BANANA BREAD FROM THE EXPERTS

This is a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, the folks who test every single variable in a recipe multiple times until they come up with perfection. With the best. Or, as they called this one, The Ultimate Banana Bread. They’ve been known to go after food bloggers who either share their recipes without permission, or tweak their versions. I find the tweaking part a bit funny. Taste is so subjective that adjusting any recipe to suit the palate is what any cook should be doing…

THE ULTIMATE BANANA BREAD

The recipe is available online, so you can get it with a jump here. I actually did not see that review until after making the recipe, but I read it smiling all the way through… It turns out that I removed all the fuss and no major harm was done.

As the folks at thekitchn mentioned, the addition of turbinado sugar on top is brilliant. I actually added it in two installments, first right before placing in the oven…

And the second time another sprinkle just over the bananas when the bread had been baking for 40 minutes. I baked for a total of 55 minutes, in a 9 x 5 inch pan. The other tweaking I did was using frozen bananas without worrying about draining excess liquid. I also measured the amount of mashed bananas that went into the bread, as the fruit varies so much in size: 600g of banana pulp. One single fresh banana was used for the slices on top. Doing that, the recipe is really super simple, two bowls, one for dry ingredients, one for wet. Done.

Keep in mind that going at the sugary crust to peel it off and eat it is considered a faux-pas. Stealing extra slices of banana and running away? Equally distasteful. What you should do is make this recipe, available online in the link I provided or in this cookbook. Tweaking is optional. Your kitchen, your rules!

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KAREN’S BRAIDED LEMON BREAD WITH BLACKBERRIES

She posted. I read the post while away on a trip. Could not wait to get home to bake it. As far as enriched bread goes, you cannot get much better than this. Think brioche loaded with a tangy lemon cream and luscious blackberries. As I said, cannot get much better. THANK YOU, KAREN!

BRAIDED LEMON BREAD WITH BLACKBERRIES
(from Karen’s Kitchen Stories)


For the Sponge:
3 ounces warm water (95 to 105 degrees F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
30 grams unbleached all purpose flour

For the Final Dough:
All of the sponge
85 grams vanilla yogurt, room temperature (I used plain and added 1/2 tsp vanilla)
56 grams softened unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
50 grams sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
300 grams unbleached all purpose flour
one beaten egg for the egg wash
pearl sugar for topping (optional, but nice)

For the Filling:
85 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
25 gram sugar
29 grams sour cream (I used creme fraiche)
1 tsp lemon juice
15 grams all-purpose flour
100 grams lemon curd
Handful of blackberries


Combine the sponge ingredients in a small bowl, stir, and cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
In your stand mixer bowl, combine the sponge, yogurt, butter, egg, sugar, salt, vanilla, and flour. Mix with the dough hook for about 8 minutes. Place the dough in an oiled dough rising bucket or bowl, cover, and allow to rise for one to two hours, until doubled (mine took 2 hours and 30 minutes).

Mix the cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, lemon juice, and flour until smooth. Cover and set aside.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the risen dough not the parchment, and press or roll it into a 10 inch by 15 inch rectangle. Mark the dough lengthwise into thirds by pressing a ruler into the dough. Spread the cream cheese mixture onto the middle third, leaving about an inch uncovered at the top and the bottom. Spread the lemon curd on top of the cream cheese mixture. Top with the blackberries.

Cut the outer sides into strips. Cut off the strips from the four “corners” of the dough, leaving a flap at the top and bottom. Fold up the bottom flap and fold the strips over the filling alternating in a braid pattern. Fold the flap over the top before finishing the braid. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap.
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F.


Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes. When the dough is ready, brush it with the egg wash and sprinkle it with the sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until a deep golden brown. Cool on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes. Slice and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Make sure to stop by Karen’s post because her pictures and explanations are very detailed and will help you with the shaping. The dough is a pleasure to work with, as enriched doughs always seem to be. You can make the filling while the dough rises, and use store-bought lemon curd to make your life easier. Next time I will add more blackberries, I was afraid they would contribute too much moisture and leak too much, but that was not the case.

This basic method can be used for savory breads, or use different sweet fillings. Karen has a lot of suggestions in her article, so pay her a visit.

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INCREDIBLY SIMPLE TIMES FOUR: OCTOBER 2020

It’s been a while since I shared with you recipes that are super simple but tasty enough to justify being featured on a blog post.

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #1
EGGS WITH ZA’ATAR AND LEMON

This very simple “recipe” is from a wonderful cookbook called “Falastin.”  Gently boil as many eggs as you want, but just for 6 minutes. The idea is to get the yolk still pretty creamy. Now in a small bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, and za’tar. Peel the eggs, and chop them coarsely, drizzle your little sauce and sprinkle salt on top. Amounts are totally flexible, I usually go with 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon olive oil and then improvise.  I don’t know how many times I’ve called this lunch, with Ak-Mak crackers or a slice of sourdough bread. So good!

 

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #2
SMOKY CHICKPEAS

Inspiration for this recipe came from Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea (I adore it). You will need some smoked tea (Lapsang Souchong), but it is totally worth it to get some and keep in your pantry, even if you don’t enjoy it as a regular tea. I use it in chocolate ganache and quite often in cooking. It gives the food a very nice, subtle smoky flavor.

Slice open one bag of smoked tea, mix its contents with some cumin, smoked paprika, and salt. Open a can of chickpeas, drain and rinse well. Add into a bowl, drizzle some grape seed oil all over it, add the dry spice mixture and mix.  Spread on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, and roast in a 400F oven for 25 minutes until golden brown.  Once again, amounts can be totally eye-balled, no need for precision here. Relax and have fun with it.

 

INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #3
AROMATIC BASMATI RICE

I found this gem of a recipe at Spice House website and made it four times in a row. That tells you how much we enjoyed it. It just turns a regular batch of rice into something special.  I made some adjustments to their recipe as I felt that the rice was turning out a bit too underdone for our taste.

AROMATIC BASMATI RICE
(adapted from Spice House)

1 cup Basmati rice, rinsed
1 Tablespoon grape seed oil (or another mild-flavored oil)
5 whole cardamom pods
2-3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
salt to taste
2 cups cold water  

Add oil to a non-stick saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cardamon (you can lightly crush them if you want more flavor), cloves and cinnamon stick to saute briefly. When fragrant, add rice and salt. Saute a minute or so to coat the grains of rice with the flavored oil. Add water, but don’t put the lid on yet.

Once the water boils, turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for 7 minutes. Cover the pan, and let it cook on very gently heat for 7 more minutes. Turn the heat off and let the rice sit in the pan for 10 minutes before removing the spices and fluffing the rice for serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Make sure to count how many little spice pieces you add to the pan so you can be sure to remove them all, although they are pretty visible on the cooked rice later.  There is so much flavor in this recipe, I guarantee you will be hooked on it.

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INCREDIBLY SIMPLE #4
BAKED SALMON WITH SOY-GINGER GLAZE

BAKED SALMON WITH SOY-GINGER GLAZE
(inspired by At Home with Natalie)

3 salmon filets
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tsp sesame oil (do not add more, it is powerful stuff)
salt to taste
sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

Place the salmon filets (skin side down) over a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil leave at room temperature while you heat the oven to 350F and reduce the sauce for glazing.

Mix the soy sauce and mirin in a small non-stick saucepan, add the ginger, brown sugar and sesame oil. Simmer gently for a few minutes, until it starts to get a little thicker.   Brush the top of the filets with some of the glaze, season very lightly with salt, and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Reserve the rest of the glaze.

Remove the pan from the oven, brush with more glaze and sprinkle sesame seeds. Return to the oven, and cook until done to your liking. Serve immediately.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

We eat salmon every week, but usually the husband is the seafood cook in our house. I rarely venture into his department, but was tempted to try this very simple preparation. I know I’ll be making it regularly, the only key thing is to get the fish cooked to the exact point you want (which is easier to do with sous-vide, but sometimes it’s nice to simplify things further).  Probe the filet with a paring knife, and remove from the oven when it reaches your personal Nirvana level.

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HOME BAKERS COLLECTIVE: JUNE PROJECT

We just passed Summer solstice. It always makes me sad, knowing that days will be getting shorter and my beloved sun will stay around less and less time each day. Covid-19 is showing its ugly face again, adding more uncertainty to a year that has been full of it from the beginning. But for every yin there is always a yang, and the month of June also brought another group challenge by the tent bakers. This time Alex Tent Baker Extraordinaire came up with the theme, and he was quite straightforward with it. Laminate something. That was his  brief. A brief brief. I loved it! I had quite a few options dancing in my mind, but quickly settled on a Brioche Feuilletée, because it is all about the lamination, no distractions from it. So, without further ado, my assignment is here for you.

BRIOCHE FEUILLETÉE
(recipe from Matt Adlard’s Bake it Better)

for the dough:
415g all-purpose flour
8g salt
50g sugar
85g eggs
153g whole milk
42g soft, unsalted butter
9g instant yeast

for the butter block:
250g unsalted butter

OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE 
(simplified version, original recipe is copyrighted)

The dough is prepared using all the ingredients and allowed to proof for one hour. It is next transferred to the fridge overnight. At that time, the butter block is made with dimensions of approximately 7 x 8 inches and also placed in the fridge.

Next day the butter block is enclosed in the dough and three folds are performed. First a double fold, the other two single folds. The dough is rolled out and cut into four strips, about 2.5 inches in width. Each strip is rolled and placed inside a loaf pan for a final proofing of 2 to 2 and a half hours.

Bake in a 325F oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until deep golden. Remove from the pan and allow it to cool completely.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe overview, click here

Comments: If you want to know all the details and tips that make this recipe easier to follow, you will have to join Matt Adlard’s site. It would not be fair to publish his detailed instructions here, plus his video is a great help. I’ve been a member of his online group for a few months and highly recommend it for those interested in all areas of patisserie. I will write a full blog post about it in the near future. Not only you learn a lot, but you get to interact with a lot of cool, baking-fanatic folks. See what they bake, follow their progress, share failures and victories.


Matt bakes it in a slightly different way. He adds a baking sheet and a heavy weight to the top of the pan, so that as the dough rises during baking, it gets squished on top, ending in a cool rectangular shape, laminated on all sides, but flat. I did not have a pan with the appropriate dimensions to achieve that effect, so I went with the regular baking in which it all freely explodes upwards.


No matter how you bake it, the result will be the same: layers of buttery goodness that you roll out and enjoy. Nothing else is needed, as the bread is quite rich and indulgent as it is, but if you want to spread it with jam, more butter, clotted cream, you will not hurt my feelings. And I bet Matt will not mind a bit either.

Alex, thanks for a great challenge this month… It is hard to believe that one year ago   we were all frantically practicing for the show in our own homes, wondering  who were the other bakers, how would we get along…  Good times.

For my readers, make sure to stop by the Home Bakers Collective, to see what my friends laminated this month… If the link is not yet published, try again a little later in the day.

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, June 2019

TWO YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen – July 2018

THREE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2017

FOUR YEARS AGO: Secret Recipe Club: Falafel and a Bonus Recipe

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NINE YEARS AGO: Honey-Glazed Chicken Legs

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ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Chicken Breasts, Coffee, and Serendipity

GIBASSIER

Those who follow my blog might be aware that I am a huge fan of Helen Fletcher. When she praises a recipe, I just know it will be awesome. Still, this one surpassed all my expectations. Gibassier is a little brioche-like delicacy from Provence, a place that enchanted me when I visited many years ago, right during lavender harvesting season. I will never forget the fields and the intense but delicate lavender aroma present everywhere. Helen’s recipe is a breeze to make  using the food processor, but she also gives detailed instructions to make it in a regular mixer.

GIBASSIER
(from Pastries Like a Pro)

Preferment (Biga):
140 g bread flour
1/2 cup warm milk (about 105°F)
Large pinch of instant yeast

Stir together in a small bowl.  Knead several times to make a smooth ball.  Let sit at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours.

Gibassier Dough:
385 grams bread flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold (85 grams)
100 grams granulated sugar or 3 1/2 ounces)
2 + 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
Orange zest from l medium navel orange
All of preferment from above
2 eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water, divided
1/4 tsp Fiori di Sicilia (optional)
2/3 cup candied orange rind

Place the flour in the processor and pulse several times.  Cut the cold butter into pieces and arrange in a circle over the flour. Process until the butter is no longer distinguishable.

Add the sugar, yeast, salt, zest, and Fiori di Sicilia.  Pulse to incorporate. Tear the preferment into pieces and add it processor.  Process to fully incorporate.

Combine the eggs, olive oil, and half of the water. Pour over the dry ingredients and process to mix completely.  Scrape down and rearrange the dough if necessary.  The dough should be very soft.  Add water a teaspoon at a time if necessary (I did not use additional water).  Add the candied orange rind.  Pulse briefly to mix.  Do not over mix or the  rind will be too small.

Let the dough proof at room temperature for 2 hours, then deflate the dough and transfer to the fridge overnight

Shape the Gibassier.  Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Turn the dough out. Weigh your dough and do the math to find out how many grams you should use to form each little dough. You should have enough for 14 gibassiers. In my case, I used 80 grams per little ball.  Shape all the balls, cover, and refrigerate to make it easier to cut them.  Take two or three out at a time so they don’t soften too much. Take a ball and stretch it out with your fingers to make a rough torpedo shape. Turn it so the best side is up.  With the heel of your hand press the top of the dough upward from the middle. Again from the middle of the dough, with the heel of your hand press the dough downward to form a lemon shape.  Flatten the ends to match the center. It shoud be abut 2 1/2 ” high.

With a single edge razor blade, make a cut in the middle of the dough.Then one to the left. One to the right. Along the right side of the top of the dough cut in toward the center about 3/4” to 1”. Again on the other side. Last cut in the same amount on the right side. And on the left. As you pick it up to put it on the sheet pan, stretch it out to enlarge the holes.  Place 7 on a tray.

Cover them and allow them to rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until puffy.

Heat the oven to 350F. While the oven is heating brush 2 or 3 of the rolls with the egg wash and sprinkle heavily with sanding sugar or pearl sugar. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rung for 18 to 22 minutes until golden brown and baked through.

Serve warm or room temperature.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you’d like to make Gibassier, I urge you to stop by Helen’s site because her step-by-step photos are perfect to understand what needs to be done. Explaining just with words is a bit tricky. If you make it in the food processor, it will be easy to make just half the recipe, as the processor will handle it without issues. Everything comes together super quickly, and I like the fact that I could use butter straight from the fridge.

Some people suggest using an old credit card to do the cuts on the dough, but Helen’s idea of getting those single edged razor blades is truly spot on. I advise you to allow the final proofing to reach the 2.5 hour mark or even a little big longer as enriched doughs tend to be a bit sluggish. The puffier they get at that stage, the lighter the rolls will be. I had to cut my final proofing a bit short for half of them, and the second batch was better.


This is the type of pastry that will transport you straight to a cafe in France, sitting outside, people-watching, as you sip a little hot chocolate, coffee, or whatever suits your mood…

Helen, thank you once again not only for the inspiration but for your detailed instructions that make it all so much easier to follow.

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