Banana Bread, As Healthy As It Gets

healthy banana bread

I am posting this all-American comfort food because somehow people (ok, me) always end up with a few very ripe, brown and spotty bananas just sitting on the counter.

Bananas that are too ripe to eat, but are just perfect for baking.

I make this classic treat quite often in the cold season, because that’s when I buy bananas (the other part of the year my parents’ garden supplies us all with plenty of fresh fruit). This time I felt dedicated to find inventive ways so I could have my cake – and eat it totally guilt free. That meant swapping a few ingredients for a lightened up, better-for-you banana bread that is not only just as delicious as the original, but also wholesome and nourishing.

I believe in tradition, but I also like altering classic recipes sometimes to make healthy treats. It’s all about smart changes. Flavor is super important but the result needs to be lower in calories, sugar and fat and at the same time, higher in fibre, protein and healthy oils.

This banana bread has all those redeeming qualities. It won’t send your blood sugar levels for a loop, not to mention that you can whip this up with just one bowl, a few measuring cups and some basic ingredients. The Husband approves too, so I can assure you: the loaf passed the taste test.

Moist and dense, delicious and filling. Perfect for breakfast and beyond, also freezable. The homey comfort of banana bread, updated to fit a more health-conscious life.

healthy banana bread

Some notes, if I may:

  • This recipe is dairy free.
  • You can make this recipe gluten-free by using a GF flour blend, or oat flour.
  • Bananas: the riper the better. They are super sweet! I actually made this recipe without any sweetening, and it was still totally enjoyable.
  • You can use any other kind of nut meal instead of walnuts, or omit nuts completely. In that case, increase the amount of flour to 1 cup.
  • Sweeten the batter with the natural sweetener of your choice. So far I tried it with birch sugar, honey and maple syrup, all working well.
  • Feel free to substitute the currants with blueberries, cranberries, raisins, or whatever floats your boat.
  • Banana bread keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, or can be frozen for up to 3 months. It’s best if you slice before freezing to be able to thaw individual pieces.

healthy banana bread

Healthy Banana Bread

  • Difficulty: easy
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Classic banana bread recipe updated with better-for-you ingredients. Yield: 1 loaf

Ingredients

3 very ripe bananas

2 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

2 tbsp natural sweetener of your choice

½ cup whole wheat flour

½ cup walnut meal

½ cup vanilla protein powder

½ cup fresh or frozen blackcurrants

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F), lightly grease a 9×5” loaf pan (or line with parchment paper).
  2. In a large bowl, mash bananas with a fork.
  3. Add eggs, salt and sweetener, whisk well.
  4. Add walnut meal, protein powder, flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir to blend with a spoon or spatula, just until combined.
  5. Gently fold in fruits, if using.
  6. Pour batter in pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45-50 min.
  7. Let cool in the pan for 10 min before transferring to a wire rack for another 20 min before slicing. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

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Expanding My Horizons: Savory Scones with Gouda and Chives

chives gouda scones

In an early summer post I’ve introduced you to pogácsa, the pastry above all else of my country. This time I’ve decided to leave my comfort zone and venture out into the world of flaky biscuits, exploring the scone kingdom. (Did not risk going all out though, as you’re about to see.)

Turns out these two are closer than I thought!

The origin of the scone is lost in the mists of the British Isles – read the clever title of one article I came across when I was doing research on the topic. They got their start as a Scottish quick bread, made with unleavened oats and baked on a griddle, then scored into 4 or 6 wedges to serve.

Today’s versions are made with wheat flour, butter and milk, leavened with baking powder and baked in the oven both in the traditional wedge form and in round, square or hexagonal shapes. They are widely available in bakeries, grocery stores and supermarkets just like pogácsa, except I’ve never seen our baby cut to triangles.

And that is what actually made me want to try scones! Shapes affect our subconscious mind, could you ever have imagined?

Another important similarity between the two contenders is that making them at home is often closely tied to heritage baking. Both tend to be made using family recipes rather than recipe books, since it’s always a family member who holds the best and most treasured recipe (hello, grandma!).

But, and here’s the catch – British scones are most often sweetened, while pogácsa is always savory. I simply couldn’t deny my roots, so the search for savory scones began. And strictly entre nous, but there seems to be life beyond lemon curd, jam and clotted cream!

In parts of the world where afternoon tea is not a thing, scones have joined muffins and croissants as breakfast and on-the-go snack alternatives anyway, the same way we like to enjoy commercial pogácsa.

I’ve read through quite a lot of recipes and after much consideration decided on a cheese and herb scone. It turned out rather well: rich and sturdy and compact. I could easily break off pieces to nibble on and stowed one in my bag the next day without worrying about it getting smooshed. I also put some leftovers in the freezer wrapped in plastic, and after a round in the toaster it was like they just came out of the oven.

Verdict: definitely going to make scones again. Maybe even try a sweet one! I’m not so terribly discriminating about my biscuits after all 🙂

I can’t really tell where this recipe is adapted from as I picked out and merged and tweaked it based on about a dozen different ones, so I shall be generous with myself and call it my own.

Two things I’ve learnt along the recipe testing: it’s important not to over-mix the dough to get tender and flaky scones, and it takes a little more time to bake them golden than was suggested.

I give you the result of my trial and error:

Gouda and Chives Savory Scones

  • Difficulty: easy
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Cheesy, savory scones flavored with the subtle taste of chives. Makes 8.

Ingredients

2 cups AP flour (or 1 cup whole wheat and 1 cup AP)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp chives, dried (or 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh)

1 cup shredded gouda cheese

¾ cup buttermilk

115 g (1 stick) very cold butter, cut to small cubes

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients, including cheese and chives.
  3. Work butter cubes in the dry ingredients using your fingers until texture resembles pea-sized crumbles. Work quickly so butter stays cold.
  4. Add buttermilk, and barely stir together. Just get the dough to hold together without kneading it smooth. Lumpy is fine!
  5. Slap it on the parchment lined baking sheet and form a disc about 2,5 cm (1”) thick, handling the dough as little as possible.
  6. Cut into 8 wedges and bake until golden, 30-35 min. Enjoy warm!

chives gouda scones

chives gouda scones

Love,

Fruzsi

Lovely Little Palmiers

palmiers

Colder days, warm beverages. A cup of steaming coffee, a pot of tea, some mulled cider warms my cold cold heart hands. Hmmm. When I have the time, I try to make it a ritual by drinking from pretty vintage porcelain cups and providing a bite-sized sweet treat too.

One such delicacy I particularly adore is Palmiers. These elegant French biscuits are made from rolled puff pastry and regular granulated sugar. Flaky, buttery layers, crispy caramelized crunch – they are literally melt-on-the-tongue goodness. Very fancy on a cookie tray yet despite their impressive nature, palmiers are super easy to put together.

Let me show you!

Admittedly, puff pastry is not easy to make. Or quick. That’s why I always keep store-bought, all-butter puff pastry in my freezer. The dough is the hard part and since we already got that covered, the rest is a cinch!

Although the name translates to palm tree, I prefer making them a wee bit different from the traditional shape and form delicate little hearts instead. Also, authentically they are filled with just sugar, but if you could think of a creative variant to fold into your palmiers (like cinnamon sugar, maybe?), go ahead. Just don’t tell the French I encouraged it. 🙂

First you need to thaw your puff pastry completely, which I do by transferring it from the freezer to the fridge and let it stay there overnight. Then, if you weren’t savvy enough to get the ready rolled, you roll out your puff pastry to a rectangle.

Now grab your sugar container and try shutting the part of your brain out that screams diabetes. Sprinkle the dough generously (very generously: remember, we want caramel!) with sugar and gently press into the dough to stick. Flip puff pastry sheet carefully and repeat on the other side as well.

Mark the center of the pastry sheet lengthwise (fold in half if you don’t trust your eye), and make 2 folds from each side leaving some space in the center. Roll one fold on top of the other to form a log.

To make the cuts clean and easy, refrigerate log for 30 min or pop it in the freezer for 10. Cut firmed up log to thin (0,5-1 cm) pieces. The thinner they are, the crispier they will be.

Before you place them on a baking sheet, be a love and roll them in more sugar. Well of course, both sides! To shape them into hearts, pull the two ends slightly away. Repeat with all your pastries and place them on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

shaping palmiers

Bake at 200°C (400°F) for 25-30 min, flipping them at the halfway mark to properly brown both sides. Watch these carefully, they are thin and can burn quickly with all that sugar. Be sure to cool them completely to give them a chance to fully crisp up (and to prevent third-degree lip burns).

Your palmiers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days, but… 1-2-3 gone! Quite hard to resist.

Palmiers

  • Difficulty: easy
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Perfect French Palmiers pastry. Makes about 30.

Ingredients

1 all-butter, ready rolled sheet of puff pastry, thawed

granulated white sugar

Directions

  1. Roll out puff pastry sheet and sprinkle generously with sugar. Press gently for sugar to stick to pastry.
  2. Flip pastry over, and repeat sprinkling and pressing.
  3. Mark center lengthwise. Make 2 folds from each side, leaving some space in the center.
  4. Roll one fold on top of the other to form a log.
  5. Refrigerate log for 30 min to firm up.
  6. Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F), line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Cut dough to ½-1 cm thin pieces, roll both sides of cookies in sugar.
  8. Shape cookies by pulling two ends slightly away, place on baking sheet.
  9. Bake for 10-15 min, flip to bake evenly on both sides, than bake for another 10-15 min, watching pastries carefully.
  10. Cool before serving. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Baked Beet Chips, a Healthy Swap

baked beet chipsYesterday, the Husband and I officially strated mulled wine season, but that’s not exactly what I’m here for today. I have a confession to make.

I don’t really know how to put this, but I don’t like potato chips. Yup, that’s right. There was a time in my life when I thought I did and I snacked on them like everyone else, but they gross me out now.

What’s wrong with her I hear you ask, but it’s what it is: the thought of that rancid, oily smell and overpowering artificial flavors of the commercial stuff got me to skip the greasy bag. When I want potatoes, I make them for myself.

Cravings don’t mess around though. Speaking of nibbling on crispy and crunchy, you must have seen the veggie chips trend. Carrots, kale, sweet potato, plantains, zucchini, radishes, even tomato. And beets. Don’t forget the beets!

I love beets, but that wasn’t always the case. As a kid, you encounter the dreary pickled variety in kindergarten, and that’s the point when most of us come to hate beets for the rest of our lives. (Mind you, pickled beets are really yum, just not those they serve at the cafeteria.)

Then you become a grown-ass adult, learn to admit when you’re wrong and revise your opinion on a bunch of matters. I did that with beets, among other things.

No, beets don’t taste like dirt. If you still think they do, you need to grow the eff up and learn to like them because beets are really amazing! Ok, they are unsightly and stain your hands, but also extremely healthy, crazy delicious, and more versatile than you ever could have imagined.

Let’s go over the health benefits of consuming beetroot real quick:

It may help reduce your blood pressure due to high nitrate levels, decrease the risk of diabetes thanks to a strong antioxidant and promote healthy digestion because of the fibers. Beets are also packed with vitamins and minerals and are anti inflammatory. Some people even call beets superfood!

They can be roasted, steamed, boiled, pickled, or just eaten raw. And flavoring them up is half the fun! You will feel so much better about crunching away on a delicious, real-food snack than reaching for that bag of chips. It’s so easy too!

baked beet chipsbaked beet chips

Baked Beet Chips

  • Difficulty: easy
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Healthy veggie chips bursting with flavor. Serves 2.

Ingredients

4-5 medium-sized beets

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and black pepper to taste

1 fresh sprig of rosemary finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried)

Directions

  1. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, preheat oven to 175°C (350°F).
  2. Wash and peel beets (it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves so they don’t stain your hands).
  3. Using a handheld slicer or mandoline, thinly slice beets.
  4. In a large bowl, toss beets with the oil, salt, black pepper and rosemary to coat evenly.
  5. Arrange beets in a single layer on the baking sheets.
  6. Bake for 20 min, flip beets over to bake evenly on both sides, and rotate baking trays as well.
  7. Bake until sides are dried out, curled up and beets are lighter in color, about an additional 20-25 min. They will crisp up as they cool. Enjoy fresh and warm!

Love,

Fruzsi

Maple Walnut Pudding Chômeurs to Help Embrace the Fact It’s October

maple pudding chomeurs

Warning: Monday rant ahead!

I mean, weren’t we suffering from a heat wave just yesterday? And it’s October now? (*Has mild nervous breakdown)

Anyway. The following recipe is adapted from The Bojon Gourmet. A seriously mouth-watering photo of Alanna’s pudding chômeurs popped up on my Pinterest feed a few weeks ago, and I instantly said je veux!

No, I actually did not say that. I don’t speak French. But I still wanted to try them really badly. 🙂 I also felt like writing a post on chômeurs, despite the fact this dessert has nothing to do with Hungarian cuisine. Sorry not sorry, and you won’t be either!

Maple syrup is not a pantry staple in Hungary. I also believe it’s safe for me to say that we, as a nation know very little, if anything at all about French Canadian cuisine.

Which is about to change with this one!

As I’ve learnt, these puddings were invented during the Great Depression when they were presumably used to bring comfort to the out-of-work Québécois (chômeur stands for unemployed in French). Once poor man’s food, these soft, spongy cakes on top of a silky sauce flavored with maple syrup, coffee, vanilla and brown butter are rather brilliant.

Best enjoyed warm, chômeurs are simple to put together and even reheat beautifully (not that ther’s even a chance of having leftovers).

Although the recipe called for it, I neither keep chestnut flour, nor rice flour at hand. I always have walnut meal though, so that’s what I used instead and it did not disappoint. (Sidenote: nut meals are ground with the skin on, while nut flours are made with blanched nuts)

I fine tuned the recipe a little bit further by throwing greenwalnut liqueur into the mix. Plus, I simply forgot to add the vegetable oil to the batter, which I do not regret as the cake turned out perfect without it, so I won’t even list it in the ingredients.

Should’ve seen our faces when we slipped the first bite into our mouths!

Maple Walnut Pudding Chômeurs

  • Difficulty: easy
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A French Canadian dessert for the approaching colder days. Yields 6.

Ingredients

For the sauce:

55 g unsalted butter

½ cup maple syrup

¼ cup freshly brewed espresso

½ tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp greenwalnut liqueur (optional, use 1 tsp vanilla if you don’t have it)

For the cake batter:

½ cup AP flour

½ cup walnut meal

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp fine salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup maple syrup

powdered sugar and whipped cream to serve

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 175 °C (350 °F). Place 6 ramekins on a baking sheet and grease them lightly.
  2. To make the sauce, place butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, swirling occasionally. When butter foams up, turns golden and smells nutty (3-5 min), remove from heat. Carefully pour in maple syrup, coffee, vanilla and greenwalnut liqueur (if using), transfer to a measuring pitcher and set aside.
  3. To make the batter, sift together flour and walnut meal with the salt and baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the mixture and add the eggs, buttermilk and maple syrup. Whisk until well-combined.
  4. Scoop the batter into the ramekins, dividing evenly. After giving it a good stir, pour sauce over the batter, also dividing evenly (it will pour straight through the batter which is fine).
  5. Bake puddings until puffed and golden, about 20 min. Remove from oven and let cool a little before serving, sprinkled with powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Homemade Appleasauce Because It’s Apple Season (Enthusiastic Thumbs Up)

apples on linen

On this climate, apples are one of, if not the most widely available and cheap fruits. I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t like apples, and with colder days approaching, the idea of a warm slice of anything with apple and cinnamon gets stuck in my head like earworms.

Cinnamon-apple is our pumpkin pie spice: come fall, every product gets this flavor update from cereal to yogurt to porridge to rice pudding to bubble gum to scented toilet paper. No kidding!

And while the whole health picture just might be more complex than eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away, apples undeniably supply nutrition vital for good health.

This fruit is a great source of natural fiber that lowers risk of heart disease by decreasing bad cholesterol levels. A serving can supply much of your daily vitamin C needs, plus the flavonoids in apples reduce inflammation, regulate blood pressure, and reduce excessive fat production in the liver. Also, phytonutrients in them work as antioxidants.

Not bad from the humble apple, huh?

If you have a few that you won’t be able to eat before they get grainy, soft and wrinkled, or you simply want to stock up on a delicious, healthy and versatile food item, turn them into applesauce! It’s inexpensive, takes no time to make and keeps well canned or frozen as well.

Commercial applesauce is not a common sight in Hungarian supermarkets, but I don’t mind at all. The advantage of making my own at home is that I can choose my favorite apples and make the applesauce as sweet or as tart as I prefer.

Applesauce contains only about 100 calories per serving (if you choose to make it unsweetened), and while most of those calories come from sugar, it’s the naturally occurring fructose.

There’s no fat in it, yet applesauce is a great substitute for fats in baked goods. Try swapping half of a recipe’s margarine, butter, shortening or oil component with applesauce to reduce calories while adding fiber. The finished baked item will have a tender, crumbly texture and a slightly sweeter flavor.

As I said, applesauce is really easy to make. This recipe is for 4,5 kg (10 pounds) of apples, which will yield somewhere around 3 to 3,5 litres (7 pints) applesauce. I used golden delicious apples this time.

homemade applesauce

Here’s how to make applesauce at home:

Wash, peel, and core apples. To prevent browning, slice apples into water containing ascorbic acid (1 tsp to a gallon of cold water).

Place drained slices in a heavy bottomed pot, add ½ cup water. Stirring occasionally to prevent burning, heat quickly until tender (5 to 20 minutes, depending on maturity and variety). Don’t overcook, it’s not a jam.

Blitz with an immersion blender until completely smooth. Reheat sauce to boiling (it will spatter, so be careful) and add the juice of 1 lemon, or 1 tsp citric acid to serve as a natural preservative.

Fill sterilized jars with hot sauce, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in boiling water for 15 min. Applesauce can be frozen as well.

Traditionally, applesauce is eaten along cooked meat or roasts around here, but I’m beginning to see it in desserts as well. I like it either way. If you can’t imagine applesauce with a slice of roast beef, give my healthy oat bars recipe an autumn update substituting the fig jam with applesauce heavily flavored with homemade apple pie spice, or try apple pie baked oatmeal for a delicious and filling breakfast.

Love,

Fruzsi

Title image by Lindsey S. Love

A Short Introduction to Sourdough and Pre-ferments

bread dough

Artisanal sourdough breads are all the hype, and rightly so. In fact, it might seem like if you’re even a wee bit serious about your bread, sourdough is the only way to go.

Utilizing sourdough starters and preferments will no doubt take your game to the next level: the complexity, the depth of flavor, the better texture a starter gives your bread simply can not be compared with anything else. Even the shelf life will be increased!

Starters do require time and commitment though. They are the challenge to top all challenges, and therefore can be a little intimidating at first. I am quite new to the art myself, but I thought it would be a good idea to share the basics in a not-too-scientific way to help you decide whether baking bread with starters is for you.

Let’s talk about yeast first!

Before commercial baker’s yeast was developed in Vienna, Austria in the 19th century (with Hungarian high milled grains, no less!), bakers had been using old-dough leavens to bake bread.

These are based on propagating wild yeast. Wild yeast refers to the natural yeasts and bacteria found in our surroundings: they float in the air and stick to the surface of objects. Basically when making a sourdough starter, you provide an environment sufficient for cultivating wild yeast. (The sour taste is the result of acetic and lactic acids produced by fermenting sugar.)

Believe me, this is completely achievable!  All that is required is flour, water and time, the yeast is already there around you, wherever you live.

Mix 50% bread flour and 50% water into a batter in a non-reactive, see-through container (note that the volume will double), place in a cool environment with no direct sunlight.

24 to 72 hours later your sourdough should be bubbling due to CO2 gas produced. At this point, the yeast population is still small and weak, not really ready for baking. From now on, every day (preferably at the same time) you’ll need to take out half of the starter and discard, then replace the pulled out amount with 1:1 fresh flour and water. This is called ‘feeding’ the sourdough.

In 7 to 10 days, you’ll have a batch that’s strong enough and ready to bake with. If you’re not sure about the strength of your sourdough, the float test will help: put a small amount in water; if it floats, you’re good to go.

As I said, it’s a commitment with constant monitoring and maintenance, but you’ll get the most out of a loaf. And you only really have to do this once, after the first 7-day period, one feeding is enough weekly to maintain the sourdough.

Still not sure if you’re ready to take on the challenge? That’s totally fine! The next best thing is using preferments. This also needs some forethought, but it’s ready in 12-16 hours at room temperature without the feeding process, and the bread will still have a wonderful aroma to it.

Preferments are flour, water and yeast mixtures, allowed an initial fermentation. Commercial yeasts (used when making wine, beer and bread) are quicker acting, take shorter to propagate, and leaven your bread quicker compared to wild yeast.

There are three main types of preferments. When mixing equal parts flour and water with 0,2 to 1% yeast, you’ll get a 100% hydration poolish-style starter.

The old dough method is more convenient when baking the same recipe on a regular basis: about 1/3 of the bread dough is reserved to levin the next batch. This old dough can be stored 8-12 hours at room temperature, or up to 3 days refrigerated. It can also be frozen for up to 6 months, in which case it will need to thaw fully before using.

Last but not least, the method that makes for results closest to sourdough: a stiff, bread dough like, low hydration biga. This Italian-style starter is more stable, contains more acid, and takes 16-24 hours to ferment. Made of flour, 60% water, and 2% yeast, once it has expanded by about double its original volume, biga can be incorporated into your bread dough. It stays fresh in the fridge for 3-5 days, and can be frozen as well (again, it needs to thaw completely to be active).

Biga is what I use mostly. I make batches with 500 g bread flour, 300 ml water and 10 g fresh yeast. When it’s ready, I divide the dough into 200 g portions, put them in ziplock bags and freeze. This amount makes enough starter for 4 loaves.

Ready to dive headlong into sourdough, or play it safe with biga? I’d love to hear your opinion! Also, share any experiences you have with starters!

Love,

Fruzsi

Photo by Sanda Vuckovic Pagaimo