Saturday, January 22, 2011

Breakfast Magic

I am a profound lover of french toast.  It is my go-to breakfast item when I am making it myself, however I almost never order it at a restaurant.  I hate french toast that is basically sandwich bread, quickly dipped in egg batter and pan fried.  For me, it has to be big, thick slices of bread, with a slightly chewy outer crust, and a custardy, fluffy center.  Yes, I am picky about my french toast.  Don't even get me started about "overnight baked french toast".  That stuff, while good, is not french toast.  That is basically bread pudding that you are serving for breakfast.

A couple of years ago, I started using a french toast recipe from Ina Garten. It is a really good basic recipe, and over time, I morphed it, using different kinds of bread (Hawaiian is my fave, by the way), adding different spices, etc.  During these changes, the favorite that the hubster and I had settled on was Hawaiian bread french toast with pumpkin pie seasoning.  So good.  Definitely worthy of favorite status......

......until today.

Sometimes (okay, often),  as I am lying in bed in pre-sleep, I think about recipes.  I think about ways to make things taste the way I want.  Sometimes (okay, also often), these ideas are either never used, or they just don't work they way I think they will in my head.  But this time, this time was different.  MAGICAL.

We had recently gotten, as part of a frequent buyer program, a very large loaf of multi grain bread.  It was unsliced.  Also in the kitchen were three bananas that I deemed too ripe to eat, but wanted to use rather than throwing them in the freezer with their brethren.  The wheels in my head were turning as I lay in bed, and like a flash, I had an idea!  BANANA FRENCH TOAST.  With strawberry sauce.  (and whipped cream for good measure)

This recipe may seem a little bit complicated, but I swear to you it is worth it.  So much banana flavor in the toast.  Like I said, I had the multi grain bread already, but if I had to buy bread for this, I would go with either Hawaiian bread, or something simple, like french bread of challah.  I always get the best results when I slice the bread the night before and let the slices sit out to dry overnight.  That way the bread soaks up more batter and gets fluffier.  So worth it.  If you don't have the bread the night before, you can slice it and dry it out in a warm oven for a little bit before putting it in the batter.  Just make sure you don't toast the bread, or you will have to start over.  Also, the bread that I used was HUGE!  The loaf was easily 8 inches wide, so when I say "5 slices", I'm talking about really big bread.  If your bread is small, this amount of batter will be good for more slices.  I always slice more than I think I will need, just in case.  Besides, you can turn the unused slices into croutons if you want to.

Banana French Toast
Source: ME!!! I made this up myself! 

5 slices of bread, about 3/4 to an inch thick
3 very ripe bananas
1 cup milk (I used 2%, but whole would work too)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
a few good grates of fresh nutmeg
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons banana liquor (this is probably optional, but I thought it added nice flavor. But don't go out and buy a bottle of the stuff just for this.)
Butter, for the pan
Strawberry sauce (recipe follows)

Peel the bananas, break them into large chunks, put them in a bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cut a few slits for ventilation.  Put the bowl in the microwave and cook for about 2 minutes. 

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, microwaved bananas, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the milk comes to a simmer.  Remove from heat, add the vanilla and banana liquor and let it cool for about 15 minutes.  Once cooled, either puree the mixture into a blender or put it in a bowl and use a stick blender to puree the mixture. 

Add the eggs to the milk mixture and either whisk to combine, or use the stick blender again to combine all ingredients.  Pour the mixture into a somewhat shallow dish that is large enough to fit at least one slice of bread (I used a glass 9x9 baking pan, but you could use whatever you want.).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. 

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat.  While the pan is heating, put a few slices of bread (as many as your dish will hold) into the batter.  Be sure to flip the bread so that both sides get fully coated.  Make sure the bread has a chance to soak up the batter.  Melt butter in the pan (fp note:  i think it has to do with the bananas, but these puppies stuck to the pan if i didn't use a bunch of butter.  keep that in mind.). Once the butter has melted, put the batter-soaked bread in the pan.  Let it cook a few minutes on the first side, until light brown, and then flip it and cook the other side.  Once both sides are cooked, take the toast out of the pan and put it on the foil-lined sheet pan.  Continue with the remaining slices of bread until they have all been cooked.

After cooking, place the toast slices in the preheated oven and cook for 8-12 minutes, until slightly dried, and a little puffy.

Serve with strawberry sauce.  And whipped cream.

Strawberry Sauce

Okay, so there are a few ways  I am going to give you to make strawberry sauce:

1.  Quick and easy: take strawberry jam, put some in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave it for about 30 seconds.  Take it out, stir it up, and drizzle it on the french toast.  This is how I did it, because I had jam, but no other form of strawberries.

2.  More time, not hard:  put some frozen strawberries in a small saucepan and cook it over medium heat until the strawberries melt and make a sauce.  Cook it until the liquid reduces and gets thick.  You can puree it, or mash some of it if you want, or leave the berries somewhat whole.  Adding a squirt or two of fresh lemon juice to this is a really nice touch.

3.  Also quick, but more seasonal:  Take some very ripe fresh strawberries, stick them in a bowl and microwave them.  Smash them up after they are hot.

It doesn't really matter how you get strawberry sauce, as long as you get it.  It is so good with the banana french toast. 

You could also serve the french toast with chocolate sauce, or peanut butter (heated and thinned out), or whatever you like with bananas.  Let your imagination run wild!  

And P.S. - I normally have more time between posts, but I was so excited that I created this on my own and it was sooooo good, I just couldn't wait to share it with you.  That's a little real-time flourpile action for you.  Enjoy!!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

There was silence

You know that you have made something good when there is silence when it is being eaten, sometimes punctuated by a few small groans or grunts during consumption. Gotta love that. This cake was one of those things.  I made it for dessert to feed to the hubster and his friend when they were watching a football game (I don't like football.  Any reason not to be in the living room while the game is on is A-OK with me). 

You're supposed to let the cake cool completely before glazing it, and certainly before cutting it.  That didn't happen when I made it.  I had two men in my living room that had been smelling cake for half an hour, and it was all I could do to make them wait the 10 minutes you are supposed to wait to take it out of the pan.  However, this cake AH-MAZING warm, with yummy melty glaze on it.  I can't officially condone cutting into the cake before it's cool, because I respect the recipe, but man was it good. 

The recipe calls for nonstick baking spray with flour for the pan.  I forgot to get this when I went to the store, so I just used regular nonstick spray.  My cake came out of the pan just fine, but my bundt pan is also nonstick, so I'm guessing that helps.  You decide which you want to use. 

When you make the glaze, you probably won't think it's enough.  It is, especially if you put it on the cake when the cake is still warm, so it melts and thins out a little.  I also ended up using more lemon juice than called for, because I thought the glaze was just too thick. 

Oh, and one more thing:  this cake is light (meaning less fat and calories than regular cake)!  That means you can eat twice as much, right?

Light Lemon Bundt Cake
Source:  America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
Serves 16

Note:  You'll need 1 to 2 lemons to make 1/4 cup zest.  This cake tastes best when made with whole milk.  When separating the eggs for this cake, be sure not to get any yolk into the whites or the whites will not whip properly.

(flourpile note: i didn't have whole milk, so i used 2%.  still fantastic)

Nonstick baking spray with flour
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup grated fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large egg whites
Pinch cream of tarter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Light Lemon Glaze (recipe follows)
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the inside of a 12-cup bundt pan with the nonstick baking spray. 
  2. Whisk the flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, zest, salt, baking powder and baking soda together in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, egg yolks, oil, butter and vanilla together. 
  3. In a large bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tarter together with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute.  Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the whites to soft, billowy mounds, about 1 minute.  Gradually whip in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, about 1 minute.  Continue to whip the whites until the are shiny and form stiff peaks, 1 to 3 minutes. 
  4. Whisk the milk mixture and lemon juice into the flour mixture until smooth.  Fold the whipped egg whites into the batter with a large rubber spatula until combined, smearing any stubborn pockets of egg whites against the side of the bowl. 
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan and gently tap the pan on the counter to settle the batter.  Bake the cake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. 
  6. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip it out onto a wire rack.  Let the cake cool completely, about 2 hours.  When cool, drizzle with the glaze, if using, and let the glaze set before serving, about 15 minutes. 
Light Lemon Glaze
(or orange)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
5 teaspoons lemon (or orange) juice
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon (or orange) zest
Pinch salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth.  Slather about as you please.

Nutrition info (yeah, yeah, whatever)
Per serving, with glaze:
Calories: 280
Fat: 8g
Sat. Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 50 mg
Carbs: 52g
Protein: 3g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 210 mg

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Cookbooks = New Treats!

I love new cookbooks.  So many new things to try.  When I get them, I tend to read through them like a book, and then go through them a second time with a stack of post-it notes, marking the recipes I especially want to try.  I was given a copy of the Gourmet Cookie Book for Christmas, and at the first opportunity I had, I made something out of the new book.  The first recipe I tried was this one for Mocha Toffee Bars.  These are very easy to make, and so delicious.  The base layer is quite sweet, which plays nicely with the bittersweet chocolate and salty cashews on the top.  All in all, quite tasty.

Mine came out a little thinner than they probably should, because my pan is larger than what is called for.  I'm okay with that.  I just decreased the cooking time a little, so that they didn't burn.

Mocha Toffee Bars
Makes 4 dozen bars

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder, dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cups salted roasted cashews, chopped

Preheat oven to 350.  Line a 10 1/2 x15 1/2 inch baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. 

In a bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter, add the brown sugar, and beat the mixture until it is light a fluffy.  Beat in the yolk, add the vanilla and the espresso mixture, a little at a time, beating and beat the mixture until it is combined well.  Add the salt and the flour, beating, and beat until combined well.  Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 to  20 minutes, or until it pulls away slightly from the edge of the pan. 

As soon as the base layer is done cooking, sprinkle the chocolate over the top and let it sit for a bit, until the chocolate looks glossy.  Spread the now melted chocolate with an offset spatula and sprinkle with the chopped nuts.  Allow this to sit for about 15 minutes, until the chocolate is set but not hard.  Cut into 48 pieces, and allow to cool completely in the pan. 

See?  Super simple, totally tasty.  And I suppose you could use any other kind of nut you wanted, but I like cashews, so I kept them.

Monday, January 10, 2011


For Christmas dinner, I made dessert.  I was sort of given free-reign to make whatever I wanted, which is fun and can also be a little overwhelming.  There are just so many great desserts out there that are dying to be made.  But in the end, a simple classic won out. Well, simple and classic, kicked up a notch. 

The cake recipe I got from  Beantown  Baker's Irish Car Bomb cupcakes.  The cake itself is so rich and moist that it quickly became my go-to chocolate cake recipe.  The addition of beer (dark, stout beer) gives the cake a little bit of an interesting edge, and it doesn't really taste obviously of beer when it's all done. 

The frosting recipe is from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.  I added a couple of teaspoons of instant espresso powder to the recipe, since I needed a frosting that could stand up, flavor-wise, to the rich cake.  I'm happy I did. 

I made both the cake and the frosting a day ahead, and assembled them just before eating.  I wrapped each cake layer in plastic and kept them on the counter overnight.  The frosting stayed in the fridge until a couple of hours before I put the dessert together.  I whipped it up with a hand mixer for a few minutes before I frosted the cake. 

Chocolate Stout Cake
makes two 9-inch rounds, or 24 cupcakes

1 cup dark beer (I used double chocolate stout, but Guinness also works)
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350.  If making a large cake, grease two cake pans and dust with cocoa powder, and then line the bottoms with parchment paper.  Bring 1 cup beer and 1 cup butter to a simmer in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat.  Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth.  Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl to blend.  Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed.  Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.  Divide batter evenly in cake pans.  Tap the filled pans lightly on the counter to remove any bubbles.  Bake until tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, rotating the pans once, about 20-25 minutes.  Cool cakes completely before frosting.

Chocolate Frosting
Makes about 4 cups, enough for a 2 layer cake

Note:  You can use bittersweet, semisweet, milk, or white chocolate in this recipe.  You can also use bittersweet, semisweet or milk chocolate chips here, but do not use white chocolate chips because they will not melt to a smooth consistency.

10 ounces chocolate, chopped fine
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)

Place chocolate in a food processor.  Bring the cream, corn syrup, and salt to a boil in a liquid measuring cup in the microwave.  Stir the mixture to combine.

Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and process until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.  If you are using espresso power, sprinkle it over the top of the hot cream before processing.

Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to process until combined, about 30 seconds.  With the machine running, add the softened butter, one piece at a time, through the feed tube.  Continue to process until the frosting is smooth and no butter chunks remain, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the frosting to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until thick and spreadable, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

To Make Ahead
The frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Let the frosting stand at room temperature until softened, about 2 hours, then whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, 2 to 5 minutes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I know, I know.  I'm long overdue for a new post.  I'm sorry to leave you hanging.  The holidays were a wee bit busy and filled with a nasty cold that just. won't. die.  But, life must go on!  In an attempt to make up for my lack of posts, I give not one, not two, but THREE recipes for candy. 

All of these were things I made to give to people for the holidays, which is why I had to wait to put up the recipes, so as not to spoil any gift surprises. 

Candy 1:  Skillet Toffee (aka Crunchy Candy Toffee)

I got this recipe from The Kitchn. It is very simple and easy to make, and it is such a crowd pleaser.  I ended up making 4 batches to give as gifts to friends and family, and I took a couple of plates of it to work, where it was devoured by hungry stagehands.  The only thing I did differently than the original recipe was to coat both sides of the toffee in chocolate.  I will give you instructions for that, if you choose to go that route like I did. 

One thing I will mention about this recipe:  don't try to rush it.  I tried to make one batch in a hurry, and it was a total fail.  I turned the heat on the stove way too high, and instead of the butter and sugar melting into each other, they separated.  So I had a layer of browned sugar, and a layer of melted butter on top.  So, keep the heat closer to medium than high, and be patient.  The cooking part really only takes about 30 minutes anyway, so it's not like you'll spend a whole day cooking this stuff. 

Skillet Toffee
makes about 2 1/4 pounds

1 pound unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I used bittersweet chocolate chips)
3/4 cup chopped toasted blanched almonds

Line the bottom and sides of a 10-inch x 15-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat. As the butter melts, stir in the sugar and salt.  Continue stirring constantly and rapidly with a wooden spoon, keeping the sides of the pan clean by brushing occasionally with a wet pastry brush.  The mixture should bubble as you stir.  Cook until the mixture turns a deep golden brown, taking care not to burn it.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour the mixture into the lined baking sheet.  Allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then sprinkle the mixture with the chocolate.  When the chocolate looks glossy, spread it with an offset cake spatula or wooden spatula, and sprinkle with the nuts.  Gently press the nuts into the chocolate with the palms of your hands.

Cool completely (at least 6 hours) then break the toffee into chunks. 

FP notes:  If you want to cover both sides with chocolate, here's what you do:  After you have let the top layer of chocolate set/cool (this can be a couple of hours, or overnight), be very careful and flip the toffee over so that the non-chocolate side is on top, and keep it in the pan.  Melt some chocolate in a double-boiler until it is spreadable.  Pour the melted chocolate onto the toffee and spread it with an offset spatula.  Let that cool and set for another few hours, and then you can break it into chunks.

One more thing:  If you don't have an offset spatula, go buy one. Buy one now.  Seriously.  Most. Useful. Tool. Ever.

Keep the toffee in an airtight container, but don't put it in the fridge or the chocolate will bloom and your toffee will be ugly.   It ships well, if you are wondering.

Candy 2:  Marzipan

I made this marzipan for my dad.  He absolutely loves the stuff, and I love to make it for him for Christmas.  However, while I can make things taste good, I am not good at making them look good.  My original plan was to make the marzipan shaped like fish, and paint them with food coloring (dad loves to fly fish).  This was far beyond my abilities, and the fish looked like weird torpedoes.  So, I reverted back to my standby: hearts.  As you can see, some of them were coated in red sugar, some were fully coated in chocolate, and some were just partially dipped in chocolate.  It all tasted good, and I'm pretty sure dad was happy regardless, so I'm going to consider it a success.

Making marzipan is a two-step process.  First you make the almond paste, and then you turn that paste into marzipan.  There are a couple of different ways to do it, but the method I use is the simpler of the two, and doesn't involve any cooking, just the use of the food processor.  

I got the recipes from Truffles, Candies and Confections: Techniques and Recipes for Candymaking by Carole Bloom.  This is not the first time I've made marzipan, and this is the recipe I always use.


Step 1:  Almond Paste
Yield: 2 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups whole, blanched almonds (fp note: i can never find whole blanched almonds, and i'm not about to blanch them myself, so i buy blanched slivered almonds)
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, or more as needed
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Combine the almonds and the 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Pulse the mixture until it is finely ground (about 1 minute) then add the egg white and process until the mixture forms a ball (about 30 seconds).

If the almond paste seems sticky, add more confectioners' sugar. 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is smooth.  Tightly wrapped in plastic, the almond paste will keep for 3 months in the refrigerator or 6 months in the freezer.  Bring the almond paste to room temperature before using.

At this point, I usually like to let the almond paste chill out in the fridge for a little while before proceeding to the next step.  I'm not sure it's totally necessary, but I do it anyway.

Step 2: Making the marzipan
Yield: 1 pound

3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 recipe almond paste
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

Here's what the book says: Dust a marble or wood  board with a few tablespoons of the confectioners' sugar.  Place the almond paste on the board and make a well in the center of the paste. Add the egg whites and 1 cup of the remaining confectioners' sugar.

Knead the mixture together, adding the remaining confectioners' sugar as needed to make a smooth and pliable texture (about 5 minutes). Marzipan should have the consistency of pie dough when completed.

Here's what I do: I tried doing it once with the books instructions, and it made a huge mess.   Instead, I break up the almond paste into smaller chunks and put them in the food processor.  Add the egg whites and pulse it until combined.  Then add the confectioners' sugar, a little at a time, pulsing to combine, until you get the pie-dough consistency that the book calls for.

After that, I wrap it in plastic and put it back in the fridge until it has chilled.  After it is chilled, I shape it.  You can also tint the marzipan before shaping, using food coloring (I recommend the gel kind).  My favorite way to eat it is dipped in chocolate, but it's delicious on its own too.

Candy 3: Candied Orange Peel

I made this for mom.  It's one of her favorite candies, and she loves it both plain and dipped in chocolate.  I had never made this before, so this was a bit of an adventure for me.  It's also not a candy that I typically eat, so I'm trusting that mom is telling the truth when she said it was good.  This recipe makes a ton of pieces, so keep that in mind.  It also takes up quite a bit of time.  It's not all hands-on, but you have to keep an eye on it.

When I went looking for recipes for this stuff, I found a couple of sources, but no one recipe that I really wanted to use, so I sort of combined two recipes, and I'm pretty pleased with the results. The bulk of the recipe came from the Carole Bloom book.  I found a "recipe" on a blog that I used a little of the technique from, but the blogger didn't include any real measurements, which is why I had to find another recipe.

Candied Orange Peel

6 to 8 navel oranges
6 cups (or something like that) sugar
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur (I used triple sec because that's what I had)

Slice the ends off of the oranges, and cut them in half.  Juice the oranges (and then drink the juice -- yummy).  After juicing, you can slice oranges into quarters, but it's not necessary.  Put the orange peels in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring the pot to a boil, and boil the oranges for 5 minutes.  Drain off the water, and repeat the boiling process 2 more times.

After the 3 boil, drain the oranges, and rinse them with cold water.  Remove and leftover pith and pulp (it should peel off easily).  Slice the peels into strips.  Put the strips back into the pan, and combine them with 3 cups of sugar, the orange liqueur, and a little more water (like 2 cups).  Cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved (about 5 minutes), stirring constantly.  Continue to cook over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently. 

Remove the orange slices from the pot with a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack to dry (put the rack over a sheet pan coated with wax paper to catch any drips) overnight.  Once dry, roll the slices in the remaining sugar to coat.  Store them in an airtight container in the fridge.

You can eat them plain, or dip them in chocolate.  It's up to you.