david lebovitz’s banana bread

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Last week, my brother said to me…”I feel like eating banana bread. The ones with chocolate chips inside.”

And there you have it. I’m such a good sister!

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David Lebovitz’s recipes are dummy proof. In fact, whenever I bake his recipes and receive compliments like “you’re such a talented baker” or “this must be so hard to bake!” or “this is my favorite cake ever!”, I always feel a little guilty because it seriously isn’t the work of my hands nor brain, but his recipe. You could almost take the list of ingredients and mix them all up and you’ll get something nice. Ok…that’s a little far fetched. BUT, for my friends who have just started baking, I always tell them to use David Lebovitz’s recipes because once you understand simple terms like “sift” and “fold”, you’ll almost always succeed. That’s if you don’t mistake sugar for salt :P

 

When making this recipe, do ensure that you use very ripe bananas – it’ll make the banana bread so much more fragrant. If you find that after baking this recipe that your banana bread lack the banana flavor or fragrance, it would usually mean that the bananas you’ve used is not ripe enough. Also, for the chocolate chips, I use Ghiradelli’s 60% bittersweet chocolate baking chips. They’re my favorite brand of chocolate chips because they taste absolutely wonderful and are huge! Most importantly, toast/ microwave the banana bread just before eating – the banana bread will be more fragrant and the chocolate will be oozy. 

IMG_8541We grow a banana tree in the garden and a few times a year, the banana tree bears fruit and every time that happens, we struggle to finish up the bananas. We’ve tried various methods of preserving the bananas like freezing them but it just isn’t the same! We end up making loaves and loaves of banana bread. My point is that…through the seasons, we’ve tried a few banana bread recipes and David Lebovitz’s recipe stands out from all the rest. Quite a few of the banana bread recipes out there are quite crumbly but this banana bread’s texture is delightfully spongy. For some, the chocolate chips are a turn off and if you’re one of them, just omit them! 

By now, you’ve probably noticed the tea towel used for these photos. Will be blogging about it in the next post :) 

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New York Cheesecake

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(picture note: credits to my mom for her beautiful orchids!)

If you’re looking for a dense cheesecake with an oreo base and a wonderful lemony flavour, today is your lucky day :)

I had previously shared about the high expectations my family has of me when it comes to their birthday cakes. Thankfully, Jon is really quite an easy man to please. His birthday cake was not only not a surprise to him, since he had long requested for this cake, accompanied me to buy the ingredients, and almost even paid for the ingredients, until I responded with a resounding NO. Yet, he is still happiest with this cake, counting down to the day that he would finally get a slice all to himself.

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I still remember the times when I almost solely relied on Martha Stewart’s recipes ( I think it was because her site was easy to navigate and I was afraid of venturing out) and decided to try out her cheesecake recipe although I was (and still am) a self-proclaimed not-a-fan of cheesecake. Executing it was just like a quest – I had never baked something in the oven for so long, much less having to pour boiling hot water into the tray while the cheesecake is in the oven.

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When I pulled the cheesecake out of the oven the first time, the baked cheesy-lemony-oreo smell permeated the kitchen and I just couldn’t help but continuously run my fingers over the smooth golden top of the cake. When Jon put the first bite of the chilled cheesecake in his mouth, his satisfied grin made me realise that from then on, this recipe would definitely be a staple in my repertoire. And it has, having baked this countless times.


New York Cheesecake
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Classic Cheesecake and Triple-Chocolate Cheesecake recipe

The Oreo Base
Ingredients:
9 oz oreo cookies (measured without the cream in the middle)
6 tbsp (or 28g) melted butter

Instructions:
1. Preheat your oven to 325°F or 165°C.
2. Line a 9″ springform pan with parchment paper.
3. Using a food processor, bamix, or mortar and pestle, pulse the oreo cookies until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl.
4. Bit by bit, pour the melted butter into the ground oreo cookies and using a spoon, mix it all together. At this point, the oreo and butter mixture will resemble a coarse paste.
5. Pour everything into the springform pan and using a spoon, press the oreo down firmly until it covers the entire base of the springform pan evenly.
6. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, take it out of the oven and set aside. The temperature used to cook for the filling is the same as above so adjustments to the oven temperature will not be needed.

The Cheesecake Filling
Ingredients:
2.5 lbs bar cream cheese, room temperature
1.5 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
grated lemon zest of one lemon
3 tbsp lemon juice (the lemon quantity I put is is triple of what Martha suggests but we like it this way)
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream

Instructions:
1. Set a kettle of water to boil.
2. Put the cream cheese in a stand mixer and on medium, mix cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
3. With the stand mixer on low, pour the granulated sugar into the cream cheese bit by bit. When done, allow it to continue mixing to ensure that everything is well incorporated. Add the salt.
4. Stop the stand mixer. Using a grater, grate the lemon zest directly into the batter. Quite a bit of the flavour of the zest gets lost if this is done in advance since zest dries up pretty quickly so I find it best to grate it directly. A little more or less doesn’t kill :)
5. Slice the lemon in half and squeeze out the lemon juice. I usually squeeze it directly into the batter, making sure that none of the seeds fall in. If you’re afraid that it’ll be too sour, put less first and you can add more after adding in the sour cream.
6. With the stand mixer on medium, add the eggs one by one, ensuring that everything is incorporated well. Add in the sour cream. At this stage, I would recommend that you taste the filling and add more lemon if desired, as I usually do.
7. Wrap the sides of the springform pan with foil. Do ensure that the foil is tightly wrapped around till at least half the height of the springform pan. Pour the filling into the springform pan.
8. Put the springform pan on top of a roasting pan and put this in the middle of the oven. Carefully pour the hot water into the roasting pan, ensuring that the water does not go above the foil on the springform pan. I do not suggest that you put the roasting pan while the oven is preheating as the boiling water will sizzle on the roasting pan as you’re pouring it in – this is really dangerous!
9. Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The cheesecake is ready when the top of the cheesecake has a deep golden brown colour and only jiggles very slightly when moved. Leave at room temperature to cool and when it is at room temperature, put the cheesecake in the refrigerator to chill overnight. Just before serving, remove the foil, run a knife round the sides of the cheesecake and carefully remove the sides of the springform pan. In my experience making this cake, it is easy transferring this cake to a cake board or cake stand as the base is quite firm and holds well. After every slice, clean your knife for a neat cut. 

Pierre Herme’s Autumn Meringue Cake

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I’m really happy when someone requests for a chocolate cake. And Jane did just that for her 17th birthday this year.

I knew exactly which cake to bake for her. It was one of those…never baked before but looks extremely good from the recipe and have been bookmarked for ages…kind of cake. Not surprisingly, this cake is one of Pierre Herme’s – the Autumn Meringue Cake. This cake was described as a simple cake that “tantalises, satisfies, and delights your five senses” in Pierre Herme’s cookbook and I’ve no doubt that this cake did just that.

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Pierre Herme’s Melody Cake

For birthdays within my family, it is somewhat unspoken that not only am I tasked (as always) to bake a delicious birthday cake, I am also usually expected to bake a cake I’ve never baked before!

As years go by and as the number of someday-I’m-definitely-going-to-bake-this-stunning-cake type of recipes are used up one by one, I found it especially hard to find the perfect cake for my mom’s birthday this year. I thought pretty long and hard, looked on the internet to look for the perfect recipe and when I couldn’t,  I turned to my pile of trusty baking books to gain some inspiration. It was just a couple of days before her birthday did I finally set my mind on which cake I was gonna bake – Pierre Herme’s Melody Cake.

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The recipe for this cake was almost 10 pages long and referenced 3 different parts of the book. It had quite a number of components and while it was quite intimidating, I was so ready for a challenge! This cake turned out to be quite manageable, in hindsight, but I do recall being really nervous and careful as I was making all the different components and it definitely didn’t help that the recipe would say stuff like…”extremely fragile”. The cake consists of 7 layers (starting from the bottom): cinnamon cookie, genoise, twenty-hour apples, bavarian cream, genoise, cinnamon cookie, sliced apples.

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Chinese New Year and pineapple tarts

With Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year almost back to back, the different occassions seemed like it never really ended and started again, rather, it felt as if it went by in one continuous stretch. Yet, the end of the entire holiday season kind of hit me in my face. With reality set in so quickly, I don’t think I’ve quite recovered and gotten enough of Chinese New Year! I still think of coffee lapis cake, dumplings and not to mention, my absolute favorite pineapple tarts.

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To be honest, I don’t think I’ve eaten as many pineapple tarts as I’ve had this Chinese New Year. Somehow, this Chinese New Year rekindled my love and longing for pineapple tarts. Whenever we go house visiting, I would kinda spy around to spot if there’re any pineapple tarts among the stash of Chinese New Year goodies. Trying all the different kinds of pineapple tarts made me realized that my grandmother’s pineapple tarts are indeed the best!

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Comfort food – Jambalaya recipe

sausages, ham, scallops, prawns, spice, mmmmm….

The TAOs first cooked Jambalaya for Jon and I during one of our many visits and it definitely did not help subside our cravings given that the TAOs would try to cook it for us as often as possible. Jambalaya is certainly comfort food and it is the best feeling when you eat it during the winter months because Jamabalaya will make your stomach feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

Cooking this dish requires a bit of hard work at the start but all in all, it is a pretty easy dish to make. The only challenge would be to get fresh seafood, which was in abundance all year round for us back when we were in Seattle. This dish is also highly customizable and you can put in more of the seafood you like and less or none of the seafood you don’t like.

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Since we were back in Singapore, Jon has cooked this dish 3 times and each time, it has always been a hit! Whenever Jon suggests to cook Jambalaya at home, we usually all respond to him with a…”yesssssssss jambalayaaaaaaaaa!!!!” and throughout the day, my younger sister, Jane, would come to me grinning ear to ear saying “we’re gonna have jambalaya for dinnerrrrr!!!” Yes, it is really that good!

I took this picture from a recent Jambalaya dinner with the TAOs and I love how colourful and happy looking their plates look <3

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Just before I end this post, I just wanted to say that it really made my weekend when I received a newsletter from David Lebovitz and he has released a new book – My Paris Kitchen. So excited! *pre-ordering*

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Jamabalaya
Recipe from the TAOs
Serves 4 hungry people – 6 (normal people?)

1.5 lb smoked ham or a combination of ham and sausages
2 sausages of your choice, sliced (we like using spicy sausages!)
2 tbsp oil
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 onion, diced
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced, or 2 cups canned tomatoes crushed
1 clove of garlic crushed
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
0.5 tsp crushed dried red pepper (or more, to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 lb seafood (shrimp, large scallops, squid, etc)

Instructions:
1. Cut the smoked ham (and sausages) into small pieces and process through a blender till it looks like the picture below. The bamix works best for me. Slice the sausages and set aside.

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2. In a pan, heat the oil and fry the onion, green pepper, ham and sausages until they are beginning to brown.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients except the seafood and let it simmer until meat is cooked. If you do not find the sauce “red” enough, feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree.  At this point, the sauce can be frozen for later use or kept in the refrigerator for 2 days. Ensure that the sauce is cooked to room temperature before storing. When ready to eat, put sauce in a saucepan and simmer until very hot.

4. 10 minutes before serving, add scallops and stir the sauce all over the scallops to ensure that the scallop cooks evenly. Add in the shrimp and stir. Do not overcook.

5. Pour Jambalaya into a large serving bowl and serve with rice.

Note: Real jambalaya is usually cooked with the rice in it. However, we’ve found the jambalaya more versatile if it is cooked separately from the rice as it risks the seafood from getting cooked too well done. Also, I don’t quite like my rice too soaked through with sauce and helps with the portion control since some people like less rice while others like more.

Lemon and almond shortbread cookies

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Imagine the lemony smell permeate through your house as your first batch of cookies are almost done. As you take your first bite, the buttery, sweet and lemony taste explodes at the tip of your tongue. Then, you notice that little crunch and there you have it…cookie bliss.

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I recall baking hundreds of these during the holiday season last year. It just felt right to bake it again this year. 6 hours a day I stood, for the past 2 days…feet sore, shoulders aching, but how happy I felt! It has been too long since I felt that…happily tired.

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I had the sweet company of a family friend’s daughter, Maya. One of the few children (as of yet) to call me Aunty :P Such an adorable smile she has!

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She was a happy helper, running between trying to cut out shapes from the buttery dough to spell her name, to finding the cat and convincing us that she needs the cat to come out, to running around with the hysterical dog and yelling “sit!!!!!” And finally, to jumping with excitement upon hearing that she could feed the fish. And don’t worry, she washed her hands between each interval :P

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These cookies are a joy to bake. Few ingredients, mixes together in minutes, and packed with buttery goodness. I especially like it that with a bit of effort (see below), it’s terribly easy to make these cookies look equally sized with perfect edges. Nothing about it not to like!

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Lemon and Almond Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 40 cookies. Double or triple the recipe to make more.

Ingredients:
225g (1 cup or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
grated lemon peel of 1 unsprayed lemon
2 tsp lemon essence
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond slices, chopped

Directions:

1. Put the butter in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and mix until soft and creamy.

2. Add sugar, salt, lemon peel and lemon essence and mix until just incorporated.

3. With mixer on low, add in the flour and mix until just incorporated. At this point, you might want to taste a little of the batter just to taste if the lemon taste is strong enough. If not, add a little more, bearing in mind to be careful not to add too much as it can make the dough sweet.

4. Add in chopped almonds and mix just until incorporated.

5. My preferred method to ensure that cookies are evenly sized: Roll half the dough using a rolling pin in between sheets of cling film to about 3/8 inch thick and put in fridge to chill for about 30 minutes or if dough feels hard to the touch.

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Slice and bake: Roll dough in logs and wrap in cling wrap or parchment paper with diameter of about 1.5inches. Chill in fridge for about 30 minutes or until dough feels hard to the touch.

5.Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C and line baking sheets with parchment paper. If you decide to use my preferred method, working with 1 slab of dough at a time, cut out using a cutter (intricate shapes not preferred) and lay on baking sheet to bake.

Slice and bake: Working with one log at a time, cut slices about 3/8 inches thick and lay onto parchment paper.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until cookies are slightly (yes, just slightly!) brown. Cookies look best when they are still mostly pale. Cookie shapes will hold best when they’re put into the oven cold.

Additional note:
If you’re not used to baking in large quantities, baking 2 trays of cookies and at the same time, cutting shapes out for new trays can be stressful. Cookies look best when they are either left to bake till completion in the middle of the oven but since that just doubles the baking time, I would usually put 2 trays at once. In this case, it will be best to start off with cookies at the bottom and finish off with cookies on top. Follow these steps…they’ve worked really well for me:

1. Position your 2 oven racks equally in the oven, leaving equal spaces between. Preheat you oven.

2. Approximate the time the cookies will take. This will require some trial and error as all ovens are different. For a start, recipes will generally give you a pretty good idea. In my oven, these shortbread cookies are at at its best at about 16 minutes.

3. After the oven is preheated, put in your first tray of cookies at the bottom rack. Don’t be tempted to put another tray of cookies on the top rack yet. Use a countdown timer to start timing half of the total time, i.e. in my case, it will be 8 minutes.

4. Before the 8 minutes is up, have your second tray of cookies ready. When 8 minutes is up, open the oven and shift the bottom tray of half baked cookies to the top. Put in the new tray of cookies at the bottom. Time for 8 minutes again.

5. Before the time is up, have your third tray of cookies ready. When the 8 minutes is up again, the top tray of cookies should be done – remove from oven and put it on a cooling rack. Shift the bottom tray to the top and put in your new tray of cookies.

I usually bake anywhere between 5 to 12 trays at a time and have found this method is extremely efficient – helps you to keep track of the timings easily while ensuring that your cookies are evenly baked :)

cake design using almonds

I’ve tried decorating the sides of my cakes with nuts a number of times using a range of different methods. I would usually start by toasting the nuts and chopping them up. After which, it is up to my imagination to get them to stick.

On some days, I would try to grab as much chopped nuts as possible and moving quickly, try to press them onto the cake. But usually, no matter how fast I am, the nuts would slip off my hands before they go on the cake and I would end up touching the icing. On other days, I would use the “throwing” method where I would “throw” the nuts onto the sides of the cake. Unfortunately, it would usually lead to uneven sides and nuts all over the table.

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Last week, my mom asked me to bake a hummingbird cake for a birthday and I decided that I would, for once, spend some time and get the nuts right. Mustering up all the energy I had left, I decided to…lay the almonds one by one. I got down on my knees so that I would be on the same level as the cake on the table, put all the toasted sliced almonds next to me, and working as quickly as I could, I started from the top and laid the almonds one by one.

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national day + many things to be happy about!

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Yesterday was Singapore’s 48th birthday. For my immediate and extended family, it is a day where we get together, have a feast and watch the national day parade on television. It is actually pretty exciting because from where I stay, we can hear a little of the activities going on, such as the helicopters and when the F16s flown by the Singapore Air Force flies by the house. Year on year, the sequence of the national day parade is somewhat predictable, which in my opinion makes it quite fun. We’ll always ask questions like “has the contingent marched out?” “is the President out yet?” just to ensure we don’t miss out on anything.

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cannelloni stuffed minced beef recipe

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Annabel (aka Bel) and I were at the supermarket quite a while ago and as we walked through the pasta section, she pointed out Barilla’s Cannelloni, asking me if I had seen such a pasta shape before. Despite being quite a pasta fan, I have never noticed nor tried it before. We decided to get it. Bel is a really awesome cook and one day, we were surprised with cannelloni stuffed with minced beef for dinner – it was heavenly!

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