Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Double Chocolate Sourdough Banana Bread

Yeah, it happened again--as it almost always does. I buy bananas, vow to eat them--and life gets in the way and those sleek yellow fruits transition into ugly brown reminders of my lack of follow through.

And become banana bread.

Now I enjoy a good banana bread as much as anyone. But I also love chocolate. And, well, I have that sourdough starter in my refrigerator which I like to give a purpose to when I can. So I started to wonder if there was a way to incorporate all of them into one sweet bread.

Turns out there is. I just had to juggle the ingredients to make it work. This is an exercise my pastry chef friends do all the time, albeit on a much more sophisticated scale. I, however, am obviously not a pastry chef nor am I a science geek. If I goofed I could have had a cake/bread that didn't rise, was tough, was goopy, or... well, who knows what.

I did know that by adding a cup of starter I was adding half a cup of flour and half a cup of water. Both would have to come out of the usual ingredient measurements. But banana bread doesn't add liquid specifically. Tricky. Plus, the starter would be live, not discard that simply adds flavor. So, I had to take into account the amount of baking soda I would add (or, rather, subtract).

I scoured my favorite banana bread recipes and figured that if I left out the sour cream of one, along with reducing the amount of flour I would get what I was after. The starter would take on both the tang and moisture/texture of the sour cream and make up for some of the flour. And I'd subtract half the amount of baking soda since a newly fed active starter would contribute to the rise.

Hey, hey, hey, it worked. Really well. I got a beautiful crumb, huge crowns--and beautiful flavor. Oh, and did I even mention the chocolate? The gorgeous, deeply, richly brown chocolate which pairs so well with the banana? With slightly sour notes?

When preparing the batter, think of the process as setting it up in thirds:
  • Sifting together then mixing the dry ingredients
  • Creaming the butter with the sugar and then adding the other "liquid" ingredients
  • Mashing the bananas before adding the starter 

It will all come together in the bowl of your stand mixer with the addition of chocolate chips. You could use semi-sweet chips, but be bold and go for dark chocolate. My brand pick is Guittard, along with their Cocoa Rouge unsweetened cocoa. They make this bread magical.

This is a bread you can gift. And I'd suggest baking not one huge loaf--although you could--but a few mini loaves. You can gift them or, if you keep them, you'll have one to indulge in now, and two to wrap and freeze.

Note: A word on starters. King Arthur has a great primer on how to make your own starter from scratch here. And they do sell starter online. However, if you are in San Diego, you can take advantage of the generosity of Cardamom Cafe & Bakery's Joanne Sherif, who loves to share her starter discards with others. I'm happy to gift discards as well. Or in San Diego or beyond, find a friend with starter to share. At that point, all you have to do is feed it (add equal amounts of flour and water--as in 2 ounces each--stir well and let sit at room temperature to rise and bubble before using or refrigerating). Each week, you'll take some out (hence, "discard") and then feed it with fresh flour and water. And, with a starter in your fridge, you can gift the discards to others or use it to make a variety of breads and desserts--even pancakes/waffles. 

Double Chocolate Sourdough Banana Bread
Yield: One loaf pan or three mini loaves
(printable recipe)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, soft and cut into chunks
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh sourdough starter
2 very ripe bananas
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Lightly grease 1 large loaf pan or three mini loaf pans with butter or spray with Pam.

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into a bowl and stir to mix them thoroughly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and sugar and beat until light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and continue beating until fully incorporated.

In another bowl, mash the bananas, then stir in the sourdough starter.

Add the banana/starter mixture to the butter mixture and mix together at low speed. Then slowly add the dry ingredients. Don't over-mix. Finally, slowly add the chocolate chips and mix until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the loaf pans and place the mini loaf pans, if using, on a baking sheet to make getting them in and out of the oven easier.

Bake for 45 minutes (mini loaf pans) to an hour (1 large loaf pan). Use a cake tester or toothpick to insert into the center. If it comes out clean, the bake is done.

Remove from the oven and let rest in the loaf pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the breads from the pan and place on the rack to completely cool.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Time for Latkes

Chanukah began last Sunday night. Were your frying pans, potatoes, and oil at the ready?

Like most Jewish kids of Eastern European, or Ashkenazic, descent, I grew up eating potato latkes, or pancakes, every Chanukah. My extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would gather on the first night of the holiday at one of our homes and the air would soon be heavy with the aroma of potatoes cooking in oil. Because it was technically a full meal, someone would make brisket or roast chicken. Someone else would make vegetables and salad. But the centerpiece of the meal, the only dish that counted that evening, was the latkes—crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. And we’d take sides over what accompanied them. Those who were on the savory side ate them with salt and sour cream. The rest would go for sugar and/or applesauce.

Latkes may be iconic Ashkenazic Chanukah food now, but they’re actually relatively new in Jewish history. The Maccabees—the priestly family who led the successful rebellion against the Syrians back in 168 B.C.E. which the holiday celebrates—never would have had latkes since they would never have seen a potato. It was only at the end of the 18th century that German Jews began making potato pancakes, but not for Chanukah. And these potato pancakes weren’t just from grated spuds, as we’ve come to assume are traditional, but also mashed, according to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.

But potatoes became a staple of Eastern European Jewish food and eventually the potato latke, made from hand-grated russet potatoes, became associated with Chanukah in Eastern Europe and then the U.S. by the mid-19th century, as  immigrants arrived here.

Given how relatively recently the potato latke became part of Jewish history, why not riff on tradition and create other forms of pancakes from different root vegetables to celebrate the festival of lights? After all, the main point of the holiday is celebrating the miracle of the single jar of oil that burned for eight days.

Baby Turnip Latkes frying
No matter what root vegetable you use, here are some tips for getting them as crispy as possible:
  • Be sure to squeeze all the liquid out of the grated vegetables. Cheesecloth is good for this.
  • You don't have to deep fry the latkes. Just use enough oil to cook them.
  • Make sure that the oil has a high smoke point, like canola or avocado oil. 
  • Fry them in cast iron skillets to get them really crispy. 
  • And, if you’re entertaining the crowd, make them ahead of time and freeze them. Then reheat them in the oven. Making latkes is a hot and messy affair. It’s fun, but it may not be what you want to do when company is there.
Evie's Latkes
Adapted from Molly Goldberg
Makes 20 pancakes
(printable recipe)

Five russet potatoes
One onion, grated
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons matzoh meals
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 slices eggbread, softened and squeezed of water (Nana)
Vegetable or peanut oil (or shortening)
Salt and pepper

1. Put grated potato and onion in strainer over a large bowl. Knead it to get moisture out, the let sit in bowl to draw out potato starch. Dump water but keep starch at bottom of bowl. 
2. Put potatoes/onion in tea towel and wring to get out moisture. 
3. Add to bowl with other ingredients, Mix well, including starch.
4. Fry in cast iron pans. Drain on paper towels and keep warm on cookie sheets in 200º oven.

Carrot Turnip Latkes
From Caron Golden 
Makes about two dozen, three-inch pancakes
(printable recipe)

Here’s a colorful variation from the traditional potato latkes I grew up with. In winter, you can make these pancakes with any root vegetable. Try sweet potatoes, parsnips, or beets, separately or in combination. For a more traditional latke, use an onion instead of the green onions and leave out the garlic and herbs. My grandmother used to add two slices of eggbread, crusts removed, softened with water and then squeezed of the moisture. My mom still makes traditional latkes this way.

½ pound of carrots, trimmed and peeled
½ pound of turnips, trimmed and peeled (look for sweeter baby turnips if available)
6 large green onions, trimmed
3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons matzoh meal or flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons fresh, chopped herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable or peanut oil or duck fat

1. Grate the turnips and carrots coarsely, using the large holes of a box grater or food processor grater. Place in large bowl.
2. Chop the green onions coarsely and add to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Add the garlic and pulse until the onions and garlic are minced. 
3. Put all the vegetables in a large bowl and add the matzoh meal, baking powder, herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir it all together to fully mix the ingredients.
4. Add the eggs and mix well. The batter should be moist but not runny.
5. Heat 1/4-inch of oil or duck fat in a hot pan. Place a tiny bit of the batter in the pan. If it begins to sizzle, the fat is hot enough for the batter. Use a large spoon and drop the batter into the pan, then flatten into a pancake. Don't crowd the pancakes by putting too many in at one time. Cook for several minutes on each side until the pancakes are golden brown. Put the pancakes on a plate with paper towels placed on top to drain the fat. You can also heat your oven to 200 degrees, place the pancakes on a baking sheet, and keep them warm until you serve them. 
6. Serve (with applesauce, sour cream, or creme fraiche). 

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes
From the New York Times via David Wasserman/Joes on the Nose
Yield- 16, 3-inch pancakes
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk approximately
Peanut oil for frying

1.Grate the sweet potatoes coarsely. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, salt and pepper.
2. Add the eggs and just enough milk to the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter. Add the potatoes and mix.  The batter should be moist but not runny. If too stiff, add more milk.
3.  Heat 1/4 inch of peanut oil in a sauté pan until it is barely smoking. Drop in the batter by tablespoons and flatten. Cook several minutes on each side until golden. Drain, serve.

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