Archive for February, 2009

Banana Cake on Valentine’s Day

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

One of the benefits of doing business mostly by mail and at farmers markets is that I may be busy leading up to a holiday, but the holiday itself is usually pretty chill.  So after the rush of sending out Valentine’s Day orders, I found myself with time to make a cake.  I made the Frosted Banana Cake from Claire Clark’s Indulge cookbook for Chad — and let’s be honest, me.  We had a couple bananas that were ultra-ripe (um, black) that we’d frozen so I defrosted them for it; they were a bit of a water balloonish consistency, but I think still this side of nutritionally safe.  And they made for a great cake!

I wanted something a little different than a regular banana bread, and I was intrigued by her recipe because it uses all dark brown sugar for the sweetener.  She said that she loves the caramel flavor (or rather “flavour,” in her British manner), and while I don’t usually like candies that use dark sugar instead of caramelized sugar, I thought it might be really interesting in a cake, especially paired with banana.  I was also curious to see what kind of texture and sweetness it would give, since all dark brown sugar in cookies makes them sweeter, thicker, and chewier.  But this recipe whips the sugar with eggs and oil before adding flour, baking powder, and the banana, so the mixing method and ingredients (no butter) are quite different.

It all turned out deliciously.  Its crumb is slightly  denser than a standard cake, but lighter than a quickbread.  And it has the loveliest caramel note backing up the banana.  The banana flavor was even more pronounced the second day.  It’s just the right sweetness, and we can barely keep away from it.

I just made a few changes to the recipe.   I added a big pinch of salt, since just about every recipe benefits from its presence and the recipe didn’t call for any.  I also used 2/3 dark brown sugar to 1/3 light brown sugar (I chickened out a little) and 2/3 walnut oil (which I had) to 1/3 vegetable oil (which she recommends).  I also sprinkled fresh macadamia nuts on top, even though she mixes in pecans.  Next time, I may sub buckwheat or whole wheat flour for about a 1/5 of the AP flour…. and maybe add chocolate chips.

And since I made the recipe x1.5,  I stayed good to my vow to wonder “How would it look as it a mini-loaf?” so that I could use my dear E. Dehillerin tins.

The actual cake was frosted with her cream cheese frosting (to which I added more cream cheese since I found the original recipe too buttery for my tastes).

BonBonBars at The Sugar Cube in Virginia

Friday, February 6th, 2009

BonBonBars have arrived at The Sugar Cube in Alexandria just in time for Valentine’s Day!  Not only do they have my Scotch, Caramel Nut, and Orange Candy Bars available individually, but also several gift collections that include handmade caramels as well as candy bars: Scotch, Nutty, and Farmers Market.

I urge you to click on the link for The Sugar Cube, not only to learn about a candy store that’s run by two sisters with an enthusiasm for candy and quality (and that I wish was about 3, 000 miles closer to me so that I could go myself), but also to read their completely wonderful write up about BonBonBars on their front page… It makes me blush and be so grateful that my candy is appreciated.

And I snapped a picture of the gift collection boxes before I sealed the mailing box…  I have to admit, I’m not usually a ribbon and bow kind of person, but I loved the ribbon that I found and would be rather thrilled to get a gift like them myself….

A Bit More about the Cherry Candy Bar… and Nougat

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

It’s hard to believe that over two years have passed since I started developing my candy bar recipes in earnest. The Peanut Butter Bar that I’m preparing to release was posted on April 18, 2007, and it will be exactly as I posted. I still love the form and design, and I’ve only tinkered with the peanut butter-milk chocolate ratio a little bit to adjust the texture.  So, why haven’t I released it yet?  It took me a while to source organic peanuts that are free from mold issues (turns out that New Mexican peanuts are the way to go — the mold does not thrive there as it does in the southeast US and as far as I know, salmonella has not been an issue), and now I’m waiting for my chocolate molds to arrive (they’re backordered).  At least, they should already be around by Easter, which I vaguely think of as the most peanut-buttery holiday.

In comparison, the Cherry Bar was fast, with ingredients that are readily available and a form that doesn’t need special equipment.  It has a Vanilla Almond Nougat enrobed in Dark Chocolate and topped with organic Dried Cherries.  I thought of it in late December, and developed the recipe and released the bar in January because I wanted to have it for Valentine’s Day.  It’s a simpler bar than the peanut butter bar for sure, because it has one thick filling rather than two thinner layers — in the tradition of 3 Musketeers or Charleston Chew — and it has dried cherries scattered on top.  It’s also the fruit of an exciting luxury that I didn’t have two years ago — a repertoire of my own recipes.  And even better, recipes whose shelf-lives I’m familiar with.

The Vanilla Almond Nougat is an evolution of the Pecan Nougat in my Orange Bar (which also has an orange caramel layer and candied orange peel with muscovado sugar on top).  When I thought about how I wanted the Vanilla Almond Nougat to taste, I looked at the Pecan Nougat recipe, and thought about what should be different, trying to be sensitive to every aspect of the Cherry Bar and the Orange Bar.

Substituting slow-roasted almonds for slow-roasted pecans was easy, although I added more almonds to the recipe, because it’s important for them to be prominent in every bite — whereas the Orange Bar has the orange caramel and candied orange peel on top to offer flavor if there are no pecans in a bite, and the pecans are not meant to dominate the flavor.  I also am using skin-on almonds because I prefer that flavor, and blanching them on my own would be a painful shore besides.

I kept the Orange Blossom Honey rather than substituting a different flavor of honey because I liked that it’s a delicate honey and the subtle orange would be a nice subtle flavor.  Bill’s Bees has Almond Blossom Honey available, but I didn’t see a reason to double up on the almond factor, especially since almonds are strongly flavored enough on their own.

I decided to add Organic Tahitian Vanilla Beans to the recipe, too, because I’ve discovered that I like Tahitian (fruitier) more than Bourbon (creamier) or Mexican (tangier).  I cook the scraped seeds in the sugar syrup in order to infuse it before whipping it with the egg whites; otherwise, just adding it at the end wouldn’t be as strong and I may as well use vanilla extract, which would permeate throughout the nougat in a similar way.

I also added a bit of salt to the nougat, though I wasn’t sure how to go about it exactly.  Salt is kind of rare in meringue and nougat recipes,  and I wasn’t sure if it would react with the sugar syrup (lead to more inversion or lower the boiling point, like it does water?) or the egg whites.  I don’t put in salt in the Pecan Nougat because the orange caramel already has enough salt for the whole bar.  I do use salt in the sugar syrup for my marshmallows, but I always have and they don’t contain egg whites.  So, I tried adding the salt with the sugar syrup as it boiled and at the end, with the nuts, and found that the salt was best with the nuts — the flavor was better and the nougat wasn’t as soft as when salt was boiled with it.

My Pecan Nougat also contains a little powdered sugar, which gives it a fluffier texture over time because of the starch in it.  I decreased the amount, though, because I figured that it could be a little more toothsome than the Pecan Nougat to make up for the lack of the caramel layer’s strength.

I decided to manually place the Organic Dried Cherries (which, like the honey and eggs, are from the Santa Monica FM) on top to make sure that they’re in just about every bite — otherwise, it would be impossible to evenly disperse them in the nougat.  Mars, apparently, has a special way to make sure that there are a certain number peanuts in each Snickers bar.  I like how simply putting them on top ensures the flavor — sour and sweet and bursting with flavor.  They’re really marvelous cherries.  I have to flatten them so that the bars will fit inside its packaging, but when I buy them, they’re rather spherical like their original shape, which would be obvious except that so many other dried cherries I’ve had have been flat and oblong.

So, there it is.  After making the Pecan Nougat for nearly a year, too, I’m more comfortable making nougat than I was when I wrote the Nougat Science nearly two years ago.  Putting the cherries on top solves the problem of trying to make a cherry nougat with real cherries.  And my nougat is surprisingly forgiving, or at least, as easy as I designed it to be (I tried to cut out as many timing issues as possible as is common with nougat), and I’ve never had a bad batch that had to be thrown out (knock on wood).  The sugar syrup once reached 10F higher than it was supposed to, so I added water to it and brought it to the proper temp.  The sugar once reached 5F higher than it should have and I used it out of curiosity, and it turned out just fine.  I always let it set overnight, and putting a Silpat on top of it protects it from humidity.

The only problem is that the tines on the whisk for my new mixer have proven to be weak, and are breaking at an awful rate.  I wish that I could reinforce the tines or reattach them once they break, but no one seems to have any advice for that… Unless you do!