• Banana-Chocolate Chip Squares

    spelt2spelt1speltWhen life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when bananas turn black, might as well start baking. In fact, for many (ok…me), old bananas baked into desserts are a much better way to leverage the soft, sweet fruit than raw preparations. And if you happen to add some dark chocolate and some spice, well then you are onto something. Something good. Something called Banana-Chocolate Chip Squares.

    spelt5spelt6Happily, Carolyn hates to be wasteful, so when those bananas get black, the boys and I get this treat. But Carolyn is still a Mom (with a capital M) and that means if we get sweets, something healthy often gets snuck in as well. Usually this means some whole wheat flour in baked goods. And while we like whole wheat flour, sometimes it makes for dense and somewhat bitter-flavored dishes. That is OK for bread, but for sweets, a total bit of a bummer. But Carolyn has an answer (doesn’t she always?).

    spelt7spelt8In the case the hack solution is to use spelt flour rather than whole wheat. Spelt is an ancient “proto-flour” that behaves in similar fashion to whole wheat but with softer flavor. So you get some of the nuttiness of whole wheat, but very few bitter notes. In fact, other than slightly denser texture, it would be hard for even a trained palette to notice and bitter flavor at all. And since you get a big dose of the sweet bananas and chocolate, along with spice, all you will really notice is how good these squares are. And if you add in some vanilla ice cream, it is even better. Think “banana split as it should have been” and you might be close.

    spelt9spelt10Like many of our recipes, Carolyn adapted the basics from King Arthur Flour (no, we aren’t on the payroll yet, but one can always hope…). The main adaptation is substituting white chocolate chips for chopped walnuts. Our kids don’t love walnuts in baked goods, so why not add more chocolate? And besides, we are using spelt to avoid bitter flavors, so why risk it with a tannic ingredient like walnuts?

    spelt11Nope, we will always take more chocolate. And like we said, if you serve this with ice cream, the dish goes from good to great. Now maybe we need to add some burnt caramel sauce…maybe even a hint of salt…hmmm….

    spelt4Banana-Chocolate Chip Squares:

    (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Nope, get cooking.

    What You Get: Something like a Blondie, but much better. A good use for over-ripe bananas.

    What You Need: Old bananas.

    How Long? About an hour, or so. Mostly inactive time. You can make this dish any time you have the over-ripe bananas.

    Ingredients:

    (Makes 2 dozen, 2-inch squares)

    • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 1/4 cups (9 3/8 oz.) dark (or light) brown sugar
    • 3 very ripe medium bananas, about 8 oz. peeled
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 3/4 cups (6 1/8 oz.) whole spelt flour
    • 1 cup (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
    • 1 cup (6 oz.) white chocolate chips

    Assemble:

    1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
    2. Cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Beat in the bananas, lemon juice, vanilla, baking powder, salt and spices, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the egg, beating until smooth and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, again. Stir in the flour, mixing thoroughly.
    3. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan. Allow the batter to rest for 15 minutes, it will thicken slightly. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the batter.
    4. Bake the squares in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the center is moist, but not liquid. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack.
    5. For the best texture you can cool the squares overnight (if you have the patience). Cut and serve with vanilla ice cream, if you like.
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  • Elegant White Cake With Chocolate Ganache

    Elegant White Cake With Chocolate Ganache.

    Elegant White Cake With Chocolate Ganache.

    Funny thing about cake. Baking a cake is easy. Really. Frosting the cake may be a challenge, but once you have the gear, you can bake cakes pretty much whenever you want. All you need are a few cake pans and a mixer (if you don’t have a stand mixer, baking cakes is a good excuse to get one). Ingredients? If you have the basics like sugar, flour, baking powder, butter and eggs you can bake a cake. Easy.

    elegant3elegant2Once you get the basics down, you can mix and match flavors, fillings and frostings to your heart’s delight. And the delight of others. “And I baked a cake”, is something people like to hear. Baking cakes, assuming you share them, is a good way to make friends and influence people. Such is the power of cake. And cakes serve a crowd, so they are a good excuse to have people over. (If you are gluten-free just eat the frosting and have an extra drink 😉 )

    elegant5elegant6So what’s the catch? Well, it takes some time and planning to bake a cake, and frosting cakes is either something you love or hate to do. Carolyn likes baking and frosting cakes, so we are in luck. And one of the bonuses of summer grilling and smoking is that I am often out of the kitchen so Carolyn has plenty of space to bake without any bumbling interference from me. Carolyn even has time to experiment. That is usually good news for us.

    elegant7elegant8elegant9For this cake, our youngest son wanted “a cake that tasted like a hot fudge sundae”. So Carolyn combined a King Arthur Flour recipe for “Elegant White Cake” with a filling of chocolate ganache and a basic vanilla buttercream frosting. This cake is indeed white in color (no egg yolks), has a very fine texture (cake flour, not AP) and has the added bonus of almond extract that imparts a welcome marzipan-ish note. Real. Good. Cake. Elegant? Sure.

    elegant10elegant11elegant13And the “elegant” cake worked very, very well with the chocolate ganache and buttercream. In fact, one of the treats was dipping the cake trimmings into the ganache and frosting (until Carolyn kicked us out of the kitchen so she could frost the cake). It may seem like a simple combination, but vanilla, dark chocolate and the touch of marzipan kept us coming back again and again. This cake disappeared quickly. Good thing it is so easy to bake another…

    elegant4Elegant White Cake With Chocolate Ganache:

    (Cake adapted from King Arthur Flour)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • The cake recipe makes enough batter for 3 8-inch rounds, 2 9-inch rounds or a 9×13 single layer cake. This recipe is for the 3 8-inch rounds. If baking 9-inch rounds, increase cooking time to 25-30 minutes. If baking the 9×13 cake, cook for about 35 minutes.
    • If you don’t want to fill with chocolate ganache, just use the buttercream.

    What You Get: Fine-grained white cake with a touch of almond flavor and then a big kick of chocolate. What else do you need?

    What You Need: Cake pans and a stand mixer. You don’t have to use a mixer, but most modern recipes assume you will.

    How Long? A couple of hours from start to finish, with 30-40 minutes of active time. Nothing here is hard, you just need patience and a bit of planning.

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