Caribbean Banana Bread

Have you ever been asked about your stance on banana bread? The options are pretty much always plain, nuts, or chocolate.

Why is this? Why limit yourself to these simple, obvious ingredients?

Why not add whatever you want?

Don’t get me wrong: classic banana bread is wonderful. But sometimes you want to shake things up, sometimes you want to try something new, sometimes you realize your shredded coconut is – shoot! – past its expiration date and you could either throw it out or test your immune system’s ability to defend itself against expired coconut (what even happens when coconut “expires”? It just seemed dry to me)…

banana bread

This recipe starts with a good staple version from The Kitchn, and then amps it up. In the easiest way possible. Because I was bored. And hungry. And maybe a teensy bit lazy (what, can’t a girl crave some banana bread with minimal work involved?). A little rummaging in my cabinet lead to a Caribbean-inspired bread that really just tastes like dessert. And happiness. Why wouldn’t you want to add to banana bread?

You can go crazy with this recipe. Banana bread is hard to mess up. Once you get the basics (flour, eggs, sugar, bananas, etc.) then you can play with it (walnuts, pecans, toasted shredded coconut, chocolate chips, toffee bits, raisinettes, butterscotch chips, the possibilities are endless!). I added ~3 extra cups of ingredients to this recipe and it was perfectly fine. So get creative, work with what you have, and report back to me on how it goes!

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

CARIBBEAN BANANA BREAD

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar (brown or white; I used half and half)

2 large eggs

2-3 bananas, super ripe

¼ cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ cup chocolate toffee bits

1 ½ cups chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted

¾ cup shredded coconut, toasted

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

Instructions adapted from The Kitchn.

1. Heat the oven, prep the pan, and toast the coconut and nuts: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Grease the loaf pan with butter or baking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, spread the shredded coconut and nuts evenly over the top, and toast in the oven while it preheats (~10 minutes, but watch them closely and pull out once the coconut turns golden). 

2. Melt the butter: Melt in the microwave. Or, if you have room temperature butter, you can use that for a fluffier cake.

3. Combine the butter and sugars: Whisk together the melted butter and sugars in a large bowl until combined. (Or cream in a mixer until fluffy.)

4. Add the eggs: Crack the eggs into the bowl and whisk until completely combined. The mixture should be smooth.

5. Add the milk and vanilla: Whisk into the batter until combined.

6. Mash in the bananas: For chunky banana bread, peel the bananas and add them directly to the bowl. Using a dinner fork, mash them into the batter. If you want a smooth bread, mash the bananas separately until no more lumps remain, and then whisk them into the batter.

7. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt: In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Use a spatula to stir the dry ingredients into the wet batter until they are just barely combined and no more dry flour is visible.

8. Fold in the nuts, coconut, chocolate toffee bits, etc, if using: Scatter everything over the batter and gently fold them in.

9. Pour the batter into the pan: Use the spatula to scrape off all the batter from the bowl. Smooth the top of the bread batter.

10. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes: Place the pan in the oven. Bake until the top of the cake is caramelized dark brown and a tooth pick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Baking time will vary depending on the age of your bananas, how many things you add, etc. — start checking around 50 minutes and then every five minutes after.

11. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes: Set the loaf, still in the pan, on a cooling rack. Let it cool for 10 minutes so it solidifies and gets easier to remove from the pan.

12. Remove from the pan and cool for another 10 minutes: Place your (clean!) hand gently on top of the loaf and flip it over into your hand. Set it back down on the cooling rack to cool for another 10 minutes before slicing. Leftover bread can be kept, covered, at room temperature for several days or wrapped in foil and frozen for up to 3 months.

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

Easy, delicious, and unique. Use any ingredients you have on hand – the only things that really matter are the ripe bananas. Recommandation d’experts: spread some butter on a freshly cut piece of this bread for a perfect, decadent treat. Besides, what are a few more calories anyways?!

caribbean banana bread

Advertisements

Coconut Lemon Pineapple Ombre Cake

That’s a mouthful, for sure. A delicious, citrus-y, sugary mouthful.

pineapple coconut ombre cake yellow

This might be the prettiest cake I’ve made so far, in celebration of my favorite Erin’s birthday.  Which was ages ago. Sorry I’ve been behind in posting! I’ve built up so many pictures and recipes waiting for me to find time to share them with you all… oops. Grad school makes balancing life sort of tricky. Especially when I decided to add a new hobby to my repertoire: rock climbing. Super fun stuff – some of my favorite people out here are fantastic climbers and got my does-it-involve-running?-because-I-don’t-run self hooked. But with school having started again, it means I’m constantly grinding myself into the ground attempting to balance classes, research, preparation for a conference (we leave Monday and I have to finish my poster still… apparently last minute stress is a major part of grad school), preparation for a research trip to Berkeley (WAHOO! research-funded trip to my undergrad stomping grounds), and other lab commitments with sanity-saving activities like sleeping, grocery shopping, hanging out with friends, spending time with the boy, and partaking in hobbies like dancing, rock climbing, and baking. I guess that’s what it means to be human, right? We’re all doing our best to load our schedules up and then complain about having no time!

how to decorate a coconut cake

So instead of complaining, I’ll give you this cake. Good trade, yes?

yellow ombre coconut pineapple lemon cake yellow swirled frosting

This cake was so much fun to make, putting both my cake decorating supplies and skills to the test. And it’s YELLOW!! Right there, its beauty was a done deal.

yellow ombre cake layers

See those layers? Yeah. They’re ombre. Like the frosting. It’s cool, I’m basically a professional. Please don’t judge me; I’m aware I took a lot of pictures. But it’s the first I’ve attempted something this complex, so forgive me: I’ve got a case of parental pride.

layer cake ombre yellow pineapple lemon coconut

I should probably give my Facebook password to my best friend now, so when I have kids someday, she can disable my account before I become a crazy parent who post pictures every.single.day of their child’s face. And their child eating. And smiling. And crying. And running around. And drawing pictures. And reading books. And generally being adorable and precious and magical. Because I could be one of those parents; you’ve seen what I did with this cake. Consider yourself warned.

how to decorate ombre coconut cake

This cake comes from all over the place. I started with this recipe on Food.com by PanNan as my “base” recipe, and changed it up with insight from my own baking experiences as well as other recipes on EatingWell.com and TasteOfHome.com. I found a nice, stiff cream cheese recipe on Food.com by Trixyinaz that was perfect for piping. Google “ombre cake” if you want to be amazed by the most beautiful cakes ever – those photos were my inspiration.

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

LEMON PINEAPPLE CAKE

1 (15-16 ounce) can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained (divided use)

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

3 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

3 cups cake flour, sifted

1 tsp. lemon extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract

PINEAPPLE FILLING

2 large egg yolks

(crushed pineapple + juice from above)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

5 tsp. cornstarch

CRUSTING CREAM CHEESE ICING

1 cup butter, softened

½ cup vegetable shortening

1 lb cream cheese, softened

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

3 ½ lbs sifted powdered sugar

½ tsp. salt

Food gel coloring

3-4 ounces shredded coconut

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

1. Grease three 9″ round cake pans, and line bottoms with parchment paper. Great the top of the parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Separate the crushed pineapple and juice, saving both.

3. In a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed with a mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

5. Combine ¾-cup pineapple juice with the sour cream (it won’t mix well, don’t worry). Add juice mixture to butter mixture, alternating with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed until just-blended after each addition. Stir in extracts.

6. Pour 1/3 of batter into each of the prepared cake pans. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. (I’ll admit I can’t remember how long this took; watch closely starting at 20 minutes!)

7. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

8. Make the filling while the cake cools. Stir together egg yolks, sugar, ½-cup pineapple juice, all the pineapple, and cornstarch in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until thick and beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely.

9. When both the cakes and filling are cool, make the frosting. Cream the butter, shortening, cream cheese, and vanilla extract. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and salt. Beat on low speed until creamy.

10. Stack cake layers, spreading ¾-to-1 cup pineapple filling between each layer. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting on sides and top of cake. Spread shredded coconut on the top, leaving a ½” border around the edge of the cake. Pipe a border of frosting around the top edge. Blend in a tiny bit of yellow (or any color) gel coloring and pipe swirls around the top third of the sides. Blend in some more gel coloring and pipe a second layer of swirls. Blend in even more gel coloring and pipe the remaining layer of swirls. As you go, fill in gaps with little star-shaped frosting piping.

TIP for piping: use a big star-shaped piping tip. Start in the middle of a rose and swirl around it about 1.5-2 times. Stop squeezing when you’re done and gently pull the tip away. Repeat! To make the little stars, switch to a smaller star piping tip and squeeze just enough to fill the gaps, then stop squeezing and pull away. It gets easier with practice, I promise!

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

yellow ombre swirled frosting flowers cake

Ahh I just love a yellow cake, so happy!

Nanaimo Bars

For being so on top of the Fourth of July (did you make the star-spangled cupcakes yet?), I sure failed at alerting you to the other major holiday of the week: Canada Day!

(July 1, for you oblivious folks out there)

nanaimo bars canada day dessert

Canada is the only country I got to visit outside of the U.S. during the first 18 years of my life. I owe a lot to our northern neighbor: Grandma’s love of Cribbage. Older cousins who let us braid, clip, pin, and tie their hair. Hours-long drives through gorgeous forests. Grinning every time I hear “loonie” and “toonie.” Learning how to play A**hole/Janitor (depending on whether the children are playing) late into the night. Tim Horton’s (not for coffee, seeing as I was a kid and also don’t like coffee, just pastries). Coasting down a river in giant inner tubes. Multi-story indoor-and-outdoor water fights. Crazy, awesome, hilarious relatives. Snow. Snow on Christmas (we don’t get that in California). Oh, yeah, and my dad, who coincidentally is responsible for my last name and thus the name of this blog. He’s pretty cool I guess, so thanks for him, Canada!

canada day dessert nanaimo bar

Canada also gave me Nanaimo Bars. Aka nana-what?! bars. Aka “Finding Nemo?” bars. Aka nanananananaMO!! bars. Aka a chocolate coconut cookie-like base, vanilla kind-of-custard-kind-of-frosting filling, and smooth chocolate on top. Aka perfection out of the fridge. Aka try these now, and you can appreciate a little slice of Canada without the travel cost. Aka thanks, Canada, you rock!

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

NANAIMO BARS

Recipe from Hidden Ponies

Base layer:

¾ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup granulated sugar

6 tbsp. cocoa

1 large egg

1 tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup shredded coconut

Middle layer:

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

6 tbsp. milk

4 tbsp. custard powder (or instant vanilla pudding powder)

4 cups powdered sugar

Top layer:

8oz (8 squares) semisweet or dark chocolate baking squares (NOT chocolate chips; they won’t melt properly)

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

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

1. Make the base first. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat and stir over medium-low heat until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in the graham crumbs and coconut. Pack firmly into ungreased 9×13” pan. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the middle layer.

2. To make the middle layer, beat all four ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth. Spread evenly over the first layer. Chill for at least 45 minutes.

3. When the second layer is chilled, make the top layer. Melt the chocolate and butter in a small bowl at 50% power in microwave. Microwave for about 1½ minutes, then stir thoroughly. Microwave another 30 seconds or longer if needed, stirring frequently. Spread fairly evenly over middle layer. Chill for 1 hour, then score chocolate with a sharp knife (aka make shallow cuts that will prevent your chocolate from cracking later) and return to fridge to chill completely before cutting into bars. Keep refrigerated until you’re ready to serve.

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

nanaimo bars canadian dessert

German Chocolate Cake

A conversation from a month or two ago when Will, the new postdoc, arrived. 

Moi (all chipper smiles): Will! Welcome to the department! It’s so nice to meet you! Just out of curiosity, when is your birthday? And what kind of cake would you want?

Will (confused): Um, nice to meet you, too? (This girl is crazy.) It’s June 7th. And, uh, I don’t like cake…

Moi (smile gone): WHAT.

Will (hesistant): It’s never been my thing.

Moi (serious and slightly upset): But… that’s not an option.

Will (apologetic): Actually, I guess I like German chocolate cake. Does that work?

Moi (all smiles again): Oh! I’ve never made one of those! This will be fun!!

german choc cake

In retrospect, I suppose insulting someone’s (bizarre and inexcusable) aversion to cake isn’t quite the best way to introduce them to the department. But luckily we found a happy agreement: I got to try my hand at German chocolate cake and Will got a birthday cake that he actually enjoyed. Perfect!

german choc cake 2

By the way, lest you think I’m some insane (yes) jerk (hopefully not), Will and I are friends now. So no hard feelings about our contrasting views on the merits of cake. Because unless you’re allergic to pecans or coconut or chocolate or happiness, how could a view like this fail to bring people together:

german choc cake slice

If you like German chocolate cake (or need to make one because a cake-hater has requested it), this should be the first recipe you grab. It’s the perfect fluffy, not-too-chocolatey cake with a fantastically moist coconut-pecan filling, finished off with a chocolate icing so impressively rich and delicious I used it on the black & white cake just a few days later (posted out of order, apologies). I’m not qualified to make such bold claims as “this is the best German chocolate cake ever,” seeing as it’s the first one I’ve ever made and, since it’s not usually the type of cake I reach for first, I don’t have a lot to compare it to. But I will say that this cake has hoards of impressive, positive affirmations on Annie’s blog – AND it got a thumbs-up from Will. Draw your own conclusions.

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

GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE

From Annie’s Eats, which she adapted from David Lebovitz 

2 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp. water
4 large eggs, separated into egg whites and yolks
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1½ cups sugar, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract

RUM SYRUP
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tbsp. dark rum

COCONUT PECAN FILLING
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
½ tsp.  salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups sweetened coconut, toasted

CHOCOLATE ICING
10 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

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

Make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans: grease the sides and bottom of the pans, line with a circle of parchment paper, and grease the top of the paper. Flour the bottom and sides of the pans. Set aside.

2. Using a double boiler (or the microwave in 15-second bursts), melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate with the water, stirring until smooth. Set aside until the mixture cools to room temperature.

3. In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they form soft droopy peaks. Slowly add ¼ cup of the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to a separate bowl and return the mixer bowl to the mixer base.

4. In the bowl the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with 1¼ cups of the sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate. Mix in the egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.

5. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture on low speed just until incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla extract until combined. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients just until incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining egg whites just until incorporated.

6. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the cake pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the rum syrup:

While the cakes are cooling, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the rum.

Make the coconut pecan filling:

1. Combine the cream, sugar and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, pecans and coconut in a mixing bowl; set aside.

2. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon (170-175° F.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools. If it doesn’t thicken up, add additional coconut until you are satisfied with the consistency.

Make the chocolate icing:

1. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and butter; set aside.

2. Heat the cream on the stove just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until smooth.

3. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator or freezer until firm enough for decorating (at least 2 hours, can take more).

Assemble the cake:

1. Carefully cut the two cake layers in half horizontally to yield four layers.

2. Set the first layer on a cake circle, cut side up. Brush well with the rum syrup (seriously! Be generous – this makes it moist and delicious). Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach the edges.

3. Set another cake layer on top of the filling. Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.

4. Ice the sides of the cake with the chilled chocolate icing. Pipe a decorative border around the top layer, encircling the coconut topping.

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

And there you have it: delicious, moist, flavorful German chocolate cake. Just for the heck of it, let’s really get in here. Doesn’t this make you want to lick the screen?!

german close up

(No? Just me? I’m the only one currently cleaning their monitor with their tongue? Oh… c’est embarrassant…)

Good-Luck-on-Quals Brownies (or, Seven-Layer Bar Cookies Baked into Fudgy Brownies)

Do you think they got the "good luck" message?
Eleven students in my department recently took their qualifying exams (“quals”). Quals consist of five very open-ended, difficult questions written by five different professors. You have three days and three hours to complete the take-home exam, using any books, notes, the Internet, etc. that you want – you just can’t discuss the questions with anyone. Remember open-note exams in college? And how they were often more difficult than close-note exams? Well this is like that… but a million times harder. You have to pass quals to become an official PhD candidate, and you only get two chances. Yikes!

I’ll be taking this monstrous exam in a year, but this time around, I got to be on the “good luck” committee! Which doesn’t exist. I invented it. But it ought to exist. Because who doesn’t want a good luck brownie when they’re going into a three-day exam?!

While all the quals kids suffered, you can 1) be thankful that you are not in their shoes, and 2) consider making this recipe of fudgy, sugary ridiculousness. These brownies were inspired by a recipe from the book “Bake it in a Cupcake” by Megan Seling, which my best friend gave me for my birthday. This cookbook contains a bunch of fantastic desserts baked into various flavored cupcakes for double the awesomeness. I adapted the Seven-Layer Bar Brownie Cupcakes and made a tray of brownies instead. I increased many of the ingredients, added toffee bits to the brownies, and went bonkers over the crazy increase in baking time. These brownies are almost like fudge on the inside, they’re so gooey and sugary.

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

SEVEN LAYER BAR COOKIES

6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) butter, melted
1 1/5 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup toffee bits
1 ¼ cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 ¼ cup chopped pecans
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

BROWNIES

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken or chopped into small pieces
1 1/8 cup (2 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

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

1. Make the seven-layer bars first. Preheat oven to 350F, spray a 9”x13” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Stir the melted butter & graham cracker crumbs together until all crumbs are moist; press them into the bottom of the pan. Evenly layer the rest of the ingredients, in the order listed, over top of the crust. Pour the condensed milk over the top and bake for some crazy amount of time. The book says 25 minutes; mine took 35+. You want the edges to be bubbling and the coconut starting to turn golden brown, but the inside of my bars was still a bit gooey at this point so I ended up cooking an extra 10+ minutes. Cool completely before cutting (but be sure to sample the corner while it’s warm, accompanied by a glass of milk!).

2. Make the brownie batter once the seven-layer bars are cool. Place the chocolate and butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 90 seconds, stopping halfway through to stir the butter and chocolate together. Continue stirring until everything melted together – you can microwave a tiny bit more as necessary, but be really careful you don’t burn the chocolate. It’s much better to stir and wait for the chocolate to melt slowly. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the granulated sugar until it’s well-mixed. Stir in the eggs, one at a time until the mixture is smooth. Add the salt and vanilla and stir for 30 seconds, until they’re both well-mixed. Mix in the flour until just combined – don’t overstir!

3. Finally, assemble the brownies. Cut up the seven-layer bars into 1.5-2 inch squares (it doesn’t matter how neat these squares are) and move to a different plate/container. Wash the 9-inch by 13-inch pan, dry, and spray again with nonstick cooking spray. Pour about half the brownie batter into the tray, gently place squares of the seven-layer bars on top so they’re almost touching each other, and pour the rest of the brownie batter on top. Bake for goodness knows how long. I think I ended up baking for 50+ minutes. Keep testing the brownies with a toothpick. The edges and top will be very crusty, but the inside stays oh-so-gooey, so pull them out when there’s just a tiny bit of dough sticking to the toothpick. Allow them to cool before cutting (you can refrigerate them after 15 minutes if you want to speed this step up).

If everyone fails quals because they OD on sugar, this recipe never happened