Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

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Today is a Wednesday, but I am trying to frame today as a new start to the week, considering the mess of yesterday. Tuesday started off on an incredibly tired note, as I hauled myself to places where I had to be at but where my heart wasn’t. A revival was needed, I thought, when I collapsed on the couch yesterday afternoon. It tends to be during moments of stress and tiredness that I am weak of mind, giving in too much to the simplest pleasures without thinking (processed, sugary food), which leaves me feeling even more tired and disgusting, and I simply am totally unproductive and useless to talk to for the rest of the day. I wish a break in routine did not have to be so tiresome or intrusive, but that’s the reality of it.

A ‘revival’ to different people can mean different things, and most are valid- entertainment, learning, education, a walk, reading, something good. For me, it’s long walks and nourishing food, or playing around with new ingredients to create something. I recently discovered a beautiful block of salted butter in my local gourmet grocer (which you can find here), somehow so soft and creamy even right out of the fridge, when I pressed it. I came home and cooked some vegetables in a generous pat of the stuff, discovering the beauty of salt crystals from the North of France– truly a work of wonder. How have I not had the pleasure of biting into a salt crystal in a piece of butter spread on sourdough toast (or anything) before? I had to make some good use of it. With ripe banana, a new beautiful block of butter and leftover cream cheese, these delightful squares, an extravagant combination of tang and luxury, were born. Banana bread and cream cheese sounds very, um, American, since anything involving cream cheese is very typically USA, no? Anyways, I could talk for days about this recipe, but best to keep it brief.

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The use of salted butter in general here is paramount to the success in making this good salted browned butter frosting. It was magical to watch the salt crystals separating while melting the salted butter. The frosting is optional but really something special, and I literally squealed upon my first bite, which was chewy, fudgy, brimming with a natural banana flavour without being too sweet, even with the frosting on top. The cream cheese is almost a necessary component to enjoy all dimensions of this dessert, as its mild sourness offering a creamy cut-through the layers of different degrees of sweetness, from simple banana bread to rich salted frosting. It was all a simple matter of mixing a few things in different bowls and assembling the components before and after baking the blondies.

I definitely felt better about making these, by the end of the day. Still tired, but better. Creating and playing, these are the free blessings we all have.

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Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

Ingredients (makes one 8×8 or 9×9-inch pan, or 16 medium-sized blondies)

KEY:

For the blondies:

120g (1/2 cup+ 2 tbsp) salted butter, melted

¼ cup tahini (can also use yoghurt or apple sauce)

1+1/2 bananas

200g (1 cup) brown sugar

80g (3/4 cup) almond flour (ground almonds)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

70g (1/2 cup) plain flour

1 egg

220g cream cheese (or 1 standard 8oz tub) cream cheese

90g (1/3 cup) icing sugar

For the frosting:

60g (1/4 cup) salted butter

60g (1/4 cup) brown sugar

100g (slightly less than 1 cup) icing sugar

3 tbsp heavy cream

 

General notes:

  • Use all plain flour instead of half flour and half almond flour if you wish. Would be equally delicious, just a little less kind on the gut.
  • I baked mine for 22 minutes for a fudgy centre, but bake for longer if you like a more cake-like consistency.
  • If you don’t have salted butter, add a teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients.

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), then grease and line your 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan. In a medium bowl, mash your banana and then whisk in the melted butter and brown sugar. Then whisk in the egg If you just melted the butter before mixing the sugar, make sure to wait a minute after mixing in the egg so that you don’t unintentionally scramble the egg, unless that’s your kind of thing. Then add the flour, cinnamon, and a teaspoon of salt if you did not use salted butter in the beginning. Mix everything together. The batter should appear quite sticky and not too thick, easily dropped off a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, make the cream cheese middle by mixing the cream cheese with icing sugar.

Pour half of the blondie batter into your greased and lined pan, then add the cream cheese frosting and spread it in a thin even layer on top of the batter. I find that it helps to put 9 equal dollops of the filling on the batter and then using a knife or your finger to spread it out to fill the gaps. Then pour over the rest of the blondie batter and smooth it out into an even layer. Place your pan into the preheated oven and bake for 22-23 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist crumbs (not dry!).

For the frosting, melt the salted butter in a pan on medium heat, until it goes an amber colour and you can see the milk solids separate from a darker, browned liquid. This will be clear to see after 4-5 minutes of heating on the oven Skim off some of white bits so most of the darker liquid is left. Once the butter is browned and there’s a waft of something toffee-like and nutty in your kitchen, add the brown sugar and heavy cream bring the liquid to a boil. Once bubbling, set aside to cool down for 5 minutes, before adding the powdered sugar. The frosting may not look like a lot but is pretty rich, enough for all 16 blondies.

Once the blondies are baked, take the pan out and leave to cool on a heatproof surface for at least 10-15 minutes. Spread on the frosting and cut into squares. These are best eaten on the same day but will keep for the next 3 days.

 

Cinnamon Sugar-crusted Cream Cheese-stuffed French Toast

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There’s french toast, and then there’s cinnamon sugar-crusted french toast with a cream cheese filling and warmed berries. It’s your pick.

There are no extravagant steps, not too much brain energy involved. You dip good bread in luscious custard (or do it the eggless/vegan way), dip that in cinnamon sugar, fry in a pan.

Then you spread some cream cheese frosting (not the bought stuff, no no) on one slice, layer with warmed berries, layer on the other slice.

Then you ooh and aah for a bit, drizzle with maple syrup, and then EAT. Cream cheese and berries ooze out the sides, berries give up their juice.

That right there is the best morning.

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The cinnamon sugar crust is key. It’s what takes this to a whole new level, and adds a luxurious sweetness so you don’t need as much maple syrup later on.

Sweetened cream cheese may be substituted for yoghurt here, but I find the cream cheese adds proper oomph, volume, and just the right amount of tang. Together with the warm berries, this makes the perfect french toast sandwich.

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Cinnamon Sugar-crusted Cream Cheese-stuffed French Toast (makes 1 sandwich)

Ingredients

For the french toast:

2 slices fresh challah/white sandwich bread/sourdough, around 3/4-1 inch thick (I keep mine in an airtight bag in the freezer, and let thaw for a half hour before I need or want to use it)

1 egg

60ml (1/4 cup) milk

1 heaping tbsp ground cinnamon + 6 tbsp white sugar

splash vanilla extract

butter for frying

 

For the cream cheese filling and warmed berries:

2 heaping tbsp cream cheese spread

1 tsp milk

1 tbsp icing sugar

handful of berries of choice (I used blueberries and raspberries)

 

Directions

In a shallow bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar and set aside. Preheat your pan on medium-high heat. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla extract. Once pan is hot, add a knob of butter and listen out for a sizzle; if the butter browns too quickly turn down the heat a little.

Take one challah slice and dip in the eggy batter for 10 seconds. Flip and do the same for the other side. It should be soaked through but not falling apart. Lift up the slice and let excess batter drip down, then immediately lay in the bowl containing the cinnamon sugar. Turn the slice and coat the other side.

Do the same with the second slice, then place both slices in the hot pan for frying. Wait 20 seconds for the first sides to fry, then flip. Wait a little longer, around 30-40 seconds, if you prefer a less soggy middle for your french toast (I like mine pretty soggy and saturated). The second side will take shorter to cook, so remove once you like the doneness.

In the same pan, add a little more butter, then plop in your berries. Let cook and sizzle– they will yield their juices after around 4-5 minutes of cooking and become warm and soft. Mix together the ingredients for the cream cheese filling.

Spoon the cream cheese and berries onto one slice of bread and then layer on the second slice. Finally, drizzle everything with good maple syrup.

Black Sesame Cakelets with Cream Cheese Frosting

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A good friend once told me that if I were an ice cream flavour, it would be black sesame.

‘What’s that supposed to imply?’

I still don’t know. Nevertheless, I love attempts to associate people with things, endeavouring to understand or replicate nature, auras, psyches. The memory was jolted alive last week, when I was prancing around the supermarket aisles, sometimes stopping to peruse labels, flipping through half-hearted ideas in my head. I was ready to take on something tame for today’s post, working with ingredients I already had at home. But (there’s always a but). When I passed by the gourmet Japanese section, the urge to experiment with black sesame was so profound I felt like it would be a cardinal sin not to leave without a loot. It almost came as a shock because firstly, I’ve never done so before, and secondly, I’ve always been enamoured by its sweet, oil-rich, nutty flavour. What’s taken me so long?

Even if you decide, as part of a little intellectual exercise, that you are going to sit around and do nothing because you have concluded that you have no free will, you are eventually going to get up and make yourself a sandwich.“–Greene and Cohen, from a book I’m reading right now on the brain.

I love that. You see, sometimes, you just have to do something and stop wrestling internal needs or expectations. To sustain yourself and this life. Satisfying that urge was worth it.

So I’ll say it: I wasn’t expecting the results of this experiment to turn out so well. Somehow, the oven works its magic the first time. All worries were alleviated when my first batch of black sesame cakelets emerged (almost) perfectly round, just slightly risen and browned along the edges, from the hot-house. Working with the black sesame powder I found along that aisle was pure joy. The powder by itself is mildly sweet, carrying all the aromas and flavours of the seed. It is imperative that you sieve the powder first into the dry mix, to yield the finest and smoothest texture possible. If you can’t find the stuff in the grocery store, try your hand at black sesame seeds, and grind them up at home, in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. You will get a paste instead of a smoother powder, but I expect it will work just as well. Gosh, I’m excited for you! Soft, moist (I actually like this word for all the grief it gets, poor thing), slightly cakey with an incredibly tender crumb. The nuttiness and mild sweetness formed the perfect backdrop for the ever-familiar cream cheese frosting on top. The two together are sublime if sinful.

I topped these with oreo crumbs, sprinkles and chopped bits of dark chocolate. Go crazy here. It’s the perfect cross between a pikelet, an adorable mini pancake, and the top of a cupcake. Can you imagine? I hope you can. If making these means having to go to the grocery store to buy some black sesame powder (or seeds), then I guess you have no choice.

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Black Sesame Cakelets with Cream Cheese Frosting (makes around 8 3-inch wide cakelets)

Ingredients

For the cakelets:

105g plain flour

25g (around 2 1/2 tbsp) black sesame powder, or the same amount of black sesame seeds ground into a paste using a food processor or mortar and pestle

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

57g (4 tbsp) softened, unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

110g (half a cup) white sugar

1 egg

30ml (2 tbsp) whole milk mixed with 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar, left to rest for 5 minutes before using. Alternatively, use the same amount of buttermilk or yoghurt

For the frosting:

40g softened unsalted butter

75g cream cheese, at room temperature (take out and leave on the counter for a while before using, or microwave for half a minute if cold from the fridge)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

75g powdered sugar

Toppings:

crushed oreos/ sprinkles/ dark chocolate/ whatever you want!

Preheat the oven to 177C (350F) and line and grease 2 cookie sheets. In a medium bowl, sieve (yes, a sieve is necessary here!) the flour, baking powder, salt and black sesame powder.  In another medium bowl and with a whisk or handheld electrical whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Whisk in the vanilla extract, egg and milk mixture. Pour this wet mix into the dry mix and stir with a tablespoon or wooden spoon until just combined and the batter has a nice dropping consistency, and is not too wet or thick. With 2 tablespoons or an ice cream scoop, dollop the batter into little circles onto the cookie sheet, spaced at least an inch from each other. Pop into the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes. Mine took 8 minutes exactly. Whilst they bake, make the frosting. Beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth, then add the vanilla extract and powdered sugar. Beat until all is nicely incorporated.

Once the cakelets are done, a toothpick inserted into the centre of one should come out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack, which will take around 10 minutes. Frost the tops with cream cheese frosting using a knife, then top with whatever toppings you desire. These cakelets surprised me and gave me feels. They will do the same to you.

Bagel French Toast

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Indeed, I am fully aware of the fact that this is not a totally novel idea. But what does make it outstanding is this– whipped cream cheese french toast batter. And no, I didn’t snap a picture of that because it’s not the most photogenic thing in the world, but hey, it’s the end result that counts, right? It’s all stupendously easy.

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I’ll let the pictures do the talking here. Ideally, the bagel you use should be fresh or at most 2 days old. I know what you’re all probably thinking– aren’t these guys too dense to soak up enough batter?

Oh, you smart farts. But cutting the bagel into discs which are thin enough ensures the right amount of lovely cream cheese egg batter to be blissfully soaked up into the dense little bread bodies. Eating this was pure joy; think tender, chewy bread chunks, slightly sweet and tangy thanks to the cream cheese and honey, and surprisingly dunkable (I’m talking strong maple syrup game here), because they don’t disintegrate like your typical store-bought white bread slices.

For one person, take one bagel (I used cinnamon raisin here) and slice into discs around 3/4-inch thick using a serrated knife. Preheat a pan on the stove to medium heat. In a shallow dish and with a fork, whisk together one egg, one tablespoon of softened cream cheese, a squeeze of honey and a splash of whatever milk you have on hand. I didn’t use cinnamon because I used a cinnamon raisin bagel, but add a dash of that if you would like. Soak each bagel disc in the egg batter for at least 10-15 seconds on each side, and then flip to do the same on the other sides. To your preheated pan, add a generous pat of unsalted butter, then lay all the discs on the pan. Wait around 30 seconds to cook on the first side, then flip, starting with the disc you first laid down.

Pair your french toast bagel with anything! Lay on the maple syrup, or top simply with icing sugar and fresh fruit.

Nut Butter Stuffed Matcha Cupcakes (updated)

I include two different nut butter options here– pistachio and almond. Oh yes, and two special frostings. I guess you have to read on if you want to know the specifics *annoying seductive winky face*.

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almond butter stuffed; topped with salted caramel cream cheese frosting and speculoos biscuit
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pistachio butter stuffed; topped with matcha buttercream and chopped pistachios

The first time I made these cupcakes, I relied purely on instinct and an old, old recipe found deep in the recesses of my dusty and grainy mental archives. The second time round, I modified a recipe from Cupcake Jemma, and they turned out absolutely perfect. No really. I hate these sorts of exaggerations, all the ‘reallys’ and ‘trulys’, so I’m officially going against personal principle for the sake of emphasis and honesty. These are the lightest, fluffiest little things, and I adore how the flavour of green tea is pronounced, and not hidden like some odd side element.

Anyways, it was a lucky shot. I always start a baking experiment with some wild or novel idea, but the initial framework always ends up being littered with side details and spontaneous ‘wait, I should use this instead of that!’ moments. They speckle the total perfection, so whatever I end up with is never what I meant it to be. Take this, for instance. I’ve recently been on a slight matcha roll (note to self: try out matcha rolls) because of its subtle green tea flavour. The bitter aftertaste lingers on the back of your tongue, never quite overwhelming it, making whatever you’re tasting just that much more sophisticated. Almost healthful, and no, not just because of that deceiving light green hue. I could list all the healthy characteristics of a teaspoon of matcha powder, but let’s face it, we’re talking about cupcakes here. I guess it’s further redeemed by the soft, oozing, rich dollop of almond butter right in the centre, but I haven’t gotten on to the frosting yet. Life is about balance. This is balance.

I was a little afraid of making cupcakes for two reasons.

1. I’ve made them (well, everyone makes them a lot) so many times that I was afraid the repetition bug would strike out against me and unleash a sudden curse on my beauties. Call me deranged.

2. They could very well and most likely be sub-par cupcakes. People want astounding, not average things.

That second point got me thinking. So if I made a good cupcake, it has to be made even better by some novel pairing or ingredient.. we’ve all been down the red/blue/green velvet path at least once, or maybe tried that wonderful chocolate or vanilla buttercream frosting to up the ante a bit, but something an inch more atypical would work better. That’s when I thought of matcha and almond (not quite novel just yet)… topped with salted caramel cream cheese frosting, topped with crushed speculoos biscuits (Lotus biscuits as everyone knows them here) and drizzled with more salted caramel. Think soft matcha sponge encasing a large dollop of creamy, rich nut butter, topped with lightly salted caramel cream cheese swirls and light, cookie-based crunch on top, or, in another case, delicate swirls of thick and fluffy matcha buttercream. The crumb is soft and firm, and the best part of these cupcakes is that post-baking, you get this wonderful sugar-crusted, crumbly top, which breaks away easily when you want to stuff the little holes with nut butter. I do love this matcha and almond/pistachio pairing, the upper-class rigidity of the flavours totally offset by the playful done-it-before frosting options.

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Nut Butter Stuffed Matcha Cupcakes 

For the cupcakes (makes 10-12, adapted from Cupcake Jemma):

125g self-raising flour

135g soft, unsalted butter

125g white sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch salt

quarter teaspoon bicarb soda

1 teaspoon matcha powder

Option 1: Matcha buttercream

270g icing sugar

150g softened, unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 teaspoon matcha powder, dissolved in a splash of whole milk

Option 2: Salted caramel cream cheese frosting (after many personal trial and error stints):

170g cream cheese, at room temperature

150g brown sugar

75g icing sugar

75g butter, softened

1 tbsp salted caramel sauce (store-bought or homemade)

for the topping: crushed speculoos biscuits and extra salted caramel sauce for drizzling

Preheat your oven to 170C (350F) and spray a muffin tin. In a large bowl and with a normal or electrical whisk, beat the butter and sugar together on high until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients- flour, bicarb, matcha powder and salt. Using a spatula, fold the flour and matcha mixture into the wet mixture.

Place the cupcake tin into the preheated oven and bake for 20-22 minutes. I took mine out at the 21-minute mark. Leave them to cool on a wire rack. The tops will be crusty and a light golden, and will look relatively flat. Leave to cool on a wire rack before removing to dig holes and stuff them silly.

Salted caramel cream cheese frosting:

Whilst they cool, make the frosting. Beat the brown sugar and butter together using a handheld electrical whisk, then beat in the cream cheese, icing sugar and salted caramel sauce. This is my favourite salted caramel cream cheese frosting which uses more brown rather than icing sugar, so it’s handy when you’re running low on icing sugar. Put the mix into the fridge until ready to use.

Matcha buttercream:

In a large bowl, beat together the icing sugar, softened butter, teaspoon of vanilla, and matcha/milk mix. Beat until visibly light, thick and fluffy. Stuff a piping bag with the mix and leave in a cool place (I put mine in the fridge overnight and let thaw for around 15 minutes the next morning) until ready to use.

When the cupcakes are mostly cool (around 15-20 minutes post-baking), take a teaspoon and dig right into the heart of the cupcake, before scooping out some cake. This part is mostly up to you; if you want more nut butter per mouthful (you lovely hedonists) then go ahead and dig deep, but if not, a teaspoonful of cake will suffice. Using another teaspoon, spoon in a heaped (or however much you want) of nut butter into the hole. I used homemade almond and pistachio butter; my mum makes batches in the kitchen all the time and it’s the most divine thing in the world. Using a large spoon or piping bag, frost the cupcakes with the salted caramel frosting or matcha buttercream. For the former, add crushed speculoos biscuits and more salted caramel drizzled on top. For the matcha buttercream, pipe the buttercream on top, whizz up some pistachios in a food processor and sprinkle on top. I also added salted caramel to this version because, well, why the heck not.