Category Archives: Quick Bread

Julian’s Chocolate Chip-Ricotta Breakfast Bread (or, how my kid got me to cook with him)

The date: Last Sunday, April Fool’s Day.

The time: Too early.

The place: My Brooklyn kitchen.

It was a rare Sunday morning, meaning my two kids, my husband and I all slept past seven in the morning. I should say three of us, actually, as it was the sound of the fourth person in the house, my six year-old, that woke us all. We laid in bed, my husband and I listening for a minute, unable to understand what the noises were. Clang, twang, clang. “Julian, what are you doing down there?” My husband called out to my son, who was presumably three floors down from us in our Brooklyn brownstone.

“I’m making breakfast!” He yelled up.

We exchanged looks of pure panic and like man on fire, my husband catapulted himself from bed and raced downstairs. Just in time, too, as Julian had begun to saw through a mango with a bread knife.

We shared an uneasy laugh, scolding Julian for using a knife without a grown-up present, and also just relieved not to have to rush him to the ER on a Sunday morning for severing a digit.

“Do you want to make something together?” I asked Julian.

While this might sound ordinary, it was actually a big moment in our kitchen. Because Julian never, ever wants to help me cook. People always think that because I cook for a living, my children must love to help me out in the kitchen. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. They like the idea of helping in the kitchen, but when it comes to the actual measuring and mise-en-place, they loose interest faster than it takes for the oven to preheat.

So when, that April Fool’s morning, Julian said he actually wanted to cook with me, I jumped.

Before I had kids, I always envisioned this bucolic ideal of cooking with my children: a kid on a step stool, me in an apron, us whisking and sifting together, decorating holiday cookies and making morning pancakes. Laughter, joy, smiles, good times. But what do you do when reality and disinterest dash the dream? I’ve learned to accept that my kids just don’t like to help in the kitchen (and when I say kids, I actually mean just my older son, since the little guy is still a little too small to really help, though he is a master at stirring dry ingredients with a wooden spoon so slowly you wonder if it would be quicker to just stir them with chopsticks). It bothered me for a while, and when friends and others said to my son “Oh, you must love to cook with your mommy in the kitchen!” I learned to give a half smile and say sheepishly “we’re working on it” while ruffling Julian’s hair.

When it comes to kids and food, persistence is key: getting them to try new foods, new restaurants, new flavors. And as it turns out, persistence pays off with preening a kitchen helper, too. So when Julian said he wanted to cook together, I beamed with pride.

We decided on a breakfast loaf. Julian insisted on chocolate chips and to temper their sweetness, I decided on orange zest and ricotta. The resulting loaf was fantastic, with the crumb being moist and hearty, and the flavor not too sweet, making the bits of chocolate dotting a slice all the more rewarding.

Julian helped with the whisking, with the ingredient prep, and even with the cleaning up. Rhys, my two-year-old, was in charge of adding the chocolate chips (and we all know how that goes, one for me, one for the cake, three for me, one for the cake).

The loaf came out of the oven golden and perfect. And Julian refused to eat it. REFUSED!

I didn’t understand it, but I accepted it. And I ate the cake. And Rhys ate the cake. And Matt ate the cake. And Julian did not. And the next day, when there was a sad and lonely slice or two remaining, Julian tried the cake. And he loved it. He ate it with gusto and with the pleasure that comes from consuming something you created. It occurred to me that just as you can’t force someone to eat something they don’t want, you can’t force someone to cook. They have to want to cook, want to learn. And while the cooking bug might not bite Julian often, when it does, I’ll be ready and happy to lend a hand.

Julian’s Chocolate Chip-Ricotta Bread

Makes one 9-inch by 5-inch loaf

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature or nonstick pan spray
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup canola or grapeseed oil
  • 3/4 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan with butter.
  2. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Use your fingers to rub the sugar with the orange zest  in a large bowl until fragrant. Add the eggs, ricotta, and almond extract. Whisk in the canola oil and lastly the yogurt. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture until nearly combined, then add the chocolate chips and stir until mostly mixed in. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  4. Bake until the center of the cake resists light pressure and a cake tester comes out with only a crumb or two attached, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before running a paring knife around the edges of the load and turning it out onto a plate. Slice and serve.

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Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Night: Anytime Banana Bread with a Textural Twist (Granola!)

I don’t have a pithy story about banana bread. All I have are lots of frozen overripe bananas. When my bananas  turn spotty and black, I peel them straight into a resealable freezer bag. Two to a bag, slightly mushed after sealing by massage the outside of the bag. Date it with a Sharpie and into cold storage they go.

What I love about banana bread—and I’m talking good banana bread—is that it is moist enough to stay fresh and delicious for up to a week. That means I can break off a piece or a corner whenever a sweet craving strikes, perhaps while I’m waiting for my morning coffee to steep (I’m a French press fanatic), for a mid-morning pick-me-up, as a late afternoon snack, or after the kids have gone to bed with tea or hot cocoa (with mini marshmallows of course—why should kids have all the fun?).

For supreme moistness, I use light brown sugar, a hydroscopic sweetener that keeps moisture locked into the crumb. A generous heap of crème frâiche (or sour cream in a pinch) makes for a rich, thick batter. Oil also helps for a spongy-soft interior (butter tends to turn leaden after a day or two). For texture, a cup of granola adds a hint of multi-grain-like appeal. Any kind of granola will do, just be sure the flavors jive with banana bread (in my last batch I used Early Bird granola with pecans and coconut). If your granola comes in clumps, put it in a resealable plastic bag and smash it with the bottom of a soup pot to break them up quickly before adding to the dry mix.

Banana Bread with Granola

Makes 1 loaf

This cake stays incredibly moist and delicious up to a week after baking. It helps to slice just what you need rather than slicing the entire loaf at once. Frozen bananas can be stored for up to four months; to use defrost at room temperature or in the fridge, or microwave at 50% power until mostly thawed. When I don’t have time to make my own (see recipe below), I use Vermont Butter & Cheese crème frâiche. It’s lovely and super thick—if using homemade crème frâiche instead, your batter will be lighter and the loaf will have a more open crumb.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature or nonstick pan spray
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 3/4 cup crème frâiche or sour cream
  • 2 bananas, lightly mashed
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with butter.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, granola, whole wheat flour, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until well combined (about 30 seconds of vigorous beating). Whisk in the oil and then and the crème frâiche and bananas, whisking to combine. Use a wooden spoon to stir the dry ingredients into the banana mixture and switch to a rubber spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  4. Bake the cake until the center resists light pressure and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Run a paring knife around the edges of the cake and invert onto a cake plate before slicing and serving.

Homemade Crème Frâiche

This is Suvir Saran’s recipe for crème frâiche. It’s tangy and gorgeous–don’t be surprised when you start topping anything and everything with it. It really is that good. Use the best quality heavy cream you can find (Suvir uses this kind made near his country home in upstate New York).

In a medium saucepan warm  3 cups of cream with 1 cup of buttermilk and the juice of 1 lemon over low heat until it has lost its chill and is just warm. Pour the mixture into a glass bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and set a plate (one larger than the bowl’s width) on top of the towel. Set aside at room temperature for 24 hours. Whisk the mixture and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

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A Helluva Honey Cake

Rosh Hashana without honey cake is like Thanksgiving without pie. However, unlike Thanksgiving where the pie served is probably some aunt’s famous recipe or a labor of love perfected over many generations of blue-ribbon winning grandmas, honey cake is religiously taunted for its dryness, its heaviness, and general unbecomingness. Honey cake is the Jewish fruitcake, destined for comparisons to doorstops and bricks, the mere mention of it evoking heavy sighs and rolling of the eyes.

So the question is, why bother? Because it’s tradition (cue “Fiddler on the Roof”) and if there is something that anyone with even a drop of Jewish blood flowing through his or her veins understands it is that tradition is sacred. You can lose your home, your money, your family, but no on can take away a tradition as long as you are dedicated to preserving it.

This has been a whack-a-doodle week rampant with deadlines and tantrums, missed naps, weird viruses, and all kinds of random high-tension drama. But last night after everyone else was in bed and dreaming of fluffy matzo balls and dipping apples in honey, I baked honey cake.

It is moist! It is TASTY! It doesn’t even need cream cheese! Rich with brandy-soaked raisins, strong coffee, honey, cardamom, fresh ginger, allspice, brown sugar, and butter, finally, a honey cake not destined to be the butt of a joke, but rather the satisfying celebration of a sweet, new beginning. Shana tova!

Cardamom-Spiced Honey Cake with Brandy-Soaked Raisins and Ginger

Makes 1 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf

You can add 3/4 cup of toasted nuts to the cake if you like—chopped slivered almonds, chopped pistachios, or chopped walnuts would all be nice. Add them with the raisins and brandy.

1/4 cup brandy

3/4 cup golden raisins

1 1/2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup strong-brewed warm coffee

1/2 cup honey

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 inches fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the brandy into a heat-safe bowl and microwave until hot, 15 to 30 seconds. Stir in the raisins, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Grease an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside. Whisk the flour with the baking powder, cardamom, ginger, allspice, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk the coffee with the honey in a large measuring cup. Whisk in the eggs, fresh ginger, and vanilla and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer, cream the remaining 1 1/2 sticks of butter with the brown sugar on medium speed to combine. Raise the speed to medium-high and cream until the butter is light and airy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Slowly drizzle in the honey-egg mixture, beating between each addition to ensure that the mixture remains homogenous and doesn’t curdle (it may look curdled after adding some of the liquid, but will come back together while you beat it). Reduce the speed to low and add half of the flour mixture. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and then add the raisins and any brandy leftover in the bowl. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 15 seconds.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter in to the prepared loaf pan. Bake until the center of the cake springs back to light pressure and a wooden cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with a crumb or two attached (not batter), 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before running a paring knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan and turning it out onto a cutting board or platter. Slice and serve. Wrap the cake in two layers of plastic wrap—it will stay moist and tasty for up to five days.

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Conscience Clearing Pumpkin Muffins

When my six-year-old Julian asks me for something—especially if it involves food—I just can’t resist. Sardines are a favorite of his (I blame Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Julian’s penchant for being a contrarian) and not of mine; regardless I mash them with a spoonful of mayo, a squeeze of lemon, a grind of pepper, and pinch of flakey salt, just like my dad taught me. After tasting risotto for the first time last year, Julian’s big gorgeous melty chocolate-brown eyes sparkled as he asked if we could have risotto every Thursday. I will always remember the bitter cold winter of 2010 as being one punctuated by many pots of creamy, buttery risotto.

At the tail end of winter last year—perhaps April-ish, he asked for pumpkin muffins and I didn’t make them. He asked more than once. I said, “sure, sure,” and never made them. If you’re a New Yorker, or live anywhere in the U.S. where the winter sucked a** last year, you’ll know why—I was DONE with pumpkins, with roasting, with braising, with apples, with Brussels sprouts, hats, scarves, shovels, runny noses, everyone else going on vacation, frozen fingers, and slippery sidewalks. I craved fresh salads and ripe peaches and juicy tomatoes. Pumpkin muffins just before Easter? Think again, kid.

Of course I’ve had a guilty conscience ever since.

When just last week—two weeks into September—Julian asked me to make pumpkin pasties (“just like Harry Potter ate) I made them without hesitation. With the leftover pumpkin puree, I made muffins. I baked them at night and surprised him in the morning with pumpkin muffins for breakfast. He broke out a Cheshire cat smile. I have come to rationalize that I didn’t disappoint him by not making pumpkin muffins; rather I taught him the important lesson of delayed gratification and how something always tastes better the longer you’ve been pining for it.

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Muffins

Makes 1 dozen

You can add two tablespoons of finely chopped crystallized ginger for a little sweet heat, or three-quarters of a cup of raisins, chocolate chips, or dried cranberries for texture and sweetness, or orange zest for a hint of citrus. I like pumpkin muffins schmeared with cream cheese.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup whole milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup neutral oil (like canola or grapeseed)

1 cup pumpkin or sweet potato purée (not pie filling)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick pan spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the dark brown sugar and stir and smash to break up any large nuggets.

In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla and then add the oil. Whisk in the pumpkin purée and pour the liquid ingredients over the dry. Use a wooden spoon to stir the two together. Once combined switch back to the whisk and give the batter a good three or four beats to aerate.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups and place the pan in the oven until the muffins are golden and spring back to light pressure, 25 to 28 minutes, rotating the pan midway through baking. Cool for at least 15 minutes before removing the muffins and placing on a cooling rack to cool completely. The muffins keep fresh in an airtight container for several days.

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No Coffee? Offer Scones.

I am always juggling about 18 projects at once, and today’s agenda was a bit of a doozy: morning meeting with chef Matt Weingarten, who I’m working on a cookbook with, visit from the stove repair guy to fix my broiler, phone call about a new chef cookbook project, another phone call about a cookbook I’m working on with Melissa d’Arabian, and email a food scientist to talk about glucose chains and molecular dynamics of corn syrup. And that was just before 3pm.

All that, and not a coffee bean in the house to brew for my morning meeting.

So, I baked scones.

We are all our own worst critics, and no one is harsher on their food than me. If you look in any one of my recipe journals (well-worn food notebooks where I log my trials, successes, and failures in the kitchen), you’ll undoubtedly find at least a dozen recipes for lemon scones. Tweaked over time, changed here and there, and sometimes pitched altogether for a new method, technique, or flavor.

My current scone obsession, though, is for these pillowy, fluffy scones that seem to hit just the right note of tender and delicious, while still being dry enough to require a hit of achingly fruity jam.

The first great scone I had was in England, of course. The second great scone I had was also in England (this time London at the Savoy Hotel, the first was at a tea house in York). Why are English scones so unbelievably delicious? Why do they nearly melt in your mouth while somehow remaining fluffy and bready and yet so tender and yielding?

It’s the flour. It’s the butter. It’s the cream. And that said, this is the best recipe I have devised that comes close to the English scone on domestic ground.

I offered one to Matt (chef Matt, not husband Matt) and his eyes popped out of his skull. “Wow,” he said. “Scones,” he said. “They’re good!” with more than a hint of shock. I took it as a compliment.

Then my six year old accepted an offer of a scone and devoured the whole thing in a nano-second.

Okay, I rack this scone recipe up as a success. But don’t think that means a good thing can’t get better….until then, these are the scones I’m sticking with.

Lemon-Butter Scones

Makes 8

2 1/2 cups pastry flour plus extra for shaping (all-purpose works in a pinch but won’t have as tender of a crumb)

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

Zest of 1 lemon

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (preferably cultured like Plugra), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups heavy cream plus 2 tablespoons for brushing

More butter and jam for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silpat mat or parchment paper and set aside.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter and place the whole bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes (you can also put the dry ingredients and the butter in a resealable gallon-size plastic bag and then turn them out into the bowl of a stand mixer). Set the bowl on the mixer and, using the paddle attachment, blend until the butter pieces are very small, no bigger than crushed peanuts.

Pour in most of the cream (save a tablespoon or two) and see if the dough comes together after 5 seconds. If it does, you’re good to go—if not, add the remaining cream and give the dough another second or two on the mixer. The dough won’t be smooth, but rough and craggy.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured worksurface and pat into a 1-inch thick circle. Using a bench knife or chef’s knife, cut the dough into 8 pieces (in half down the center, in half across the center, and the slice each quarter in half to get 8 triangles).

Place the scones on the lined baking sheet, brush the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream, and bake until golden, tall, and gorgeous, 14 to 18 minutes depending on your oven. Cool for 10 minutes before serving with butter and jam.

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