Month: April 2012

Banana Bread

I will waste no time with this: I hate banana bread. Then why did I make it?! I do LOVE bananas. I, too, think it’s weird that I love bananas but hate the fruit in bread form. But I always have and always will. My quirk about bananas is that I like to eat them when they are juuuuuust ripening… when they still have a little bit of green left in the peel. This stage of the fruit does not last long. A day, maybe.

[speaking of which, have you guys seen Eddie Izzard’s bit about the fleeting ripeness of pears? It’s great. The whole bit is hilarious, but he talks about pears at 4:30]

So long story short: I had a bunch of really ripe bananas that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. I also happened to be staying with my parents, who both love banana bread. PERFECT! So boom, I made my most hated baked good. But I hear it was delicious. You’ll just have to trust my parents on that one.

Banana Bread
Recipe source: Martha Stewart
Print Recipe

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, and beat to incorporate.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined. Add bananas, sour cream, and vanilla; mix to combine. Stir in nuts, and pour into prepared pan.
3. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.

Peanut Butter Nutella Cookies

Oh, peanut butter and Nutella. I would eat both of these things out of the jar without abandon if I had the metabolism of a teenager. But I don’t. [never did, really!] I exercise extreme RESTRAINT when faced with jars of PB and/or Nutella, but when I was making these cookies I did sneak quite a few extra spoonfuls.

I read a GREAT book recently called The Emperors of Chocolate (by Joel Glenn Brenner). It chronicles the history of the Hershey and Mars candy companies — and the men and women who made history at both of these companies. If you are a candy freak like me, give it a read. It’s one of the best food books that I’ve read.

I bring this book up for a reason. I learned a really interesting piece of trivia regarding peanut butter (and hazelnut!). Mars doesn’t make very many peanut butter products. It took a lot of convincing for the family to agree to produce peanut butter M&Ms. And since then they’ve developed a peanut butter Snickers. But not much else. Why? The Mars children were raised in the UK, where peanut butter isn’t popular and isn’t well-liked. Americans are peanut butter freaks – and apparently the Brits much prefer hazelnut! The Mars family tried and tried to introduce hazelnut into their product lines, but it was never a successful venture. As my friend Amber pointed out, Mars should reconsider… considering America’s current love affair with Nutella!

Give the book a read — you’ll learn tons. Like how paranoid and tenacious the Mars family was/is; how quirky Milton Hershey was (real life Willy Wonka if I’ve ever seen one!); what the Ms stand for in M&M; and how our palettes for chocolate vary depending on where we live (Americans prefer Hershey’s bitter chocolate, as opposed to the Brits loving Cadbury’s silky sweet).

Peanut Butter Nutella Cookies
Recipe source: Delightful Bitefuls
Print Recipe

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Approx. 1/4 cup Nutella

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Combine butter, peanut butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla. Mix until well blended.
3. Add flour, baking soda and salt. Drizzle Nutella on top of the dough then swirl it through the dough with a butter knife.
4. Chill dough 15 minutes in the refrigerator. Roll into balls by hand. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Using a fork, press down the balls to flatten slightly. Bake until edges are very lightly browned (about 7 to 10 minutes).
5. Allow to rest 2 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring cookies to a cooling rack.

Jumbo Animal Cookies

I think that there are some foods that are universally nostalgic for everyone. Pink and white animal cookies have to be included on that list. I always used to think that the pink cookies tasted different (and better) than the white cookies, but that was wishful thinking on the part of my 6-year old self.

Mother’s Cookies was the original company that made pink and white circus animal cookies. In 2008 the company abruptly closed, sending pangs of nostalgia and outrage into those of us that grew up with these cookies. A t-shirt was even created that said “Lights down, little cookies” and showed drawings of the little pink and white cuties. Luckily Kellogg’s came to the rescue and purchased the trademark and recipes for the Mother’s Cookies brand in late 2008 — and the cookies have been restored to grocery shelves! [though I hear they are only sold on the west coast — can anyone confirm this?]

I found a set of Martha Stewart animal cookie cutters during a Macy’s after-Christmas sale. That find, combined with an idea found on Pinterest, has inspired this post!

Jumbo Animal Cookies
Inspired by Munchkin Munchies
Print Recipe

You will need the ingredients for your favorite cut-out cookie recipe (I’ve included one below), a tub of vanilla store-bought frosting*, pink food coloring, and multi-colored sprinkles.

Almond Flavored Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
1-1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups sifted flour

Cream butter. Add powdered sugar. Blend in egg, almond extract, vanilla, salt and flour. Chill dough until firm. Roll to ¼” thickness on well-floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375° for 8-10 min. Cookies should not brown. Frost and decorate when cool. Yield will depend on size of cookies.**

*Sad story — I originally made a batch of my favorite buttercream frosting, microwaved it to create a coating, but the butter separated out and I ended up with a soupy mess. Trust me, go with store-bought frosting with these. It’s easier, it’s predictable, and you’ll have no problems heating it!

**Note, since these cookies are so large, you might want to make a double batch of this dough. I got about 6 large cookies out of one batch.

  • Once your cookies are baked and cooled, divide the tub of store bought icing into two glass bowls. Tint one batch pink and leave the other as-is.
  • Microwave the frosting for about 20 seconds. Do this at 10-second intervals, stirring in between each. Do not allow the frosting to melt too much. You want frosting that you can coat your cookies with.
  • Place all of your cookies on a cooling rack and place the cooling rack on top of a baking sheet (to catch the drips of frosting). Spoon white or pink frosting onto each cookie.
  • Sprinkle each cookie with the nonpareils.

Cosmic Brownies

Who remembers Cosmic Brownies from the lunchboxes of their youth? I do! Little Debbie always makes such delicious treats (everything in moderation, even prepackaged junk food, is alright). I found a homemade version of my favorite Cosmic Brownies and jumped at the chance to make them. I love a good brownie – simple chocolate goodness, and in this case, a trip down memory lane.

Cosmic Brownies
Recipe source:
Print Recipe

1 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
2 Tablespoons water
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup heavy cream
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate
Pinch of salt
Colorful sprinkles for decorating

1. Heat oven to 350F. Line a 13 x 9 pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, then coat with nonstick spray. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the sugars, butter and water with a whisk. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry mix into the wet stuff and stir to combine. With a rubber spatula, spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 18 minutes. Don’t over bake!
3. Set aside on a rack to cool.
4. While the brownies are baking, prepare the ganache: Place the chocolate in a bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the cream just to a simmer. Don’t boil it, just wait till you see little bubbles starting to form around the edges. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Sprinkle with the salt and let it all sit for a minute or so. Gently stir with a rubber spatula until all of the chocolate is melted. Set aside to cool a bit.
5. When the brownies are mostly cool, pour the ganache over and spread it evenly over the top. Sprinkle as many or as few of the candies/sprinkles over the top as you like. When you’re ready to cut them into squares, lift them out with the foil and cut into the size or shape you like. [I refrigerated the brownies so the ganache could set; if you want a super oooey, gooey brownie, skip the refrigeration so the ganache remains smooth and soft]


Nutella Fudge

Nutella, you are perfect. If I had a faster metabolism, I would eat Nutella straight out of the jar without abandon. Nutella in fudge form? Taste bud explosion. Nutella fudge paired with sea salt? Taste bud explosion to the max. I love the combination of sweet and salt. I think the salt cuts the sugar and makes it more palatable. Other favorite sweet/salt combinations of mine include chocolate-covered potato chips, movie popcorn plus M&Ms, and Wendy’s french fries dipped in a chocolate Frosty (trust me on that one, it’s good).

This recipe is super easy. Mix a bunch of stuff together over a double boiler and POOF… fudge awaits!

Nutella Sea Salt Fudge
Recipe source: Cookin’ Canuck
Print Recipe

1 (14 oz. ) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 oz. high-quality bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate chips
1 cup Nutella, room temperature
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Sea salt, approximately 1/2 tsp

1. Spray the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch baking pan with non-stick spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overlap on the sides.
2. In a medium glass or stainless steel bowl, stir together sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate chips, Nutella, and butter.
3. Form a double-boiler by setting the bowl on a medium pot of gently simmering water. The water level should be low enough that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Stir until the chocolate chips are melted and the mixture is smooth, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, spread the top smooth with a spatula, and sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate until the fudge is firm, at least 2 hours.
5. Run a knife under hot water, dry it off, and run it around the edges of the pan to loosen the fudge. Using the overhanging parchment paper, lift the fudge out. Peel off the parchment paper. Cut the fudge into 3/4-inch squares. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container or wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil.

Makes approximately 50 3/4-inch squares.