Buttermilk Banana Bread Revisted

Instead of throwing out leftover bananas, they are best used up in banana bread. If you don’t have 3 large ones sufficient for this recipe, freeze them until your stock is adequate. This is a tweaked version of a recipe that I enjoy ever time. It has a great fluffy texture and a crunchy sweet crust.

Ingredients

  • 112 g butter (8 tablespoons)
  • 300 g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 240 g mashed bananas 
  • 60 g buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 g salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 250 g flour

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350• F. The butter, eggs, and buttermilk should all be close to room temperature. Butter and buttermilk can be warmed with a brief pulse in the microwave (start with 15 seconds for each). Eggs can be soaked in room temperature water for a few minutes to accelerate the process.
  2. Using a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth.
  3. Add in the sugar and beat until well blended and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, blending each until evenly incorporated.
  5. Add the bananas, buttermilk, vanilla and blend until smooth.
  6. Add the baking powder, salt, and baking soda and mix until well combined (alternatively, add these to the flour and mix well).
  7. Add in the flour and fold in with a rubber spatula.
  8. Transfer to a loaf pan (I use a standard 4×8 pan sprayed with cooking spray and lightly dusted with flour) and bake for 50-70 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean and the internal temperature is 200-210ª F.
  9. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack and let cool completely before slicing.

M&M Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are great, but there is something about M&M cookies (the colors, the candy crunch) that adds another dimension, especially for kids. I adapted my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe for these cookies. While I prefer the chocolate chip version in larger form and slightly under baked, these work well as smaller cookies.

M&M Cookies

  • Servings: 12
  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: easy
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Soft and flavorful cookies with a candy crunch.

This makes about a dozen small cookies, but feel free to scale the recipe as needed. The dough keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, so you can make as many as you need. I can fit about 6-8 on a standard cookie sheet.

Ingredients

  • 112 g (8 tablespoons or one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature or microwaved for about 15 seconds to soften)
  • 100 g packed light brown sugar
  • 60 g granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 175 g all-purpose flour
  • 100 g M&Ms

Directions

  1. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for a few minutes until smooth.
  2. Add in the sugars and beat until the sugars are completely blended and the mixture is homogenous.
  3. Add in the vanilla and eggs and beat until homogenous.
  4. Add in the baking soda and salt and beat until the ingredients are well-distributed (many recipies combine these ingredients with the flour, but I this approach easier).
  5. With a rubber spatua, gently fold in the flour.
  6. When the flour is nearly incorporeal but the surface still has some dry flour, add in the M&Ms and fold to distribute evenly.
  7. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap (or a storage container) and store in the refrigerator until chilled. Overnight works well, though will test your patience.
  8. When ready to bake, line a sheet pan or pans with parchment or a silicone mat, and preheat the oven to 350.
  9. Scoop mounds of dough using a cookie or ice cream scoop, leaving a couple inches between each.
  10. Bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The edges should be just turning brown.
  11. Let the cookies cool on the sheet pan for a few minutes to set, then transfer to a rack to continue cooling. I find the texture is best when they have completely cooled (resting for at least 30 minutes on the rack).

Montreal Bagels

I’ve been focused on perfecting homemade New York style bagels, but my attention recently turned to Montreal-style bagels, which I have had only a few times. It is considerably harder to find information on how to make these bagels at home. Most efforts point to or are derived from a New York Times recipe, but I combined this information with various other recipies and my own experiences to come up with the following, which worked surprisingly well. The result is a slightly sweet, slightly richer bagel that is less like a lump of chewy bread than a somewhat crusty dinner roll (both types of bagels are more appealing than their description makes them sound). This recipe will likely require some tweaking over time, but it’s a good start.

Montreal Style Bagels

  • Servings: 15
  • Time: 2 days
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Bagels that are sweeter, denser, and crispier than the usual New York style fare.

These bagels sweeter than their New York counterparts, but still satisfying both fresh and toasted from a frozen state. With the high sugar content, the bottoms can burn easily, so be sure to check the bottom surface as they cook. They don’t rise nearly as much as New York bagels, and I found the “float test” unhelpful for gauging their readiness to be refrigerated.

Ingredients

Starter:

  • 100 g sourdough starter (unfed)
  • 420 g water
  • 450 g high gluten flour
  • 3 g instant yeast

Dough:

  • Starter
  • 150 g honey
  • 50 g oil
  • 1 egg
  • 20 g salt
  • 500 g high gluten flour

Directions

  1. Mix all the starter ingredients. If not using a sourdough starter, use an additional 50 g of flour and 50 g of water.
  2. Let the starter rest for about 3-4 hours, until some bubbles form.
  3. Add the dough ingredients except the flour and mix with a dough hook in a stand mixer.
  4. Slowly add in the flour until incorporated and mix at lowest speed for about 10 minutes to kneed to a smooth dough.
  5. Divide into 15 balls, about 112 g each, rolling each until smooth.
  6. Rest on the countertop for 20 minutes, covered with a damp towel.
  7. Form a bagel by poking a hole in the middle of each ball with your finger. Stretch and roll the dough, coaxing it into an even ring. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicone mat sprayed with cooking spray. You will probably need two half sheets.
  8. Let the bagels rest until they become just slightly puffy. Mine took about 3 hours.
  9. Cover sheets with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight.
  10. Fill a pot with 4.5 L of water and 150 g honey (or scale proportionally). Place on high heat until simmering. Let the bagels sit at room temperature while this is happening and set the oven racks at the middle-low and middle-high positions and preheat to 450 °F.
  11. Working with 3-4 bagels at a time (depending on the size of your pot), gently lower the bagels into the simmering honey water. They probably will not float right away, but should float within 15-30 seconds or so. They may require gentle coaxing with a skimmer or spoon.
  12. Flip the bagels after about 45 seconds, then remove to a rack.
  13. Dip each bagel into sesame or poppy seeds (or whatever topping you prefer, including none at all), then place back on the baking sheet, respraying the sheet if needed with spray oil.
  14. When all the bagels are boiled, place both sheets in the oven and cook for 18-20 minutes, swapping and rotating the sheets 180 ° halfway through.
  15. Remove the bagels to a cooling rack and enjoy. If slicing, wait until cooled.

Better New York Bagels

Homemade bagels are never perfected. They can always be tweaked and improved upon. The goal posts shift. Tastes evolve. New ingredients and techniques highlight different strengths and weaknesses.

My current recipe is based off of this recipe by Bruce Ezzell.  The main difference from my initial forays into home bagel making is that it includes honey in addition to malt for flavor, and that it doesn’t require hogging the refrigerator with two half-sheet pans overnight while the bagels are resting. Space is at a premium in my refrigerator, and the chore of clearing off most of two shelves was one that seriously cramped my bagel-baking style. 

This approach uses an overnight starter that can sit at room temperature (I give it a push by adding in some of my own sourdough starter for extra flavor). The dough is finished the next day and then baked the same morning. The resulting bagels have a great chewy texture and flavorful crust. 

Starter:

  • 100 g sourdough starter (100% hydration; if not using, add 50 g more flour and 50 g more water)
  • 450 g high gluten flour
  • 450 g water
  • 3 g instant yeast

Bagels:

  • All off the starter
  • 20 g salt
  • 20 g malt syrup
  • 20 g honey
  • 475 g high gluten flour

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the starter ingredients until the mixture is homogenous then leave covered at room temperature overnight.
  2. The next morning, add the salt, malt syrup, and honey and mix with a dough hook.
  3. When combined, leave the mixer running at the lowest speed and slowly add int eh additional flour. 
  4. Keep kneeling at lowest speed for about 6-8 minutes until the dough is smooth. 
  5. Transfer to the counter and rest covered with a damp towel for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine 25 g sodium hyroxide in 5 liter of water in a large pot (or scale as desired) and bring to a simmer. Set the oven racks to the middle-low and middle-high positions and preheat to 450° F.
  6. Divide into even balls of about 112 g each (or whatever size you prefer). Roll the balls on the countertop to ensure they are smooth (you may need to spray a little water on the countertop to seal any cracks) and cover for 10 minutes. 
  7. While the dough is resting, place a silicone mat or parchment paper in two sheet pans and spray with cooking spray.
  8. Working one ball at a time, use your thumbs to push a hole through the center of the dough, then gentle rotate the dough ring in your hand until it is smooth. Place on the sheet pan. When each sheet pan is full, cover loosely with plastic wrap.
  9. Let rest for 10 minutes, then flip each bagel gently. The bagels should puff slightly in the next 5 minutes or so. To test, place one bagel in a bowl of cold water. It should float within a few seconds. If not, the bagels need more resting.
  10. Place a few bagels at a time in the simmering water. Cook for 1 minute, flip each bagel over, then cook for another minute.  
  11. Transfer to a rack, add toppings as desired. Dust the now free areas of the sheet pan with cornmeal and put the bagels back. 
  12. When all bagels have been boiled, transfer both racks to the oven and cook for 7.5 minutes. Swap and rotate the racks and then cook for another 7.5 minutes. 
  13. Transfer the bagels to a cooling rack until cool, then enjoy.

Note: You will need a powerful mixer and may need to switch to using your hands given the stiffness of the dough. This will stress your mixer. When I tried even the second speed on my KitchenAid professional model, one of the tabs holding the bowl in place snapped off.

Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls are almost unversally loved, but also subject to strong personal preferences. The most controversial aspect is the dough: some prefer a rich, brioche-like bread while others like to contrast of a leaner dough with the sweet filling. My family falls somewhere in the middle. After trying a range of options, our current favorite is a simple buttermilk dough. The dough recipe here makes enough for 3 batches of 8 rolls. This fits nicely in an 8 inch round cake pan, and the remaining dough batches can be used for rolls or loaves (one batch makes enough for a standard loaf pan). The filling and icing are enough for one batch of 8 rolls.

Dough:
1050 g bread flour
2 tsp salt
64 g sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
2 eggs
6 tablespoons melted butter
600 g buttermilk

Filling:
100 g brown sugar
5 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt

Icing:
35 g cream cheese
70 g powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk

Directions:

  1. Mix all the dough ingredients together in a stand mixer with a dough hook
  2. Once all the flour is absorbed, kneed with dough hook for about 8 minutes
  3. Divide dough into 3 batches and let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled. If baking the same day, take out the cream cheese at this point.
  4. Take one batch of dough and roll out on floured surface to a 1 foot square. The remaining batches can be refrigerated at this point for later use.
  5. Brush melted butter across surface of dough, leaving a half-inch border at the top
  6. Cover the buttered surface with the filling mixture, pressing down with your palms as needed
  7. Roll the dough in a tight cylinder, starting with the edge closest to you and sealing it shut at the edge
  8. Cut the cylinder into 8 pieces, and place a greased and parchment-lined 8 inch cake pan, cut side down, with the two smallest rolls in the center. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for a 1-2 hours. The dough should be puffy and the rolls touching or nearly touching.
  9. At least 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  10. Take off plastic wrap and bake for 15-20 minutes until internal temperature reaches abou 190 degrees F. Cinnamon buns are easily compromised by overlooking, so check frequently.
  11. While buns are cooking, mix cream cheese and powdered sugar, then add milk as needed for desired texture. The icing should be at least pourable to spreadable, depending on your preference.
  12. When buns are done, invert the pan onto a baking rack, then invert again onto another baking rack to let them cool for a few minutes. Once cook enough to handle, separate the buns and drizzle or spread icing.

Baron Bagels

The New York Times recently had a piece about baking bagels with lye. Given my predilection for homemade bagels (and strong support of the use of lye) I took a look at their recipe for Baron bagels. While I’ve had good success with Peter Reinhart’s recipe (modifying my cooking time to 20 minutes at 425 F for a crispier crust), I decided it was time to branch out.

The original recipe that’s still posted on the Times’ website hasn’t been updated for the use of lye, but reading between the lines, the major differences appear to be the use of a starter and a lye bath instead of baking soda. The 0.15% solution was quite a bit lower than the 0.5% solution I usually use, but that was derived from vague descriptions on scattered websites (whereas this was from a legitimate bagel bakery). The original recipe calls for 600 g of flour and 365 mL of water (for a 61% hydration, slightly more than Reinhart’s 57%), but I replaced 50 g of flour and 50 mL of water with 100 g of a 50% sourdough starter. This kept the hydration the same. I cut the yeast slightly to compensate for the sourdough. The Baron recipe also uses diastatic instead of non-diastatic malt (the former contains enzymes that break down starch, the latter is basically a mild sweetener). 

The dough was definitely wetter and more difficult to work with. Unlike Reinart’s recipe, there was no resting time before loading the bagels into the fridge for an overnight rest, and it showed when I loaded them into the water bath. They sank like a rock, and didn’t float until nearly the end of their 2 minutes. However, despite getting a bit misshapen as i tried to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot, the end-product was reasonable. They were a bit dense, but had a good flavor and crust. I’ll try merging some of the elements from each recipe for my next attempt, adding some more rising time, but keeping the diastatic malt and mid-cooking flip from the Baron recipe.

Summer Blueberry Pie

Summer is a bountiful time for fruit, but there’s only so much plain fruit I can eat. Jam is a great way to store fruit for year-round use, but there are times when I need more immediate satisfaction. Pie is the obvious solution. For summer, I’ve typically resorted to a fruit tart, which can leverage a range of whatever happens to be in season. This year, I was inspired to go for a more traditional fruit pie with Serious Eats’ blueberry pie.

The original recipe calls for two different types of blueberries, but I didn’t bother, instead opting to use the large tub of blueberries I’d purchased from Costco (which turns out to have surprisingly good quality fruits and vegetables, albeit with a limited selection). I also used Minute tapioca instead of the prescribed tapioca starch. The pie holds up pretty well, though it’s not quite as reslient as some others I’ve made. This was also the first pie I’ve made with the Old Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough Serious Eats has been peddling recently (my usual go-to pie crust is Cooks’ Illustrated vodka-based pie dough). True to its description, it was easy to handle and flaky, though came out a bit thinner than I’m used to (the total amount of dough is less than most other recipies). This was also my first venture into a lattice crust. It was surprisingly simple. As you can see in the picture, some of my artwork was buried in the bubbling blueberry filling.

One twist I found interesting in this recipe: the use of corriander to boost the blueberry flavor. I didn’t do a blinded test, but the filling certainly was tasty.

I used a Pyrex glass pie plate for this ventured, which I had recently been eschewing in favor of fancier stoneware alternatives. I’m curious to test SE’s claims that aluminum pie plates deliver the best results. This model from King Arthur Flour looks like a winner.

Summer vision challenges

Summer is a time of year where I feel compelled to wear sunglasses. Although I wear contact lenses much of the time, I occasionally need to give the eyes a break and uses glasses. I can just wear prescription sunglasses outside, right?   

In theory, it’s a fine solution, but once I step inside, it becomes awkward. Do I also bring along a pair of regular glasses (made more challenging since I have no coat pocket to store them)? This requires awkward swapping of frames as a enter or exit. Or do I just casually prop the glssses up on my forehead and pretend I can see?Modern challenges. 

You should have a butter bell

I’m not as huge an advocate of butter as some are, but butter has its place. One of those places should be at the table, ready to spread onto whatever baked good needs a bit more fat and flavor. Butter can transform a plain slice of bread into a flavorful treat. The challenge is that butter is typically stored in the refrigerator, and trying to spread cold butter onto soft bread is bound to ruin both. Butter can only be kept out for a short time before it spoils, and attempts to speed softening with the microwave often results in a mixture of melted and solid forms.

The solution is simple: a butter bell. This ingenioius contraption is a small bowl that is packed with butter then inverted into another container filled with a bit of water. The water creates a seal that keeps the butter fresh when not in use. When opened, soft, spreadible butter is at your disposal. The butter can often keep fresh for weeks at a time. An inexpensive butter bell can be had for under $10.

Control your temper

It would be fantastic if one could just melt chocolate wihtout much attention and mold it into whatever use came to mind, but that’s not the case. Chocolate that has been simply heated without regard to temperature can form a streaky mess with off flavors. The right way to reshape a solid mass of chocolae is with “tempering”: a controlled melting that eases the choclate into the narrow temperature window (around 90° F) where it is rendered malleable by the warmth, but not damaged by the heat.

I did this recently via the traditional stovetop method using a double boiler (a bowl set over a pot of steaming water), with close monitoring of the temperature using an instant read thermometer (I use a Thermoworks Thermapen).

I used the instructions from about.com, which essentially say to first heat up the chocolate to a relatively high temperature (110 °F for white or milk, 115 °F for dark), then cool to a working temperature (87 °F for white/milk, 90° F for dark). While it seems a bit finicky in the descriptions online, I found it reasonably easy so long as you are patient.

I used this approach to make a peanut chocolate cluster and a red quinoa “Crunch” bar. The sous-vide approach to tempering described at Serious Eats seems like an even easier way to go. The same process is followed as above, but allows you to perform it all via a sous vide machine. The chocolate sits in a vacuum-sealed bag and only requires occasional agitation.

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