Favorite Banana Bread

Years ago, I stopped searching for a better banana bread.  This recipe ticks all the boxes: easy, packed with bananas, and exceptionally moist.

Sliced Banana Bread with melting butter

It’s no secret I’m an Anglophile, especially in my choice of TV programmes (I couldn’t resist). My current favorite, to no one’s surprise, is the Great British Baking Show. Saturday mornings, before getting my own bake on, I treat myself to an hour of Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, a tent-full of amateur bakers and those classic only-in-Britain colloquialisms, such as “scrummy” and “oh my giddy aunt,” that I’m dying to introduce into the common American lexicon.

Before bed, when I’m brain-dead and in need of mindless comfort, nothing beats Escape to the Country; Brits house-hunting for their perfect “chocolate box” countryside cottage. I’ve picked up a few British idioms during my viewing of this show as well – like the aforementioned “chocolate box” as well as “homely.” “Homely” to the Brits doesn’t mean the same as “homely” in the states. It’s their term for homey, comforting, cozy. “The snug with wood-burner is quite homely.”

Combining the two shows leads me to this recipe, which can only be described as “homely baking” – I can almost imagine pulling freshly- baked tins of quick bread from my “range cooker” in my exposed-beamed Yorkshire kitchen, thatching optional.

Years ago, I stopped searching for a better banana bread. This recipe from Saveur ticks all the boxes – easy, packed with bananas, and exceptionally moist.


Favorite Banana Bread

  • Servings: One 9” x 5” loaf pan
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This moist banana bread is quick to make, packed with flavor and my go-to recipe when overripe bananas are on hand.


Ingredients

  • Butter for greasing pan
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup flour, plus more for pan
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • ⅔ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan with butter and dust with flour; set aside. In a small bowl, combine milk and white vinegar and set aside
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, curdled milk, vanilla, egg and egg yolk. Pour wet ingredients over dry and whisk until just combined. Fold in nuts and mashed bananas.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until dark golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the loaf comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon

Myriad spices and preserved lemon come together in this exotically flavored chicken dish with minimal hands-on time, making Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon an ideal recipe for entertaining.

A platter mounded with Moroccan Chicken

Looking back at one of my old blog posts feels like pulling out an old high school yearbook from a dusty closet shelf. I first prepared this recipe in February 2014. At the time I hit “post,” I was feeling reasonably accomplished and proud to post both recipe and photograph. Four plus years later, I cringe – at the poorly lit and composed image and appallingly written recipe, for starters. What. Was. I. Thinking. In the future, when I’m exasperated by my lack of noticeable improvement, I’ll revisit a post from 2014 to remind myself how far I’ve truly come. Oh, the horror.

Inspired by Epicurious’s Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemons.


Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon

Myriad spices and preserved lemon come together in this exotically flavored chicken dish with minimal hands-on time, making Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon an ideal recipe for entertaining.


Ingredients

  • 1 head garlic, peeled
  • Handful Italian parsley
  • Handful cilantro
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs (about 3.5 – 4 lbs.)
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1” slices
  • ¾ cup pitted oil-cured black olives
  • 1 ½ preserved lemons, sliced (or one fresh lemon very thinly sliced)

Directions

  1. In a food processor, process first 12 ingredients through saffron to make a marinade. Arrange chicken, carrots, olives and lemon in a 13×9” pan and pour marinade over and around ingredients. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least two hours and up to one day.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place dish, covered with foil, in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 30 additional minutes until chicken is cooked through. If desired, broil for an additional 5 minutes to crisp skin on chicken.
  3. To serve, arrange chicken, carrots, olives and lemon on a platter. Degrease sauce and pour over chicken and vegetables. Serve with aromatic rice.

The author in a photo from highschool

Speaking of school years…yep, gloves, a walking stick, and check out those shoulder pads!

 

Caramel Banana Cream Pie

Layers of buttery caramel gild the lily on my mom’s original recipe for Banana Cream Pie.

Banana Cream Pie with Caramel

My Book Club is currently reading “Life of Pi” for our August discussion. Every time I write or type it, it comes out as “Life of Pie.” I’m a baker, after all, not a mathematician. The only ratio I’m concerned about is the amount of fruit filling to flaky pastry crust. I’ve posted club announcements, emailed reminders and sent confirmations to my fellow bibliophiles – and each time it’s “Life of P-I-E.”

If one has pie on the brain, one might as well embrace it. A few of my coworkers have been asking for one of the Banana Cream variety. I decided to appease them – and gild the lily yet again by adding layers of buttery caramel.


Caramel Banana Cream Pie

  • Servings: One 9” Pie
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Based on my mom’s Banana Cream Pie recipe, a pie of my childhood, I’ve updated the method slightly and added layers of buttery caramel.


Ingredients

  • 1 baked 9” pie shell, cooled (I use this one)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3-4 bananas, sliced just before using
  • 1 cup caramel sauce (I use David Lebovitz’s Butter Caramel Sauce)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat milk, ¼ cup of sugar and salt over medium heat. Blend cornstarch, flour and remaining sugar in a bowl. Add yolks to sugar mixture. Pour hot milk over eggs slowly to temper. Pour mixture back into saucepan. Bring to a simmer while continuously whisking. Cook over low to medium low heat until thickened. Add vanilla and push through a sieve (to catch any lumps) into a shallow pan. Cover with plastic wrap touching surface and cool to room temperature.
  2. Swirl a small amount of filling on the bottom of the cooled pie shell. Add a layer of sliced bananas. Drizzle bananas with half the caramel. Cover caramel with half the filling, another layer of bananas and the remaining caramel. Top with the rest of the filling.
  3. Beat whipping cream and powdered sugar until stiff. Place in a piping bag and pipe rosettes over top of pie. Chill at least two hours before serving to allow flavors to meld and filling to fully set.

Apple Frangipane Tart

The classic combination of apples and almonds come together in this impressive tart.

Apple Almond Tart
Last week, a friend humorously pointed out that when he Googles “Easy Oatmeal Cookie Recipe” he’s stuck wading through a bunch of food bloggers’ unrelated bullshit stories about their life, family, eating habits and the history of oatmeal before getting to the actual recipe.

As a food blogger, all I can say to him is…I TOTALLY FUCKING AGREE.

It drives me insane when I’m looking for a recipe and have to scroll past a 1000 word essay from Suzy about her most recent trip to Disneyworld with her “hubby” and the twins, Zach and Sadie – And dodge pop-ups hawking her latest self-published cookbook, her weekly newsletter, and a request to “like” her on Facebook. And let’s not forget the process photos…ingredients on the table…ingredients piled in a bowl…ingredients all stirred together. Ugh!

And yet, I’m just as guilty as Suzy – or at least partially.

For most bloggers, or the ones trying to make a living at it anyway (not me), it’s about SEO – Search Engine Optimization. Or, more specifically, Google SEO. If a blogger’s goal is their recipe appearing in the first page or two when someone Googles “Easy Oatmeal Cookies,” they need a post of 2000+ words in length, they need to mention their key words “Easy” and “Oatmeal Cookies” in the first paragraph, they need to include multiple “process photos,” plus a dozen more “musts.” There’s a plethora of blogger dos and don’ts for optimum Google SEO. It’s maddening.

I flirt with the Google rules, but SEO isn’t that important to me. This blog initially started as a private online journal. Before 2008, I used to handwrite in a journal nightly – stream of consciousness stuff, gibberish mostly. Then I went online in an effort to improve my writing skills. The blog, called Phorenications at the time, was a bunch of random stories and thoughts in my head. In 2009, I went to culinary school and sometime after that, Phorenications morphed into Two-Bit Tart and became a food blog. I now find myself in the same place as every other food blogger, trying to write an intro paragraph that somehow, even tangentially, ties in to whatever I made today.

I wish we had the luxury to write when we felt like writing and just post the recipe when we don’t. Tonight, for example, I would be ecstatic to post this recipe for this lovely apple almond tart and be done with it. Instead, I gave you the story above.


Apple Frangipane Tart (Apple Almond Tart)

  • Servings: One 9” Tart
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Apples and almonds are a classic combination. Make sure the crust and apples are room temperature (refrigerate if needed) before assembling.


Ingredients

    Apples
  • 5 Golden Delicious apples (about 3 lbs.), peeled and cored
  • 1 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • Crust
  • 10-oz package shortbread cookies, such as Lorna Doone
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • Frangipane
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup almond flour
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract (or ¼ t. almond ¼ t. vanilla)
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • Glaze
  • 3 Tablespoons apricot preserves

Directions

  1. Prepare the apples: Cut apples into quarters and each quarter into 4 slices (each apple should yield 16 slices). Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add apple slices, and water and stir to combine. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until apples begin to turn translucent and slightly pliable, about 7 minutes. Spread apples on a paper-towel lined plate in a single layer to cool.
  2. Make shortbread crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a processor, pulse shortbread cookies and salt into crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Press crumbs along bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Place pan on a piece of aluminum foil to catch any leaking butter. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool.
  3. Make the Frangipane: Cream the softened butter, stir in the powdered sugar, almond flour, flour, salt, eggs, almond extract, and lemon zest.
  4. Pipe Frangipane in the bottom of shortbread crust. Arrange apple slices, tightly overlapping in concentric circles with outside curve of slices pointing up (see photo of finished tart above). Bake tart on center rack for about 60 minutes. Remove tart from oven and heat broiler.
  5. While broiler heats, warm apricot preserves 30 seconds to 1 minute until liquid. Strain preserves and brush over apples, avoiding tart crust. Broil tart, checking every 30 seconds, and moving if necessary until apples are caramelized, about 2 minutes total. Let tart cool before removing ring and slicing.

Classic Apple Pie

Sometimes, you can’t improve on a baked-from-scratch classic, like this Apple Pie. Apples, flaky pastry, and a bit of cinnamon is all that’s needed…except maybe a scoop of ice cream.

Apple Pie from Scratch

I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday and came across two videos of recipes being prepared in fast-motion. They weren’t special recipes – one was carrot cake and other was banana bread. I was astonished to realize the banana bread recipe had received over 8 million hits. Eight…million…hits – for banana bread. My blog is over 10 years old and I haven’t reached 8 million hits total, let alone for one post.

I have online presence envy.

The truth is that I’ll probably never have 8 million hits for a post. Those videos are for people who want a recipe that’s fast…and easy…with as little fuss as possible…and doesn’t require a special pan or spice…and results in something the whole family will love. Those videos are for what I call “Everyday Cooks.” You know who they are. After a full day at work, these folks are expected to arrive home and whip up something soul-satisfying and delicious day after day after day. God bless them. I could never do that – it would suck the joy of cooking right out of me.

Instead, I write for the food enthusiast, culinary explorers who learn about different cultures through preparing and eating their food, who are enamored by new ingredients or cooking techniques, and are willing to sacrifice gluten sensitivities and sugar phobias for the perfect slice of homemade apple pie. We relish the fuss – handmade crusts, apples harvested from the garden. We are a special breed, our numbers are small, but our passion is deep.

For my fellow enthusiasts…


Classic Apple Pie

  • Servings: One 9” pie
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This crust recipe, my favorite and from The Pioneer Woman, makes three crusts. Not sure what to do with the extra crust? Freeze it and use it for a single-crust pie later.


Ingredients

    FILLING
  • 4-5 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • CRUST
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 5 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar, preferably turbinado, like Sugar in the Raw

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine apples, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Toss to coat. Set apple filling aside.
  2. Chill butter and Crisco until very cold by placing both in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and Crisco to flour and pulse on/off until mixture resembles coarse meal (you can also combine the flour and fats using a pastry blender if you don’t want to drag out your processor – more effort, less clean-up). Scrape mixture into a large bowl, add egg mixture, and stir until combined. Don’t overwork dough.
  3. Separate the dough into thirds (If you prefer a more substantial crust, separate in half) and roll into balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze for about 15 to 20 minutes to chill. (If you will be storing the dough in the freezer for a longer period, form dough into a disk and seal in a Ziplock bag. Thaw 20 minutes before using).
  4. Preheat oven to 375⁰. Sprinkle crust with a bit of flour and then, in between two sheets of waxed paper, roll out the bottom crust, starting at the center and working your way into a 11” – 12” circle. Once the dough is the correct size, peel off the top layer of waxed paper and, using the bottom sheet, transfer the dough to a 9” pie pan. Flip the dough over, peel off the bottom sheet, and gently press the dough into the pan. Go around the pie pan tucking the dough to make a clean edge. Freeze until second crust is rolled out. Roll out the second crust into a 12” circle between two sheets of waxed paper and transfer to freezer until ready to use.
  5. Remove the bottom crust from the freezer. Sprinkle with panko crumbs (this helps avoid a soggy bottom crust). Fill with apple mixture, but do not include any juice/liquid that may have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl; Dot filling with bits of unsalted butter. Remove top crust from freezer. Peel off top sheet of waxed paper, flip crust on top of filling, and trim top pie dough so that overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only about 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath bottom crust and crimp decoratively. Cut a few decorative vents on top of pie. Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake at 375° for 50-60 minutes or until crust is brown and filling is bubbly. If edges brown too quickly, cover edges with foil. Cool completely on a wire rack.