Thursday, September 24, 2015

Banana Oatmeal Bread with Nutella Smile


It is officially autumn but it sure is still hot in Southern California. Yesterday it was mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit and the news says that it will be hotter these next few days. It will be nice when the cool fall weather kicks in.

Southern California Sunset

In its fourth year of drought, California has been cutting back on water, making various efforts to reduce water loss and waste, and has successfully reduced water use by more than 30%, which is about 5% above what the government was hoping for. Despite almonds getting a bad rap for water use in California, California still manages to churn out a good deal of produce.

Luckily, just last week, there was some torrential downpour which broke the drought but caused some damaging flooding in various areas. There was some hope that there was going to be rainfall earlier this week, but the clouds ended up just passing by my area with no rainfall.

Although it's been hot lately, I still want to bake and that requires turning on the oven. It's a small price to pay, though, when the reward is something scrumptious! My mom and I have been buying lots of bananas because my sister and her boyfriend take so many when they go surfing. We buy a bushel and then half are gone by the end of the week! This time, we bought too many, and boy-oh-boy was I happy. Because you know what brown bananas mean?

Banana bread!

I had this recipe I used before that merged America's Test Kitchen's banana bread recipe with Giada's recipe. I made it twice but they were too moist and lacked structure. Although adding more bananas increases sweetness and moistness of the final product, too much made it mushy. Therefore, I sought to make a better banana bread. Serious Eats has become one of my top go-to sites for food recipes. I trust their recipes because of the expertise and creativity of its contributors. When I found this Banana Oatmeal Bread recipe on their site and read that a pastry chef, Anna Markow, created it, I knew it must be a good recipe. As a healthy baker, I could tell that although this was a dessert, the ingredients were not so bad for you and I could feel good making and eating a lot of this.

In place of the rolled oats, I used Coach's Oats Steel-Cut Oats that I pulverized in my spice/coffee grinder. Also, I had some Nutella leftover and I wanted to use it up because it has been in my pantry for so long, so I mixed it with a small portion of batter and added that to the middle of the pan. On top, I put sliced bananas and some mini chocolate chips for presentation value. The final result was spectacular. My sister and her boyfriend really enjoyed it. I had to stop myself from eating too many slices myself so that I could share with my family!

Hope you try this recipe as it is a slight change on the classic banana bread recipe with a few improvements that make it nearly irresistible.

Banana Oatmeal Bread with Nutella Smile (adapted from Serious Eats)
makes 1 9" by 5" loaf 
1 cup white whole wheat flour (recommend Ultragrain(R))
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, slightly packed into the cup
1/2 cup rolled oats (or steel cut oats pulverized into almost flour texture)
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 medium, ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/3 cup of buttermilk (or a little less than 1/3 cup of whole milk with 1-2 Tbs fresh lime or lemon juice, set aside to curdle for 5 minutes)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs Nutella
For topping (optional):
1/2 banana sliced in thin rounds
A few chocolate chips

1) Sift the white whole wheat flour, the whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon into a large bowl. Stir in the white sugar, brown sugar, and rolled oats.
2) In a blender, blend the bananas, eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla until well-mixed, but do not over-blend or you will incorporate too much air.
3) Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Fold/mix together until just combined.
4) Prepare a 9x5" loaf pan by lightly greasing and flouring. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (if you oven tends to output higher temperature or tends to brown things too quickly, try reducing the temperature to 325-340 degrees Fahrenheit).
5) In a small bow, mix 2 Tbs Nutella with about 1/2 cup of the batter.
6) Pour half of the original batter into the pan, then spread the Nutella batter in the center. Pour the remaining original batter and spread evenly in the pan.
7) Place the banana slices and chocolate chips as desired on top of the bread.
8) Bake in the preheated oven for 28 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees and bake for another 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Make sure to watch it in the last 10 minutes because mine browned quick a bit and I had to remove it after about 46-48 minutes of baking.
9) Immediately remove from the pan and let cool on a wire rack for about 30-60 minutes before slicing and serving.

Note: Loaf lasts at least 4 days without refrigeration in Southern California summer weather. If you live in a humid, hot area, I suggest refrigerating by the 3rd or 4th day.

Smile! Happiness can come from food! :D

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Oatmeal Cranberry Walnut Bread

I've been sooo lazy to post. Honest, I have been cooking and baking a lot, but nothing too spectacular to warrant a blog post. Well, I guess, one thing that I enjoyed was that, earlier this week, I made some homemade black bean veggie enchiladas with homemade roasted tomato serrano sauce. It was good and fed me throughout the week. The recipe for the roasted tomato salsa is from Once Upon a Chef (found here). I am now amazed at how easy it is to make roasted salsas at home. By simply broiling tomatoes, onions, garlic, and serranos for 10-20 minutes, then blending them with oregano, cumin, salt, and fresh lime juice, you come out with this tasty sauce you can add to various Mexican dishes to perk up the flavor. Alas, I had no cilantro, which really would have given the sauce the extra fresh flavor it needed. This will be a go-to recipe for a different salsa than the normal pico de gallo.

Today, I was shuttered up in the house for most of the day because it was raining all day here in Houston. Houston is like that. One day will be bright and sunny and beautiful (i.e., yesterday, the first day of spring), and the next is freezing and it's raining cats and dogs! Okay, so the rain was not so terrible. It let up now and then, but still put a damper on my usual morning walk with my dog. Being stuck in the house, all I could do was cook or bake. So after fixing myself a nice breakfast taco (I have learned to make scrambled eggs by cooking over low heat rather than medium high. My breakfasts have been transformed with soft silky eggs now instead of dry crunchy eggs!), I set to making a bread that has wow'ed me since I first tried it out.

Red Star Yeast posted this recipe for Oatmeal Walnut Bread and I made it some months ago. It was so fantastic I had to write a note on the recipe that it was really good so I would remember. Now, this is my go-to bread. But I must admit I never seem to make it the same. First time, I used just honey and maple syrup instead of molasses and pecans instead of walnuts, because that is what I had. This time, I used 2 Tbs of molasses and 1 Tbs of honey and added walnuts and cranberries. This bread gets better each time I think.

The reason I added walnuts AND cranberries is because the HEB (huge Texas grocery chain) bakeries make this fantastic cranberry pistachio bread. It is one of their best. They also do a cranberry walnut bread. These are baked in artisan-looking loaves and run about $4.99. HEB knows these breads are good and generally never put them on sale. I wanted to replicate that delicious bread but with a recipe I was familiar with. Additionally, I wanted a healthy spin. This Oatmeal Walnut Bread lends naturally to those requirements.

I was pleased with the result. I admit I am still uncertain about my hand-kneading technique but I think the crumb came out well. The crumb was a bit dense from the whole wheat and mix-ins, but you can still see the airy micro-structure and the gluten development, which allowed for a sturdy loaf that doesn't fall apart too easily when you cut or tear it. The instructions listed below are for how I made it this time around (rainy day, humid Houston, 65-75 degree outside temperature).

Oatmeal Cranberry Walnut Bread
One 9x5" loaf
1+1/4 cup of bread flour + more for kneading
1 sachet (2+1/4 tsp) of Platinum Red Star Yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water
2 Tbs molasses
1 Tbs honey
2 Tbs vegetable/canola oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup instant plain rolled oats
1/2 cup walnuts, crushed or chopped
1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries
Half an egg and some more plain rolled oats for topping

Special equipment
Thermometer that reads up to 130 deg Fahrenheit
9x5" loaf pan


  1. Mix the 1+1/4 cup of bread flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. In a medium sized microwaveable bowl, add 1 cup water, 2 Tbs molasses, 1 Tbs honey, and 2 Tbs. Microwave for over 1 minute 30 seconds until a thermometer, when inserted, reads 120 to 130 deg Fahrenheit. 
  3. Pour the still warm liquid mixture into the dry mixture. Stir until dry bits are incorporated.
  4. Add in the 1 cup whole wheat flour slowly until you reach a dough ball that pulls away from the sides, stays together, but don't make it too dry.
  5. Mix in the crushed walnuts and cranberries.
  6. Now turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5-8 minutes until the dough is supple and elastic. Add extra bread flour a tablespoon at a time if needed to work the dough. The dough may still be a little sticky but do not add more just to prevent all stickiness. Adding too much dough will make your bread dense and taste like cardboard wheat.
  7. Lightly grease a large bowl. Roll the dough into a ball, brush a little oil on top, and then place into the greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and leave for 30 minutes. 
  8. The dough will have almost doubled in size. Lightly punch down the dough, expelling excess air and redistributing the yeast. Knead and stretch the dough into about a 7" x 14" rectangle. Roll the rectangle up along the long end so you end up with a log about the size of the loaf pan. Pinch the seals closed.
  9. Lightly grease the bottom and lower sides of the loaf pan. Sprinkle with flour or cornmeal. Place the rolled dough seam-side down into the pan, cover, and let rise for another 30 minutes.
  10. Before the last 10 minutes of rising, preheat the oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit. Place a pan filled partway with water inside to create steam. Mix half an egg with water and brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle the remaining rolled oats on top and press lightly to make them stick.
  11. Once the oven has finished preheating, put the loaf in the middle rack of the oven (keep the water pan inside) and bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is lightly browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If the top is browning too quickly near the end, remove the loaf, cover the top with foil and return to the oven to finish baking.
  12. When finished baking, remove the loaf and let cool for about 20 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and let cool on a rack.
The bread was so good eaten fresh out of the oven. It was even better when it cooled down further and even better better when I made a roast turkey sandwich with it. I really should have taken a picture of my sandwich. Fresh avocado, smoked gouda, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, and turkey deli slices that I heated in the toaster. It was a fantastic sandwich. 

Hope you enjoy this bread as much as I did! Oh, and if you have tips on kneading bread dough, I would love to hear your advice. Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

King Cake for Fat Tuesday

I've seen King Cake circulating around Mardi Gras time for several years now. I've never had it before and it looked very festive with all the colorful sprinkles on top. The tradition of hiding a little baby Jesus inside the cake always make me laugh. Whoever receives the slice with Baby Jesus inside has to bring the cake next year, but then I also heard how Baby Jesus is sometimes replaced by a little bean or candy bean because people would choke on him.
It being Fat Tuesday, I wanted to try King Cake. Like I do, I decide to make it even before I have tried the real thing from stores (but really, can the grocery store in Texas make as authentic a cake as something homemade?). I used the recipe for Quick King Cake from Betty Crocker and proceeded to make it last night while also eating dinner, playing with my dog, and prepping a huge pot of beans. It was quite a busy night.

So, in making this recipe, I found out what a King Cake really is. It is basically a sweet brioche (eggy, buttery bread) dough with a buttery cinnamon sugar filling, twisted or braided into a circle. Other filling are possible such as pecans instead of just cinnamon sugar. Then, the "cake" is topped with icing and sprinkled with the typical Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, and yellow. Once completely cooled, Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Sadly, Baby Jesus is not with me and I could not hide him inside.

In making this dough, I thought it was interesting that the butter is added after combining the dry ingredients with the eggs, milk, and vanilla. The addition of the butter made the dough very easy to handle. I did everything by hand, all the mixing, kneading, shaping, so the ease of handling was a godsend. I did add some flour after the full 3-1/2 cups of flour were added because the dough was too sticky. I let it sit in the fridge for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. When I came back, it had risen nicely.

I prepared the filling with only half the butter because I ran out but it was still enough, I think. I rolled the dough out to the specified size, spread the filling in (a little sparse), folded in half and then made a mistake. I wanted to incorporate the filling more and didn't think that cutting the strip into three would allow me to make a big ring. So I tried rolling it out to cut it into three strips lengthwise but that wasn't working. I ended up cutting it into three short strips, found that i couldn't braid that long enough, and ended up just trying to put the three strips back together to form a long ring. I twisted to the dough to give it that nice look. The ends didn't really seal but it kind of worked.
I let it rise for about 1-1/2 hours and then baked it for 25 minutes. The filling was spilling out because the way i twisted the dough created many openings. The filling became delicious sweet brown sugar caramel on the pan. Delicious mistake, but not one I want to make again.

After letting it cool overnight, I frosted it with cream cheese icing and dusted it with food glitter. Not the prettiest, but it sure is soooo tasty. It's like a giant cinnamon roll but better. The brioche dough is light, fluffy, buttery, a bit sweet. Biting into the filling or the caramelized sugar coating the bottom gives you that punch of more sweetness.
No wonder they eat this on Fat Tuesday. Yayyyy fat and sugar!

Overall, the recipe was not too difficult except for my misunderstanding of the shaping part.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Pear pecan pie

One thing that I've started baking and has never failed me is an apple pecan pie. I like apple pie but it can be a little boring just eating apples in buttery crust. I like the top part of the pecan pie but don't like the usual thick layer of corn syrup filling beneath. To make a healthier, more dynamic and delicious pie, I thought about combining the two! The first time I made it, I loosely based it on this recipe and used a pre-made pie crust. It came out so well, I was surprised! Using pre-made crusts makes pie-making a breeze!

For Thanksgiving this year, I made it again, but did not have enough apples to fill my 9.5" pie pan! So I had to add this pecan oat crumble and maple whipped cream.

For Christmas, my mom bought a lot of pears so I made my signature apple pecan pie but with the pears! Used bartlett pears that are still slightly crisp, not too ripe or soft, instead of apples. For the pear pecan pie, I used a few different recipes for reference but here's the basic gist:

Pear Pecan Pie
1 refrigerated roll of pie crust for 9" pie, unbaked
3 medium/large bartlett pears, peeled and cored, then cut into thin slices
1/3 cup light brown sugar (not packed)
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 to 1/3 extra juicy lime or lemon

Streusal Topping:
1/3 cup pecans, chopped
2-3 Tbs butter, softened
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup light  brown sugar (not packed)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Combine pears with juice of the lime, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, light brown sugar, and flour.
  2. Line a 9" pie pan with the pie crust. Crimp crust. Prick crust a few times with a fork and bake in an oven at 350 deg Fahrenheit for 8 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and let cool while you prepare the streusal topping: Combine all the ingredients for the streusal topping in a medium bowl using your hands, forks, or whatever you need to make it a uniform crumble.
  4. Fill the baked pie crust with the pear filling. You may align the pear slices in a pretty circle.
  5. Top the pie with the streusal. 
  6. Cover the crust of the pie with aluminum foil or a pie crust shield
  7. Bake about 40-45 minutes until just browned on top of the pie. 
  8. Let cool. Slice and serve with fresh whipped cream.