Sunday, August 31, 2008

Down to the wire

This month totally got away from me. Earlier this week, someone at work made a comment about plans for Labor Day weekend, and my reaction was "What?! Wait, that's this weekend, isn't it?" This week was particularly challenging, since it was Brianna's first week of kindergarten. It was very apparent by Tuesday evening that they don't nap in kindergarten (it's all day). Ugh. There was lots of crying. Brianna crying, Gillian crying, me crying... But I'm sure it'll get better as we get more into our new routine. Of course, that'll be just in time for us to go to Pennsylvania for a week for my sister Kate's wedding. =) I think Brianna really is enjoying school, but it's a lot of change all at once (new teacher, missing her friends from daycare, having to get up earlier, etc.).

Long about Thursday, I was thinking that I was just going to end up passing on this month's Daring Bakers challenge. This month's selection is Chocolate Éclairs from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, chosen by Tony Tahhan and Meeta K. I should have started earlier in the month, but I had other baking to do and didn't really have a good occasion to make these for. I did actually make the chocolate sauce needed for the glaze last weekend, but that's as far as I got.

Last night, I started thinking. How hard could it be? I've made cream puffs before and the same dough is used for éclairs. I've made pastry cream, though not chocolate. The glaze shouldn't be a big deal. Half a recipe of everything wouldn't make too much. What the heck, I'll give it a try. Of course I was too tired to do any of it last night, after working all day.

So this morning, I got up around 7am (that's sleeping in, for me). Because my kiddos were so exhausted from the past week, they actually slept until almost 8am, which gave me some much-needed peace and quiet to tackle the mess that had piled up in the kitchen. Hard to use the stand mixer to make pâte à choux when you can't get to it... =) The dough was pretty straightforward. I piped out éclair shapes, but I think I overdid it, because I only got 6. That was my first mistake. I baked them as instructed, but after 20 minutes they didn't seem done. I left them in for another 5-6 minutes, then took them out. Mistake number 2. It quickly became apparent that they weren't done, as the tops sank. I thought that maybe I could salvage some, so I went on with making the pastry cream. I changed my mind after I caught Gillian grabbing one off the rack. She took one bite and spit it out. Part of me wanted to yell at her, since she shouldn't have been doing that to begin with. The rest of me was laughing, realizing that even my not-quite-2-year-old could figure out that these were no good. 

So I made another batch.  This time, I piped 11 of them (half the recipe, remember). I baked them for 10 minutes before propping the oven door open, then baked them for 30 minutes more. Much, much better!

The pastry cream was no problem, and it gave me a chance to use up some more of the chocolate in my pantry. The glaze was pretty easy, too. I did find it a bit odd that you have to make chocolate sauce as one of the ingredients in the glaze. The chocolate sauce itself was okay, but definitely not my favorite. We'll manage to use it up somehow, though. It makes pretty decent hot chocolate when mixed with hot milk (and a bit more sugar if it's for the kiddos).

The verdict? Pretty darn tasty. I usually pass on éclairs, since I'm not very fond of vanilla pastry cream. I much prefer the chocolate. It's yummy enough to just eat with a spoon. Everyone enjoyed the éclair that I put together for pictures--we each had a bite--and is looking forward to more for dessert. Be sure to check out the blogroll for lots of other scrumptious eclairs. You can find the recipe at Meeta's blog, here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Smooth as silk

Ever since I bought my new ice cream maker, I've been looking for excuses to make more ice cream. So I was excited to see this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte. This week's recipe comes from Amy of Food, Family and Fun. It's basically an ice cream cake, with alternating layers of your favorite frozen confection and chocolate ganache. The original recipe calls for store-bought premium vanilla ice cream blended with raspberries. I love the combination of chocolate and raspberry, but I just finished about a quart of homemade chocolate raspberry swirl.

Also, ever since the Filbert Gâteau, I've been wondering what to do with my leftover praline paste. The recipe made about a cup, and the buttercream for the cake only used a third of that. After eating a few spoonfuls, I still had about half a cup hanging around. Since I really liked the flavor in combination with the ganache glaze on the cake, I thought I'd try making a hazelnut praline ice cream for my torte. I started with my basic vanilla ice cream recipe. I used both whole milk and 1% because that's what I had in my fridge (the whole milk is for Gillian, mostly). Once the custard was done, I whisked in the praline paste. In hindsight, I probably should have mixed a little of the custard mixture into the paste and then mixed that back into the rest to minimize the chance of lumps. As it was, I just poured everything through a fine-mesh strainer. I would have put more rum in, but figured I shouldn't if I was going to feed it to my kids. =)

Another concern when feeding small children is the quantity of raw eggs in the ganache mixture for the torte. If it were just for me and Jamie, or if it wasn't so many eggs, I probably wouldn't worry about it. The simplest solution was to buy pasteurized eggs. A bit more expensive, but in this case I figured it was worth it. The filling mixture is pretty easy to make. It reminds me a lot of French silk pie. Sure enough, when I checked the recipe in my Betty Crocker cookbook, the ingredient list is very similar.

I didn't really want to make an 8-inch torte. I tried to find a 6-inch springform pan, planning to make half the recipe, but Sur la Table didn't have any. I didn't have time to look elsewhere, so I just went with my 7-inch pan and made 3/4 of the recipe. And yes, I did the math to figure it out. =) Assuming a similar pan height, you just have to compare the surface area. An 8-inch round pan is about 50 1/4 inches in area. A 7-inch pan is about 38 1/2. Pretty close to 3/4.

Assembling the torte is pretty straightforward. It just takes a little while, since you have to freeze each layer for 20 to 30 minutes before adding the next. And then you have to suffer through a 6-hour wait (or overnight, in my case) before tasting it. As usual, the first piece was a pain to get out, and not particularly photogenic. =) Once that was out, things went a lot better.

The verdict? There was a definite difference in texture between the layers. The ice cream melts a lot more quickly than the ganache softens. I like the flavor of the ice cream I made, but it's a bit overshadowed by the chocolate. Still quite tasty, though. Brianna, oddly enough, preferred the plain ice cream that she had Sunday night over the torte. She mostly ate the ice cream out of her piece and left the rest. Gillian, as usual, loved the whole thing, and was covered in it, since she found it easier to eat with her hands than with her spoon. =) Jamie's reaction? "Yum!"

Want to try your own ice cream torte? Decide on an ice cream flavor and head on over to Amy's blog for the full recipe. Of course, you can always just go buy the cookbook.

Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream

12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) heavy cream
8 ounces (1 cup) whole milk
8 ounces (1 cup) 1% milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup hazelnut praline paste (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon dark rum

Whisk together the cream, milks, sugar and salt in a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat until the sugar and salt are dissolved and the mixture is hot. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the yolks until smooth. Still whisking, drizzle in about a third of the hot liquid to temper the yolks. Then whisk the the yolk mixture back into the remaining liquid in the double boiler. Heat, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. The temperature should be between 170 and 180 degrees F. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the praline paste. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into another bowl (to remove any lumps of praline or eggy bits) and stir in the rum.

Refrigerate the custard until well chilled. Churn the mixture into ice cream following the instructions for your ice cream maker.  Makes about 1 quart.

Praline Paste
(adapted from Great Cakes by Carole Walter)

1 cup (4 ½ oz.) hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Line a jelly roll pan with non-stick foil.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low to medium flame for about 10 to 20 minutes until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly.

When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then turn the mixture onto the foil-lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible.

As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make a paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cool dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Monday, August 25, 2008

After school snack

People have been asking me if I was going to have a hard time seeing Brianna go off to school for her first day of kindergarten.  While it is a rite of passage, the day I first took her to day care (at 8 weeks old) was much, much harder.  Honestly, for me, the hardest part of all of this is trying to figure out how to coordinate drop-off and pick-up with my children in two different places, especially now that one of them has to be there by a certain time.  For today, Jamie took Gillian to day care so I could take Brianna to school without any distractions.  (And being of sound mind, I made sure I had the day off from work today.)  Tomorrow will be the real test...

Another thing that didn't really occur to me until last week is that now I have to figure out what to feed Brianna for lunch.  At day care, that was included.  Sure, she can buy lunch at school (and probably will occasionally), but I figure that I can come up with something that she's more likely to eat for less money.  Brianna's main concern?  "Can you put some dessert in there?" That led to the discussion about how not all of her friends would have dessert and they might be sad if she had some and they didn't.  Of course, I'm a big fan of dessert myself, so I thought it would be nice to make something for after school today.  It was easy to figure out what--Brianna's favorite (and mine) is brownies.

Then the question became "which ones?"  I have a lot of fantastic brownie recipes.  Since I wanted something easy, I pulled out my copy of The Essence of Chocolate and went straight for Robert Steinberg's Fudgy Brownies.  All this recipe takes is a bowl and a wooden spoon.  Six simple ingredients--butter, chocolate, sugar, salt, eggs and flour--and a bunch of stirring. Ironically, I didn't have any 70% Scharffen Berger chocolate in the house.  So I substituted El Rey 70% (Gran Saman), which I buy in bulk (along with several other percentages).  And I left out the walnuts, since Brianna doesn't like anything in her brownies.  Want to try them for yourself?  You can find the recipe here or here.

Update:  They were definitely a hit--Brianna liked them very much.  Her first day went well, though I can definitely tell that they don't have nap time...  Early bedtime for everyone, I think. =)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cupcakes for breakfast?

I really have no business buying new cookbooks.  I talked about my lack of bookshelf space here back in March, and since then I've added a couple new ones--I got Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert for Mother's Day, and not long afterwards picked up Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice (from which I've made some yummy cinnamon rolls and some Italian bread that's yet to be blogged about).  I'm officially out of room.  I don't actually have space for my copy of Baking From My Home to Yours on the shelf, but that's okay, since I use it every week anyway.  

I've been diligently ignoring the Borders emails in my inbox, so I wouldn't be tempted by any coupons, either.  I was doing really well until after last month's Daring Bakers cake.  I really enjoyed it, and thought that it couldn't hurt to thumb through a copy of Carole Walter's Great Cakes at the bookstore.  I successfully put it back on the shelf afterwards.  I might have glanced at a few of her other cookbooks while I was there...  and I kept thinking about one of them afterwards.  The next day I discovered a 40% off coupon in my email, and I knew I was sunk.

So Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More came home with me.  I like to make cakes, but I don't do it all the time.  But breakfast foods?  I love to make those, and usually bake something at least one morning each weekend.  So far I've read the book cover to cover.  My biggest problem was deciding what to make first.  Muffins seemed like a good place to start, so I looked for something I knew Brianna and Gillian would eat.  I settled on the Favorite Vanilla Muffins, with the chocolate chunk variation, which had the added benefit of helping me use up some of my chocolate stash.   I was surprised that these used the creaming method, which I don't usually see for muffins.   I did worry briefly that I was essentially feeding my children chocolate chunk cupcakes for breakfast.  (That would be wrong, wouldn't it?)  But they turned out to be not nearly as sweet as I feared they would be.  I can see how the vanilla batter would be a good starting point for lots of fun variations.  So the first recipe was definitely a success; now I just have to figure out what to make next!

Chocolate Chunk Muffins
(adapted from Carole Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
3 1/2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (I used 60%)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with foil or paper liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.  Cream the butter and vanilla together in the bowl of a stand mixer (use the paddle attachment) for about a minute.  Gradually add in the sugar, then mix for an additional minute.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Blend in the eggs, one at a time, then mix for another minute.  With the mixer on low, stir in about half the flour mixture, then the sour cream, then the remaining flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chunks (I did this by hand with a spatula).  

Portion the batter into the prepared pan--a #16 (1/4 cup) scoop works best.  Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and the tops are springy to the touch.  Let the muffins cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and place on a rack to cool further. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Grab some milk and cookies

I can't remember the last time I made cookies.  Okay, I just looked it up, and it was back in April when I made lemon sablés for the Livestrong event.  But those were slice-and-bake cookies, which I pretty much never make.  Occasionally I'll make roll-and-cut-out cookies, especially around Christmas or when I'm in the mood for shortbread.  But my favorite type of cookie is drop cookies.  You know, your usual chocolate chip sort of cookies.  I've been so busy baking other delicious things that I haven't really had time to make cookies.  Not to mention that I haven't really wanted to have them around when there were already other calorie-laden things to eat.  My willpower is getting enough of a workout without that.  =)

Like a lot of the other Tuesdays with Dorie bakers, I was happy to see a cookie chosen for this week.  This week's recipe--Granola Grabbers--was chosen by Michelle of Bad Girl Baking.  I've made oatmeal cookies before, but never used granola.  Or wheat germ, for that matter.  So off to the bulk department I went.  Wow--I had no idea that Central Market (and even my local HEB) carried that many different types of bulk granola.  Following Dorie's directive to avoid granola with fruit, I settled on something called Gingersnap Granola, which had a nice cinnamon/ginger flavor.  And my 1/2 cup of wheat germ (only needed 1/3, but I overshot a bit) set me back all of $0.25 (good job, right Prudy? =) )  I hate coconut, so that was out.  Almonds and peanuts aren't high on my list either.  I thought about substituting pecans from my freezer, but decided to leave the nuts out in the hopes that my kiddos would eat the cookies.  I checked the pantry and found about 3/4 cup of mini chips, which seemed like a good addition, and increased the raisins to 1 cup to make up the rest of the volume.  

Dorie's directions call for using a stand mixer, but I rarely bother with that for this sort of cookie.  So I pulled out my favorite mixing bowl and wooden spoon and went to work.  Having the butter sufficiently softened helps when mixing by hand.  I creamed the butter and sugars (white and brown) together.  Since I was leaving out the salty peanuts, I increased the salt to 1/2 teaspoon, and added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla as well.  After beating in the egg and stirring in the flour, I mixed in all of the additions.  It seemed a bit odd that there wasn't any baking powder or baking soda, but Dorie usually knows what she's doing.  

While preheating the oven, I pulled out some baking sheets (I used rimmed half-sheet pans from my restaurant supply store) and lined them with parchment.  I also got out my favorite cookie dough disher (also from the restaurant supply store--love that place) and started scooping.  I must have guessed right on which size scoop to use, because I ended up with exactly three dozen cookies, and the recipe says about 40.  Close enough!  My cookies ended up baking for about 13 minutes.  They didn't get really brown, but I didn't want to overbake them.

The verdict?  Brianna tried one, but didn't like it.  Gillian liked hers, but she eats almost anything, especially if there's "shawkit" involved.  Oh, and raisins--she absolutely loves raisins. I thought they were pretty good.  The wheat germ gives them an interesting nutty flavor, even though I didn't add any nuts.  I'm not sure if I really like it or not, but it was definitely worth a try.  I liked the flavor from the granola I used, though.  

Want to try these for yourself (and see what was originally supposed to go into them)?  Head on over to Michelle's blog, or go and get your own copy of Baking From My Home to Yours! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pretty in Pink

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe of Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream was chosen by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity.  The first thing you may have noticed about my version of this dessert is that it's definitely not blue.  Or even purple.  Those who have been reading my blog for a while are probably aware that I don't like blueberries, but that I do love raspberries!

Yes, I did make a few modifications to this week's recipe.  When I first looked at the recipe, I noticed that it makes a fairly small batch.  In fact, I don't think I've put such a small amount of ice cream base in my ice cream maker before.  I should have thought more about that before I started.  Besides substituting raspberries for the blueberries, I also tried using some homemade creme fraiche in place of the sour cream.  Other than that, I stuck pretty closely to the recipe.

One thing I should mention is that the last time I made ice cream (about a week ago), I killed the motor on my ice cream maker.  The ice cream maker had a freezer canister with a plastic lid where the motor fit into the top.  I didn't actually burn out the motor--the plastic cover for the motor attachment broke off, and then some of the bits of the motor fell out.  But when I stopped and thought about it, I realized that it was 15 years old.  So it had a good life.  But I wasn't sure I wanted to spend money on a new ice cream maker right now.  The canister was still perfectly fine, and I remembered that I also had a hand-crank for it.  So I thought I'd try to convince Brianna that it would be fun to help me make the ice cream by hand.  =)

It might have turned out okay.  But the quantity of ice cream was just too small.  It wanted to freeze to the sides of the canister before we really had a chance to churn it.  It quickly became impossible to turn the crank.  So I gave up and scraped shards of ice cream into a container to put in the freezer.  I did try to eat some of it, but it wasn't very good at all.  Poor texture, and not very good flavor either.  Edited to add: Simply substituting the creme fraiche for the sour cream resulted in too much fat, I think.  The ice cream had a really greasy mouthfeel to it.  If I try the creme fraiche again, I'll add some milk as well.

I decided to try again.  First, let me introduce you to my newest kitchen appliance:

Thanks to Pamela for the great information that Williams-Sonoma has this ice cream maker for a good price that included a second freezer canister.  Woohoo!  Multiple ice cream flavors on the same day!  =)

I decided to think positive and came up with proportions for a larger batch.  Here's what I decided on:

1 12-ounce bag of frozen raspberries, thawed
1 cup granulated sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 ounces heavy cream
8 ounces reduced-fat sour cream (since the creme fraiche didn't work out the way I'd hoped)

I cooked everything but the cream and sour cream together as indicated in the original recipe. I increased the simmer time to 5 minutes due to the larger quantity.  Since I didn't want raspberry seeds in my ice cream, after a spin in the blender I pushed the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer.  I stirred in the cream and sour cream and chilled the mixture for several hours before trying out my new toy.

The verdict?  This stuff is fantastic!  Tart and refreshing as well as very creamy.  Just the thing to beat the August heat (and summer-long heat wave we've been having).  I will definitely be making this one again.  As with most homemade ice cream, it definitely gets a little hard after a day or two in the freezer.  My solution for that is to stick the whole container in the microwave for about a minute on 10% power, just enough to soften it a bit.

Want to try the blueberry version?  Head over to Dolores's blog for the recipe, or check out a copy of Baking From My Home to Yours.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Got milk? Make ice cream!

This will have to be a pretty short post, since I really need to get to bed so I can get up way too early for work in the morning.  As is typical of my hectic life lately, I'm leaving this until the last possible minute...  

A couple weeks ago, I ran across a reference to a blog event called Got Milk?  Once I read about it, I knew that I wanted to participate.  Linda of Make Like Sweeter created the event to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.  I am definitely an advocate of breastfeeding.  I breastfed Brianna until she weaned herself at almost two.  Gillian still asks for "Milk?" (word and sign) every couple of days, but it won't be much longer before she's done.  It can be a challenging thing to do, especially working full-time outside the home, but it is incredibly rewarding.  I can't say that I miss lugging my breast-pump to work with me (the better part of two years of my life doing that, between my two children), but I'm glad I did it.  

For the event, Linda asked only that we blog about a recipe made with milk.  Well, why not combine milk with my favorite chocolate and make ice cream?  I started with a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's wonderful book Baking From My Home to Yours, but tweaked it a bit.  I added a bit of salt and a little rum to bring out the chocolate flavor more.  And I'm paranoid when making custards, so I used a double-boiler even though the original recipe doesn't call for it.  

The verdict?  This recipe makes for a very smooth, delicious chocolate ice cream.  I like the technique of making ganache to combine with the custard.  Definitely one to make again.

Chocolate Ganache Ice Cream
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours)

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used El Rey, mostly 58.5% with a little 61%)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon dark rum

Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl.  Bring 3/4 cup of the cream to a boil (I use the microwave).  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit a minute.  Using a rubber spatula, slowly stir the cream into the chocolate.  When the ganache is smooth, stir in the rum and salt and set aside.

Heat the milk and the remaining cream until hot in a double boiler (I use a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water).  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar together until well blended and slightly thickened.  Still whisking, drizzle in about a third of the hot liquid to temper the yolks.  While continuing to whisk, slowly pour in the remaining liquid.  Pour the custard back into the double boiler and heat, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon.  The temperature should be between 170 and 180 degrees F.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir the custard into the ganache (I pour the custard through a strainer first just to make sure there aren't any eggy bits).

Refrigerate the custard until well chilled.  Churn the mixture into ice cream following the instructions for your ice cream maker.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Losing my marbles...

I've got way too much stuff going on in my life right now. There's work, of course, and the usual stuff around the house. My youngest sister is getting married in six weeks in Pennsylvania, and Brianna, Gillian, and I are all in the wedding. So I'm trying to get things organized for that, including travel arrangements (got the plane tickets last week, thank goodness). And Brianna starts kindergarten in three weeks. Wish me luck if you're reading this on Tuesday morning. Registration is from 9:00 to 1:00. I have to be at work at 11:15. Here's hoping I am near the head of the line and can get done in time.

Last week I got online one day at lunch and printed out the list of paperwork that I need to have for registration. Two of the things I need are Brianna's birth certificate and social security card. I knew I had both (I still need to go get a copy of Gillian's birth certificate; I wish they just sent one automatically), so that evening after work, I started trying to figure out where I put them. I couldn't find them. I looked through all the places in the house where I usually keep important stuff. I started to panic. Then a thought occurred to me--maybe I actually put them in the safe deposit box. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd been there. Well, the next morning, I hurried the girls out the door so I could drop them off early at daycare and head over to the branch where my box is (the one I work at doesn't have safe deposit boxes). And sure enough, that's where the birth certificate and social security card were. But I don't have any recollection of putting them there! I swear, sometimes I think I'm losing my mind! Motherhood has definitely had an interesting effect on my memory...

For instance, I have to review recipes more carefully these days. I used to be able to look at something once or twice and I'd be good to go. While I was working on this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, I must have gone back to look at the cookbook sitting on my kitchen table at least 4 or 5 times. And I still managed to forget an ingredient! (The rum, which fortunately was just for flavoring.) Of course, it doesn't help that more often than not, I've got one or both of my children trying to ask me something while I'm trying to cook or bake. I can't use that excuse for this one, though, since I didn't start the cake until they were in bed Sunday night. On second thought, my husband just pointed out that I can still blame it on them indirectly, since they're undoubtedly responsible for the sleep-deprivation that I'm always suffering... =)

Anyway, more about the cake... This week's selection is Black and White Banana Loaf, and it comes from Ashlee of A Year in the Kitchen. It's basically a pound cake, with banana and chocolate marbled together. You make the pound cake batter and add bananas that have been mashed with some lemon juice and zest. Then melted chocolate is added to half of the batter. The two batters are layered in a loaf pan, swirled and baked.  Fortunately, I read the P&Q for this week's recipe before I started, so I was careful not to use too much banana.  And when I put the batters in the pan, I just alternated spoonfuls of the two batters.  I didn't really swirl them together at all, except for a little bit on the very top.  I ended up baking my cake for about 75 minutes, tenting it with foil after the first 45 minutes to make sure it didn't get too brown on top.

The verdict?  My cake was very moist.  A little bit gummy on the very bottom, but not bad.  I usually skip Dorie's instruction to put the loaf pan on a baking sheet, but I did it this time because of the long baking time.  Next time I'll try it without the baking sheet for at least part of the time to see if that helps the bottom bake a bit better.  My marbling came out really nice!  And the taste was pretty good.  I'm not a big banana person--I generally don't like them cooked, though I'll eat the occasional piece of banana bread.  My other taste testers really seemed to like this one, though, except for Brianna (who's been in a picky mood lately).  Want to try it for yourself?  Head over to Ashlee's blog for the recipe, or pick up your very own copy of Baking From My Home to Yours!