Who Needs a Sandwich When You Can Have Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

When I am in need of comfort, I usually turn to a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. When I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich today, cliche as it sounds, evoked are the memories of packed school lunches, the messages in jam and jelly my mom used to write in the sandwiches or the smiley faces made with raisins. Warmth, love and a simpler time. Lately, I've been all out of sorts and have been trying to keep in mind that life throws you curve balls, and you can either let it hit you in the head, or catch it and chuck it to the appropriate baseman (see there, I used a baseball analogy).

So what better way to deal with missing catches than to eat some peanut butter and jelly! In this instance, I decided to adapt this comforting treat into an easily shared bar, modified from the recipe published by Bon Appétit. In this case modification means that I didn't have all their ingredients and needed to improvise, and as you all know necessity is the mother of invention!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars with Chocolate Chips
1 cup wholewheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup natural peanut butter, smooth
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter flavored shortening
1 large egg
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
3/4 cup of raspberry jam (or whatever jam/jelly you like)
2/3 cup of chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degs Fahrenheit. Line your baking pan (8x8 is the one I used) with aluminium foil and then grease the foil.

In a small bowl, mix flours, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, using a mixer, beat peanut butter, sugar and shortening. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture to the peanut butter and beat on low speed to just blend.

Take half the dough and press it into the bottom of the pan as evenly as possible. Put the rest of the dough in the freezer for 10 minutes. Spread the jelly over the pressed dough as evenly as possible. When 10 minutes have passed, remove the now chilled remaining dough and break into large pieces, about the size of grapes. Sprinkle remaining broken up dough onto the jelly layer. Press slightly and then sprinkle chocolate chips on top of that layer* (you can also used chopped peanuts or other nuts).

Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool completely before de-foiling. You can then cut it into squares and dunk a piece into a large cold glass of milk. Ahhh...memories!

*the chocolate adds that next level of flavor that works so well with peanut butter. I mean, Reese's knows what they are doing.


Chocolate Chip Banana Bread - Can't Get it From the Banana Stand

It's long overdue. It's been ages. A blog post from me about baking something. In a tiny or maladjusted kitchen somewhere in NYC. Well, in this case it's a compact kitchen with no real counter space. I just moved to this kitchen, err, apartment in a sunny part of the city and what made me take this place over the others that I saw was the kitchen. The potential of the kitchen to be a great kitchen for someone who loves to bake and to cook.

This kitchen has a full sized stove and a large fridge. Just no counter space...yet. For the moment, I make do with a kitchen island and creative use of the stove top.

The final product. Yum.

I inaugurated the kitchen today, on a mild summer day, by using my toaster oven to bake some Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. My bananas were going soft and the weather was cooperating, so there I went, balancing bowls on burners, keeping an eye on softening butter on top of the fridge, and making sure I mixed and blended and leveled and poured without a mishap.

Here's the recipe I adapted from Epicurious:

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
Juice from half a small lemon

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Before it goes in the oven
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9" x 13" loaf pan.

Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt in a medium bowl. Keep aside. Cream the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the bananas, lemon juice and vanilla to the egg mixture. When well mixed, add the flour mixture and blend until well incorporated.

Spoon half the mixture into the loaf pan, sprinkle half the chocolate chips on top and swirl in with a knife. Add the remaining batter, smooth and then sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips. Once again, swirl with a knife.

Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until when a toothpick is inserted, it comes out clean. Enjoy with a large glass of cold milk, or like I did - with a cold beer (Aventinus is delicious with chocolate chip banana bread).



It's a little late to post this, but it seems that I am on hiatus from baking and posting until further notice.

I am looking forward to coming back with more recipes, pictures and maybe a little more insight into why I started this blog in the first place and where it's going to find itself in the future.

Stay Tuned!


Spring means Strawberry...Rhubarb Pie

Cooking soothes the savage beast in my case, and usually that means that I end up making a huge meal complete with dessert.

This weekend, dessert was Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, mainly because my green grocer kept piling more and more of them all over their fruit bins. Overflowing, even. My last attempt at Strawberry Rhubarb pie was a sodden, sour mess. This time I was determined to do it right.

So arming myself with previous knowledge and research on the interwebz, I went ahead and nabbed me some strawberries and rhubarb and made me some pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (Adapted from Epicurious)
Pie Crust Ingredients
3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
10 tablespoons (about) ice water

Pie filling
1 pint of strawberries - washed, hulled and sliced in half
3 cups of sliced rhubarb
1/3 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
pinch powdered cardamom (optional)

1 egg + water for egg wash

In a food processor, add the dry ingredients for the pie crust and pulse for a few seconds to blend. Then add shortening and butter and pulse until the mixture resembles large crumbs. Slowly add the water, spoonful by spoonful, until a soft dough comes together. Shouldn't be more than 2 minutes. Separate the dough into two balls, flatten each and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for about an hour before use or you can pop it in the freezer for 15 mins. Dough must be chilled in order for it to be malleable to roll out.

While your dough is chilling, mix all the ingredients for your pie filling in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. When dough is chilled and firm, remove from fridge and roll out one disk and line your pie plate (13 inch is best here). Roll out the other disk and cut into 14 strips. Spoon filling into crust. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Crimp the edges and brush the crust and edges with the egg wash.

Bake for 20 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake the pie for about 1 hour 15 mins. Let the pie cool thoroughly before cutting into it - it's a juicy pie and you want to make sure that the filling sets properly. Serve plain, or with vanilla ice-cream, or with my favorite - Cool Whip!


Profiteroles are not prissy

As someone who loves to bake a lot, the holidays is like open season on ovens and flour and cake pans and all the necessities a good amateur baker would need.

Of course, the holidays also mean special desserts, with lots of embellishment and festive spangling (a.k.a. glitter sugar and food coloring). I usually make a bûche de Noël, but this year I decided to go the route of bite size and, let's face it, I wanted to challenge myself. So this year we had profiteroles.

Profiteroles, according to my giant book of pastry here, are an "ancient, elaborate French specialty [which] consists of small custard-filled cream puffs...glazed with caramelized sugar."

I used a chocolate glaze instead, reminiscent of what you might find on an eclair. The pate a choux recipe came from this book, The Advanced Professional Pastry Chef, as did the pastry cream recipe. The recipes are wonderful in that they have them scaled for "professional batches" as well as for the amateur baker, i.e. you don't have to figure out the calculations yourself. I am not going to post the recipe here because any good pastry cookbook has a decent pate a choux recipe and as for the pastry cream, same.

The chocolate glaze I used was my usual recipe of cream, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and in the spirit of the holiday season - a dash of bourbon. They were delicious.


Beorn's Honey Nut Cake

Tolkien. I remember reading The Hobbit when I was 11 and just getting to that stage of nerdiness, where I'd go to the "classics" section in the library and pull books that I thought would make me more intelligent. Or at least look intelligent when reading them. Little did I know that this random act of ego would lead me into a wonderful world filled with beautiful wordplay, gorgeous scenery and unlikely heroes. 

My family knows that I love Tolkien, so for Christmas my mother got me a little book titled A Tolkien Treasury. In it there are quotes from J.R.R. Tolkien, aficionados of his writing, fragments on literature and even a few recipes.

One of these is the recipe that I tried out today - Beorn's Honey Nut Cake. I remember the meal that the dwarves and Bilbo had at Beorn's table - even trying to come up with some of the recipes myself when I was younger. Nothing tastes quite like whipped butter, honey and fresh white toast. Really, there's nothing like it.

1 1/2 cups of cottage cheese, strained and liquid removed
1 1/2 TBSP all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 TBSP sour cream
2 extra large egg yolks, beaten
2 extra large egg whites, whipped stiffly
3/4 cup of honey
1 TBSP butter, softened
Zest and Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 375 deg F. Butter a 9x9 square pan. Mix together the cottage cheese, flour, salt, sour cream, egg yolks, honey, butter and 1/2 cup of the wheat germ. Once these ingredients are well incorporated, fold in the egg whites. Gently pour into the prepared pan and top with remaining wheat germ and chopped walnuts. Bake for 25-30 mins or until set. Cool completely before serving.

It's such an odd recipe, but the results are really delicious. And if you substitute low-fat cottage cheese and sour cream in the recipe, this has the makings of a protein rich and low-fat treat. Who knew that "Beorn" was such a good baker?


My 15 Minutes of Fame - Redux

Last year around this time, I was featured in a commercial on the Food Network as a play on Chopped! and posted about it here.

And finally, you can see me in all my televised glory here:


Lemon Bars with a Chocolate Twist

I've been making my lemon bars for ages now. I think I first posted about them four years ago when I started writing this blog as part of a grad school project. Now, I am well-versed in all things digital communications and I've been baking and sharing my baked goods ever since.

Lemon bars are one of my favorite things to eat, err, bake. The basic lemon bar recipe has a shortbread base and a very simple custard "filling", which makes the recipe infinitely adaptable to additional flavors and ingredients.

What can make a Lemon Bar even more decadent and wonderful? Why, chocolate of course. A simple ganache adds panache (ha!) to an already wonderful treat.

Lemon Chocolate Bars
Ingredients for shortbread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter or shortening

Ingredients for filling

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp cornstarch

Ingredients for ganache
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream

Pre-heat oven to 350 deg F. In a bowl, using either your fingers or an electric mixer on the lowest setting, mix together all the ingredients for the shortbread until the mixture comes together as large crumbs. Place the mixture in a 9x9 pan and press into the pan, making as even as a base as possible. Bake for 15 mins, then remove to cool.

While the crust is cooling, prepare the ganache and filling. For the ganache, heat the heavy cream until just under boiling and pour over the chocolate chips. Mix until chips have melted and the ganache is smooth. Set aside to cool completely. For the lemon filling, using an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, eggs and lemon zest until a light and lemony color. Add the lemon juice and beat well. Using a spatula, fold in the cornstarch.

When the shortbread is only slightly warm, spread the ganache over the shortbread as evenly as possible. Carefully pour over the ganache the lemon mixture - don't worry if some of the ganache combines with the mixture, it'll even out during baking.

Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F or until the filling is relatively firm. There might be a light brown crust on top - you can cover your baking dish with foil to avoid it. Cool completely before cutting and serving with a dusting of powdered sugar. Decadent is an understatement when you bite into this.


Chocolate Chips!

I might have written about Chocolate Chip Cookies before, but I made a batch recently that reminded me why I love that little cookie so much. With cold milk - it's the best treat a kid, err, I mean a grown-up could have!

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream the shortening and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition - don't forget to scrape the side of the bowl! Add dry ingredients and mix well, but don't over mix. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Place large spoonfuls of the cookie dough mixture onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden, remove, cool and enjoy!


Apples and Spices and Pie Crust, oh my!

While writing posts about the baking I've been doing has been few and far between these past few months, I have been baking. There was the baby shower cupcakes, the birthday cake, blackberries galore and much, much more. For some reason, putting fingers to keyboard didn't really appeal to me, but then after the "Storm of the Century" (well, here in New York City) the one way I was able to make sense of the mess that was left after Sandy passed through was by baking. The moment I put on my apron and sorted out a recipe in my head, I could momentarily push aside the anxiety rising inside me and a state of calm purpose replaced it. One of the best American comfort baked goods out there, I think, is Apple Pie. Being that I had some slowly shriveling apples and motivation, a free-form Spiced Apple Tart was born!

Free-Form Apple Tart

2/3 cup of cubed chilled butter
2 cups flour
Pinch of Salt
1/3 cup of ice-water

(I used a food processor for this, because it works so well to keep the crust flaky, but you can use a pastry cutter, two knives or whatever works for you.)

In your food processor, add the flour, pinch of salt and pulse once. Then add the butter cubes and pulse until  the mixture resembles small crumbs. Slowly add the ice-water to the mixture - not all of it, but just enough until the dough begins to form a ball. Remove dough from processor bowl and form into a flattened disc. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill for about 30 mins.

5 apples, peeled, and cut into 1/8 pieces (avoid any sour apples for this recipe)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup of spiced apple wine (or any spirit you fancy)

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and let marinate for 30 mins to an hour.

AssemblyFlour a clean surface and roll out your pie dough in a large, circular shape. Keep it to 1/4 inch thickness - you want a thicker crust for this kind of tart.

Place dough on a baking sheet.

Drain the apples from the marinating liquid (reserve the liquid for a quick caramel glaze) and arrange in a circular mound in the center of the crust, leaving about two inches of crust free.

Fold the remaining crust over the apples, making sure to seal any cracks that might appear. Make a simple egg wash (whole egg + 2 TBSP water + some beating = egg wash) and brush all over the crust.

Bake at 425 for 45 mins. Remove and add the glaze (see recipe below)

Caramel Apple Glaze
Reserved liquid from apple marinade
3 TBSP butter

In a small sauce pan, heat the liquid until bubbling, add the butter and stir until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and set aside until use.

You can have your pie with sour cream, whipped cream, or with some fresh berries like I did.