Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Yes, We Have Some Bubanas

We interrupt this regularly scheduled madeleine project to bring you a breath of spring!

Current outside temperature, 58 degrees.

I had 4 bananas sitting on the counter this morning looking a bit sorry for eating out of hand.  My little one is having a hard time understanding what "overripe" means, so we teamed up and scoured the pantry for things we could throw together and still be able to eat those "bubanas".

I'm sort of tired of traditional banana-nut bread, but I didn't want to venture into Cooking Light territory and start pulling out peanut butter and flax seed meal.  Staring at me on the table was a basket full of juicy clementines and my memory did one of those slow dissolves to a recipe I saw a while back on another blog site.  It was traditional but had a few slight variations and I decided to adapt it far enough to call it my own.

This is NOT your mother's banana bread.  It's light and super moist with high fruit notes.  The spice is so beautifully subtle that you don't know it's there and it doesn't steal the spotlight.  WINNER!

The only thing I would love to try is to make a homemade pineapple whipped cream to place beside it if company should call.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups mashed ripe bananas (I used 4)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt  (I used Blush Lava from Pacifica Hawaii and crushed it a bit.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, chopped fine (I used Reed's)
  • 1/4 teaspoon clementine zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon toasted ground cardamom*
  • 1 cup milk less 1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon white vinegar (substituted for buttermilk) & let sit 10 mins
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a mixer bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add the mashed bananas and mix, add eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla and clementine zest and turn once more.

In a separate bowl combine the dry team: flour, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom with a whisk.  Add dry team slowly to wet team and mix just until blended.  Pour in the milk/vinegar mixture slowly and mix on low just until combined.  Mixture will look a bit curdled.  Fold in the nuts by hand and pour into buttered, floured loaf pan.  There will be enough batter left to fill about 6 jumbo muffin cups.  (Hello, freezer!) 

I baked everything in the same oven with the cupcakes in the top third of the oven and loaf in the middle third.  The cupcakes were tested at 15, 20 and 25 minutes, with 28 being the magic number for my oven.  The loaf was tested at 35 and 40 minutes and was perfectly fragrant, golden and toothpick tested at 40. 

The loaf sat in the pan for 10 minutes before I unmolded it and flipped it on it's top to further cool.  I think this helped keep the settling loaf from getting dense at the bottom - defying gravity!

Bubana Bread

* I only had whole green cardamom pods available.  I toasted them in a small pan on the stove for just a few minutes until they got fragrant, then crushed them a bit to release the little seeds.  I don't have a mortar and pestle so I just put the seeds into my coffee grinder (that was never used for coffee) and whizzed them until they were fine.  This is light years better than buying ground cardamom at the store in my opinion.

These were absolutely toddler approved especially in the shape of a muffin cup! 

Stay tuned, readers, I have some really really really sweet stuff coming very soon!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I'm Changing My Name to Madeleine

You can never have enough Madeleines.  That's what I always say.  Well, that's what I say now that I promised to test several recipes against one another.  I must admit, I loved pulling that pretty little pan o'scallops out again.  Along for the ride, our faithful little scale to keep us honest. And a few new friends: my awesome basting brush and some wooden spoons.  Sorry, Bessy.  (That's what I call my 16-year old Kitchenaid Classic stand mixer.)  This one calls for some old fashioned sweat.  For good luck, the cutting from my Great-Grandmother's Christmas cactus looks on from the sunny window.

Hello, Again, Hello.
I chose this second Madeleine recipe because it had a decidedly different method of mixing from the first "easy" one, and it also originated with Julia Child.  Both of which really mean the same thing - it's done the hard way.  I'm not afraid to hand mix things, don't get me wrong.  But a cake?  Texture depending upon my arm strength?  Heh.

Will I faint while mixing "vigorously"?

Will everyone be getting Madeleine shaped paperweights for Valentine's Day this year?

Here's the thing.  The instructions say early on in the first mixing to "beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend into a heavy cream - if very stiff, add a little bit of the remaining egg, one droplet at a time."

One droplet?

Okay let's just be intimidating, shall we?  Because everyone knows that when I followed this recipe my mixture was nothing I imagine to be a heavy cream and was indeed quite stiff.  I swear, you guys, I really put forth the muscle with the wooden spoon.  I even did some yoga breathing beforehand to focus my core.

If the result is so sensitive as to be thrown off by a single droplet of egg...well, there ya go.  Julia, I love you but wow you were so fussy testing in France, weren't you?

Cut away to Julia in her Paris kitchen: standing over her bowl of eggs, flour, and sugar, loaded eye-dropper in her WWF wrestler-strong hand...

Bah.  Anyway, I added some additional egg and it loosened up enough for me turn my prayers to the melted browned butter which now needed to be stirred over cold water until cool but still liquid.   

Did I mention how much I love lightly browned melted butter?

Someone needs to invent perfume that smells like that.  Oh wait, Paula Deen may already have those rights...I digress.

The resulting batter looked and smelled lovely.  A bit more lemon fragrance came through this time.  This batter rested in the fridge for the hour as called for.  This stuff was thick like cookie dough, guys.

My hubby was so cute standing on a chair taking this picture.  My very own Paul Child.

Despite the viscosity of this batter it spread within the first four minutes of baking to entirely fill each scallop.  By the time they were eight minutes in, the humps were large and well-formed and the edges were already browning.  I had a feeling like I could have taken them out a minute or two shy of the 15-minute bake time but I didn't.  I wanted to follow this to a "T".

I need to back up a bit here and mention that I have never used melted butter mixed with flour to coat a baking vessel before.  Usually I just use cold butter and then flour the pan, tapping out the excess.  I found this intriguing and came to a conclusion that Julia was not using a non-stick Madeleine pan, and as I recall she and Paul tested this on ribbed scallop shells - like from real scallops - with success.  I don't know if my non-stick pan needed all that fuss, but the scalloped sides were very browned and even and it was a heck of a lot easier to brush the pan with that liquid than to hand butter each shell and then mess with the flour.

I love the little discoveries!

End result, guys.
So Purdee!  No it's not crack in the spoon.  Might as well be...
Compared to the first recipe, these came out a bit different.  The outer shells (especially the ridged side that lived with the melted butter/flour goo) had a firm almost biscotti-like crunch.  The insides, in my opinion were a little dense but still nicely textured, even with some little holes through them.  This may have been my fault in the mixing because let's face it, I'm no Kitchenaid.

Given the two recipes, I think I prefer the ease of the first.  The end result seemed more tender and delicate.  However, that said, this second recipe were divine for dipping into some coffee or tea with their sturdiness.  Much more cookie like on the outside.

Satisfaction meter: I'm giving these a 5.  I had to work harder and found happiness in the different result.  Besides,
Aren't they magnifique?
Cutaway: a simple home cook completes her Julia Child recipe with a smile, finding only one garnish that could serve as an ode to the great American French woman ~

Julia always wore pearls in the kitchen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Madeleine Project

Some very wonderful ladies share the same name, although spelled differently.  I am big fans of all alike:

Madeleine Peyroux, musician
Ludwig Bemelman's Madeline

Madeleine "Cookies" image, Food.com

All three are equally elegant, classic, sweet, and somehow decidedly French in style.  All three make me smile and can blow the clouds from a gloomy day.  The third, however, is particularly inspiring to me since I first set teeth on them at everyone's favorite coffee shop. 

I always look for them when I go in for my steaming liquid treat, and they're so popular that they sometimes are sold out.  Three in a pack, shaped like a long seashell, and coming only from heaven's beaches...the delicate cake that is eaten like a cookie, The Madeleine.

I don't know why I never thought of making them at home before.  They look so fragile, so delicate, and so wrapped in coffee house mystique that I felt unworthy.  Sounds silly, but I had a fear of trying these myself. 

Then I decided to create this blog, I wanted a new challenge for the new year and decided to conquer my fear.  I decided I would no longer be a slave to that coffee shop and wait like a dog for a bone for their three-pack.  This must have been brewing in my head for a while, because I asked Santa for a Madeleine pan for Christmas, and through his elf (my muse) I got one. 

I did some research and pulled up several recipes online that were all different in technique.  I started with the easy one because that's how I build my confidence.  This one from Food.com is where I began.

This recipe is so basic, with so few steps, I thought I was going to fail.  It could not be this easy.  I read through all three chosen recipes and decided to start this one with three tips:
  1. Start with all ingredients at room temperature.
  2. Use weight measures wherever possible for consistency.
  3. Work for the classic, "humped" center.
I had all mise en place and involved my little helper.  She loves to "add ingredients" and all was well until she poured both eggs just shy of the mixing bowl, landing them on the counter and her hands.  Cleanup was not a problem and we are persistent girls.  This did leave me with one dilemma - rewarming new eggs to room temperature quickly so I could proceed.  I used the warm water bath method and it only cost me an extra 10 minutes.  We got back down to business and the batter was ready.

My pan holds 12 scallops which left me with half the batter in the pan and the other half waiting.  This recipe does NOT say to chill the batter at all, but the others I researched did.  Experiment #1:  Cook the first batch out of the bowl and chill the remaining batter during wait time for batch two.  Would there be any difference?

Batch #1:  Total cook time, 10 minutes.  Batter was smooth but spread slowly in the oven to fill the shells.  With 3 minutes of remaining cook time there was a decent sized hump formed.  When cooled, there was a good outer crust.  They were a bit dense and a bit dry but quite good.

Batch #2:  Total cook time, 10 minutes. Batter was very thick but spread quickly, filling out the shells more evenly.  With 3 minutes of remaining cook time, there was a larger more classic formed hump.  When cooled this batch was equally crusted on the outside but seemed more moist and tender. 

End review:  it made a difference to chill the batter. 

Most recipes advised eating these within 24 hours or freezing them to keep them fresh.  I intended to do the latter after tasting a few, but they didn't make it past our mouths to the freezer. 

I give the Satisfaction Meter 4 out of 5 stars, these were great; a perfect substitute for the ones from the coffee shop, but I didn't have to work very hard.  I'm leaving the fifth star for the next of the three test recipes, which is much more high maintenance. 

Will the more difficult recipe result in better Madeleines?  Stay tuned to find out!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Welcome To The Sweet Spot

Thank you to anyone who took the leap from my (now members-only) parent blog, Magalie's Garden!  It started as a wonderful open plot of space to plant and harvest creative ideas and gradually became overgrown in a few areas.  I took a look and did some weeding and found a theme I really wanted to explore, my sweet tooth.

I do enjoy all sorts of cooking and baking but by no means find myself any sort of authority.  I don't have a gourmet kitchen or a lot of fancy tools.  I have a decent cookbook collection and I can generally follow a recipe, but I have had a lot of dishes go painfully wrong and sometimes at the worst possible moment.  It's usually when I'm bringing a dish to a hostess to share and I usually haven't left myself a back up plan.  Something still remains after all the food has been consumed and I guess that is what made me decide to open a new blog just for this purpose.  Satisfaction.

Everyone has a hobby or career or thing they do that makes them "zone in" and get lost in the process, yes?  Reading a book, perhaps, and getting lost in the pages for a while as time flies away?  If I had any musical talent I'd imagine playing an instrument with varying degrees of success and ending the last note feeling either complete or inspired to try again.  It's that sort of immersion I'm talking about.  And that's the place I'd like to go with this blog.

I don't claim I'll be any good at it, or even original.  But I do promise I'll always list my sources and give credit where it's due. I will also be brutally honest about my failures and humble about my success.

I also intend to bring you new content and fresh ideas from the outside to show you my INSPIRATIONS.
Why sweets?  Why not, it's universal comfort for most people I know to turn to something sweet when they're looking to satisfy their soul with food.  I give you the evidence now.
  1. Early memory of birthday cakes made lovingly by my Mom in shapes like the heads of pandas or bunny rabbits.  Food = Special + Magic.
  2. Younger years shaped by a great grandfather who was a baker, who took me to bakeries and left me with olfactory memories like yeast, sugar, and toasting flour.  His hands kneading bread dough, his table topped with kuchen, and a basement (my playroom) with pastry bags and cake pans.  
  3. That horrible packet of Swiss Miss cocoa tasting so good on a cold day.
  4. The movie Chocolat that left thousands of us salivating in slow motion.
  5. The act of making something good of what you love and sharing it.  Please meet Heather Baird from Sprinklebakes and see how this is done very well.  She's a class act and such a nice person, too!
  6. Finding your secret ingredient.  Hats off to you, Erica Bauermeister.  Again!
There is so much more I would like to say but  for now, I would like to leave you with a palate tempter.  My first endeavor for this new blog:  The Madeleine Project:
The Beginning: The Cake That's Eaten Like A Cookie

The Task:  To try a handful of recipes for these delightful favorite sweets of mine, taking notes, and learning as much as I can about what makes this three-inches of scalloped french goodness so warming to my soul.

Come along, if you will!  Bring your own toothbrush!