Baking - General

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

I don’t like spicy things very much, so most of the things I make are on the sweet side. My husband, on the other hand, loves spice. He is a big fan of pepper jellies, eating it not only as an appetizer on crackers with cheese, but also on his toast in the morning. (I could handle the crackers and cheese, but not on toast for breakfast). Anyway, I’ve been stock-piling quite a few jams and jellies with the various berries that are in season right now, and got to thinking that I should probably make something he would really enjoy too.

I found a recipe in my canning book for Easy Jalapeno Pepper Jelly. The title did not lie, it was super easy. I was a bit reluctant, because I know that cutting and handling hot peppers can be risky business, especially for someone who doesn’t like them. But all I had to do was cut off the tops, scoop out the seeds, and toss them in the blender. No chopping itty bitty pieces getting my fingers coated in hot pepper juice, this was my kind of recipe.

After they were blended with some cider vinegar, I cooked them up with more vinegar and sugar – standing back a bit to avoid the fumes – added in the pectin when it was time, and ladeled it into the jars. Easy peasy. The recipe suggested for a hotter jelly you could wrap some of the seeds in cheesecloth and let it infuse the cooking jelly, removing just before adding the pectin. I would have tried this, but didn’t have any cheesecloth on hand. Maybe next time.

I have to confess, I didn’t even taste test to make sure it was okay. But my husband has had it on his toast a few times now, so I guess it was a success!

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights, Recipe

Banana Bread Muffins

I have discovered that my favourite banana muffin recipe isn’t a muffin recipe at all. Well, I guess I didn’t discover it, because I always knew, but it was a bit of an experiment when I tried it.

The recipe I had been using was a very basic muffin recipe that had various adaptations, to make them into, say, blueberry muffins, oatmeal, cranberry etc., and banana. They were great fresh from the oven, but the next day they always seemed to be dried out. I would try freezing them as soon as they were cool to try and preserve the freshness, but I was never satisfied.

Banana bread muffins with chocolate and cranberries.
Banana bread muffins with chocolate and cranberries.

I decided to try a new approach. I found a banana bread recipe, and because I didn’t want to wait around for an hour for it to bake, I chose to make it in muffin tins, thereby decreasing the time needed to bake. They were very moist fresh from the oven, and stayed moist for several days! I was so happy! I even tried using whole wheat flour, and they still stayed moist.

So what’s the difference? They’re both quick breads, with basically the same ingredients. Why would one come out more moist than the other? I would say it’s because of the amount of each ingredient. I think because a loaf of banana bread is a larger mass and requires more time to bake, it has a higher quantity of ingredients that add more moisture; so as it bakes and the moisture evaporates away it will still come out moist. By putting the bread recipe into muffin tins, they have the same amount of moisture but aren’t baked as long, so not as much moisture is evaporated away, leaving a lovely moist crumb for the muffins. The banana bread recipe I now use calls for slightly less flour than the muffin recipe, more banana, and two eggs instead of one. It also calls for more sugar, and brown instead of white, which adds to the texture. I experimented with one batch by decreasing the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and they came out just as nice.

Here’s the banana bread recipe, with directions for bread or muffins:

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together 1 1/2 cups unbleached or whole wheat flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt; set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, blend together in this order: 1/3 cup oil, 3/4 (or 1/2) cup brown sugar, 1 cup mashed ripe bananas, 2 eggs, 1/3 cup milk, 1 tsp vanilla.
  • Stir dry ingredients into banana mixture until just blended.
  • For banana bread: turn batter into greased and floured 9″x5″ loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
  • For muffins: scoop into greased muffin tins. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 1 dozen.
  • You can also add anything to make them more interesting: nuts, seeds, chocolate chips, raisins; or my favourite combo right now, dried cranberries and dark chocolate pieces! Yummy!
Ingredient Insights

To Butter or not to Butter?

I thought that since I’m now over a year old I would branch out a little bit and do more of an opinion piece this week than a practical one; and it has more to do with eating a baked good than producing one.

I remember back in highschool getting together with some friends and having biscuits with strawberry jam, and one friend was horrified at the thought of spreading jam on a biscuit without putting butter on it first. I hadn’t really thought much about it, sometimes I put butter on my toast before the jam, and sometimes I didn’t. It wasn’t a necessity for me. But after that I started to wonder if I was crazy for not always putting butter on first.

butter (4)I searched it online a few months ago, just out of curiosity, and discovered that some people had pretty strong opinions on this subject, it was quite surprising. Now, I’ve never been one to jump into a conflict, I tend to take a pretty neutral stance on things; but since reading some of these things, and having some time to taste and think it over I have decided to weigh in on the issue.

I think butter acts as a lubricant for dry toast, making it easier to eat and easier to enjoy whatever spread adorns it. I think if you use salted butter, it enhances the flavours of whatever spread is used. I don’t think butter is mandatory, especially if you are trying to watch what you eat; leaving it off is an easy way to cut down on a small bit of fat consumption. I do not think butter should be used if you are using peanut butter as your main spread. I do think that if you have honey on your toast, or cinnamon sugar, butter is a must, there’s just something about those combinations. And my final thought is that we live in a society where people should be free to use or not use butter on their toast and biscuits without fear of being judged either way. So you can use butter or not, and I will not think any less of you; even if you disagree with me and think butter with peanut butter is a good thing.

I may judge you, however, if you use shortening. That’s just gross.

Baking - Breads, Ingredient Insights

Waffles: Yeast vs. Baking Powder

With my waffle maker came a small collection of waffle recipes, and I was surprised to see that they all used yeast for leavening. Growing up we just used a box of pancake mix, which contains baking powder (somehow they always tasted different from pancakes, even from the same box!), so I thought that waffles were always a quick-bread.

I also noticed in the small recipe booklet that most of the recipes called for separated eggs, where you had to beat the whites to stiff peaks and fold them in to the rest of the batter at the end. This sounded like a lot of work, so the first few times I used my waffle iron, I followed a recipe that you let sit overnight. The yeast would work its magic overnight (kind of like the no-knead bread), and then it was ready to cook when I got up in the morning. That recipe makes nice, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside waffles, that I must say were more like what I’d get in a restaurant than the pancake mix ones we made at home.

I made some waffles on the weekend, but followed a recipe from my favourite bread cookbook, which used baking powder, and also called for separated eggs. I was curious to see what the difference would be. These waffles came out much more dense, and reminded me more of a soft muffin. They were still good, but a very different texture from the lighter yeast ones with which I’m now familiar.

I was also more inclined to try a recipe with separated eggs because I could just toss the egg whites into my mixer and let them whip up while I got all the other ingredients together. It was a breeze! So now I will also have to try one of the yeast recipes that uses separated eggs and see how that goes. What a sacrifice, to have to eat more waffles!

Baking - Breads, Festivals/Events, Recipe

Pancake Day!

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday; also known as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), or as I know it, Pancake Tuesday. In Christian tradition it is the last day before Lent, which is the season of reflection leading up to Easter. Not growing up in a Catholic tradition, I don’t remember as much significance being placed on giving something up for Lent, but I do remember Pancake Tuesday. I eventually learned that Shrove Tuesday was the day to use up all the rich foods in your house – such as milk, eggs and sugar – in preparation for living more simply throughout Lent. And one of the easiest ways to use up milk, eggs, and sugar is to make pancakes!

In honour of this occasion, I decided to find a pancake recipe that would truly reflect the richness of the day. I have a great bread cookbook that has many pancake recipes, and I found one with this description: “These cakes share the luxury of a full cup of sour cream and four eggs. They are outstanding!” So really, I felt an obligation to try this rich recipe, to make sure it was worthy of sharing with you here for your own Pancake Day. And it is most definitely worthy. I hope you will enjoy them!

Sour-Cream Pancakes

Sift together and set aside:

  • 1 c unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 c all-pupose and 1/2 c whole wheat)
  • ¼ c sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt

In a large bowl, beat:

  • 4 eggs

Blend into beaten eggs:

  • 1 c sour cream
  • ¼ c milk

Add dry ingredients to the sour-cream mixture, stirring only until dry ingredients are moistened. Batter will be lumpy; it is all right. Bake on a lightly greased preheated griddle at 375F, turning only once. Serve warm with butter and cinnamon sugar. Makes 12 4-inch pancakes.

We had ours with bananas, homemade strawberry sauce, and ginger syrup. Yum!