Spiced Banana Bars

When I have no idea what to make, I tend to look back at what I have made before and see if anything can give me any pointers as to what I should do. While I have not posted anything this month, I have been making items – mostly scones – and as such I was a bit sconed-out when I went looking for something a little different. Pumpkin coffee cake caught my eye, but I used up the last of my pumpkin mush a while ago. Oh, what to do…

This is when scrounging in the refrigerator comes into play. In the last few months, it seems that I have completely lost track of what we do or do not have in the fridge (outside of my half-and-half). It doesn’t help that the times I am looking in the fridge for a purpose outside of caffeination I don’t actually pay attention to what I’m seeing in the fridge unless I am looking for something specific – and with Mikal doing pretty much all of the cooking lately, my relationship with the fridge has become rather distant.

Much to my delight, I found bananas in the fridge. Since I was thinking about the coffee cake anyway, I looked up banana coffee cake recipes. There are plenty of recipes out there, but the following one intrigued me. It’s not so much coffee cake – it doesn’t have that fluffy texture I tend to associate with coffee cake, and generally behaves more like a lemon bar, or something of that sort. I do recommend using a medium-to-large glass baking dish; I used one that is about 6×8.5 inches and the bottom layer was a bit on the thick side, and the bars took about twice as long to bake as expected. Even so, they tasted pretty amazing.

Spiced Banana Bars

adapted from Shockingly Delicious

2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup (2 medium) thinly sliced overripe bananas
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup greek yogurt or sour cream
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, brown sugar and butter and mix at low speed until crumbly.

Press 1 1/2 cups of the crumb mixture into a 13×9 inch baking dish. Measure out another 1/2 cup crumbs and set aside.

Combine remaining crumbs in mixing bowl with remaining ingredients. Beat on medium speed until well-blended. Pour evenly over crumb crust. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top.

Bake until golden brown, 30-35 minutes.

Cool and cut into bars of whatever size you desire.

Granola and Greek Yogurt

Hello CocoFanciers! I’m Mikal and this is my first time posting on here. Those of you that read this (and don’t know either Candice or me personally) know me exclusively via anecdotes on Candice’s posts, and probably are not aware that I am an experienced cook. I’ve been making food most of my life, either with my parents or on my own and started really experimenting on my own when I was a teenager (and even went to school for it briefly), and I have a tendency to make food without using recipes. That isn’t to say I don’t use them at all. If I’m trying to make something specific that I’ve never made before, I’ll use one, but most of the time I just throw stuff together sans recipe.

One thing I’ve been making for a couple months now is granola. My first attempt at making it was for a yogurt, fruit, and granola dessert. Contrary to what I expected, Candice loved it and insisted that I make more. I’ve now had a couple months to make and perfect the guidelines for it and – what is an unusual task for me – write them down.

Granola in the Oven
Look at that bokeh… what? Oh, right! Mmm, granola…

Now remember, these are guidelines. If you don’t like something I include, use something else. The key is to follow the outline and include the necessary ingredients. The goal for this granola is to make something that is slightly chewy, but has crispy and crunchy elements to it.

Ingredients:
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped or sliced almonds
1 cup pepitas
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seed
1/2 – 2/3 cup syrup (your choice)

Equipment:
A large, flat pan – preferably a commercial aluminum baking sheet
A flat edged cooking utensil
Wax paper
Cup measure
Storage facility

Total cooking and preparation time: ~ 2 hours

Preheat oven to 250°F. Measure and equally spread three cups of rolled oats (quick oats are probably okay, but I prefer rolled oats) on the bottom of the pan (I prefer large, commercial, aluminum baking sheets. You can get them from Costco for just a few dollars each. They’re durable, and good at transferring heat to whatever is on them). I do this by sprinkling the oats out of the cup measure across the pan. Next spread your next ingredient over the oats. And the next. And the next. Until you’ve got all your dry ingredients layered in the pan. Hold the syrup until later. Now place your pan into the oven for 1.5 hours.

Put on some music, dance and sing. Watch Firefly. Plant a garden. Take a relaxing bath. Worried that you’ll forget about it and it’ll burn? Turn it down to 200°F and relax. You’ll have to wait longer, but you are less likely to burn it. The purpose of this step is exclusively to slowly heat and dry out your granola mix. So it’s ok to turn it down.

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep! Ok, take your granola out. Stir it around. Be sure to mix it nicely. Now flatten it back out by grabbing the edge of the pan and shaking it slightly. Or you can use your utensil. Whichever you prefer. It’s not my granola. You want to use a spatula? Go right ahead! I prefer the shake method. Much quicker. And a little fun, too.

Now that your granola mix is flat, grab your syrup (honey, maple, agave, corn syrup, strawberry, chocolate, the syrup from later in this post, or whatever else you prefer). Drizzle that delicious stuff across the mixture. I prefer a back and forth pattern with streams about one inch apart. Back and forth, side to side. But whatever you need to do to get it nicely covered, do that. Once you’ve done that, mix it around. No! Don’t use your hands! That mixture is hot! No, grab that utensil I told you about earlier. Yeah, the flat edged one. Yeah, that’s the one. Ok, stir it around. Mmmm, sticky. Now flatten it out again.

Granola on Spatula
No waste! Eat it!

Done? Ok. Turn the oven temperature up to 350°F and place the pan back in. This time you’re going to cook it for 12-15 minutes. Don’t go too long or it’ll burn. Sugar burns quickly and easily, so watch it this time.

After it’s done, take it out. But don’t let it cool in the pan. That’s a bad idea. No, dump it out onto a 2 foot length of wax paper. Careful! You don’t want to spill it. Now you just let it cool. The longer it cools, the harder it gets. At some point, you’ll dump it into a container to store. We’ve been using a large ziplock freezer bag, because we don’t have reusable plastic containers that large. But whatever you have that’ll hold it is all you need.

Granola Cooling
It looks and smells delicious at this point.

Whew, that was a lot of text. Yes, I talk a lot. What of it? But wait, I’m not done! I have to tell you about the syrup.

The last two times I made this I used a lot of honey. Unfortunately, honey is rather expensive. Tasty, but expensive. So I decided to make my own syrup. Something that uses honey, but mixes in other ingredients to make the honey last longer. Well, that’s simple. Here’s what you need:

2 cups water
2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup honey

Place all the ingredients into a small saucepan. Mix well with a large spoon of some sort. Place on a stove with a temperature somewhere around medium-low. Stir occasionally until it’s nice and syrupy-thick. This could take up to half an hour. Once done, take it off the heat and let it cool. Congratulations! You now have a syrup that tastes a bit like honey, isn’t as expensive, and will last longer for your granola! Enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the primary purposes of this granola is as a topping for yogurt (though we’ve also added it to muffins and pancakes). You can think of it as a yogurt parfait, but it’s not really necessary to layer it in the same way. What we typically do is get one 6 ounce cup of flavored greek yogurt (such as Brown Cow, and because it tastes better than regular yogurt), add one or two sliced, sugared strawberries and a handful of granola. And there you go! A delicious breakfast, snack, or any other time of the day food.

Granola and Greek Yogurt
Mmm, so tasty…

A hankering for chocolate muffins

Occasionally I’ll get a hankering for something. Usually it’s crunchy – chips, chips and salsa, popcorn, things like that. Last night it was Costco chocolate muffins. I’m not particularly sure why; their chocolate muffins are not my favorite by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it even my favorite flavor of what they offer. But for whatever reason, it was time to make chocolate muffins.

The initial batch of muffins yielded a dozen. As with my inexplicable hankering for the muffins, this did not seem like nearly enough for no terribly good reason. Thus I got it into my head to do what I had been wanting to do for a while – make two different recipes and compare them side-by-side to better understand the interplay of ingredients and different ratios of stuff. I can follow a recipe, but I do not have nearly enough of an understanding of the chemistry of baking to develop my own recipes or really know how to tweak a recipe to obtain the results I am looking for. I don’t know that developing my own recipes is what I’m truly after, but it seems like a good idea that if I’m hoping to make a business of this, I need to be able to set myself apart from other such businesses; using other peoples’ recipes that one can find anywhere isn’t going to do that.

In any case, I found a second recipe that did things a bit differently. First of all, in addition to cocoa powder it also used melted chocolate in the batter to give it a bit of depth and richness. It also called for chocolate rather than chocolate chips – so I used my Dove dark chocolate bits. That may contribute quite a lot to why I prefer that recipe, though on a more objective note the first recipe turned out rather dry and was a bit thicker of a batter, and thus a little unwieldy.

On a slightly unrelated note, I found that buttermilk will lend chocolate muffins a greenish tint if used in full – at least Bulgarian Buttermilk will. I used a cup of buttermilk on the first recipe, but only had enough for about 1/3 cup for the second recipe, and putting the two side by side – no wonder no one wanted to eat the first batch.

IMG_0076

The first batch is the one with the chocolate chips on the top. You can tell that the brown isn’t quite as rich of a color, though it seemed that the green tint came out the longer the muffins were sitting there. To be fair, though, the original calls for water and red wine vinegar; once I get some more cocoa powder I’ll attempt this recipe with a similar ratio of water to buttermilk as I attempted originally with the second recipe – I made a second batch of the second recipe using the full 1 1/4 cup buttermilk it called for and it was also slightly greenish and a bit thicker.

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Muffins

adapted from Cooking Light

7.9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 3/4 cups)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided (the original suggests minichips, which I would second)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a muffin pan, or line with muffin-cup liners, and set aside.

Combine flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and quickly whisk together to combine. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Combine the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Stir in the half of the chocolate chips to the wet mixture, then stir wet mixture into dry mixture until just moist.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips over each of the cups. (You might want to slightly push down on the chips if you’re using larger semi-sweet – some of mine decided to not want to stay in the batter when I was taking them out of the pan.) Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes on wire rack.

IMG_0065


As I said, I’ll be making another batch once I get some more cocoa powder. I have a feeling that I may like this recipe a bit more if I were to do what I did with the following recipe regarding the buttermilk.

The thing is, I think I had a hankering for some serious chocolate, because this next recipe really grabbed me, and not only for the different way of doing things: this one melts chocolate and incorporates it into the batter, along with cocoa powder. When I saw that, I have to say my mind was made up – I had to make them right there and then.

Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Muffins

from Brown-Eyed Baker

6 tbsp unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, divided (I used Dove dark chocolates)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup warm water
1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a muffin tin or line with baking cups and set aside.

Melt the butter and half of the chopped chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and sat. In a second bowl, whisk the buttermilk, water, egg and vanilla together until well-combined. Pour the liquid ingredients and the melted butter and chocolate over the dry ingredients and quickly stir to blend. Do not overmix. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool muffins on wire rack.

IMG_0066


As I mentioned, I made another batch of these muffins with all buttermilk – and I did a double batch. That was kind of a doozey. Between the viscosity of the buttermilk and the largeness of the batch, it was really rather hard to stir the ingredients all together. I probably overmixed them, but I didn’t notice a terribly large difference in texture or anything. Also, instead of making just two dozen muffins, it made two dozen regular muffins and nearly two dozen mini-muffins.I didn’t mind that at all – it gave me a good excuse to figure out the baking time for mini-muffins. I believe they were perfect at 15 minutes, though I could have done anywhere between 12 and 15, I guess, but 10 wasn’t quite there yet.

As you can imagine, that’s a shit-ton of chocolate muffins between two days. I still haven’t gotten rid of all of them, but I did get an interesting review. For the second batch of the second recipe, one of my residents really liked it, and said they were nice and moist without being too chocolatey. My first thought when he said that was, “Well, then I didn’t put enough chocolate in, did I?” After thinking about it for a bit, though, I realized that if I wanted to have a chocolate heart attack I could just do more of my brownies, because those were pretty rich.

I think I have decided to start expanding my muffin repertoire in an effort to be able to expand the offerings on 2o3pastries. Speaking of which, I need to go fiddle with that site and toss more pictures of easy edibles up.

Persimmon Scones

I love my residents. I shared one of my clementine scones with one of my newer ones, and in return she gave me a couple of dried persimmons to use in my baking. Now, I really haven’t had a persimmon before. Mikal was able to snag one off a neighbor’s tree at some point last year and I tried a bite at that time, but it was odd and I had no idea what to expect, so I wasn’t sure if it was even ripe of any sort. I have no idea to this day what they are supposed to taste like. I have been making a lot of scones lately, though, and it seemed like that might be a good thing to use them in. After looking around a bit, I found the following, but it called for fresh persimmons. Being a generally cautious person, I just went ahead and used two dried persimmon halves – and the response was pretty damn good.

Persimmon Scones
from We Make a Beautiful Mess

2 dried persimmons (original calls for 2 cups fresh)
2 tsp vanilla
4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold
2 cups cold buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 380°F. Remove the stem-bit from the dried persimmons, then chop the gooeyness into a desirable size. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add sugar, salt, and stir together. Cut or shave the butter into dry ingredients. Use our hands or a fork to break up the butter into small chunks throughout the mixture.

(You know, the couple of times I saw my mom make scones, she cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a couple of butter knives, and she used her hands to bring the wet and dry ingredients together. At the time I thought it was gross – I had a tactile issue with slimy/sticky things. I still have this issue to some extent, but this time in making scones I decided to put everything together by hand. It was really very satisfying, and I can understand why people would choose to do so.)

Add the milk, vanilla, then the persimmons. Mix lightly with a wooden spoon until the dough holds together, adding the milk or any leftover pulp to the dough as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Pat the dough down into a rectangle and cut into triangles, or use a cookie-cutter (it works amazingly well! I have a candy-corn shaped cutter that I use and it’s pretty awesome) to shape the scones and lay them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Make sure there is at least 1 inch of space between the scones – these do puff up. Sprinkle raw sugar over the tops and bake 25-35 minutes or until just slightly browned.


This recipe makes somewhere around 18 or so scones. It’s a bit, so share them with friends. They will thank you.

Easter Brownies

I’m a complete pushover for holidays. It doesn’t matter that I don’t celebrate them in any religious or significant fashion, really – I just love making themed goodies. Halloween is kind of my go-all-out holiday because it’s chocolate, and it’s all about the themed goodies.

I kept going back and forth on what to do for Easter: should I make something themed? should I make something completely holiday-neutral like coffee cake? should I make nothing? Well, if I’m going to make anything for Easter it should be chocolate eggs, right? Nah, I don’t have the skills for that. Bunnies? Molded candies? But that wouldn’t be satisfying. I could just do nothing. Or I could do carrot cake. (That last idea did stick out as a good one, I just didn’t pursue it.) The thing is, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about my mindset, my expectations, and my frustrations around what I am and am not doing at this point in my life. I get frustrated with my lack of expertise with making chocolates, and my lack of time and resources (money) to spend on testing and perfecting those techniques. So I decided to scale it down a bit: focus on perfecting the handful of recipes I have been using a lot, get scones down, find good muffin recipes – things that would be a good variety for my pseudo-catering gig 203 pastries. (By the way, if you’re in the Bay Area and need yummies, hit me up – I might be able to hook you up with something awesome.)

So what to do that will be relatively simple, but will still feed my need for holiday kitchyness? Why, molded brownies, of course. I spied this silicone mold at JoAnn’s a couple of weeks ago, and had to keep myself from buying it right then and there – mostly because I had no idea what I would do with it.

IMG_9989

I mean, that’s way too huge (those eggs are around 2″ wide or so) to make molded chocolates (ZOMG NO THEY WOULDN’T BE! THEY WOULD BE AMAZING!), and it’s not like you would see the definition in coffee cake or cupcake batter. At this point I’m not sure I even care about the design outline of it – I might use it as a guideline if I end up decorating them with cream cheese frosting, but I don’t know that I will. Or I might just leave them be, and let people figure out what they’re supposed to be; they’re totally egg-shaped enough to be logical, right? I’m totally writing this as they are cooling, so I have no idea what will actually happen. I just know that this recipe might just be amazingly amazing.

Out of curiosity, have you ever made brownies not from a box? I mean, the ingredients are amazingly simple, but I found it a bit daunting to figure out an appropriately good recipe for the most awesome of chocolate treats. I was specifically looking for a recipe that does not call for chocolate bits – half the time when I want chocolate I don’t have edible chocolate in the house, so I needed something that would use cocoa powder. So I went to my mainstay, BonAppetit, to find a good recipe. I found a couple of good basic ones – they look to be pretty simple, and something that I can actually put together the dry ingredients for so that Mikal can make amazing brownies when he wants chocolate. But I also found the following recipe for Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts. It’s not so much an easy-on-the-go recipe, though it isn’t terribly hard. I would personally halve the amount of walnuts it calls for – I like nutty brownies, but this is just ridiculous.

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

from: BonAppetit

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. If you’re going to make regular brownies, line 8x8x2-inch baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with oil if you don’t want to be licking the last yummy remnants of chocolate from said foil.

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes.(I don’t understand the 60-strokes bit. Just don’t over-do it, but make sure things are happily incorporated.)  Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), 20-25 minutes.

IMG_9994

If you are using silicone molds, just remember to be patient. You will likely have to piece some of the brownies back together once you have them out of the mold, but they’re so moist that you can’t really tell anyway.


Regarding decorating, I think using any kind of frosting would do this recipe a disservice. It’s decadent and amazing. Aside from the nuts.