Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Banana Bread

¨There’s a fruit called a banana colored yellow like a June sun and curved.¨ Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse

Bananas make me think of a lot of things. Home - I was extremely devoted to my mom's dense version, which stood up well to being shipped off to a college-age daughter thousands of miles away (until I started making my own...) Books - the quote above comes from a children's book about a young Jewish girl escaping Nazi Europe (and the moment of her first sublime meeting with bananas). Politics - Ever since reading this NYT oped how the everyday banana is emblematic of long-distance food chains, I have tried to limit my banana intake (just being a general Latinamerican-phile, what with the continent's tortured United Fruit history, adds a whole 'nother dimension). (Note: Smitten Kitchen blogged on just this not too long ago - and with much better pictures!)

But I can't shake the habit of slicing them into my once-a-month bowl of oatmeal, and I adore banana bread. So with a slight sense of guilt offset by the pure joy of that Letters from Rifka quote, I present Banana Bread.

Most quick breads are made with oil, but this one uses melted butter in its place, in addition to yogurt. It's moist, flavorful, and a bit sweeter than some other versions I've tried - and to top it off I usually throw in a handful of dark chocolate chunks. This time I only had a few leftover walnuts rattling around in a plastic container. That's one of the reasons I love making quick breads - they're hardy, versatile little recipes that can take a fair bit of tweaking (and stand up well in altitude baking!).

This recipe originally comes from All Recipes, and can be found here. For a while I was slicing the bananas as directed, but I really think that mashing them allows for a more consistent banana flavor and less gummy chunks in the bread.

While looking up that op-ed, I stumbled across the NYT's topic page on bananas. No, really. It's bananas! Recipes, op-eds on the terrible banana trade, and other goodies galore! NYT, why must you confuse me so?


- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup yogurt
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- 2 medium bananas, mashed


- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. (I made four small loaves - though I would have been happier with three slightly bigger small loaves, if that makes any sense.)
- In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter and sugar.
- Add the eggs and vanilla, mix well.
- Combine the flour, baking soda and salt, stir into the butter mixture until smooth.
- Fold in the sour cream, walnuts and bananas. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.
- Bake for around 35 minutes (small loaves) or 60 minutes (large loaf pan), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean (best test ever). Cool loaf in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Get Up Late Cinnamon Rolls

AKA "Instant Gratification Cinnamon Buns"

I guess you can't call them rolls if you don't use yeast and slave away for hours over repeated rises? Anyway, this is an easy and fun recipe for not-quite-traditional cinnamon rolls. You can pull them together in about 20 minutes, including rolling. With a half hour to chill out in the fridge and 20 minutes in the oven, these babies can be on your plate in way under two hours. They're flakier and more delicate than a traditionally chewy cinnamon roll, and a bit petite. I like them better that way, because I can justify eating more.

This year I made them for Christmas morning, and we devoured a whole pan (only 15 measly rolls between four people!) while they were still warm. Well, in between taking photos. I just can't get over how cute they are--that's half the fun of making them. Well...maybe a good 25 percent.

From the bakery...

Recipe: (note: this is a originally a King Arthur flour recipe, which you can find here. I don't use any of their specialty ingredients, and it always turns out delicious)

2 cups (King Arthur) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg + enough milk to total 1/2 cup

4 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup brown sugar
5 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted
pinch of salt
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons (3/4 to 1 ounce) milk or cream, enough to make a spreadable frosting

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a 9" round cake pan. If desired (I always desire!), melt 2 tablespoons butter, and drizzle it into the bottom of the prepared pan. This adds to the rolls' buttery flavor, and makes them easier to remove from pan.

To make the dough: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, leavener(s), salt, and sugar. Cut the butter into pieces, and work it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is unevenly crumbly.

Break an egg into a measuring cup, and add milk to the 1/2-cup line. Whisk together and add to the dry ingredients, stirring to make a soft dough. Transfer the dough to a heavily floured work surface, and roll it into a rope about 14" long. Flatten it gently, then use a rolling pin to gently roll it into a 16" x 6" rectangle. Use a dough scraper or giant spatula to lift the dough as you roll, adding more flour underneath if it begins to stick to the work surface.

To prepare the filling: Combine all of the filling ingredients, mixing until smooth and spreadable. Spread the filling on the rolled-out dough, leaving a 1" margin free along one long edge. Starting with the long edge that DOES have filling on it, roll the log up. Turn it so the seam is on the bottom, and gently shape it till it's about 16" long.

To form and bake the buns: Cut the log into 16 slices (I usually eyeball it and get 15-16), and place them in the prepared pan. I then refrigerate them for about a half hour (I am convinced, perhaps without reason, that it's always better to chill things before putting them in a hot oven. You can also chill them overnight, for an even later wake-up call.) (Or you can bake the buns immediately.) Whether they've been refrigerated or not, bake the buns for 20 to 25 minutes (the longer amount of time if they've been chilled), until they're just beginning to turn a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and place them on a rack to cool, as you prepare the frosting.

To prepare the frosting: Stir together the sugar, vanilla, butter, and salt. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons milk or cream, and beat until smooth and creamy, adding additional liquid if the frosting seems too thick to spread easily. Spread the frosting on the warm buns. Serve warm, or at room temperature. Buns will stay soft for several days, so long as you keep them covered. (Note: I have never seen them last this long, but yes, I suppose it's possible.) Yield: 16 buns.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Lefsa (also spelled lefse) is a Norwegian potato-crepe (this is the best way I have discovered to describe it to the uninitiated). It is paper thin, served room temperature, and in my not-so-humble opinion, best eaten slathered with strawberry jelly and then rolled. I've also heard of it being used to wrap around meatballs and gravy, but those apocryphal tales have never been verified.

From the first moment my little sister and I sat our small Irish selves down at the dinner table with my stepdad's towering Norwegian family, we were hooked on lefsa. My grandparents used to make it by hand, but a few years ago my stepdad and I took over the reins (with admittedly uneven--literally--results).

Every year (given that this is only the third year we've done it) it seems to actually get harder instead of easier! You're supposed to roll a large golf ball-sized ball out so thin you can read through it, using a special grooved rolling pin. I've never pulled it off to my complete satisfaction. A few months ago, my uncle gave it a try, and stories of his perfectly-thin lefsa fueled my stepdad and I onward. But about halfway through that enormous mass of mashed potato-dough hybrid, when I'm covered with flour and desperation, suddenly I can see how it all comes together. Patience, and flour. Lots of flour. Even strokes with the rolling pin. Simple stuff, really. But just you wait until you try to make it. This year our lefsa was thinner than ever (success!) and we have plans to give it another go over the summer, to clinch our roles as the family lefsa-makers. Though more lefsa is never a bad thing...

You may be able to make lefsa using a flat griddle, but it is relatively large when rolled out (about 10 inches). We use a lefsa grill/iron, which also comes with a specialized rolling pin and lefsa sticks (I'm sure there are actual names for these items, but we just call them sticks. Sticks with very nice Norwegian designs on the handles). Here is a link to a set. The dough is extremely sticky--we end up using lots of flour to get it to roll out and unstick successfully.

The setup

Not quite there yet...

Almost perfect

Recipe: (handwritten on an index card - gotta love it)

Lefse from Potato Flakes

5 C water
1 tsp. salt
2/3 stick of butter (or oleo)
2 1/2 C milk
7 1/2 C Idaho Supreme Potato flakes
2 sticks butter
2 T sugar (optional)
4 C flour

Back side:
Bring water, salt, and 2/3 stick butter to boil. Add milk and heat until barely boiling. Add to potato flakes until all flakes are moistened. Add 2 sticks of butter and sugar. Cover with dish towel and set to cool (not in refrigerator). When cool, add 4 cups of flour. Work in with hands very well. Make into balls, roll and bake. Makes 30 sheets.


- Form a ball of dough slightly larger than a golf ball
- Roll it out until the dough seems like it will tear (if you're like me, it will tear, and you will have to start over, and this will continue ad nauseam until you're ready to tear out your hair)
- Using one of the sticks, place it near a promising-looking edge of the dough, and gently fold an inch to half inch lip over the top of the stick
- Roll the dough up using the stick
- Hold the stick over the extremely-hot lefsa iron, then, beginning at one end (so you have enough space), unroll the lefsa
- Once it starts bubbling slightly, lift it using both sticks and flip it over
- When it has brown spots, it's done!
- Repeat until the sough is gone, stacking the completed lefsa under a dish towel until cool