Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

DingDingDing! We have a winner. The BEST banana chocolate chip muffins out there.

To be honest, this isn't the culminating point of years of searching - I haven't been frantic to discover the end-all banana chocolate chip muffin. But find it I did, and my utter (though possibly naive) confidence that a superior recipe cannot be found should be reason alone to believe my claim. If it isn't, scroll through the rave reviews beneath the recipe - others agree!

I did a basic search for banana chocolate chip muffins and chose this recipe in particular because it called for four bananas, which is precisely what I had. (One of the perks of living with five other people: bananas are bound to be lost or forgotten, only to resurface much too late. If my roommate hadn't neglected her bananas to beyond overripe, I probably wouldn't be writing this post right now.)

Banana Soup: The bananas, melted butter, milk, eggs and vanilla are combined first.

The Dry Stuff: Flour, brown sugar, baking power, soda, salt, and chocolate chips are stirred in.

Yield: 12 regular muffins and 12 mini muffins : )
What makes these muffins better than the rest? The brown sugar, for sure; many recipes use regular granulated sugar, and you can imagine the difference this makes simply by looking at the two sugars. I think, though, these muffins hit their zenith because of the bananas. I'm telling you, they were black. If you can wait a couple more days, then wait a couple more days. It's tough, I know, but what comes out of it are the softest, moistest (my sister is cringing somewhere), banana-y-est (Noah Webster is rolling over somewhere), most beautiful banana chocolate chip muffins you'll ever meet.


Hey - if I'm wrong, prove it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Betty Crocker Sugar Cookies and Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

Valentine's Day. Probably the most polarized holiday out there, wouldn't you say? Many decide early on that this day is one to deplore for its exclusive nature, denounce as solely commercial, and demonize as the perpetrator of an express-your-love-one-day-a-year mentality. Then there are people like me, who look at Valentine's Day and see pretty colors, heart-shaped delectables and delicate confections. Why look any further than that?

This year, in addition to our deluxe sugar cut-outs, we tried out homemade peanut butter cups. My roommate had happened upon the recipe before I left for home, and it looked much too simple to pass up.

I needn't say more. Next up was our coveted sugar cut-outs, an ever-so-slightly modified version of Betty Crocker's Deluxe Sugar Cookies. These morsels come out of our kitchen three times a year at most, due in part to the (lovable) tedium of the process, but mostly out of respect: to make them too often would dilute their novelty status. Sounds a bit overblown, but we've never met a better sugar cookie. We'll accept yours if you offer - you know, to be polite - but when we do we're indulging more in our own superiority than in the taste of your mediocre cookie.

Whooa, I just got nasty! But listen: the cookies are thin, light and flaky, and still manage to tout the softest notes of almond butter. The icing achieves an artisanal consistency between frosting and glaze, finishing each cookie with almond-vanilla bliss. Once you're introduced, there's no going back.

Jewelry schmewelry.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

Cupcakes. Nine posts into my baking blog and I am only now beginning to talk about cupcakes. Well, let me set the record straight: I think cupcakes are the tops. Maybe I'm just being taken for a ride by the cupcake bandwagon that has been in town for about a year now - have you noticed? they're quite trendy - but I have a difficult time imagining a more charming, compact and downright fun dessert. To unwrap a cupcake is to call it your own, like a packaged gift with a delightful bow.

On that note, we took to my sister Caitlin's kitchen in celebration of her 28th birthday and to inaugurate the baking career of her spanking new KitchenAid, the alpha tool in a baker's kitchen. It stood proud in all its shiny red glory as we baptized it with the first ingredients of butter and sugar. We switched the lever to speed 6 of 10. Welcome.

We sampled one cupcake warm from the oven - moist and chocolatey, though the three tablespoons of brewed coffee didn't seem to make it through the baking process - and saved the rest for the marshmallow frosting. The topping was essentially sugar and egg white, fluffed up to ten times its original volume. I consider this the true debut of the kitchen's newest addition:

Well done. To be honest, I felt a bit lazy during the whole process, revealing my only qualm with a mixer that can take on virtually any task. I enjoy the action of stirring and whipping and kneading; it's a huge part of why I love to bake. One thing a KitchenAid absolutely cannot do? Frost and decorate. And thank goodness for that.

Happy Birthday to a wonderful sister : )

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Petit Pain au Chocolat

Chocolate-filled rolls: that was my next bread endeavor. I had my own illusions for what they would be like; I had experienced similar pastries at PAUL in London and at a tiny patisserie in the boulanger's promised land itself: France. It was there that I double-fisted a croissant and a pain au chocolat and discovered the ambrosial apex of the bread and chocolate rendezvous. So when I began my petits pains, I imagined soft semi-sweet chocolate enveloped in warm, buttery croissant-like bread. But the recipe didn't call for croissant dough - rather, I was to prepare brioche dough.

We made the dough the night before because brioche dough must be chilled when you work with it. It's a beautiful, sticky rich dough, thanks to five eggs and two sticks of butter.

After all the flour is added the dough is still sticky and in no shape for kneading. So instead of the push-turn-pull, B.C. introduced us to the pull-and-throw. Grab the dough in one hand, pull a large handful of it about 14" above the bowl, then throw it back "with considerable force." At first the action seemed futile - the dough was sticky and uncooperative - but it quickly became malleable. The gluten strands became stronger and more resilient with each throw, delivering a before-the-eyes demonstration of dough's metamorphosis.

 My mom and I gave the dough hell for twenty minutes (tag-teaming at five-minute intervals - not easy work!) then gave it a well-deserved three hour rest in front of the fire before stirring it down and putting it to rest in the fridge overnight.

The next day we found our dough refreshed and raring to be rolled out. It wasn't entirely easy, though. It took a bit of patience and a lot of flour to coax the dough into the specified length, width, and thickness. Don't be fooled by the photo - it looks so agreeable, doesn't it?

And now we really have fun. Enter chocolat.

After the chocolate is nestled inside and the brioche pinched shut, an egg and milk bath sets them up for a deep golden brown finish.

No, they didn't taste like my pains au chocolat from London and Paris - they didn't even look like them. But I have to respect brioche dough and how it comes to be, and I have to respect that, alas, I'm not a French baker - yet.

Croissants to come.