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?