (also, if you work quickly you don’t have to bother covering the phyllo with a damp towel in between rolls)

I was originally wary about the lack of sugar in the filling, but the bananas turned out plenty sweet enough on their own– plus the caramel sauce took them over the top, so I had no cause to complain. The sauce really was necessary to add some moisture to the phyllo, which was extremely crispy and therefore just a touch dry– I think in apple strudel the juice from the apples softens the phyllo, which was not the case with my bananas. If I were to do this again I’d consider making a honey syrup to pour over the strudels while hot, like baklava– but then I wouldn’t be able to eat it for breakfast like I did the next morning (at least not without guilt)!

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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

I was inspired to make these cupcakes by an episode of Nadiya Bakes, starring one of the winners of the Great British Baking Show, Nadiya Hussain. I enjoyed watching her on the original show, but I’m actually more impressed by her current work! In any event, I didn’t use her actual recipe, but I did use it as a jumping-off point for my own version, which turned out reasonably well. Honestly, I thought they had room for improvement, but multiple people have told me they were great as-is, so I guess you’ll have to decide!

The concept is that you take a golden Oreo and put it in the bottom of a cupcake liner, topped with a single whole strawberry. Then you pour vanilla cake batter over it and bake the cupcakes that way. Topped with a strawberry buttercream flavored with freeze-dried strawberries, the fruity flavor really comes through! That being said, I found that the Oreo got very hard after being baked, which was not to my taste– I did overbake the cupcakes a bit, which may have contributed to the issue, but don’t be surprised if your Oreo toasts up and gets extremely crunchy!

I will note that this cake batter must be essentially foolproof, because despite my putting the ingredients together in completely the wrong order, messing up the amount of liquid, and over-baking the batter because I forgot to set a timer, it still turned out well! As for the frosting, it was fabulous and I will add it to my permanent recipe file– it’s that good!

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Cornmeal Lime Cookies

I was first introduced to these cookies by my lovely neighbor, who brought over a batch when we first moved in to welcome my family to the neighborhood. She mentioned that she’d used the Flour bakery recipe (I knew right then that we’d get along great), so when I had some extra lime zest after making my signature “healthy” lime pie one day, I knew just where I could find a cookie recipe to take advantage of it!

These cookies are soft and just a bit cakey, with slightly crisp edges and a little crunch from the cornmeal. The zingy lime glaze on top really brightens them up into something special.

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Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

I have a habit. A not-so-great habit, at that. A bread habit. That is, I have a tendency to buy bread and then forget about it until it’s about to go stale. Usually at that point I chuck it in the freezer and hope that I’ll find a use for it, but as we all know, the freezer is a black hole of storage that things can get lost in for months… In this case, however, it all worked out for the best, because my stash of frozen carbs was just what I needed to use up some bananas that were rapidly reaching over-ripeness on my countertop.

In other words, I made bread pudding. With bananas. And walnuts. And, just for fun, salted butterscotch sauce that I may or may not have added a shot of rum to. I highly recommend making this– it’s amazing for dessert, but may also be one of the best breakfasts for a cold winter morning that I’ve ever had.

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Blood Orange Polenta Cake

Blood oranges are in season, and I never tire of cutting into them to see that gorgeous inside. When I saw a bag on sale at Trader Joe’s I knew I wanted to bake something that showed off the beautiful color, so I cobbled together some recipe ideas from online to come up with this– a moist, dense cake that emphasizes the oranges themselves.

I’ll start off by admitting that this cake, while impressive to look at and tasty to eat, was not my favorite dessert in the world. It was pleasantly rustic and lasted forever without going stale, but it wasn’t quite sweet enough for me (I think I over-caramelized the sugar, making the caramel a touch bitter) and not as moist as I’d hoped. It did display my blood oranges nicely, though, so props for that! I think this works better as a breakfast-style cake, served with some vanilla yogurt or sweetened ricotta on the side, rather than a real dessert. That being said, it would make a fabulous addition to your brunch table, so feel free to give it a shot if you like bitter orange!

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Aardman’s Orange Jelly Cake

Lately my daughter has been watching the show Shaun the Sheep, by Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame). During an episode entitled “The Farmer’s Llamas,” her eye was immediately caught by this cake, which is featured only for a few moments:

She was so interested in it that in a fit of reckless abandon, I promised to make it for her once she’d achieved a specific level of proficiency in one of her school activities. And here we are.

One thing I noticed about the cake was that it’s really not a cake at all– it’s a molded jelly dessert. You can tell that the top tier is pure jelly, the middle one is jelly with orange slices in it, and the bottom one is molded jelly with some kind of cream mixed in to make it more opaque (it can’t be cake, it’s too smooth). However, while we enjoy gelatin desserts we like cake better in our house, so we decided to compromise.

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Apple Pie Cake

So last fall we went apple picking. And you know what happens when you pick apples– you eat a bunch the first week, then the remaining apples just languish in the bag until you can find something to do with them. And since we had a lot of apples, several of them languished for quite a while…

I finally decided that it was time to use up the last few apples, so I went in search of a suitable recipe that I hadn’t tried before– and found this one! It’s apparently a copycat of an apple pie they serve at Disneyworld, and it’s pretty tasty! You start with a pie crust, then fill it with pre-steamed apples (to avoid them getting too juicy during baking) and a thick cake batter. It turns out beautifully golden-brown on top, and the addition of a layer of powdered sugar gives it just the right amount of extra sweetness.

Personally, I cut a corner and used a refrigerated pie crust, but you can make your own if you prefer. I find that using pre-made crusts gets you a thinner layer of crust, which I like in this recipe– too thick and it might end up stodgy-seeming with the extra cake batter in there as well.

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Cranberry Gingersnap Pie

First off, my apologies for the 3-month delay since my last post. Between moving to a new house, dropping my laptop (!) and having to get a new one, and now the holiday season, it’s just been impossible to find time to blog! BUT, I haven’t stopped with the projects, so now I’ve got a backlog of posts to clear– you’ve been warned!

So it’s pie season, and it’s cranberry season, which are pretty much the same thing. Right?

Since my family members aren’t huge fans of cooked fruit (something about the texture?), I decided to join the legions of bakers apparently making cranberry curd pie this year– I was inspired by my friends at The Pie Project (they made a different pie every week for a *whole year*!) to make this one, which features a gingersnap-walnut crust and a tangy layer of cranberry curd that’s perfectly puckery. I couln’t help gilding the lily a bit, so I added a fluffy wreath of meringue and some sugared cranberries– I think the meringue adds a nice contrast, while the cranberries are mostly decorative but still tasty.

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Chocolate-Orange Hazelnut Entremet

Having made one fancy entremet, I was eager to try another one– this time, I decided to forego the silicone mold and restrict myself to a plain round shape, which would hopefully lend itself well to a dark chocolate mirror glaze. Finding myself with an extra jar of marmalade, I thought I’d combine it with dark chocolate and some chocolate-hazelnut spread.

This entremet has a base layer of chocolate brownie (cakey, not fudgy, to keep the dessert from being too dense), a thin layer of Nutella-coated cornflakes (a substitute for feutilline), and a layer of orange marmalade, all encased in a chocolate-hazelnut mousse and covered in chocolate mirror glaze. I decorated with some candied orange slices, chocolate ganache truffles, and some edible paint made from gold luster dust and vodka.

The finished dessert was excellent– the mousse was light yet rich, the cornflakes added some much-appreciated crunch (though the chilled nutella was slightly hard to cut through– next time I might add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to soften it a bit), and the marmalade was a nice contrast in flavor. And of course, it was one of the most gorgeous desserts I’ve ever made, so there’s that…

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Juneberry Muffins

juneberry-muffins

Back at the end of June we went out to pick the last of the juneberries– there were masses of them, dark purple and heavy on the tree, so we filled our bucket and decided to freeze them for future use. After washing them and picking out the stems, I spread them in a single layer on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and froze them overnight. Then it was time to decide what to do with them!

juneberries-frozen

We decided on muffins, figuring that we could treat the juneberries much like blueberries, and went with the Cook’s Illustrated “Best Blueberry Muffins” recipe, which involves a combination of fresh berries and berry compote. Since we already had a stash of juneberry jam we used that instead of the compote. You can use blueberries instead!

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