Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Crumb to My Coffee Cake

There's no better time than brunch time for a post about coffee cake. Especially since every Sunday morning has me craving a hearty breakfast from Maxim's (on Capital Drive in Brookfield - go there!), which always comes complete with a hefty slice of their cinnamon coffee cake on the side. It doesn't matter if you order an omelet, a stack of pancakes, a dish of fruit-filled crepes, or good old fashioned eggs and bacon ... the coffee cake is ever-present! It's an act of extreme willpower to abstain from eating it. And I didn't think it was possible for anyone to compete with it ... until yesterday.

I didn't set out on a mission to reproduce Maxim's coffee cake or a batch of cake that could rival it. I set out on a mission to use a few overripe bananas that had been hanging out on the kitchen counter. Normally, I would have reverted to my standby Betty Crocker banana bread, but yesterday I encountered a dilemma: I had only one egg and my bread calls for two. Oh, and dilemma number two: our milk was expired.

Faced with these challenges, I rifled through my stacks and stacks of cookbooks, determined to come up with something. Then I pulled the Taste of Home cookbook off the shelf (for the first time in years, probably) and turned to the index. Banana coffee cake ... that seemed intriguing.

It calls for no milk. Good.

It calls for two eggs. Bad.

But it also calls for a 9x13-inch pan.

So genius struck. Let's use one egg and make it in an 8x8-inch pan! Thus, I halved the recipe and Bill and I and our coffee cake lived happily ever after.

I'm warning you now. It is addicting. You will stand over the pan, armed with a knife, obsessively saying, "Just one more sliver .. .one more sliver" until you find half of the cake gone. It's moist. It's crumbly. It's banana-y and cinnamon-y. It's everything the ideal coffee cake (which I thought had been perfected by Maxim's) is destined to be.

Next time I'll just double this version and make the full recipe. Let's go stock up on eggs.

Banana Coffee Cake
For the Cake
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 banana, mashed
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/8 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For the Topping
1/4 cup chopped or slivered almonds
1/4 cup toasted coconut
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Liberally coat an 8x8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

Beat cream cheese, butter, and sugar until well-combined. Add the banana, egg, and vanilla and mix well. Add flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir until just combined.

In a small bowl, combine all 4 topping ingredients. Toss to mix. Sprinkle half of the topping in the batter and give it a couple quick stirs to combine. Spread batter in prepared dish. (The batter will be thick so, if necessary, use a rubber spatula sprayed with cooking spray to spread the batter all the way to the edges of the dish.) Sprinkle remaining topping evenly over the batter. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, then slice and serve. Or just eat it standing over the dish, like we have!

By the way, the topping ingredients listed here represent my own (slightly tropical) concoction. The original recipe calls for chopped pecans, cinnamon, and sugar, but I was out of pecans and running low on almonds. I decided to bulk it up with a little coconut and it was an excellent choice!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy Second Anniversary, LovBites!

Today marks the second anniversary of the day I said, "You know what? I think it would be fun to catalogue all of my recipes in a food blog. Let's do that." A crazy idea, maybe. And maybe it's had it's ups and downs. But I haven't regretted it for a minute along the way.

Admittedly, LoVBites' second year wasn't quite as eventful as its first. I wrote only about 25% of the posts I did last year (ouch), I didn't achieve any recognition from America's Test Kitchen (or otherwise), and I didn't make waves in the Milwaukee food scene. But rather than lamenting or making excuses for all of the things I didn't accomplish this past year, I thought our time would be better spent celebrating what I did do.

I did make three trips to my beloved city by the Bay. Though they weren't quite "vacations" in the true sense of the word, I was able to squeeze in visits to many of my favorite foodie spots (Boudin, Original Joe's, Stanford's) and try a few new ones. We ate at Guy Fieri's Johnny Garlic's restaurant in Dublin which didn't quite live up to the hype Guy would surely create, but wasn't even remotely as bad as the New York Times would lead you to believe his restaurant is in Times Square. We also made our first trip to Tyler Florence's Wayware Tavern in the city which surpassed Guy in terms of quality, but certainly not in terms of service. We've had fantastic experiences at celebrity chefs' restaurants before (Mario Batali, Bobby Flay), and I'm glad we added Guy and Tyler to the list, but these two don't quite rank at the top.

I did complete a full round of P90x. That's certainly one of the things that prevented me from blogging as often as I have in the past, and it interfered with my habit of cooking all out, full blown feasts on the weeknights. But all that time and energy and sweat and tears resulted in dropping ten pounds and two pant sizes, which is peanuts compared to the overwhelming sense of accomplishment when you finish that final workout. It was worth it even if it did eat up my blogging time. So worth it that today is day two of round two!

I did keep cooking. This whole thing wasn't a fad and it wasn't a phase. While I may not have cooked as often or as extravagantly last year, I didn't lose my passion for conjuring up deliciousness in the kitchen. There were dozens of recipes I didn't write about, and maybe someday I'll whip them up again and share them with the world. I have a backlog of photos of meals I can barely remember, but if they were good enough to photograph they must have been good enough to eat. I added at least a dozen cookbooks to my collection and most of them were put to good use. I had quite a few Sunday cooking marathons where I filled the freezer in the garage to feed us through the winter. And, most importantly, when I did hunker down in the kitchen, I made it count. The feasts may have been fewer and further between, not they were certainly no less delicious.

So I'm not going to promise more consistent posts in 2013 and I'm not going to commit to taking LoVBites viral. But I will promise that you can still find me in the kitchen, still embarking on a variety of culinary adventures, and still sharing them when I find some spare time. (And I swear I won't keep any of the best ones from you!)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hello, Marshmallow!

So I'm a bit belated with my holiday baking posts, but better now than never. Especially when one of my adventures included trying out homemade marshmallows for the first time!

I know, you're probably giving me that look that's become quite familiar to me at this point. That look that's part "did I hear you right?" part "you can't be serious" and part "you're nuts". I can't quite figure out why, but people seem to think I've lost it when I embark on recipes like this.

Actually, I probably had the same reaction when both my BFF Nicole and my good friend Jane told me about their adventures in marshmallow-making. I didn't even know there was such a thing as homemade marshmallows. For sure, they're one of those brightly packaged, childhood memory-inducing, supermarket aisle delicacies, right? Not so. Turns out those Jet Puffed sugar cylinders can't hold a candle to what you'll turn out in your own kitchen (just like almost everything else!).

I was intimidated at first, but I quickly learned that with a little bit of patience you're bound to be successful. Sure, it's a bit sticky (literally), but the reward at the end is a perfectly light, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth marshmallow. And they're like heaven when floating in a steaming mug of cocoa!

I included notes in the recipe below to help you along the way. But believe me, it's an adventure in candy-making that you should not pass up!

Homemade Peppermint Marshmallows
Non-stick cooking spray
3 (1/4 oz.) packages unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Confectioners' sugar

Lightly spray a 9x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. (I'd actually recommend using a 9x13-inch pan because these were mile-high marshmallows. I ended up cutting them into much smaller pieces than the pan would have yielded naturally.) Line dish with plastic wrap, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the sides. Lightly spray wrap with cooking spray. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Let stand for 10 minutes (don't touch it!). In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water. Cook over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil rapidly for one minute and then remove from heat. With the mixer on high (all the way up!), slowly pour the boiling syrup down the side of the mixer bowl into the gelatin. Add salt and continue mixing for 12 minutes (you'll watching it go from syrup to stiff, meringue-like peaks in that time).

Add peppermint extract and mix until well-combined. Spray a rubber spatula with cooking spray and spread the mixture into the prepared pan. (At this point, I also swirled in a few drops of red food coloring for a candy cane effect. Next time, I'll swirl in two layers so that the color reaches the bottom.) Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray and tightly cover (spray side down!) the dish. Set aside for 2 hours.

Carefully remove marshmallows from pan (they shoudl slide right out from all that cooking spray). Spray a sharp knife with cooking spray and cut marshmallows into desired pieces. In a large bowl, toss marshmallows with confectioners' sugar to coat. (I dipped one side of each marshmallow in decorators' sugar before tossing them in confectioners' sugar, just to dress them up for the holidays. The decorators' sugar gave them a nice little crunch, but it was actually a bit much so I'd probably skip this step next time.)

You can also substitute different flavored extracts for the peppermint (or omit it altogether) if you'd like. I almost made a recipe from Giada for orange marshmallows instead of this one, but decided 'tis the season for peppermint. I'd love to try either orange or almond next time!