Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An Awesome Substitute for Banana Bread & More

There are many items that are notably "staples" in my kitchen for baking that I rarely go a day without. But there are times when I've misjudged the amount of an ingredient I've had available or just didn't realize that I was out of it. What do you do when such a thing happens? Number one, don't panic, for there is always hope. Number two, bookmark this page!
Welcome to my ingredient substitution page! I've tried to collect a bunch of substitutions for you so you can refer to it in times of need.
This happens to me more than expected - it's not too easy keeping a completely stocked pantry all the time. And sometimes, you don't want to run to the grocery store to pick a missing ingredient up. Sometimes, it's easier said than done. Whether you've got kids, are in your pajamas, or just don't feel like you're up for the trek (and trust me, sometimes it feels like a trek just to make it to the grocery store), you want a backup plan - plan B. Well, here's plan B: Substitutions Page. Save it, download it, keep it nearby for easy access while cooking and baking. And if you have any questions about ingredients that aren't on this list, send me a comment and I'll try to help you out.
On to baking...

There are times when you want banana bread from your brown bananas and there are times when you don't. This week, I had a couple of past-their-peel-and-eat-stage bananas but wanted something more indulgent than just banana bread. I found the perfect cake. It's a single layer cake, humbled and homestyled but special in spite of this. This cake is a chocolate banana cake that is deep in its chocolateyness (if that's not a word, it should be). The color of this cake is strikingly dark and juxtaposed with a cream-colored peanut butter Swiss meringue frosting, it's nothing short of lovely in appearance and taste. Of course, you can always just bake the cake and have it sans frosting. It's so full-bodied in taste that you wouldn't miss it. It comes together quite quickly and is a wonderful snacking cake. This is a great cake to have in your repertoire for those days when you have overripe bananas.

Chocolate Banana Cake
(Slightly adapted from Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

1/2 c + 1 T cocoa powder, unsweetened
1/4 c + 2 T hot water
1 large overripe banana, peeled & mashed
1/4 c + 2 T sour cream, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/3 c all purpose flour, sifted (or 1 1/2 c + 1 T cake flour, sifted)
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 t baking soda
3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
10 T unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon chunks and brought to a cool room temperature

Line a 9x2" round baking pan with parchment and spray it with non-stick spray. Place an oven rack in the middle of your oven and turn it on to 350F to preheat.
In medium bowl, pour the hot water over the cocoa powder and whisk until there are no clumps of cocoa left. Set this aside to cool slightly. Once the cocoa mixture is cooled to at least warm (about 10 minutes; you can speed up the process by putting the cocoa mixture in the refrigerator), mix the mashed banana, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla extract together in a food processor or using a blender. Add the cocoa mixture until it is evenly incorporated. Set this aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Start the mixer on low just to combine the ingredients, uniformly. Once this is done, add your butter, piece by piece. Once the butter is all in, mix for about 30 seconds until you achieve a sandy consistency.
Slowly add the banana-sour cream mixture and beat on medium for about 1 1/2 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl about half-way through. The mixture should become lighter in color and be fluffy in texture. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out free of wet batter or crumbs. Alternately, if you touch the center of the cake it should gently spring back upon release.
Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then invert it onto a wire rack and invert again, so the cake is right side up on the wire rack. Let this cake cool completely. You can then frost it with any frosting you choose, though peanut butter Swiss meringue buttercream seemed to be the perfect accompaniment.
This cake is best kept at room temperature for up to 3 days on a covered cake plate.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day Cookies

I think I've said it before, my husband's favorite cookie is the black and white cookie. And it's fitting as he is a New Yorker, through and through. So for Father's Day after having baked a bunch of fancy desserts over the past few weeks, I thought I'd give him exactly what he wanted - a simple, no-frills cookie. The black and white cookie:

These cookies are truly perfect in their simplicity but it's crucial to get the textures right otherwise this will not end up a classic black and white cookie. The cookie part must be cakey and thick and the frosting must set to a slightly hardened finish resulting in a quite sturdy cookie for transporting. This is why I suggest making the cookies a day in advance.

I baked the cookies and iced them on Father's Day and my hubbie said the cookies were great except for one detail. The icing hadn't hardened to his liking. Although the icing had set, it was too soft, in other words, too fresh. These cookies are known for their deli presence which may suggest a less than fresh-out-of-the-oven texture especially with the icing. Therefore, for the ultimate deli-style black and white cookie experience, make the cookies and ice them a day in advance of serving. When you eat them the next day, the icind will have hardened quite nicely on the outside, with a soft chewiness underneath. You will not be disappointed, especially if you've ever had and loved a New York black and white cookie.

*(Be sure to like my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Leelabean to stay up to date on the goings-on in my kitchen..!)*

Black & White Cookies
(Adapted and halved from America's Test Kitchen)
Makes around 12 large cookies

2 cups cake flour
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
8 T unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t lemon extract
1/2 c 2% milk

2 T light corn syrup
1/4 c water
2 1/2 c confectioner's sugar (10x)
1/4 t vanilla extract
3 T cocoa powder
1 T vegetable oil

For the cookies:
Place two oven racks in the two middle positions and preheat your oven to 350F. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high until it is pale, light, and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the egg to the butter mixture along with the extracts. Mix until it is well combined. Then add about 1/3 of the flour mixture. Next, add 1/2 the milk and then repeat with the flour and milk until it is all incorporated into the dough. Be careful not to overmix the dough. At this point, you can cover the dough in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Bring it to room temperature before you are ready to bake it.
Scoop 1/4 c mounds of the dough onto the cookie sheets about 2-3" apart. Smooth the top of the cookies with a moistened finger (either using water or nonstick spray). It's easiest to scoop the cookie mounds in whatever size you wish using a cookie scoop. I used a tablespoon sized cookie scoop and ended up with 2 1/2" cookies. Bake the cookies until the edges begin to turn golden brown, anywhere from 12 - 15 minutes, depending on your oven. Once out of the oven, let the cookies rest on the cookie sheets for about 10 minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack until they are completely cooled.

For the icings:
Boil the corn syrup and water over medium high heat and then turn off the heat. Add the confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth and shiny. Divide the icing in half. Set one half (vanilla icing) aside. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and vegetable oil and whisk until uniform in consistency. Add the cocoa paste to the other half of the icing and whisk in until smooth and completely combined. You may add a few drops of water to the chocolate icing to loosen it up to a spreadable consistency. Using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate icing on half of each cookie. Let the cookies set for at least 15 minutes. Again, using an offset spatula, spread the vanilla icing on the other half of each cookie. Let dry for another 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container. These cookies keep for about 3 days at room temperature.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Year of Blogging

There has got to be a way to slow down time. I don't know about you, but in my life, it's going by way too quickly. So much so that stopping to smell the roses is more like getting a whiff while hurrying by. My daughter just turned 8, my son is soon to be 5, my sweet marshmallow of a puppy is going to be 10 years old in just a couple of months! And yesterday, this very blog turned one....!
A full year of baking and displaying it for all of you to see. It was a hard step to make, to start a blog and let you in to my lives in such a way. I am an introvert, by nature so having a blog was a true leap for me. But I did it and I'm glad I did. It's been a fun year in the kitchen and I've been able to unleash my creativity so much more than I ever thought I could or would. At a time when my children were getting older and less needy the way little ones are of their mommies, I needed something to call my own. And I found it in my kitchen. I'm in no state to slow down either. I have ideas and flavor combinations, designs and a bunch of recipes waiting to be experimented with.

And if you are one of the people who frequents the pages of my blog, I thank you for having the interest and believing in me. It truly means a lot.

I've had it in my head to change the look of my blog for a while now. What better time than at the 1 year mark. I am one of those people who is constantly changing the furniture around in their house because I get tired of the same thing day in and day out. I've also started a Leelabean facebook page that is dedicated to all things that are created in my kitchen. So check it out when you get a chance.
Now.... On to this week's celebration!

So, what to create and blog about for such a milestone? Surely this had to be something unusual, out of the ordinary. No plain-jane vanilla or chocolate this time. This cake had to be dressed up and fancy.. An opera cake!

For those of you who don't know, an opera cake is French in origin. It is composed of layers of almond sponge cake, also known as jacond, nestled between layers of coffee syrup, ganache and coffee and vanilla buttercream. Some would call it a distant cousin to Italy's tiramisu. Opera cake is beautiful and refined with the familiarity of such flavors as chocolate and coffee. It's cake at a ball - in a full-length gown and sparkly glass slippers. And it's the perfect dessert for this occasion.
Making it was a multi-step procedure but each step was relatively easy. The almond cake is made very thin for stacking and only uses beaten egg whites to incorporate a rise. The ganache is made from a combination of semisweet and bittersweet chocolates. The buttercream is the glorious Swiss meringue buttercream in vanilla and coffee flavors. The syrup that helps keep the layers of cake moist is a coffee-infused simple syrup. Finally the chocolate glaze layer is made using corn syrup and vegetable oil to create sheen.

Surely this is the grandest cake I've ever made. Taking a bite brought me to a cafe in Paris, where I was sitting outside and having a cup of coffee while taking small, delicate bites of this heavenly dessert. The elements of this cake work so well together to create one delicious experience in your mouth. It's the perfect cake to celebrate this special day.

And with that, this post comes to a close. A year of baking ends and another begins. I look forward to the upcoming year of baking and blogging bliss and I'm excited to see what amazing kitchen adventures it will bring!

Until next time,


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fondant & Bakery-Style Cakes

Check out these two cakes I made for two brothers' birthdays  this past weekend. The first one was white cake with vanilla frosting and the second one was chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. While I love doing fondant cakes, sometimes a classical bakery-styled cake is just what you need. I'm glad I was able to do both for this party.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Homemade Oreos

Here is a case of homemade being way better than storebought. There have been quite a few recipes going around the internet for homemade oreos and I'd always had it on my list (my, how long this list is!) to make them. What better time than at the end of school for the kids' teachers' gifts..?

I have a friend who gets Oreo's straight from the manufacturer from time to time and she says that she's madly in love with these particular packages because the cookies are actually soft. They only seem to harden with time as the sit on the shelves in our grocery stores. Well guess what, these homemade cookies are soft too! They are soft but firm enough to sandwich the thick cream between two of them. They are quite chocolatey without being heavy - maybe not such a good thing, as it's easy to pop 2 or 5 or 7 in one sitting...

So, I pulled up the recipe and got to work. It didn't take long and wasn't difficult at all! The cookies are a cinch to throw together and the cream filling tastes JUST like the real thing.
It's a fun project and kids, young and old, will thank you for them. Just make sure you save this recipe, because if you make them once, you are going to want to make them again... and again.

Homemade Oreos
(Slightly adapted from Retro Desserts: Totally Hip, Updated Classic Desserts from the '40s, '50s, '60s, and '70s, Wayne Harley Brachman)

1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder (Dutch processed or regular works)
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 c granulated sugar
1 1/4 sticks (10 T) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature

Cream Filling:
1/2 stick (4 T) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c (4 T) vegetable shortening
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 t vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350F with the rack in the center of your oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Beat in the butter and then the egg until it forms a consistent dough.
Scoop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough onto the prepared baking sheet about 2" apart. Use a flat-bottomed cup sprayed with nonstick spray to flatten each of the cookies. Bake the cookies for 9 minutes (they may not look or feel done, but they will set quite a bit as they are cooling).
On to the cream filling! With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and shortening until well combined. Then add the confectioner's sugar slowly and mix on medium until thoroughly blended. Add the vanilla to incorporate. Spoon this filling into a piping bag fitted with a medium round tip such as a Wilton #12.
Once the cookies have completely cooled, pipe a teaspoon-sized bit of filling in the center of half of the cookies. Sandwich with a cream-free half and press down gently and evenly to spread the filling.
Voila! Homemade Oreos! Be a rock star at your next gettogether or party and make these! They are entirely customizable. You can make them oversized or mini and even change the color of the filling or add sprinkles to it for the extra fun factor..!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Triple Chocolate Brownies

Brownies - they're the ubiquitously loveable treat. Do you know a single person who doesn't love brownies? Whether they are fudgy, cakey, studded with nuts and the like, or pure chocolate decadence, brownies are a hit and welcomed most everywhere. So it behooves me that the perfect homemade brownie recipe is so elusive. By now, I'd call myself a seasoned baker and up until last week, whenever a brownie urge struck, I'd reach for that boxed mix that I have made a "staple" in my pantry.
Well, I now think I've found the perfect recipe.. And it's been sitting on my bookshelf all this time. It's really magical in the sense that it's great for both the cakey brownie lover as well as the fudgy brownie lover. Just a matter of minutes in the oven separates the two. The key to a fudgy brownie (my favorite) is to underbake the batter by just a few minutes. For the cakey brownie, you would bake it through entirely.

This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, another staple in my kitchen: Baking Illustrated. This Triple Chocolate Brownie recipe is loaded with three kinds of chocolate - unsweetened chocolate, semi-sweet/bittersweet chocolate, and cocoa powder. I didn't use unsweetened chocolate, since I didn't have any. Rather, I used  a combination of semisweet and bittersweet chocolate. If you do this, make sure to reduce the sugar by 1/4 cup. And, of course, remember that the better quality chocolate you use, the better the resulting brownie will be.

These brownies are chocolatey and develop a nice crisp top which gives way to a rich and chewy interior. Pour yourself a tall glass of ice cold milk and you're good to go.
Time really does fly. It seems like just yesterday I was writing my opening post introducing you to my new blog. Well, next week marks the one year blogaversary of Leelabean Cakes! As you can see from my site, I've done a little revamp and I hope you enjoy the new layout. Come back next week to see what I have in store for the celebration of this blogging milestone!

Triple Chocolate Brownies
(adapted from Baking Illustrated)

5 oz semisweet, bittersweet chocolate (or any combination thereof)
2 oz unsweetened chocolate (I didn't use this ingredient. Instead, I used 7 oz of semi- and bittersweet chocolate)
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 T cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 1/4 c sugar (if you do not use unsweetened chocolate, use only 1 cup of sugar)
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
1 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c chopped nuts, chocolate chips, or any other add-in (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Adjust a rack in your oven to the highest rung in the lower third of your oven. Coat an 8" square baking pan with cooking spray and then line it will parchment paper that overhangs from two opposite sides of the pan, so the brownies will be easy to pull out. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray.
Melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler until it is melted and smooth. Using a whisk, add the cocoa. Let this mixture cool for a few minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt until well combined (about 15-20 seconds). Add the slightly cooled chocolate mixture and mix to incorporate. Then add the flour with a wooden spoon or a spatula.
Pour the mixture into the prepared square baking pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake the brownies for about 27-29 minutes (for chewy brownies) and 35-37 minutes (for cakelike brownies). For chewy brownies, the readiness factor is a toothpick inserted into the middle of the pan with several wet crumbs on it. This will set up to a fudgy brownie when allowed to cool. The cakelike brownies will have just a few dry crumbs on your toothpick when inserted into the brownies.
After letting the brownies cool for about 2 hours (they must be at room temperature), remove the brownies using the parchment overhang. Transfer them to a cutting board and cut as desired. I made 16 brownies out of this batter.
These brownies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days or refrigerated for up to 5.