Popcorn, Three Ways

Hawaiian popcorn

Popcorn is one of our family’s favorite snacks, so I’m thrilled to have partnered with Simon Malls to create three easy popcorn recipes perfect for your Oscar’s party or late night snack attack: Sea Salt & Vinegar, Hawaiian Popcorn, and Brown Butter Popcorn Marshmallow Treats.

sea salt and vinegar popcorn

brown butter marshmallow popcorn

Head over to the Simon website to snag all three recipes!

Making Cultured Butter

bread and cultured butter

You’ve probably noticed we make a lot of bread in these parts. I’ll often eat my slices plain (especially on the first day, when the crust is at its crackliest), but I do also enjoy making things to top my toasts. One of the simplest, but most fun, is cultured butter.

Cultured butter is one of those snooty sounding things that is actually dead easy to make. All it requires is adding live bacteria to cream before churning it into butter. This can be done a number of ways, but one of the most straightforward is just adding a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt to cream and letting it sit at room temperature for a bit. This simple step enhances the flavor of butter, giving it a slight tang (the exact flavor profile will depend on how long you culture the cream as well as the quality of ingredients you use). Some people would say there are health benefits as well, but I just think it tastes good. Plus, it’s a fun little party trick!

Once you’ve churned your butter, you can flavor it as desired. I usually just add a little salt, but there’s nothing stopping you from making any range of fancy compound butters (think herbs, citrus, honey…). Serve with your next loaf of homemade sourdough!

cultured butter

Notes:

  • Just as there are several ways you can culture the butter, there are different methods of churning as well. The food processor is hands-down my favorite because it’s quick and clean. You could also use a handheld or stand mixer, but make sure you cover the bowl with a splash guard or plastic wrap because trust me — the buttermilk will splatter once it separates from the butterfat. If you’re feeling especially old school, you could also try the old shake-it-in-a jar method. I’m far too lazy so I’ve never tried…
  • I have a story highlight of this whole process on Instagram (“Cultured Butter”), so check that out for some extra visual cues.
  • I haven’t tried using cultured butter in baking, first because I think it’s better appreciated serve straight up and second because I don’t know the final fat content compared to “normal” butter. The buttermilk, on the other hand, I definitely use in any recipes called for buttermilk. Here are a few to get you started:

Cultured Butter

Makes ~1/2 lb butter (1 c), plus a cup of buttermilk

Ingredients and materials:

  • 2 c heavy cream (at least 35%; not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 60g / 1/4 c plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek-style)
  • Salt to taste (if desired)
  • Ice water
  • Food processor (see note above)
  • Fine-mesh strainer double-lined with cheesecloth, set over a jar or bowl
  • Small spatula
  • Clean bowl

Method:

  1. In a glass measuring cup or jar, whisk together the cream and yogurt to combine. Cover and leave at warmish room temperature for 18-36 hours (in especially warm climates/seasons, this may take less time; check at 12 hours).
  2. When your mixture is thickened and tastes delightfully tangy, congratulations — you’ve made creme fraiche! You could stop here, or continue on to make some cultured butter.
  3. Refrigerate the creme fraiche for 1-2 hours. (This is especially important if you’re churning in a food processor to keep the butter from melting.)
  4. When creme fraiche is cold, transfer to a food processor. Process until the the butterfat clumps and separates from the buttermilk (this takes a few minutes).
  5. Strain the butter mixture through the cheesecloth-lined strainer, squeezing to extract as much buttermilk as possible from the butter. Reserve buttermilk for another use.
  6. Transfer butter to a clean bowl. Pour about 1/4 c ice water over the butter and use a spatula to press the butter against the side of the bowl. You’re “washing” the butter of all the buttermilk, which will keep your butter fresh for longer. Drain the cloudy water, and repeat the process until the water looks clear. (This may take 5-6 washings.)
  7. Season with salt to taste if desired (you can knead this in with your hands). Roll into a wax paper log or transfer to another container. Keeps for a couple weeks in the fridge; freeze for longer storage. Serve at room temperature.

Mom’s Sponge Cake

sponge cakeWhen we went back to Seattle to visit this past Christmas, I spent some time going through my mom’s recipe box and making some childhood favorites. This sponge cake was first on my list, then and now. It’s soft, light, and fluffy — perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. This cake is perfectly delightful plain, but just to be a little fancy I drizzled on a simple lemon glaze (colored with natural food powder from Go Supernatural).

A few notes:

  • This cake is traditionally baked in an ungreased aluminum 10″ tube pan for the best rise. Don’t use a non-stick pan; the cake has to cling to the sides to rise.
  • The most important keys to success with these type of cakes are properly whipped egg whites and good folding technique. For beating egg whites, I have the best success starting on a low speed and gradually raising it; this helps build a tighter, more stable structure and helps reduce the possibility of overbeating.
  • I find it easiest to fold these types of batters in a large, wide stainless steel mixing bowl with a silicone spatula. For the longest time I was so afraid of over-mixing my sponges that I’d end up undermixing them; it’s important to make sure you don’t have any pockets of flour or unincorporated egg whites or your cake won’t bake up properly. Just be patient and gentle and mix until you have a homogeneous batter.
  • The order of mixing is sort of personal preference. You could beat the egg whites first, transfer them to another bowl, and then beat the yolk mixture with the stand mixer. Or you could beat the yolk mixture with the stand mixer, transfer it to another mixing bowl, clean the mixer bowl and attachment thoroughly, and then beat the whites. I prefer to just start with my yolk mixture in my big mixing bowl and beat that with handheld electric mixer (or a whisk); that way I minimize the number of bowls used and I don’t have to clean stuff during the mixing process.
  • The cake should be cooled completely upside down to minimize shrinking. If your tube pan doesn’t have feet, you can invert it and slide a funnel or a heavy bottle through the center insert.

sponge cake in pan

sponge cake from above

sponge cake slice

Mom’s Sponge Cake

Makes one 10” tube cake

Ingredients:

For the sponge cake:

  • 10 large eggs, separated when cold but brought to room temperature before mixing the batter
  • 188g (1.5 c) cake flour
  • 300g (1.5 c) sugar (preferably caster), divided
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 c neutral oil (I use grapeseed)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the lemon glaze and garnish (optional):

  • 188g (1.5 c) icing sugar, sifted
  • 2-3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Zest of one lemon, for sprinkling

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in the lower third.
  2. Sift cake flour into a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large, wide mixing bowl, combine half the sugar (150g), egg yolks, oil, salt, and vanilla and beat on medium until creamy and the sugar is dissolved (3-5 minutes). Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low until foamy. Increase the speed to medium. When the whites reach soft peak stage, slowly add the remaining sugar (150g) one tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar has been added, continue whipping on medium to medium-high until the mixture is glossy and holds medium-stiff peaks.
  5. Sift the flour into the yolk mixture in three batches, using a silicone spatula to mostly fold each portion in before sifting in the next. Once all the flour has been added, continue folding until all the flour is incorporated and the mixture is thick and smooth. Be sure to scoop all the way down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure the flour is evenly incorporated, but take care not to overmix.
  6. Fold in the whipped egg whites in three or four portions, using a silicone spatula to mostly fold in each portion before adding the next. Once all the egg whites have been added, fold until the batter is smooth and uniform in color, again taking care not to overmix.
  7. Pour the batter into an ungreased aluminum 10″ tube pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the cake is well browned and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not open the oven for at least 45 minutes or the delicate cake may fall. Invert the pan to cool completely (if your pan doesn’t have feet, you can insert a funnel or heavy bottle through the center). Slide an offset spatula around the edges to loosen, remove the insert, then slide the spatula around the bottom. Flip the cake onto a serving platter.

For the glaze and assembly:

  • Whisk together sifted icing sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the lemon juice 1 Tbsp at a time until desired consistency. Drizzle onto the cooled cake and sprinkle with lemon zest, if desired.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

chocolate sheet cake slices

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this cake. It’s easy and delicious in that moist, tender bakery-style sort of way; and it feeds a crowd. You don’t need a mixer; it’s almost a dump-everything-in-a-bowl-and-stir situation. The frosting is my favorite ever chocolate frosting: it’s swoopy and glossy and not too sweet, and if you use black cocoa and good dark chocolate it comes out basically black without a smidge of food coloring involved. I love it! Plus it’s all made in the food processor — even easier than the cake. Add a few sprinkles (the colorful ones and/or flaky sea salt) and you’ve got yourself a pretty classy sheet cake with minimal work involved.

frosting sheet cake

single slice

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Note:

  • If you don’t care about the color of the frosting, you can use Dutch-processed cocoa in place of black. The ultimate color of the frosting will depend on how black your black cocoa is (I got mine at a local baking goods store and it’s exceptionally dark) and what kind of dark chocolate you use. The frosting also tends to darken as it sits. The frosting isn’t too sweet — I definitely prefer it this way, but if you like a sweeter frosting, you can increase the amount of confectioners’ sugar to taste.

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Glossy Black Frosting

Makes one 9×13 cake

Ingredients

For the chocolate sheet cake:

  • 284g AP flour
  • 380g granulated sugar
  • 84g dutch process cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 226g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 114g grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c freshly brewed hot strong coffee

For the glossy black chocolate frosting (adapted from Sweetapolita):

  • 255g unsalted butter, softened
  • 90g confectioners’ sugar
  • 45g black cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c hot water
  • 60g / 1/4 c sour cream
  • 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 145g good quality dark chocolate, melted and cooled (I use Callebaut 70%)

To assemble:

  • Sprinkles
  • Flaky sea salt

Method

For the chocolate sheet cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease and line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper that overhangs on the two long edges by at least a couple inches. This will make it easy to remove the cake from the pan later. (I like to secure the long edges with binder clips so the parchment doesn’t fall onto the cake in the oven.)
  2. Sift together all ingredients from the flour through the salt. In a small bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients except the coffee. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Add the coffee and stir just until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level the surface with an offset palette knife.
  3. Bake until the cake is lightly springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs (but no raw batter), about 28-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

  • Combine all ingredients except the melted chocolate in a food processor and process until combined. Add the melted chocolate and process until smooth. Use immediately. (Note: the frosting is glossy as long as it stays at room temperature; it will harden and take on a more matte look after refrigeration. If you do refrigerate the cake, make sure to bring it back to room temperature before serving. It just tastes better!)

To assemble:

  • Transfer the cake to a serving platter if desired. Spoon large dollops of frosting around the cake and use an offset spatula or spoon to swirl it around. Add sprinkles. Enjoy!

close up slices

Carrot Cake for Two

mini carrot cake

Every February I make carrot and chocolate cakes, one for our anniversary (on Feb. 1st) and one for Valentine’s Day. Since you can…er, should only eat so much cake, I’ve been converting cake recipes to cute little 4-inch versions. You could make one large cake layer and cut out rounds, but this way you don’t have any scraps and the cleaner edges make frosting easier. (I use two pans like these.)

By the way, this is also the perfect size for smash cakes and kids’ birthdays!

Finally, this post was created as part of a blog/Instagram carrot-themed collaboration! Be sure to check out all the recipes and photos of the many delicious carrot creations from around the world (links at the end this post).

mini carrot cake cut

Carrot Cake for Two

Makes one 4-inch cake

For the cake layers (adapted from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts):

  • 66g toasted pecan or walnut pieces
  • 152g whole, unpeeled carrots (About 1 large)
  • 70g unsalted butter
  • 10g grapeseed oil
  • 52g AP flour
  • 24g WW flour
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 38g light brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • heaping 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • heaping 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, fridge cold

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 180g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 200 g cream cheese, cold
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt

Method

For the cake layers:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. I like to toast the chopped nuts while the oven is preheating; spread them out in a single layer on a small sheetpan and put into the preheating oven. (Just don’t forget about them! This small quantity should toast pretty quickly — about 5-7 minutes.) Shred the carrots and set aside. Grease and flour two 4-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, brown the butter. Transfer browned butter (plus all the toasty bits) to a pourable, heat-safe glass cup and add the oil. In a separate bowl, whisk the all purpose and whole wheat flours together and set aside.
  3. In a bowl of a standmixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the remaining ingredients (sugars through egg). Mix on low speed to combine, then turn up the speed to medium and mix until the mixture is thick and fluffy, 6-8 minutes. With the mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the brown butter/oil mixture. Turn the mixer to low and add the flours. Once the batter is smooth, turn the mixer off and fold in the nuts and carrots with a silicone spatula, mixing just until everything is evenly combined.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake until the cakes are golden and lightly springy to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes, then run a thin spatula around the edges and turn the cakes out of the pans to cool completely.

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • Beat the butter on medium-high speed until pale. Add the icing sugar, then beat until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese, vanilla, and salt and beat just until smooth.

To assemble:

  1. Level the cakes if needed and slice each layer horizontally in half to make four total layers. (You can pop the cooled cakes into the freezer for about 10 minutes; this makes them easier to cut.)
  2. Attach the first layer to a cake board (or cake stand) with a dollop of frosting. Using a small offset spatula, spread on an even layer of frosting and top with the next layer. Continue until you have used all the layers, then cover the entire cake with a thin coat of frosting to lock in all the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for about 20 minutes, or until the frosting is hard.
  3. Spread a thick, even layer of frosting over the entire cake. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to create swoops and swirls if desired. Store covered at cool room temperature until ready to serve.

#24carrotgoals Carrot Collaboration Links

Sourdough Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

stacked swirl bread
I’m pretty excited about this recipe. I have a soft spot for raisin toast, having grown up on that red-packaged Sunmaid Raisin Bread (so good with butter…); and have been wanting to make a sourdough raisin loaf for quite awhile now. But not just a plain raisin loaf: a cinnamon-swirled raisin loaf, because what’s better than slowly unraveling and eating a piece of swirly carbs for breakfast? Well, maybe French toasting said swirly carb, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

So anyways, this loaf took me a few tries to get right. At first I used a cinnamon-butter paste for the swirl, but this left me with gaps (I think the butter generated too much steam during baking) and the texture was too heavy. Egg wash turned out to be a much better solution. The folding technique I first saw on Bake Street, and I love it! The swirl is encased within the loaf and makes for a really striking presentation. I had to try a couple times to work out the proper dimensions for my pan, but in the end I’m really happy with the result.

A few notes:

  • There’s no beating around the bush: this loaf takes time. I like having this loaf for breakfast, so I will make the levain when I get up in the morning, mix the dough early afternoon, shape the bread right before going to bed, and bake first thing the next morning. Keep in mind that the health of your starter and your environment play a big part in fermentation times, so always “watch the dough and not the clock.” If you follow me on Instagram, I have a story highlight called “Swirl Bread” that goes through the entire process. This will hopefully give you some visual cues as to how your dough should look at each stage.
  • The base dough for this bread is the sourdough Hokkaido milk bread that I’ve used a few times on this site before. If you haven’t tried this style of bread before, I highly recommend reading through those posts for more tips and tricks.

uncut swirl bread

cut swirl bread

Sourdough Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Makes one loaf (I highly prefer a 9x4x4 Pullman Pan for the nicest shape, but a regular 9×5 loaf pan works too)

Ingredients

For the levain

  • 18g starter (100% hydration)
  • 31g milk
  • 57g bread flour
  • Mix and ferment at room temperature until ripe (mine is usually ready in 4-6 hours, but it depends on the strength of your starter). When ready it should be more than doubled in volume, puffy, and domed. You should see large bubbles if you pull back the top.

For the final dough:

  • 284g bread/AP flour (I use half and half)
  • 46g sugar
  • 21g milk powder
  • 53g egg (about 1 large)
  • 104g milk
  • 88g cream
  • All of the levain
  • 6g salt
  • 52g unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 100g raisins

For the filling:

  • 100g brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp arrowroot powder or cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • One egg, whisked with a bit of water or milk

Method

  1. Mix together all final dough ingredients except the salt, butter, and raisins until just combined. Cover and autolyse (rest) for 45-60 minutes.
  2. Add salt, and knead dough (with the dough hook attachment if using a stand mixer) until gluten is moderately developed (I use speed 3-4 on a KA mixer). The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Turn the mixer to low and add butter about a tablespoon at a time, incorporating each batch before adding the next. Turn the speed back up and continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand. Consider it your arm workout for the day! Mix in the raisins just until incorporated.
  3. Transfer dough to a clean and lightly oiled bowl, cover, and bulk rise at room temp for 2 hours. The dough will be noticeably expanded, but not doubled. Fold, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours, and up to 24).
  4. When ready to shape, mix together the filling ingredients and prepare the egg wash. Line a loaf pan (I prefer a Pullman pan) with parchment and lightly grease. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle about 10″ x 15″, doing your best to maintain an even thickness (the more accurate your shape, the better your swirl will look at the end).
  5. Brush the rectangle with an even coat of egg wash and sprinkle on about half the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Go all the way to the edges and gently press to adhere.
  6. Fold in the long edges so they meet at the middle, like you are closing the shutters on a window. You should have a long, skinny rectangle about 15″ x 5″. Repeat the egg wash and cinnamon-sugar process, again going all the way to the edges.
  7. Starting with the short end closest to you, roll the rectangle into a tight log. Transfer, seam side down, to the prepared pan.
  8. Brush the loaf with a coat of egg wash (this keeps it from drying out) and cover with a piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Proof at room temperature until the dough is puffed and roughly doubled (if you’re using a pullman pan, the dough should fill the length of the pan and be about an inch from the top). This usually takes me ~8 hours, or overnight. Cover and refrigerate the egg wash; you’ll use it again later.
  9. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400F with a rack in the middle. When the oven is preheated, gently brush the loaf with another coat of egg wash. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F, rotate the pan, and bake for another 20-30 minutes. (If the loaf is browning too quickly, tent a piece of tinfoil over the top.) When finished, the loaf should be well browned and register at least 195F in the center.
  10. Gently remove the loaf from the pan and cool on its side (this helps the loaf retain its shape and keeps the bottom from getting soggy). Resist the urge to cut before the loaf has cooled; otherwise the texture will be gummy. Leftovers keep well at room temperature for a few days, well wrapped; it also makes excellent French toast.

side by side swirl bread

House Biscotti

biscotti

This is a recipe near and dear to my heart. I first made biscotti soon after getting married, in our tiny basement kitchen oven. It’s a very simple recipe that can be easily adapted to your preferences. David often brings a batch of them to work for quick breakfasts / snacks (they keep really, really well), and now some of his co-workers come looking for them as well. 😉

I recently made a batch with Marcus for the first time. He loved using a whisk and dumping all the mix-ins in…and, of course, eating the crumbs off the tray.

stir biscotti

biscotti logs unbaked

biscotti log sliced

A few notes:

  • The dough should be fairly stiff and you shouldn’t need any additional flour to shape it into logs. If it’s sticky, just pop it in the fridge for a few minutes before shaping.
  • The trickiest part of making biscotti is cutting them. I find it’s all about the timing — you want the biscotti logs to be cool enough to handle, but not completely cold or they’ll be more likely to crumble. Twenty minutes after the first bake is usually the sweet spot for me.
  • This recipe is very adaptable. My personal favorite flavor combination is below, but as long as you keep the add-ins to ~1 1/2 to 2 cups you should be able to swap in your choice of nuts/fruits/chocolate/seeds and even jazz up the spices if you want.

House Biscotti

Makes 3-4 dozen biscotti

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 3 large eggs, straight from the fridge
  • 200g (1 c) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp almond extract
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 400g (3 1/4 c) AP flour (I have swapped out 50% of the flour for sifted whole wheat flour with good results)
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 85g (1/2 c) dark chocolate chips
  • 75g (1/2 c) raisins
  • 140g (1 c) toasted and chopped almonds
  • Handful of flax seeds

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat (if your baking sheets are small, use two).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, sugar, and extracts until smooth. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to gently combine.
  4. When the dry ingredients are almost fully incorporated, mix in the chocolate chips, raisins, and almonds. Stir just until everything is combined and there are no streaks of flour remaining. If the mixture is sticky, cover the bowl with plastic and chill for ~15 minutes before proceeding.
  5. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Working with one part at a time, transfer to the prepared baking sheet and pat into logs about 1/2 an inch thick. Leave at least 3 inches between the two logs as they will spread a little.
  6. Bake until the tops are lightly golden, firm, and beginning to crack – about 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool for about 20-30 minutes, or until the logs are cool enough to handle but still slightly warm.
  7. Use a large offset spatula to transfer one log at a time to a cutting board. Use a sharp serrated knife to slice each log crosswise into ~1/2″ logs. (I find it easiest to just press down firmly with the knife rather than saw.) Place the cookies back on the baking sheet(s) cut side up and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until lightly toasted. (You can flip the cookies over halfway through baking, but I usually don’t bother.)
  8. Cool completely on a wire rack (cookies will crisp us as they cool). Serve biscotti with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Leftovers store well for weeks in an airtight container.

Whole grain banana bread, and baking with kids


Over the last few months, my two year old has started “helping” me in the kitchen. This is kind of a big deal because for the first almost two years of parenthood, the kitchen was my safe place. Not just because I would cook / bake to relax, but because we literally put up a gate to keep our inquisitive toddler out of the kitchen.

But when we moved earlier this summer, my husband and I, figuring we’d have to teach kitchen safety sooner or later, decided it was time to rip off the band-aid and go gate-free in our new house. I’ll be honest — those first couple of months were a struggle. Being a normal 2-year-old, Marcus wanted to touch everything and open all the cabinet doors. (I found toys in the freezer a couple of times.) Now, about 6 months later, I can’t remember the last time I had to say, “Don’t touch the stove!” Progress.

So now we’ve graduated to Mommy-Marcus kitchen adventures. I’m trying to make it a point to choose one or two recipes a week where he can actively participate. At first I was concerned with the mess, the safety, and the unpredictability of it all. I quickly realized that I just needed to let go. Baking with kids is not about being picture-perfect or detailed or anything close to fancy. It is about creating memories, teaching independence, and having fun. Marcus absolutely loves helping, and I’m thrilled to be able to share one of my hobbies with such an eager little buddy.

Marcus with flour

One of our current favorite things to make together is banana bread. Marcus likes it because he gets to smash bananas and later eat the banana bread. I like it because there’s no mixer or special ingredients required. I’ve been making our house banana bread for years, but we tried this King Arthur recipe recently and it was a hit — it’s a little more cake-like and moist (thanks to a full pound of bananas). Both will be in our recipe rotation this year.

Marcus eating

Some tips:

  • When baking with Marcus, I prepare some things in advance: I pre-measure the ingredients, toast/chop the nuts and fruit, and line the pan. I’ll give him a few tasks like smashing up the bananas, pouring in the pre-measured ingredients, stirring, and sprinkling on the topping. And he definitely helps with clean-up too (I give him a damp cloth to help wipe down the counter).
  • I used 100% sifted red spring wheat flour and it worked beautifully — not heavy or stodgy like completely whole grain products can be. I think you can definitely play around with the flours in this recipe; white whole wheat or spelt would be good choices, or you could mix regular AP and regular WW.
  • I like baking quick breads in my 9x4x4 pullman pan for nice straight sides (baking time is generally about the same for me), but this recipe certainly works in a regular loaf pan.
  • Like a good banana bread, this recipe holds up well to substitutions. Switch up the nuts and dried fruit for chocolate or omit them completely. Change the spices to suit your tastes. I’d love to try this with a teaspoon of espresso powder.
    One of Marcus’ favorite things about helping in the kitchen is getting to wear his apron (and making me wear mine). I absolutely love the aprons from Hedley & Bennett — not sponsored, though they can if they want. 😉
  • The key to really good banana bread is really ripe bananas. Like so ripe they’re “dead” — basically black all over. I usually let them get to that state then pop them into the freezer. When I want to bake with them, I measure out the amount I need into a bowl and defrost in the microwave. There will be a lot of liquid; just add it to the recipe.
  • I generally lower the sugar in my baked goods a bit, so if you like a sweeter loaf you can increase the sugar to 200g (1 cup). I think this recipe would actually be fine with even less sugar and will probably lower to 150g next time (especially if dried fruits are added).
  • Please don’t skip the topping! The caramelized crunchy lid is one of my favorite parts of this banana bread.

Other kid-helper-friendly recipes on Cook Til Delicious:

Whole Grain Banana Bread

Makes one 9×5 loaf | Barely adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

  • 454g thoroughly mashed, very ripe banana (4 – 5 medium bananas)
  • 99g vegetable oil (I prefer grapeseed)
  • 175g light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 226g sifted whole grain flour (see note above)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 57g chopped, toasted walnuts (optional)
  • 57g chopped dates (optional)

For topping:

  • 15g coarse or granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center position. If your nuts aren’t yet toasted, put them in while the oven is preheating (just don’t forget about them!). Lightly grease or line a pullman pan/loaf pan with parchment.
  2. Place the bananas in a large bowl and mash them with a wooden spoon or fork until mostly smooth (a few lumps are ok). Whisk in the oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth.
  3. Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to combine gently. When the batter is almost completely combined (there should still be a few streaks of flour visible), add the nuts and dried fruit. Mix until just combined.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level the top with a palette knife. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle over the batter.
  5. Bake the bread for about 60 to 75 minutes, until the bread feels set on the top, and a paring knife (or other thin knife) inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs (but no wet batter). If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil for the final 15 to 20 minutes of baking.
  6. Remove the bread from the oven. Cool it in the pan for 15 minutes, then loosen the edges, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely. Store leftover bread, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Three years, and Everyday Chocolate Chunk Cookies

chocolate chunk cookiesHappy New Year, folks. We’re in Seattle visiting my family for a couple weeks. Despite a long travel day due to weather, we got to wake up to a white Christmas — possibly my first ever! All of my brothers eventually made it in town and we spent the day opening gifts, eating our fill of prime rib and cookies, watching Marcus race his new fire engine toy all over the house, and falling asleep to “Jingle All the Way.” So basically, a perfect Christmas. Since then, we’ve been keeping it pretty low key — catching up with old friends, trying old and new coffee shops and bakeries, and going to sleep long before midnight.

And guess what? Cook Til Delicious is turning three years old! I’ve never celebrated this blog’s birthday before because I’m generally too lazy to blog while on vacation. But in reality, CTD was started as sort of a new year’s resolution to document recipes and become a better baker. When we first started out here, I had never made a layer cake, let alone a wedding cake; I had yet to bake a good sourdough loaf, choux pastry was far out on the horizon, and I didn’t own a tart pan. My to-bake list is still a mile long, but progress has been made — one bake at a time.

One of the things I’ve been focusing on more this past year (and hopefully into the next) is building a library of solid “base” recipes — go-to scones, everyday brownies, and the like. And, of course, chocolate chunk cookies.

I definitely believe in different recipes for different occasions. My “special occasion” chocolate chunk cookie is a riff on Sarah Kieffer’s now-famous pan-banging chocolate chip cookie recipe. But this recipe here is my everyday go-to. You don’t need to soften butter, and you don’t need a mixer. This is the recipe I turn to when I want to make cookies for a crowd (I actually made dozens of these for my brother’s wedding), or just need to refill the cookie jar at home.

Notes:

  • For the gooiest, chocolatiest cookies, I definitely recommend using chocolate callets or chopping up chocolate bars — unlike chocolate chips, they melt into puddles, which is definitely a good thing. I like Callebaut 70%, but I often just use good quality chocolate bars.
  • I love experimenting with different flours in this recipe. My favorite combination is to use 1/3 AP flour, 1/3 spelt flour, and 1/3 bread flour — the spelt adds some wholesome nuttiness and the bread provides height and chew. But all AP definitely works, if that’s what you have on hand — the cookies will just be flatter.
  • I love subbing a little bit of turbinado sugar for some of the brown — it adds a delightful crunch (I learned this from Not Without Salt’s recipe, which I also love.); espresso powder or finely ground coffee adds a slight bitterness that offsets the sweetness beautifully.
  • If you keep the total add-ins to ~240-300 grams, you can certainly make this cookie your own by adding in toasted nuts, dried fruit, toffee bits, etc. The base itself is plenty sweet so I sometimes cut both the sugars by a couple tablespoons if I am adding sweeter add-ins, or just feel like being slightly healthier.

Everyday Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Makes 26-28 cookies | Adapted from Tara O’Brady, with a HT to Not Without Salt

Ingredients

  • 225g unsalted butter, chopped
  • 415g all-purpose flour (see note above)
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp espresso powder, or very finely ground coffee (optional)
  • 300g light brown sugar (optional: swap out 50g for turbinado sugar)
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 240g chopped semi or bittersweet chocolate (I recommend at least 55%)
  • Flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Method

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder/coffee (if using). Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, stirring occasionally. Use the lowest heat possible — you don’t want to boil or brown the butter or lose any more moisture than necessary.
  3. Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar all at once and whisk until combined. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to combine. Whisk in vanilla.
  4. Pour in the dry ingredients and stir to combine, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. When the flour is almost all incorporated, stir in the chocolate. Mix only enough to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl and scooping from the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the flour is incorporated.
  5. Chill the mixture for five minutes while you line three cookie sheets with parchment or Silpats.
  6. Portion cookie dough into golf ball-sized rounds (~50 grams or 3 Tbsp) and place on prepared cookie sheets (I can fit 9 cookies on a normal sized cookie sheet). Sprinkle with flaky salt.
  7. Place cookie sheets in the freezer and preheat the oven to 360F (yes, 360!) with an oven rack in the middle. If you don’t have enough room in your freezer for all three sheets, put all the pre-shaped cookies on one sheet and remove 9 at a time to bake, using a cold/room temperature sheet for each batch.
  8. Bake each sheet one at a time for ~10 minutes, rotating halfway through. The cookies should be lightly golden and cracked, but still soft in the center.
  9. Sprinkle on a little more flaky salt, if desired (I like to sprinkle some on any large chocolate puddles), and allow to cool on the sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies keep well for up to 5 days in an airtight container.

Rice Krispies Snowmen: Treats for Toys

Rice Krispies Snowmen

This post is sponsored by Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

I grew up in the mild Pacific Northwest, where snow doesn’t necessarily make an appearance each winter. So when it did snow, it was a huge deal — school would get cancelled for the lightest of dustings, and we’d all bundle up and head outside to make snow angels and build snowmen (largely because there was hot chocolate waiting for us afterwards). My Canadian-born kids, on the other hand, will probably build more snowmen before kindergarten then I did my entire childhood.

But whether you have half an inch or twenty inches of snow outside, you can make these cute Rice Krispies Snowmen! They’re a breeze to whip up (no oven required!) and are a great creative activity for the little ones in your life. This is the second year that I’ve made something for the Kellogg’s Treats for Toys campaign (remember last year’s DIY Christmas Forest?), which donates funds to provide real toys for children in need. If you’re looking for a way to make a difference this season, I encourage you to make your own Treats for Toys, either using this recipe or something from your own imagination! It’s simple: create a toy-inspired Rice Krispies treat, upload it to the Treats for Toys site or social media (using the #treatsfortoys hashtag), and Kellogg’s will donate $20 to the Salvation Army to buy real toys for children in need.

A few notes:

  • These Rice Krispies snowmen are easy to make, but you have to work fast! The cereal mixture is easiest to mold within the first 5-8 minutes, so it definitely helps to have an extra pair of hands — one person can portion out the cereal and the other can shape the portions into balls.
  • Grease your measuring cups and hands well — otherwise you will spend more time scraping sticky marshmallow than making snowmen.
  • Use a skewer or chopstick to make light indents for facial features and arms. This makes it much easier to stick your candies/pretzels in place.

rice krispies balls

snowmen undressed

snowmen couple

Rice Krispies Snowmen

Ingredients

  • 56 g / 1/4 c unsalted butter
  • 250 g marshmallows (I used mini)
  • 168 g / 6 c Rice Krispies cereal
  • Flaked coconut
  • Pretzel rods
  • Assorted candies for decoration (such as mini chocolate chips, gummies, mini candy canes)
  • Melted white chocolate / royal icing / frosting for glue (optional)
  • Measuring cups
  • Cooking spray
  • Parchment paper

Method

  1. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Melt the butter over low heat in a large pot (big enough to hold the Rice Krispies).
  2. When the butter is melted, add the marshmallows, stirring frequently to avoid sticking. When the marshmallows are melted, turn off the heat, add the cereal, and stir with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon to coat evenly.
  3. Using well-greased measuring cups, portion out cereal in a few different sizes (I used 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 cup measures) onto the prepared sheet pan. When all the cereal is portioned out, use well-greased hands to shape the portions into round balls. Pack firmly but not so hard as to crush the cereal.
  4. Roll each ball in flaked coconut for a snowy effect. Press two or three balls together to form snowmen of various sizes. Use a bit of melted white chocolate / royal icing / frosting for glue, if desired.
  5. Use pretzels and candies to decorate snowmen as desired. Some ideas:
    • Pretzel sticks for arms
    • Mini chocolate chips for eyes and mouths
    • Small orange gummies or candy corn for noses
    • Small round candies for buttons
    • Mini candy canes for skis