This very week, each year, I’m faced with immense vacation guilt. If you’ve been reading the site for awhile, you know that Sam and I visit my mom’s cabin in Upstate New York for July 4th each year. Grandparents, aunts and uncles come. A small handful of cousins along with a few novels, a bit of sunscreen, and some old tennis rackets. What doesn’t come along are work emails or granola orders or vendor spreadsheets. And at first I always feel like the world might come crashing down if I leave these things for one week. And then I always return and pick up right where I left off … with a decided lack of world-crashing-down. So I’m reminding myself of that this morning, one day before we take off, with just enough time for me to share these delicious fresh banana blondies with you.
About a month ago, I received Dan Lepard’s indispensable baking book, Short & Sweet, in the mail. I think that if you had to own just three baking books, this should be one of them. Lepard writes a baking column for The Guardian with recipes that maintain a real likeable simplicity while still taking swift yet subtle forays into new places — especially in regards to whole grain flours (and I love this about him). There are Rye Hazelnut Brownies, Blueberry Creme Fraiche Cupcakes and a Marmalade Layer Cake. There are Raspberry Ripple Tarts and Sticky Toffee Apple Buns. He also has a wonderful chapter on bread baking, with accessible recipes for quick loaves, rolls, baguettes and whole-wheat breads (hellllooo walnut loaf!). It was almost impossible to choose just one recipe but the Banana Blondies really stuck out so I gathered up a few ingredients and set out to make what I knew would be the perfect treat for us to travel with.
And then I changed the whole recipe. Not deliberately and not so I could claim that I’d “adapted” it at the bottom of this post. In truth: I didn’t want to use white flour like the recipe called for and have, instead, been wanting to experiment more with einkorn flour (more below). I also didn’t want to use white sugar. And Lepard calls for this scrumptious sounding toffee that you make and fold in and, well, I’m truly awful at making toffee. So I changed everything up and added walnuts and chocolate instead — and while I’m sure Lepard’s recipe is divine, these are too. And because of that, I can’t wait to continue to draw inspiration from this book all summer long.
If any occasion were worthy of fresh banana blondies, it would be one in which my first cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings, goes on sale for pre-order on Amazon. It doesn’t officially release until January 1, but you can order it now and you’ll be one of the first to get it at the start of the New Year. I know many of you have followed along from the first announcement to the preview of the photo shoot, so I wanted to give you the latest update. My publisher and I had a lot of back and forth discussions about the cover with many differing opinions and weeks and weeks of nail-biting, but at the end of the day, this is truly a book that I’ll be so happy to own and that I’m already cooking from often. If you like and frequent this space, I think you’re going to like it as much as I do. And as a sidenote, I’m also on Goodreads where I often list what I’m reading and where you can learn even more about the cookbook. I’d love to connect with you all there, too!
Because I won’t be back here for a little over a week, I wanted to leave you with something more than a recipe for the best-ever blondies. I wanted to leave you with a few lines from a new-to-me-poem by a beloved poet. In her poem, Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches, Mary Oliver, asks: “Listen! Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” Later she notes that, if not: “Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!” So that’s what we’re about to do. Dusting off the tennis rackets, picking out a few new novels (I’m planning on digging into The Burgess Boys and Capital), and putting an “away message” on our email accounts. We’ll stay in Manhattan for a quick day, with plans to fit in a few meals at Prune and Red Rooster and then off we go on a train headed for the country. I’ll be back with some photos to share with you, as usual. And hopefully a good recipe or two. In the meantime: blondies, books, poetry and “breathing just a little.”
A quick note on einkorn: If you’ve never used einkorn flour, it’s a wheat flour that acts much like white all-purpose flour in baking recipes so it’s a really easy one to substitute without noticing much of a change in taste or texture. Einkorn is technically the first species of wheat so it’s completely non-hybridized and is considered to be, genetically, the purest form of wheat available. You can buy einkorn wheat berries and use them however you like to use farro or another heartier grain at home (grain salads etc.) or you can buy the flour and use it in your favorite baking recipes. It has a subtle, slightly sweet flavor and a beautifully soft texture. If you don’t have einkorn flour, spelt flour would work really well in this recipe — or certainly feel free to use all-purpose flour, too (or a mix of all-purpose and your favorite whole-grain flour). If you use something interesting, I’d love to hear about it!
When I first pulled these out of the oven, I was sure I’d have to title this recipe “Banana Cake” as they looked far puffier than a good blondie should be. But don’t over-bake them and allow them to truly cool completely before serving and they’ll resemble the best of both worlds: a slightly cakey blondie.
Inspired by: Short & Sweet
Butter an 8-inch square pan. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a small saucepan, heat the butter and white chocolate over low heat until combined — stir occasionally to prevent burning. Scrape the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or feel free to use a bowl with electric beaters). Add the banana pieces, vanilla, and natural sugar and beat until just combined. Stop the mixer and add the egg. Continue beating until smooth.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. With the mixer running, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three rounds, being careful not to over-mix. Once combined into an even batter, fold in the walnut pieces and chocolate chips and spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the middle no longer wiggles. Let cool for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving. Store leftovers at room temperature, covered, for 2-3 days.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.