I am so excited about this.
These came out tasting almost exactly like Walkers Shortbread, which is an obsession of mine. It’s deliciously buttery and rich, and one is never enough. It’s hard to imagine how something made with just four ingredients–flour, sugar, salt, and butter–can be so tantalizing, but then again, when you think about how much butter goes into these, it’s pretty self-explanatory.
I didn’t understand the magic of Walkers shortbread until I was about eight years old. Being a night owl, I’d stayed up late watching Family Matters reruns one night while everyone else in my family went to bed. During a commercial break I spotted the shortbread in a kitchen cupboard. I’d never been interested in it before–the shortbread basically looked like sticks of butter; try harder, Walkers–but somehow they were tempting that night. That or Steve Urkel was having a weird effect on me, I don’t know.
Usually I’m a cheesecake purist. If it comes topped with any kind of sauce, compote, coulis, or anything more flavorful than, say, whipped cream, I don’t want it. Plain cheesecake is perfect already.
Weirdly, however, there are several over the top cheesecakes on The Cheesecake Factory’s menu that I do love and allow. Cheesecake topped with strawberries is somehow offensive to me and yet I love their chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake, Oreo crust and all. I won’t try to understand it.
This cheesecake, inspired by their banana cream cheesecake, is the first non-plain cheesecake I’ve ever made. That should say something about how delicious it is, and how well it strikes the balance between classic cheesecake and fun interpretation. It adds variety without detracting from what makes cheesecake great, and the sweet banana flavor never overpowers the cheesecake’s natural tang.
About six weeks ago I accepted a job offer, and I celebrated with a slice of banana cream cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. And somehow that wasn’t enough. Because about three weeks later, I found myself with an old, black, squishy banana, and when I looked at it I didn’t see potential banana bread as I’ve always seen before. I saw banana cheesecake.
So I bought cream cheese and graham crackers and set to making that potential a reality.
Let’s do this.
Over the course of three years, I have tried several different butterbeer recipes in an attempt to taste something somewhat close to the official, Rowling-approved version sold at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I didn’t visit the park until October 2014, when I volunteered myself for a work conference upon discovering it would be held near the park in Orlando. So in those three years of darkness, I couldn’t really say whether the recipes I tried were close to the real thing.
But I’d read enough descriptions to know what it should be–like cream soda but with a butterscotch-like flavor. And the versions I tried didn’t quite match up. I’ve tried or read about a few different methods to get that mysterious butterbeer flavor. Methods started with the cream soda base but differed in what they added from there. From a specific flavoring called vanilla butter emulsion to butterscotch syrup to butterscotch schnapps to actual butter heated with brown sugar, none of them seemed ideal. (Especially the last one. I’d rather not drink melted butter in my soda.)
When I finally tried the Rowling-approved butterbeer at the Wizarding World park, I found it tasted almost exactly as the internet had described. I had the frozen version, which was almost slushy-like in consistency. During that day at the park, I ended up buying two mugs of that frozen butterbeer and finishing them both (I shared them with my friend, of course, but I think the split was closer to 90/10 than 50/50. Sorry, Halley. It was totally for science).
I know, I know, health has no place in baking. But in the case of banana bread, I want it to. Banana bread already feels healthy–I mean, it’s got fruit in it–why not roll with it and produce something you can justify eating for breakfast? I never really thought of banana bread as cake anyway; it’s more hearty and flavorful. Adding a little extra health just seems like the natural next step.
This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe.
I was drawn to it from the moment I saw the pictures on Foodess, the recipe source. I remember being so stricken by the pictures because the cake appeared so deeply dark, moist, and chocolatey that it looked black. That’s my kind of cake.
The darkness doesn’t quite come across in my pictures. To be fair there was no recipe for the frosting, so mine was largely improvised; however, this was day one and I swear the frosting got darker as the days progressed. Much like my outlook on life.
The first thing you should know about this bread: I forgot to salt it.
I made this with Tammy, and we didn’t put much effort into it, truthfully–we didn’t do the steam thing to create a crusty exterior (see tip #3 here), nor did we follow our recipe’s instructions to brush the bread with egg white for a shiny crust–but we intended to do the bare minimum. You know, flour. Water. Yeast. Salt.
We realized the error as the loaves were nearly finished rising, and a vigorous shake of salt on top of the loaves before putting them in the oven didn’t do much good. But it didn’t really matter. After impatiently slicing into the still hot bread, steam rising from each cut we made, we sat at the kitchen table and fell into the practice of buttering a slice, adding a sprinkle of salt, and eating it. Again and again and again.
Bread pudding is one of those things you don’t have to be exact with. As long as you throw together some reasonable amounts of milk, sugar, eggs, bread, and whatever flavorings suit you, chances are you have yourself a decent bread pudding. And this drives me up the wall.
Loosey-goosey ratios mean that there’s a huge variance from recipe to recipe–such a large variance that someone like me, who likes to review several different recipes to find a pattern or middle ground, is left at a loss because ratios in the recipes are so drastically different from one another and I don’t know who to trust. I want that perfect texture–something soft and silky on the bottom layer, with a slight bite to the top layer. And I can’t trust that any recipe I choose will guarantee that–I’ve seen the homogenous, soggy sponges of bread puddings made with too much liquid and I don’t want any part of it.
There is a blog dedicated specifically to pumpkin waffles. It hosts one recipe and it’s great.
I found it particularly helpful because this waffles thing is new to me. When I got my first waffle maker for my birthday a few months ago, I wasn’t sure where to start. The waffle maker’s recipe booklet had a few recipes, though I didn’t entirely trust them–its recipes didn’t call for separating the eggs, and I’ve read that you’re supposed to whip the egg whites separately and fold them into the batter or the waffle will come out dense and terrible? I’ve made them both ways and I’m sure there’s a noticeable difference, but then again both times I was too hungry and excited about waffles to pay attention to things like density. I’m not a scientist.
I don’t like sugar cookies. Bland in flavor, crackled tops, and an unappealing texture–crispy, with maybe a little softness in the center if I’m lucky. I don’t do snickerdoodles, either; they’re just sugar cookies trying to be interesting.
As a result, I never made sugar cookies growing up. My go-to Christmas cookie recipe was the Land O’Lakes butter cookie recipe, conveniently printed inside the cardboard carton our butter came in. Like sugar cookies, these are rolled out and cut with cookie cutters. But these ones have flat, smooth tops, no crinkles in sight. And with no danger of becoming cakey, the texture is entirely in your control. You can roll it thinly at about 1/8″ for crispy cookies, or you can go thicker–I prefer 1/4″, 1/2″ if I’m daring–for fat, buttery cookies with a soft interior. I love picking the thickest cookie and biting all the edges until I’m left with the absolute middle. It tastes a little bit raw in the best possible way.
This is a midnight cake.
I made this late one night, after a day of trying and failing to make treacle tart. Days when baking fails you are always disappointing–not just because a recipe didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, but because at the end of the day you’re left without dessert. And that just won’t do.