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.

 

Arlette Biscuits

Awake, breathing arlettes. Pastry doesn’t have to be painful.

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Coming across this recipe just once in Waterstones the past weekend was enough to convince me that this was the one and only thing I had to play with and hopefully do justice. So the hands got down to it, butter greased my fingers, and more vanilla-cinnamon perfume filled the air and softened a week-hardened soul.

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A simple matter of roll (tight enough), cut (with a sharp enough knife), bake (and ok, with a watchful eye and well-greased pan). After the pastry mess, of course.

Using a rough puff, go ahead and call me the ersatz princess, but what you see is indeed what you get, with the subtracted effort proving efficient and definitely worthwhile. I modified mine from Gordon Ramsay’s signature rough puff recipe, and found that I did not need as much cold water at the end. I then used Michel Roux’s recipe for the filling, so the insides were well-pressed with plenty of flaked almonds and more sugar. You do need plenty of butter and icing sugar, and if you’re reluctant to get just those two things I have no idea what you’re doing here. I mean sometimes even I haven’t a clue why I channel all my effort into heated baking blabber, but this passion is heated, and I just want you guys to be similarly enthusiastic about it!

The edges, crisp and caramelised, are angry enough to cut through jaws and convince the sharpest of tongues that the language of sugar and butter must never be underestimated. The anger is nuanced, but still there. Each disc wants to be cracked, then dipped in a luxury pool of vanilla ice cream or cream. Your yoghurt can be saved for this too, just crumble each disc between your fingers for some unanticipated granola, and these are your saved mornings, packaged in an airtight containers for the remainder of the month, or at least the next few days.

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Arlettes (makes at least 20; you can bake half and store the rest in the freezer for whenever else you want the babies)

*=vegan substitutions

Ingredients

For the rough puff pastry:

250g flour

250g unsalted butter, reaching room temperature but not entirely soft, cut into cubes (*sub: vegan butter)

pinch salt

100-120ml cold water

For the filling:

30-40g flaked almonds

1 tablespoon cinnamon

300g icing sugar

1 egg yolk (*sub: more vegan butter)

Directions

In a large bowl, add the salt to the flour, then rub the butter into the flour. The cold butter will warm up overtime and the bits will meld easily into the flour. Once the butter has been rubbed fairly evenly into flour (there will still be chunks of butter streaked through the mixture), add a quarter cup of cold water and mix. Add tablespoons of cold water until the dough just comes together. Roll the pastry into a shape that somewhat resembles a sphere or ball, put into the bowl, cover the bowl with foil/cling film and leave in your fridge to rest for a half hour.

Take your dough and place it on a slightly floured work surface. Roll the dough until it’s roughly 20x50cm, then take the top third and fold it down to the centre, and do the same with the opposite third, so you end up with a book with three layers. Roll this out again until its three times the book’s original length. Then fold the same way as before, and put back into the fridge for another half hour.

During this time, preheat your oven to 177C (350F). Grease a large pan, then sprinkle over a small handful of icing sugar (part of the 300g), then shake the pan so it coats it. Put this aside.

Liberally dust your work surface with flour and icing sugar. Roll the refrigerated pastry out on this surface until it’s 4mm thick. Brush the top with egg yolk, followed by the flaked almonds, cinnamon, and half of the icing sugar. You will need the rest for later. Roll the pastry from the long edge until your get a swiss roll-like swirl. Cover and leave in the fridge for 10 minutes (you can cut the log into half or in thirds to fit your pan, or to stuff half in the freezer if you don’t want to bake a whole batch right there and then).

Take out the log and cut it into discs around 4mm thick. Dip your fingers in icing sugar and press the discs on your work surface until they’re around 1 mm thick, then place them onto your pan. Don’t worry if some parts are thinner than others, it just means they will be crisper and easier to break for a more pleasurable mouthful afterwards. Bake for 6-8 minutes, then flip over with a spatula (or something that resembles that particular shape) and bake for another 2 minutes, before removing. They should look outrageously crisp and golden-brown, especially around the edges.

Serve with ice cream and more flaked almonds. They would also, unsurprisingly, pair fantastically with coffee or tea, the bitterness of either allowing for enhanced savouring of the delicate sweetness, each mouth-coating bite of butter.

 

Art-inspired High Tea at the Rosewood

The best London has to offer. In the grey of day-to-day, there are flickers of inspiration, of tonality and light, that truly spark the mini creative in me. There are some things I simply cannot pass up. Like a kind invitation to a wine party. Or a biscuit-and-jam session. Or an Agatha Christie fan club session, or any deep random conversation topic in general. This kind invitation to tea at The Rosewood London was one of them, and for all the right reasons.

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Art-inspired? Tea? Scones and dessert? Take my life already. Launching next month, the gorgeous Rosewood will be hosting this artist-inspired tea session in The Mirror Room, and they were kind enough to invite me for a tasting. Just thinking about it now is pretty mind-boggling, for I cannot believe, after a hectic library session, hair and mind messes of tornadoes, that I was bestowed with such beautiful works of art and stunning service. My world was turned upside down for a full 2 hours, and fleeting as that period was, I only have good, no, excellent things to say about the whole experience.

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There are no words for the ambience of the Mirror Room, which exudes such sophistication and  old-world beauty. Plush buttoned sofas lined up along the middle of the wide and dimly-lit corridor, waiters like secret soldiers welcoming and smiling. I was Alice, the Mirror Room a very real rabbit-hole.

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Now I do apologise for the quality of the photos here– although I did bring  Tim (my camera), the settings messed up halfway and I ended up with just one dark picture, so you will only find slightly inferior iPhone shots here. Still no excuse to not sing high praise for the highlight of my week. I must agree with the words of talented pastry chef Mark Perkins, the hidden star of the show, who also nicely summarised the ethos behind his stunning creations:

“Rosewood London’s quirky interiors reflect the British capital’s history, culture and sensibilities, featuring the works of some of the world’s most renowned artists, with contemporary pieces complemented by more traditional art throughout the hotel.”

The menu is a real work of art in itself. To take you through this fairytale of a teatime, I’ll describe each inspired creation from left to right (1-5) in the picture you see above:

  1. Yayoi Kusama: Goodness. Milk chocolate mousse, passionfruit cremeux with chocolate set, on chocolate sable biscuit, inspired by Kusama’s recent exhibition at the London Victoria Miro galleries. This was one of my favourites, the firm chocolate sable supporting the delicate mousse and cremeux (pudding custard), everything dressed in a vibrant yellow glaze.
  2. Damien Hirst: It would be impossible to forget one’s virgin encounter with Hirst (ok not him, rather his shark-in-a-tank get-up), spellbound by his abstract, almost vulgar creativity. This white chocolate tart flavoured with cassis jelly and yuzu curd is inspired by his pharmaceutical-style series of spot paintings, finished with Hirst-style regimented and decorative pop-art coloured spots of gel.
  3. Alexander Calder: The American is renowned for his innovative approach to art by using wire and industrial materials to craft ‘drawings in space’. This is the inspiration for a delicate but impressive sculpture that combines the flavours and colours of pistachio and cherry. The perfectly executed, tiny cake was glazed with red chocolate, reminiscent of Calder’s famed mobiles.
  4. Banksy: By far my absolute favourite, and so much so that I recreated a caramel-inspired bit of sweet just this morning. I sat there on one of those plush sofas, meditating on the  classic flavours of vanilla and chocolate, amplified by the overall textural complexity. The little cube honoured and perfectly replicated creativity honed and sporadically discovered over so many years, each bite a spark of magic. Banksy’s iconic ‘Girl With a Balloon’ – arguably one of his most famous artworks – provided inspiration for a delicate white chocolate cube filled with a light vanilla cream choux, cherry jelly, hazelnut caramel and chocolate crémeux, garnished with an intricate and tiny replica of the enigmatic artwork itself.
  5. Mark Rothko: Rothko’s bold use of colour has provided the inspiration for a layered coconut and raspberry sponge, filled with coconut mousse, fresh raspberries and adorned with bright pink raspberry chocolate. The flavours here were simple but still admirable.

Do yourself and a loved one a favour and head down to the Rosewood next month for the most unforgettable high tea experience. The whole tea experience comprises a delicate, time-honoured set of finger sandwiches, the five art-inspired works, a glass of champagne, plain or raisin scones, your tea of choice (their pu-erh is potent as potent gets), and the best service you will find in London. It will be priced at £45 per person (£55 per person with a glass of “R” de Ruinart Champagne or £57 per person with a glass of “R” de Ruinart RoséChampagne).

Mirror Room

Rosewood London

252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN

Open daily 7am-10pm

Blueberry Danish+ exciting news

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New season of the Great British Bakeoff? Yeah, almost started sweating. Just so happened that the dawn of another exciting slew of episodes coincided with my mum’s genius decision to buy the ever-charismatic Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake cookbook. So there I was, eagerly thumbing through, and I finally settled on his recipe for raspberry danishes. Having never experimented with proper danish pastry before, I figured it only wise to follow his method step by step, in true apprentice fashion. Tweaked it a little to use the ripe, slightly tart blueberries I had instead, and dressed it up with homemade frangipane and a salted caramel glaze instead of the stated recipe’s citrus-based one. I now fully understand why people labour over laminated dough; all those hours folding, pressing and refrigerating are truly worth it in the end. The result proved to be gold– flaky, golden pastry, buttery and beautiful. Not much sugar needed, just let the dough do the talking. Anyone who’s keen on trying laminated dough, be it this/ croissants/ pain au chocolat etc, should definitely try this take (this is easier if you live in a cold country, but if not, please make sure that air-con is on full blast!)

Before I get on with the details and modifications, I want to share something pretty exciting with you. Ever since kindergarten I’ve always wanted to write a book, be it on something big or small, short or long, personal or informative. There’s something about holding a book– reading, absorbing, loving it, that beats few other physical and mental experiences. Having finished a recent research internship that served well to enhance this innate lust for creative and relatable matter, I was immediately compelled to start. Though I shan’t disclose any details, I do plan to include a few new surprise recipes in this personal project!

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Blueberry Danish with a Salted Caramel drizzle (makes about 25 pastries)

Ingredients

For the dough: 

one batch of Paul Hollywood’s Danish pastry dough 

 

For the frangipane (adapted from Martha Stewart’s ‘Bostock’ recipe):

50g (2/3 cup) whole, raw almonds

100g (1/2 cup) granulated white sugar

85g (6 tbsp) softened, unsalted butter

1 egg

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon vanilla

3/4 teaspoon salt

 

For the salted caramel drizzle:

50g (around a half cup) white sugar

47g salted (!!) butter

1 1/2 tsp fine salt

120ml (1/2 cup) heavy whipping cream (either single or double is fine)

 

Extras:

a punnet of fresh blueberries, to be used before and after baking.

4 heaping tbsp of marmalade

 

Directions

Make the dough according to Paul’s instructions (so perfect for beginner’s and what a wonderful result you’ll yield!). Top tip: make sure you’re in a cool environment, to prevent any of all that butter from melting. Preserve the future of your unbaked dough.

Modifications:

During the last fridge prove, preheat your oven to 200C and start on the frangipane and salted caramel for the drizzle. For the frangipane, process the almonds and sugar  together in a food processor until you get a texture close to coarse meal. Add the rest of the frangipane ingredients and blend until smooth.

For the salted caramel, heat sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon. Continue to do so until all the sugar melts into a pool of dark, glossy amber liquid. Once this stage is reached, add the salted butter. It’s a pretty vigorous reaction, this one. Stir with spoon to help the melting process. Once all the butter has melted, slowly add in heavy whipping cream. This part is even more vigorous that the previous one; it will spit and rise as it starts to boil. Let the mixture boil like this for another minute before taking the pan off the heat. Let cool for another couple minutes before stirring in the salt. For the icing, mix with enough icing sugar so you get a thin drizzling consistency.

Once the dough has finished proving in the fridge, ready around 3 baking pans and cut out some parchment paper to fit each. Remove the dough from the fridge, lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough till it’s about 7-8mm thick. With the help of a ruler, cut out squares measuring 7x7cm. At each corner, use a sharp knife to cut diagonally towards the centre, about 3cm in. You should get what looks like a box with 4 straight scores running from each of the 4 corners, without any of the lines overlapping since you don’t cross the middle. Take one corner and fold it towards the middle, then alternate with the remaining 7 corners, so you end up with a 4-segmented parcel. Put a teaspoon of frangipane on each pastry, then plop 2-3 fresh blueberries on top. Beat an egg and brush the exposed pastry with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Once out, brush with warmed marmalade (simply warm the marmalade in the microwave for 20 seconds), then drizzle on the salted caramel icing. Add more fresh blueberries, and devour immediately or soon. These can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days, just remember to toast before consuming.

 

 

 

Strawberry, Chocolate and Marzipan Hand Pies

On the spur of the moment, I pie-d my way through yesterday. I have a knack for fishing out completely random things from the pantry and thrusting them all together in some wacky ingredient spin-off (or should I say dance-off in the oven), but this one isn’t all too unorthodox, and well heck it yielded something far more pleasurable than what I envisioned during the process.

So that was this morning’s breakfast.

An incredibly flaky pastry, my new favourite recipe after modifying a wonderful one I found on Saveur (details later), drizzled with chocolate and almond glaze and topped with fresh vanilla bean ice cream, encasing the baked and glorious juices of roasted strawberry, melting chocolate, and what turned out to be the highlight for me– marzipan.

I used to hate the stuff, believe it or not. Marzipan, I mean. When I was a kid and invited to a party with cakes neatly dressed in marzipan, I would feel all too inclined to turn away an otherwise perfect plate of cake. The smell of ground almonds pressed with sugar somehow made me feel sick to the stomach. Now, I can’t see how this could be half as special without the addition of sweet, fudgy marzipan. Coarse, yet chewy, the density upping the indulgence that much more.

Yes, this was all before a little bit of the filling overflowed. I liked that quite a lot, actually; picking all the crusty bits from the parchment paper, simultaneously enforcing neatness and deriving gross pleasure from picking up the dejected trails the oven always leaves in its wake. Other things I liked about making this beautiful delicious mess was rubbing lots of butter into flour and stirring the strawberries as they cooked and bubbled in the pan. Sauce thickened, excitement grew.

Cut into one, and you get a jammy, fudgy mess. The hot, crusty, flaky-as-ever pastry works too well with a nice scoop of cold vanilla bean ice cream or cold cream. The almond and chocolate glazes up the ante with their showgirl effect, reflecting the filling’s personality. The strong hint of almond essence in the former may be left out if one isn’t too keen on that flavour. I haven’t been this excited about a recipe in a long while. I’d say 11/10.

Strawberry, Chocolate and Marzipan Hand Pies with Almond and Chocolate Glaze (makes 6-7 3×4-inch hand pies)

Ingredients 

For the pastry dough, lightly adapted from here:

252g (around 2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your counter later on

1 tbsp white sugar

large pinch of salt

226g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled for 5 minutes in the freezer before using

1 egg, beaten in a bowl

1 egg for brushing the pastry edges later on

For the filling:

10g unsalted butter

400g strawberries, hulled and chopped into small pieces

1 tbsp white sugar

1 tbsp white vinegar (any white is good; I used a local brand of diluted cane vinegar)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

40g ready-roll marzipan (which can be easily broken up into pea-sized chunks with your fingers)

half cup chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

For the almond glaze:

100g icing sugar

1/2 tsp almond essence (very strong, so I shall leave this to your own discretion)

4-5 tsp whole milk

For the chocolate glaze:

40g baking coverture chocolate (or any regular brand of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips), melted in 30-second increments in the microwave

Directions:

Make the dough. Ready some cling film. You can put all the ingredients in a food processor but I personally think rubbing butter into flour is ludicrously therapeutic, so I do that instead. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Rub the butter into the flour until you get pea-size crumbles and maybe a few larger bits of butter. The dough will briefly hold together if you squeeze some of the mix together in your palm. At this point, mix in half the beaten egg. If the mix does not hold together well upon squeezing at this point, then add a little more egg, bit by bit. Flour your hands, flatten the dough into a shallow disc, wrap with cling film and let the dough chill in the fridge for at least 45 minutes (that’s how long I waited for mine, though the original recipe states at least an hour for good measure).

Make the filling. In a medium-sized saucepan and with a wooden spoon, mix together the strawberries, butter, sugar and vinegar. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until very soft, and the juices have leaked but thickened a little. Mix in the black pepper, then taste. If it’s not as tangy as you would like, add a splash more of vinegar. Using the edge of your wooden spoon, mash a few chunks of strawberry against the side of the bowl. This will help thicken the cooked mass of ingredients and yield a more jam-like texture at the end. Let the mix cool on the counter for half an hour before using.

After the pastry has chilled, it can be rolled out and then filled. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F). Lightly flour your counter and rolling pin, then roll out your dough till it’s approximately 1/3 of an inch thick. Cut the dough into 3×4-inch rectangles, then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll up the dough scraps, roll out again with the rolling pin, then do the same. On one rectangle, place a teaspoon of strawberry filling in the centre, then add a few chocolate chips and a few mini chunks of marzipan (you can break it up yourself). Use the other beaten egg to brush the edges of all the pastry rectangles, then fold one edge of dough onto the other half. Use a small fork to crimp the edges. Prick the tops using the same fork, then brush the tops with any remaining egg. bake for 20-22 minutes (mine took 20). Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the counter before drizzling with the glazes.