Cake from Around the World

Lamingtons. Has anyone else heard of these? They are little sponge cakes drenched in a chocolate sauce and rolled around in "dessicated" coconut, and they hail from New Zealand. Or maybe Australia originally, but for all intents and purposes, we're going to say New Zealand. See, I have this culture class - Nutrition and Culture - and we had to choose a country and essentially become experts in it over the course of the semester. It ends with a food tasting where we all make little samples of classic dishes, so of course I baked.

And this is what came of it: Little rectangles of moist sponge cake soaked in cocoa powder, butter, and levels of confectioner's sugar that should be illegal, and topped with just enough coconut (alas, not "dessicated") to keep them traditional without forcing my mostly coconut-averse peers to eat lumps and lumps of the stuff.

My one complaint is that the chocolate didn't set - and really, I don't know why I was expecting it to. After all, the recipe called for cocoa powder, not chocolate chips, so the cakes are now being stored awkwardly in my much-too-small dorm refrigerator, as I sit here worrying about them and fussing over them in the hopes that they will not dry out or melt away before class time comes. I'm happy that I stuck to the recipe closely, as it's supposed to be an example of what New Zealander's typically eat, but if I make this in the future (and I just might!), I will be sure to experiment with a chocolate glaze/coating that will set. I will also replace the coconut with one of any number of toppings: nuts, chocolate shavings, chocolate chips, candies, powdered sugar, sprinkles, fondant, edible flowers - the possibilities are endless!

I'm sorry that I don't have step by step pictures of the process. I'm continually debating whether I should have more or less pictures than I currently provide - as I don't know how to put my text behind a cut, I'm afraid too many will make my blog tedious to scroll through. However, I've read blogs that do step-by-step pictures alongside instructions, and it's an interesting approach.

For now, just this one picture, and the following ridiculously-simple but very tasty recipe for (what google informs me is) a well-loved New Zealand dessert. Also, I doubled this recipe and baked it in a 9x13 pyrex lasagna dish (it was all I had). I mean, I had to feed 40 people, and was worried that it would take me a few trials before I got the hang of the chocolate-coating process.

Lamingtons, courtesy of About.Com
for the cakes:
2 C all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt (omitted - you should know that by now!)
2 large eggs
1/2 C (1 stick) room temperature butter
3/4 C white sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 C milk (I used 2%, what we had in the house)
for the chocolate coating:
2 C powdered sugar (I didn't exactly measure this...)
1/3 C cocoa powder
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 C milk
*unspecified amounts of "dessicated" coconut (because I didn't roll them in it as the recipe called for, I can't tell you how much you'll need; however, I can tell you that I used sweetened coconut because it was the only coconut available in the store.)
*whipped cream for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C)
2. Lightly butter an 8 inch square cake tin. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
4. In a separate bowl, use an electric beater to cream the butter and sugar mixture together until pale and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter/sugar mixture. Beat well after adding each egg.
6. Add the vanilla to the mixture and mix well to combine.
7. Next, use a spatula to alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, starting and finishing with the flour.
8. Spread the batter into the cake tin, making sure it's evenly spread.
9. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. Test the center of the cake with a toothpick and make sure it comes out clean.
10. Cool the cake in the tin for about 5 minutes and then invert it onto a wire rack to cool.
11. Once the cake has cooled cut it into squares of a desired size and place them in an airtight container. Pop the container in the fridge for at least 2 hours or even overnight.
12. Now for the icing. Place the icing sugar, cocoa powder, butter and milk in a heat proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.
13. Stir the mixture until it is smooth but still a bit thick. You don't want the liquid to get too thin otherwise the sponge cake won't absorb the coating.
14. Now it's time to assemble the Lamingtons. Put out some newspaper under wire racks to catch any mess. Place the cake pieces on the racks and have your chocolate icing and desiccated coconut ready.
15. Quickly coat the sponge cake on all sides in the icing mixture and then gently roll the cake in the coconut. Repeat the process.
16. The Lamingtons can be stored in an airtight container for 5 days.

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S'more Baking

Today, I accomplished a "first:" for the first time, in two years of being in college, I used a dorm kitchen.

And I survived. And so did my project.

Honestly, I don't really know why I have been so against it for so long. I'm sure it's a combination of my first dorm having an old, beat-up and constantly dirty kitchen that you could hardly turn around in, and the harsh stereotype that such dorm kitchens have developed for all dorm kitchens nationwide. But you see, I have the privilege this year of living in a brand spanking new dorm, with a brand spanking new kitchen that is, quite frankly, roughly 1.5x the size of the kitchen in the apartment I'll be living in next year.

So, it was with unfounded trepidation that I entered into the kitchen this afternoon, roommate in tow for company, to bake a treat to bring with me for an induction ceremony I'm attending tomorrow night. And despite having a fully equipped kitchen at my disposal, I nonetheless wanted to keep things simple - after all, I only had one set of ingredients to work with, and if I messed up, I believe it would be Entenman's to the rescue. Or, more realistically, I would've hung my head in shame and pretended I never signed up for anything to begin with, because I can't have store bought goods associated with my name. I have a reputation to uphold, you know?

I settled on a blondie recipe over at Smitten Kitchen (which I am, for the record, pretty smitten with) that seemed dirt simple, yet sufficiently tempting and delicious-seeming. Of course, I couldn't just hand over a simple blondie for my peers to eat. How Plain! It had to be fun, different, and much more effort than that - because as my mother likes to say of me, I really don't know how to do anything normal. Or simple.
So, I set off on my grocery store run - now, all of you folks with normal kitchens and living arrangements probably have absolutely everything this recipe calls for, but seeing as how I keep my room stocked with cheerios, yogurt, and the occasional piece of fruit if I'm lucky, I had some work to do. I also needed inspiration for my anything-but-just-plain-blondies*; clearly, a visit to the candy aisle was in order. I picked up some m&ms, then I considered a chocolate-peanut butter chip version, then I sat contemplating the twix bars and wondering how well they would chop up and mix in with the batter.
But then I found these:

Marshmallows! I picked them up with one hand and grabbed a bag of chocolate chunks in the other, and weighed the possibilities in my mind. While nothing revolutionary, the idea of a s'mores blondie called out to me. I had never attempted something along those lines, it was classic enough to appeal to the average college kid, and it was certainly not-just-a-plain-blondie.

This required some further research, though, and after sifting through two pages of google searches on s'mores bars, I had my plan of attack.S'mores Blondies, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen and the lovely people of google world
1 stick butter, melted
1 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp almond extract (I used vanilla)1 C all purpose flour
a pinch of salt (omitted!)
1 bag chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
1/2 bag (roughly) mini marshmallows

1. Preheat the oven to 350 and grease either a 9x13" pan, two 8x8" pans, or - if you'd like a traditionally thick blondie, as the recipe calls for - one 8x8" pan. Because of all of the toppings I was adding, I spread the batter thin over two pans, and I think they turned out well (although they haven't undergone a taste test yet, so I may retract that statement at a later date...)
2. Mix the melted butter and sugar, whisking until smooth.
3. Add in the egg and vanilla, beating thoroughly.
4. Add the salt (if using) and stir in the flour.5. Bake the blondies for roughly 20-25 minutes or until the center sets. I thought that mine would take less time, as mine were half as thick as the recipe intended, but they took the full time, and even then I wouldn't be surprised if cutting into them later today reveals a slightly gooey center (not that I will complain).
6. With roughly 5-10 minutes left, remove the pan(s) from the oven and layer fairly evenly first with chocolate, and then with marshmallows. Return to the over and finish baking.
7. My marshmallows hadn't browned at this point, and with the blondies having been in there for a full 30 minutes, I didn't want to kill the cookie layer by overcooking. So, I preheated the broiler and broiled them for no more than a minute to give the marshmallows a perfectly toasted, golden look.

This process, which takes no more than an hour from start to finish (I would imagine no more than 40 minutes for those who move more quickly than I do in a kitchen), will leave you with these gems:

The one on the left could have used a little longer under the broiler - I confess, I was using disposable aluminum pans, and when trying to pull that one out of the oven to switch it to the broiler, I accidentally punched up that corner that didn't brown. I'm not really sure why the convex corner refused to brown, especially since it was consequently closer to the broiler coil, but c'est la vie. I think the (abysmal) lighting also makes them look less brown than they actually are; I apologize for that. If I wind up cutting them and putting them in some serving platter that I don't think I possess in this room, I will take a picture of their insides - I know I'm at least itching to see them in all of their layered glory (I hope)!

So, dorm kitchen cooking was a success, and I feel absolutely silly for taking two years to come to this conclusion - a mere 2 weeks before I leave dorm living for good, of course. Maybe it'll even persuade me to make another appearance in this kitchen before the end of the year, but really...well, we'll see.

*Note: I realized that this post seems to be bashing the regular, Plain Jane blondie, and I am certainly not. I love eating a simple, little thick-cookie-cakey-bar-concoction, without the help of toppings and additives. However, I can never muster up the enthusiasm about actually baking such understated delights, and instead always give in to the temptation of over-indulging my imagination and doctoring opportunities. I'm sure that these blondies are delicious plain, and yes, I should have tried them as they were before diving into the recipe with a scalpel, but when preparing something for a potluck ceremony, I could not leave things well alone. Forgive me, purists and lovers of the small things in life. One day, I hope to get over myself enough to join you, but for now, these are the antics I ask you to endure.

Update: I had every intention of photographing the insides of this gooey treat and posting them, but they were all devoured at tonight's ceremony before I had the chance. Needless to say, they were a sweeping success, and I'm starting to think I should slightly under-cook my cookie bars/blondies more often!

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When life hands you a bushel of bananas...

I lied to you, you mysterious internet peruse-ers out there. I told you back in the days of Passover 2010 that I would update within the following week with my delicious, innovative Strawberry Mango Crisp dessert. And then, as things tend to go at school, my mind strayed to less interesting yet clearly more pertinent to my eventual graduation things, and now here we are, still twiddling our thumbs until my recipe decides to show its sorry face.
I'm not posting it tonight, either.

You see, I did this 5k Walk for Hunger over the weekend, and halfway through they handed us all big bushels of bananas - seriously, seven bananas per person. I'm not sure why, since none of us were hungry in the serious or long-term sense of the word, nor could any of us eat a whopping seven bananas over the course of the roughly 1.5 remaining miles. Maybe they didn't think the 5k was challenging enough, and so they added several pounds of banana weights to our loads. Regardless, I came home 7 bananas richer than I left, and by the next day, they were all a beautiful brown, begging for banana bread. Two loaves worth, in fact.

I have this killer recipe that everyone who tastes falls in love with. It's nothing more than a simple Food Network steal, but it turns out perfectly every time, so who's to argue? Still, there was this other recipe that has been calling to me, intriguing me, for months, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try it up against the tried and true recipe. I bookmark thousands of recipes (you think I'm exaggerating), yet I am constantly thinking about this one saved recipe: naturally sweetened banana bread - whole wheat flour, applesauce instead of butter, bringing the sugar of the bananas out in place of any added sweeteners. Curious, aren't you?

How curious do you become when I tell you that it rose beautifully, baked perfectly, and made me a very proud baker when I pulled it out of the oven?

Maybe you don't share my enthusiasm, but if that's the case, I will now tell you that upon tasting it, my enthusiasm dwindled. Severely. And then my family tried it - and deflated my ego down into negative values. Rubbery. Bland. Dry. My grandmother pointed to the piece on her plate with just one bite taken from it, and told me the rest was going in the trash.

I didn't think it was that bad. The banana flavor definitely did not come through, and I can't figure out why. Does applesauce cancel out banana flavors? Does added sugar enhance it? Anyone? Help!?

I haven't given up on it, though. We all agreed that a combination of the two recipes might be in order - an experiment that I will tackle over the summer, perhaps. You see, "my" original recipe is pretty perfect, but the temptation to slim it down a little bit (I know, I know, some things need to be full-fat and beautiful as the world intended them to be) is too much to bear. I am all for high calorie, decadent chocolate cakes, but banana bread with its masquerade as breakfast food? It could use a few fewer slabs of butter and heaps of sugar. It is pretty darn sweet, after all, and I think a slight modification in that department might not hurt, at the very least.

Anyway, I would appreciate any input any of you ghost readers out there may have. Have you experienced this before? Do you have a favorite banana bread recipe?

While you ponder these thought-provoking questions, I leave you with the recipes:

Banana (Walnut) Bread, courtesy of
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (Note: I have successfully swapped in all whole-wheat flour several times)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt (of course, omitted, thanks to mama's salted butter)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 C unsalted butter
1 C sugar
3 very ripe bananas (the ones I had were enormous, so I just used two)
1/2 C toasted walnut pieces (I wish I could bake it with these, but no one in my family will eat nuts in their food, so I have always made it without).


Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl, set aside. Whisk the eggs and vanilla together in a liquid measuring cup with a spout, set aside. Lightly brush a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan with butter. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric hand-held mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually pour the egg mixture into the butter while mixing until incorporated. Add the bananas (the mixture will appear to be curdled, so don't worry), and remove the bowl from the mixer.

With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Fold in the nuts and transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Turn the bread out of the pan and let cool completely on the rack. Wrap in plastic wrap. The banana bread is best if served the next day.

Naturally Sweetened Banana Bread


3 Mashed Bananas

1/3 C vegetable oil, butter, or applesauce

2 eggs

2 C flour (whatever you desire - I didn't have whole wheat on hand so I used all purpose)

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 C chopped nuts (again, omitted)

Pinch of Salt (omitted)


Mash bananas in a bowl. Add oil (or butter) and eggs and mix until creamy. Mix in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the nuts.

Oil a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Pour mixture into pan. Bake at 325°F for 45 minutes to an hour. To check if it’s done, insert a knife or toothpick in center and if it comes out clean, it’s cooked.

Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice.

Overall, I'm happy I had the opportunity to do this experiment, but disappointed with the results. I will never continue to serve a lackluster dessert just because it's a healthier version - it's dessert for a reason - but I always hope to get the best of both worlds. I'm not done working with these two recipes, though.

As for that Mango Strawberry Crisp, I'm sure it will grace these pages eventually...and until my withholding a recipe induces a cyber riot, I feel comfortable keeping it in the archives. For a rainy day. Or boredom.

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Turkey Turnovers & Passover ("Matzah-Ball") Rolls

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. I feel like my mom saying that - not because she often complains about cooking, but just because she does so much, almost always has a home-cooked meal on the table for all of us, and yet receives very little appreciation. So no, she never says those words, but if she hasn't thought them before, she is clearly a saint. Which is possible.

Last night was one of those nights where I seriously called into question why I'm doing all of this - why I spend at least three hours of my weekends in the kitchen (one of these days I will learn to cook a full dinner from prep to finish in under three hours, like normal people), chopping and trimming and cooking away, to wind up with an under-enthusiastic crowd, one member of whom continually fails to even taste what I present. I'm given the whole, "it's not you, it's me" spiel, but I really won't get into the details of this because, after all, this is not my diary. Regardless, it was disheartening.Add Image
So then I got upset and mopey and pissed off, and - being the wonderfully composed and 100% mature female that I am - dissolved into tears in the hallway when saying goodbye to my boyfriend (who dutifully comes over to witness as many meals of mine as he can). He reminded me that I don't cook for them; I cook for myself. And that even if they don't give me a standing ovation for my efforts, he thinks they enjoy the meal (when they try it). And then he left me to my own thoughts, and though I am still looking for my self confidence, which ran out the window last night as I served the meal, I know that he's right. I do this for me. I do this to learn...and I am certainly learning.

Maybe my disappointment in my dinner's meekly positive reviews (don't get me wrong, it tasted really good and everyone said they enjoyed it; their approval, however, was simply kind as opposed to enthusiastic) lies in the fact that I had such high expectations. Last night, for the first time I ever, I doctored up the recipe - on purpose. As in, not because one ingredient was fussy or another was too expensive - but because I just got an idea for some added flavors and decided to go with it. Actually, I take that back - I used dried dill instead of the fennel seeds, mostly because my family didn't know what to do with the leftover fennel seeds and I didn't want them to go to waste. But the mushrooms you see in that pan? All me. America's Next Top Chef, right?

The Passover Rolls were also a gamble that I was hoping would be a success and, consequently, impressive. They turned out roughly how you would imagine a matzah-meal based dough would turn out: heavy. The flavor was nice and they cooked how they were supposed to, but whether it be a result of my larger-than-necessary dough balls or, perhaps, matzah meal instead of cake meal, they really did taste like doughy matzah balls. Not that this is a bad thing. And they tasted delicious the next day with a little bit of homemade pomegranate jelly...

Turkey Turnovers, courtesy of Rachael Ray
Yield: 4 Servings
4 turkey cutlets (1 pound total)
Salt and pepper (omission: salt)
4 tablespoons soft herb cheese,such as Boursin
2 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, chopped (substitution: a generous sprinkling of dried dill)
*addition: 1/2 pack of Baby Bella Mushrooms, rinsed and - for the larger ones - halved

1. Pound the turkey cutlets 1/4 inch thick and season with salt and pepper.
2. Spoon 1 tablespoon cheese in the center of each cutlet and top with the spinach.
3. Fold the cutlets in half and close with a toothpick.
4. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
5. Add the cutlets and cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side.
6. Add the tomatoes with their juice and the fennel seeds; bring to a boil.
7. Lower the heat, cover and simmer until the turkey is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
*Note: To elaborate on why I was so disappointed by this meal initially, the turkey didn't fully cook. As this is the second time in only a little while that I have served undercooked and - in this case - raw meat, I was shamed. Because of the stuffing, the 10-minute simmering was only enough to cook the side of the meat touching the pan. I remedied this by adding the meat back into the pan (with an attitude), but to prevent this you might want to flip the cutlets mid-simmer and, unlike my careless habits, actually check your meat - be it with a thermometer or just cutting into it (I know that's technically a no-no, shhh!) before serving it to people you care about.

Passover Rolls, courtesy of
Yield: 20 cream puffs or 10-12 dinner rolls (you can tell right here why mine went wrong - I wound up with only six...whoops!)
⅔ Cup Water
⅓ Cup Peanut Oil (Butter for cream puffs) (substitution: canola oil, simply because peanut oil was only being sold in alleged vats, and nut oils turn rancid way too quickly for such copious amounts)
1 Cup Matzo Meal (use Matzo Cake Meal for cream puffs)
1 tsp. Sugar
1/2 tsp. Salt
3 Eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Boil the water and oil together, add the dry ingredients, stir with a wooden spoon to mix well. 3. Allow to cool slightly and, using a handheld beater, beat in the eggs, one at a time.
4. Allow to rest for a few minutes.
5. Line a sheet pan with parchment or Silpat. Portion dough into balls using a disher, drop into wet hands (with oil or water) and gently roll into a ball.
6. For (about 20) bite sized cream puffs, use a very small disher and bake for 25-30 minutes; for (10-12) dinner rolls or larger cream puffs, use a medium sized disher and bake for about 40 minutes; for (5-6) larger rolls for sandwiches, use a large disher and bake for 50-60 minutes.
7. Bake until golden.

Overall, the meal was tasty. Everyone pretty much cleared their plates (or else never filled them to begin with, but again, that's another story), and aside from a few minor adjustments and finally becoming convinced to use my handy meat thermometer, it went well.

That is, particularly after I served dessert - a Passover-friendly fruit crisp - but we'll save that post for another day.

Happy Easter to all who celebrate!

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