I made: Cinnamon swirl cream cheese banana bread

Still catching up on my May bakes.  I found this recipe online because I wanted to make banana bread but I didn’t want it to be boring.  This was a tasty bread that I would definitely make again.  However, I would modify the topping somewhat.  The recipe calls for a simple cinnamon/sugar mix as a topping, which is fine, but boring.  I would add butter so that it gets crunchier and more rich, and also incorporate other spices and nuts as well.  Aside from that, it was great!

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I made: Carrot cake!

Belated hoppy Easter to all!  I am really trying to work on my layer cake skills now that I know I don’t have any.  I looked at a million different carrot cake recipes before settling on this one from King Arthur’s Flour, which is a surprisingly reliable & comprehensive baking recipe resource.

This recipe has two components: the cake and the frosting.  I added a third component, which was the decorative carrot curls on top.

Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease two 9″ cake pans.
  • Beat together 1.5 cups vegetable oil, 2 cups sugar, 1 tsp salt, 4 large eggs, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, and 2 tsp baking soda.
  • Stir in 2 cups flour until just blended.  Then stir in 3 cups finely grated carrots and 1.5 cups chopped nuts.  Pour into pans.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes and allow to cool before frosting.

Frosting:

  • Beat together 1/2 cup room temp unsalted butter and 8oz room temp cream cheese until smooth.  Add 1/4 tsp salt and 2 tsp vanilla.
  • Add 2.5-3.5 cups confectioners’ sugar gradually and beat until smooth, add a little bit of milk if it’s too liquidy.  Frost the cake.

Carrot curls (I used this recipe as a guideline):

  • Take about 2 large carrots and cut 15-20 strips using a peeler.
  • Bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil in a saucepan.  Place carrot strips in the water and reduce heat to a simmer, let simmer 15 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 225 degrees and prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Once carrots are done simmering, drain and lay out on a baking sheet (not touching).  Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Working quickly, remove carrots from oven and wrap around a wooden spoon handle to curl.  Allow to sit a few seconds then slip off.
  • Sprinkle with extra sugar if you want, let cool, and then use to decorate as you wish.

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OVERALL:

  • This recipe tasted good and was VERY rich.
  • I did a few things differently from the recipe.  Mainly, I cut the layers in half so that I had four layers instead of just two.  I used a mixture of pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts because I didn’t have enough of any single nut.
  • I also multiplied the frosting recipe by 1.5 because I figured I needed more due to the increased number of layers.
  • Lastly I made more carrot curls than called for because I figured some of them would look ugly so I’d need more.

NEXT TIME:

  • Okay so this recipe tasted good and looked okay but there are a LOT of things I need to think about or work on.
  • First of all, I had a cake crater AGAIN.  I am getting so frustrated by this.  Both of my cakes had fairly sizeable craters.  It’s a big reason why I cut them in half, because I was kind of worried they weren’t totally cooked and wanted to check.  I have researched and researched and tried multiple solutions and I’m still having this issue.  I’m not giving up yet though.
  • Also, I am very inexperienced at cutting layer cakes in half, as demonstrated by the mess of the middle of the cake pictured below.  I think part of the problem is that it’s tricky to cut cakes with chunks of nuts in them.  I’m going to try just a smooth cake next time.
  • Grating carrots is TERRIBLE.  Next time I would do this in advance, or enlist someone else to do it.
  • I’m getting better at spreading the frosting but still not great.  I want a turntable.
  • The carrot curls didn’t quite work as imagined.  Only a few of them really maintained their curl.  Some of them just snapped completely.  It ended up okay looking but not what I had hoped.

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I made: Hummingbird cake!

Hummingbird cake is a Southern classic comprised of a banana/pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting.  Y’all, I’m now up to TWO cakes for the year, which is about as many as I made in the entirety of last year.

I got this recipe from The Kitchn, which is my favorite professional-quality resource for baking.  The recipes from The Kitchn don’t just explain how to do things, they explain WHY they work and they provide very detailed photo step-by-step instructions.  Also, they almost never include dumb personal details about people’s kids that you have to scroll through before the actual recipe.

There are three parts to this recipe: the cake itself, the frosting, and the decorative pineapple “flowers.”  (Sadly, these are not potato chips, as many have thought.)

Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350F, coat 2 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line bottoms with parchment paper rounds.
  • Mix dry ingredients in large bowl: 3 cups flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup packed dark brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Mix wet ingredients: 3 eggs, 3/4 cup canola oil, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 8-oz can crushed pineapple, 2 cups ripe mashed banana.  It’s ok if lumpy.
  • Combine wet and dry ingredients then fold in 1 cup chopped pecans.  Don’t overmix.
  • Pour the mix evenly into the 2 pans and bake for 35-40 minutes.  (I checked at 40 and felt like it could use another 5 minutes which seemed fine.)
  • Cool the cakes in pans for 10 minutes then flip out to finish cooling.

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(You may recall that in my previous post, I discussed having problems with my 9-inch cake pan.  Well, that’s because I’m a moron and I thought I had a 9-inch cake pan but it was actually clearly a much smaller pan.  I realized this when I went to the store and looked at the actual 9-inch pans.  Problem now solved.)

Frosting:

  • Beat 1 cup room temperature butter for about 1 minute until smooth.
  • Add 8 oz room temperature cream cheese and beat for about 3 minutes.
  • Add 1 pound sifted powdered sugar, about 4.5 cups, gradually adding 1 cup at a time and scraping down sides.
  • Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Beat again for 3-5 minutes.
  • Once the cake is cool, frost it.  It’s a pretty simple layer cake frosting.  Put one layer of the cake on the stand and anchor it down with a smudge of frosting on the very bottom.  Then put 1/3 of the frosting on top of the cake.  Then put the other layer of the cake on top and put another 1/3  of frosting on the top layer.  Finally put the last 1/3 of the frosting on the sides.  It’s definitely more than enough frosting so you won’t run out, just mush it on as well as you can.

Pineapple flowers:

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  • Set oven to 200F.  If you just baked your cake, leave the door open for a little bit to bring it down from 350.  Put a rack on the lowest part of the oven and remove the other racks.
  • Take a WHOLE PINEAPPLE, cut off the top and bottom, and peel it.  Trim off the “eyes.”
  • Thinly slice the pineapple into 1/8 inch thick rounds.  The recipe says that it should yield 24-36 thin slices.
  • Pat the slices dry with paper towels.
  • Set up the slices on wire racks on a baking sheet.  The recipe suggested using multiple wire racks stacked using foil balls as spacers so that you can fit all the pineapple on one baking sheet without overlapping them.
  • Bake for 2-3 hours.
  • Once you remove them, you can shape them around muffin tins, glasses, or your hands if you want.  Then put them on top of the cake!

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OVERALL:

  • This cake tasted really good!  It was kind of like banana bread, but sweeter and more cakey.
  • The cream cheese frosting was also amazing and went REALLY well with the pineapple flowers.  If you don’t want to make a cake I recommend just making pineapple flowers and dipping them into the frosting yum yum.

NEXT TIME:

  • I need to order some of those pre-cut parchment paper rounds if I’m gonna keep making round cakes. It’s really annoying to cut them out by hand.
  • The most difficult part of this was the pineapple flowers.  I think my problem was that some of my slices were too thick.  But even the ones that weren’t as thick definitely weren’t ready at 3 hours.  It took about 4 hours for the thinnest slices to get to a consistency I liked for decorations.  I had to get somewhere so sadly I left behind about half the slices in the oven.
  • I would want to get fancier with decorations.  You could do fun stuff with toasted pecans, or piping the frosting on top in prettier ways!

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I remade: Blueberry cream cheese muffin loaf

In honor of my new year’s baking resolutions, which included the goal to re-make things that didn’t quite work out as planned, I re-attempted the blueberry cream cheese loaf from the weekend.

To recap: this loaf was delicious, but had structural integrity problems.  I attempted to solve this using four different strategies:

  1. I reduced the total amount of oil in the recipe from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup.
  2. I included NO blueberries in the bottom layer of batter.  So each loaf was just one layer of plain batter, one layer of cream cheese, one layer of blueberry batter.
  3. I then split the recipe and half and tried two different things with each half.  In one half, I replaced the frozen blueberries with freeze-dried blueberries.
  4. In the other half, I used frozen again, but during the “toss with flour” step, I used a sieve, and I shook the sieve a whole lot to remove all excess blue flour.

I also made a few minor changes:

  • Started out with the aluminum foil tent to protect the top from over-browning; removed with 30 minutes to go.
  • Baked the frozen blueberry loaf for a full 75 minutes without removing from oven.
  • Very minimal stirring once blueberries were added.
  • Let sit for only 2 minutes after removing from oven then remove to wire rack.

VERDICT:

Ummm…. I think the first recipe worked better without all these modifications, y’all!

The freeze-dried blueberry version had the most structural integrity, but it was the most boring.  It lost too much moisture.  It didn’t taste as nice as the original recipe and I don’t think it’s worth the sacrifice.

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The other version, with frozen blueberries only in the top half of the batter, tasted great!  However, it lost structural integrity even WORSE, I think because when I inverted the loaf pan to remove the baked loaf, it just went SPLAT right on the weakest part of the structure.  In theory, this might be work-aroundable, by lining the loaf pan carefully with foil, then removing the loaf from the top, rather than by inverting the pan.  Still, it just seems like a lot of trouble for not that much gain.

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In conclusion, this is still a SUPER TASTY recipe and one that I’m still pining for (I wish I had brought it with me to work).  I would definitely repeat this to take as a hostess gift or just when I’m feeling like indulging.  Here’s what I would do:

  • Follow the original recipe for the most part, including the full 1/2 cup vegetable oil.
  • Use blueberries in BOTH halves of the batter, just be careful not to over-stir.
  • Use frozen blueberries & remove as much flour as possible before adding.
  • Use aluminum foil tent for the majority of baking, removing 30 minutes before done.
  • Bake 75 minutes.
  • Let sit for a full 10 minutes after removing (or longer would probably be ok).
  • Just accept that this is a messy recipe!

I made: Blueberry and cream cheese muffin top bread

This one tastes better than it looks, I swear!

I’ve been wanting to use up some buttermilk I’ve had leftover from another recipe, and I bookmarked a ton of ideas.  I liked this “bread” recipe because it seemed pretty simple and would travel easily, and I hoped to take it as a hostess gift.

I used this recipe.  It’s very similar to a muffin recipe in ingredients and techniques, except you just pour it into loaf pans instead of muffin tins.

  • Get ready: preheat oven to 350F, spray and flour two loaf pans.
  • Make the cream cheese filling: whisk together 8 oz softened cream cheese with 1/2 cup sugar.
  • Prep the blueberries: toss 2 cups blueberries with about 1 tbsp flour, and toss to coat.  (I used frozen blueberries.)
  • Mix the dry ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt
  • Mix the wet ingredients: 1/2 cup melted butter, 3/4 cup buttermilk, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 tbsp vanilla extract, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar.
  • Mix the dry and wet ingredients together.  Don’t overmix.
  • Fold in blueberries.  Don’t overmix.
  • Pour about 1/4 of the batter into each of the loaf pans.  Then add the cream cheese layer and spread it with a spatula.  Then top with the rest of the batter.
  • Bake in the oven for about 60 minutes.  (I had trouble with this step.)  Cover with aluminum foil for about the last 15 minutes to avoid over-browning.  After removing from oven, let rest for 15 minutes in the pan before removing to cool completely.

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OVERALL NOTES:

  • Like I said, this TASTES great.  The batter is well balanced, and the sweet blueberries pair very well with the cream cheese.  The muffin-y aspect is really nice as well, and makes a very tasty and crispy texture on the top.
  • However, I had two major issues.  One, my blueberries sank to the bottom so much that it’s basically a three-layer cake: blueberry layer, cream cheese layer, muffin layer.  That’s not good.  The second issue is that either 60 minutes was not enough, or there’s something else wonky with the recipe.  I took out one loaf pan at exactly 60 minutes, and left the other one in for 75.  Both loaves “fell” in the middle.  The one that baked for longer didn’t seem much different, it was just darker.

NEXT TIME:

  • I really am going to try this one again, keeping in mind one of my resolutions, which is to try and fix things that don’t work as well.  I mean, it’s a SUPER TASTY loaf, don’t get me wrong, but I’m sad that it’s so much uglier and unbalanced than the recipe photos.
  • Problem 1: seems overmixed – at least the blueberry stage.  I’m going to try a few different ways to fix this.  I got both fresh and freeze-dried blueberries at the store, so I’m going to see if the dried ones work better.  For the fresh, I’m thinking about using way less flour in the flouring step, and making sure to sift out all the extra flour.  I think the reason my bread looked kinda green is because I had too much extra flour on the blueberries.  I’m also going to try leaving the blueberries completely out of the bottom layer of the batter – surely if I just put them in the top layer, gravity will do its thing and some of it will fall down anyway.
  • Problem 2: didn’t fully rise/fell/seems underbaked – I don’t know yet what to do!  My husband suggested baking longer at a lower temp, so I may try that with one loaf – I’m not sure this will fix the issue completely, though.  I’m thinking I may try using way less oil.  This is an extremely wet recipe, and while that may make it taste nice and last longer, it is also kind of excessive.  I may also try removing from the loaf pan earlier, instead of waiting 15 minutes after removing from oven.
  • By the way: I know the problem is NOT my oven.  I have an oven thermometer and have tested it in multiple points within the oven; my oven heats accurately and fairly evenly.
  • Any other suggestions, friends?