Banana Bread with Dates and Walnuts

A classic banana bread recipe with soft chewy dates and toasted crunchy walnuts baked in the batter. The not too ripe bananas and few teaspoons of cornstarch in the batter give it a nice tender structure that’s not too moist and mushy. Feel free to experiment with other add-in ingredients like substituting the dates with figs, and the walnuts with toasted skinned hazelnuts!


Makes one 9″x5″ Loaf
Recipe adapted from the Tivoli Bakery Cookbook

155g all-purpose flour
28g (2 tbsp) cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
250g ripe bananas, peeled
juice of half a lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature lightly whisked
1 tsp vanilla extract
85g butter, at room temperature
110g caster sugar
100g walnut halves
140g pitted dates, sliced
1 small banana, less ripe (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 160C (320F). Grease a 9″x5″ (23cm x 13cm) loaf pan and line with baking paper.
2. Sift the flours, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Mas the ripe bananas with the lemon juice in a separate small bowl. Stir in the whisked eggs and vanilla extract.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the egg/banana mixture beating well between each addition until fully incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and mix gently until barely combined then add the walnuts and dates.
4. Peel the other less ripe banana and cut into two thin slices lengthways. Pour the batter into the tin, and place the two banana slices on top (if the slices are thick then they will sink into the cake). Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave the tin for a few minutes then transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Katayef bi Ashta

People often tell me that they’re not good at baking because it requires a lot of precision and it’s less forgiving than cooking. They sometimes ask me what recipes they should start experimenting with and I usually recommend cookies, brownies, or one bowl cake recipes that don’t have a lot of steps. I’m adding these traditional Lebanese Katayef delicacies to the repertoire as well. They are half-cooked pancakes filled with Ashta (

Arabic

word for clotted cream) or in this case ricotta cheese flavored with orange blossom water. It’s a classic and versatile dessert especially during Ramadan because you can fill them with any sort of flavored cheese. I also love that the sugar syrup is served on the side so you can control the level of sweetness per serving.

Makes 15 Katayef (1 Tbsp batter)

Sugar Syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
a few drops of lemon
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp orange blossom water

To make the sugar syrup, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the syrup to boil for 3 minutes without stirring. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes until it reaches a light, syrupy consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the rose flower and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool down completely and store in fridge (this step can be made a couple of days in advance).

Katayef (pancakes)
1/2
 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup semolina
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk

Filling
250g Ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp Orange Blossom Syrup
Ground pistachios

1. Mix the all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine the water and milk in a separate small bowl then gradually pour into the dry mixture while whisking to prevent lumps from forming.

2. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let it rest for 30 min on the kitchen counter and place two damp kitchen towels near the stove.

3. Preheat a non-stick pan over medium heat, and test the batter by pouring 1 tablespoon on the skillet. The surface of the Katayef should bubble a lot (Note: if it doesn’t bubble then adjust the batter by adding more water a tablespoon at a time to make it thinner). Cook one side of the pancake until golden brown and the surface dries out completely.

4. Transfer to the damp towel and cover to prevent it from drying out. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

5. Mix the ricotta cheese with the orange blossom water and place a tablespoon of the filling on each pancake. Pinch the edges of to seal the Katayef on one side only. Sprinkle the top of the filled Katayef with ground pistachios and serve with sugar syrup on the side.

Note: Katayef can also be filled with nuts, sealed completely (half-moon shape) and then deep-fried until golden brown or baked in the oven at 400°F (200°C). 

Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies

Here’s the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe that I’ve baked dozens of times. It yields the perfect cookies in my opinion because the edges are slightly crisp, the center is pillowy soft yet chewy, and the warm pools of chocolate exquisitely collapse in your mouth in every single bite.

These are not enough reasons to call them perfect. The complexity of the textures are enhanced by the rich layering of flavors that will delight you – like the nuttiness of the brown butter, the slight earthiness of the rosemary herb, the toffee-like flavor of the soft brown sugar, and the luxurious mix of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate, all aged together for 48 hours before baking. Swoon!

I guarantee you that they will satisfy all of your sweet cravings and make everyone beg you for more!


Recipe adapted from Hand Made Baking

240g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
90g (3/4 cup) bread flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
200g (1 cup) packed light brown sugar
100g (1/2 cup) demerara or turbinado sugar
226g (2 sticks; 1 cup) cold butter, cut into cubes
2 large fresh sprigs of rosemary (about 5 inches/12cm each)
1 large egg and 1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp milk or heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
150g chopped semisweet dark chocolate
150g chopped bittersweet dark chocolate

Note: Semisweet and bittersweet chocolate are both considered dark chocolate since they both contain at least 35% of cocoa. The difference comes in the amount of sugar: semisweet chocolate contains about 50% sugar, vs. bittersweet chocolate contains 33% sugar. Check the Nutrition Facts labels to learn more about the level of sweetness of the chocolate.

1. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the butter with the rosemary until it’s just melted. Take off the heat and set aside to let the rosemary flavor infuse in the butter for a few minutes until it cools down.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, bread flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
4. Put the brown sugar and turbinado sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pour the melted butter through a strainer into the bowl of sugar and mix on low speed until a smooth paste for about a minute.
5. Add the egg, egg yolk, milk and vanilla then mix on low speed for another minute until well combined. Scrape the bowl and test the mixture with your fingers to see if it’s at room temperature.
6. With the mixture on low speed, add the flour mixture until just incorporated. Turn off the mixture and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Stir in the chopped chocolate with a wooden spoon or spatula.
7. With a medium ice cream scoop portion out the cookie dough (about two tablespoons each) onto the baking sheet spaced 2in/5cm apart. Put the baking sheets in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour (or up to 48 hours). You can also freeze the portioned cookie dough at this point*.
8. Place a rack into the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F/190°C.
9. Once the dough is chilled, bake one sheet at a time for 11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking, until the cookies are lightly golden brown around the edges and their tops are blushed with gold; do not overbake!
10. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

*To bake frozen cookie dough, take out the dough 30 minutes before baking to thaw slightly.

Galette Des Rois

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I’m a bit late to post this Galette Des Rois recipe since it is made on January 6 of each year to celebrate Epiphany. Since a lot of you saw my Instagram story sharing my version, I decided to post it anyway because it’s an incredibly delicious pastry to serve anytime.

I always say that nothing is too hard to make from scratch – and I definitely get teased about that – but this recipe is really easy. All you have to do is create an almond based frangipane filling and then spread it between two store-bought puff pastry sheets that you can cut into a circular or square shape. You can even skip the fancy scoring on top and opt for a simple crosshatch pattern. The scoring is important though to ensure that the puff rises evenly.

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A lot of recipes out there only use almond cream for the filling, but frangipane is traditionally used in most bakeries, which is basically pastry cream and almond cream mixed together with some add-ons like orange zest and rum. I prefer a frangipane filling because it is more creamy, rich, and addictive.

Have you made a Galette des Rois this year? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to add a trinket or a whole almond in the filling – whoever gets it gets to be the queen or king of the day!
Yields one 8″ galette (20cm)

Crust
450g puff pastry (homemade or store-bought) cut into 8″ circles.
Note: If making a 9″ galette, you will need two store-bought puff pastry packages.

Pastry Cream
100ml milk
25g granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
4g cornstarch
10g unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Almond Cream (you will only use half this quantity later)
75g unsalted butter, room temperature
80g granulated sugar
1 medium egg
80g ground almonds
6g cornstarch
15ml rum
Orange zest (half a medium orange)

Egg Wash
1 egg yolk
Splash of water

Pastry Cream
1. In a small saucepan, combine the milk with half the sugar and put on medium heat to slowly bring it up to a simmer.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, the rest of the sugar and cornstarch. When the milk is hot (don’t let it boil), very slowly pour it over the egg mixture while whisking constantly and fast to prevent the yolk from curdling.
3. Working quickly, strain the milk-egg mixture through a fine-mesh sieve back into the saucepan and cook on medium heat whisking continuously.
4. Cook the pastry cream for 2 minutes until it thickens then remove from the heat, and add the butter cubes one at a time, whisking until fully incorporated, then the vanilla extract.
5. Transfer the pastry cream to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Put aside or store in the fridge if making this a day in advance.

Almond Cream
In a small bowl, cream together the softened butter with the sugar (or use a stand mixer). Mix in consecutively the egg, almond flour, cornstarch and finally the rum.

Assembly
1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and place a half sheet pan in the oven.
2. Gently roll out the puff pastry to a 3mm-thick rectangle. Using an 8″ cake pan or a lid, cut two rounds of puff pastry with a sharp knife (the top should ideally be about 1cm bigger than the bottom). Pierce with a fork to let steam escape during baking and place them side by side on a lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until very cold or freeze for a few minutes.
3. To make the frangipane, mix the pastry cream with half of the almond cream (or all of it if making a larger galette) then set aside. Refrigerate the rest of the almond cream for other preparations.
4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, place the bottom dough on the center of the lined baking sheet and pipe the frangipane cream in a spiral shape leaving a 1″ (3cm) edge. Place a nut, bean, or trinket on the edge of the filling.
5. Brush water around the exposed perimeter of the dough, making sure not to touch the edges as this will prevent it from puffing up, then place the second larger circle on top of the cream and press down to seal the edges very well, leaving finger marks.
6. Flip the galette so that the top becomes the bottom (optional for a smoother top) and decorate the side of the galette by making an inward mark with the back of a knife blade. Brush the first layer of egg wash and refrigerate again for at least an hour.
7. Take out the galette, brush a second layer of egg wash and draw a pattern with the tip of a sharp knife. Note: this step is important to ensure that the dough rises evenly; do not cut the puff pastry or it will crack after baking. Poke small holes in the decoration lines in the center and sides.
8. Bake at 400°F (200°C) for 15 minutes then at 350°F (200°C) for 35-40 minutes, until the galette becomes a deep golden brown color. Serve warm at room temperature.

Olive Oil Cake with Persimmons

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OliveOilCake_Persimmons-2

For my birthday last year, my friend and I went to our favorite Italian restaurant in Brooklyn called Lillia. It was 11pm at night, we had ordered two Americanos and a slice of olive oil cake served with whipped cream and fresh persimmons. I still remember the taste of that wonderful cake because not only was it a fond memory, but I was also intrigued by the simplicity of the dessert. It wasn’t fancy at all and tasted like a homemade cake my mom would do – except it had an unexpected hint of olive oil and my favorite fall fruit of all time. I’ve made a couple versions of olive oil cakes since but none of them come close to this fantastic recipe.

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Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes one 9″ (23cm) cake

300ml (1¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan
250g (1 cup +2 Tablespoons) granulated sugar; plus more for pan and finishing touch
240g (2 cups) cake flour*
28g (⅓ cup) almond flour or fine-grind cornmeal (I used almond flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
60ml (¼ cup) amaretto, Grand Marnier, or other liqueur
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
60ml (¼ cup) fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 small eggs, at room temperature

*Substitute cake flour by sifting together three times 238g (1+3/4 cups) all-purpose flour and 24g (1/4 cup) cornstarch.

Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C). Drizzle bottom and sides of pan with detachable bottom with oil and use your fingers to coat. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and smooth to eliminate air bubbles; coat parchment with more oil. Generously sprinkle pan with sugar and tilt to coat in an even layer; tap out excess (do not skip this step!). Whisk cake flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to combine and eliminate any lumps. Stir together liquor, lemon juice, and vanilla in a small bowl.

Using an electric mixer on high speed (use whisk attachment if working with a stand mixer), beat eggs, lemon zest, and 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large bowl until mixture is very light, thick, pale, and falls off the whisk or beaters in a slowly dissolving ribbon, about 3 minutes if using a stand mixer and about 5 minutes if using a hand mixer. With mixer still on high speed, gradually stream in 1¼ cups oil and beat until incorporated and mixture is even thicker. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with amaretto mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Fold batter several times with a large rubber spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of bowl. Gently scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and sprinkle with more sugar.

Place cake in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 350°F (176°C). Bake until top is golden brown, center is firm to the touch, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40–50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan 15 minutes.

Run a thin knife around edges of cake and remove ring from pan. Slide cake onto rack and let cool completely. For the best flavor and texture, wrap cake in plastic and let sit at room temperature at least a day before serving.

Halloumi Mint Scones with Heirloom Tomato Spread

Here’s a recipe for crumbly cheesy halloumi scones that are delicious for breakfast or served as a side at the dinner table. Throw in some chopped mint in the dough for a refreshing herbal note and serve hot straight out of the oven. I always eat halloumi cheese with tomatoes, so I was inspired to make the tomato spread on the side. The Heirloom variety is the best because of their complex, wine-like, sweet taste that’s less acidic than the regular ones. Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do – Sahtein!

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Scones:
300g (2½ cups) all-purpose flour, cold
15g (1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
15g (3 tsp) baking powder
1 tsp fine grain sea salt
½ lemon zest
¼ cup chopped mint
140g (5oz) grated halloumi
112g cold butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
180ml (3/4 cup) cold buttermilk
1 large egg, cold

Egg wash:
1 small egg
pinch of fine grain sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Add the cold cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Pour the mixture in a large bowl and lightly mix in the grated halloumi.

3. In another bowl, beat the cold buttermilk and egg. Slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and gently fold just until all of the flour has been moistened. Do not overwork the dough. Dump the dough out on to a large piece of parchment paper and gently pat the dough out until it’s a 1″ (2.5cm) thick rectangle.

4. Transfer to a large baking sheet and rest for 20 minutes in the fridge. Cut the dough into 9 squares using a knife and space them out on the baking sheet. You can freeze the dough at this point if you are planning to make these a few days in advance.

5. For the topping, beat together the egg and salt. Lightly brush the tops of the dough with the mixture being careful not to drip on the sides (or it will prevent the scones from rising). Bake for 20 minutes, rotating halfway, until the scones are golden brown.

6. Rest the scone for 2 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes, Serve warm the same day.

Heirloom Tomato Spread:
1kg (2 LB.) Heirloom tomatoes, cored and chopped
50g (¼ cup) granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
Pinch of crushed red peppers (optional)
Add ins
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp pomegranate syrup

1. In a large saucepan, combine the chopped tomatoes, sugar, salt, and crushed red peppers. Set over medium heat and cook uncovered, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until most the tomatoes are glossy and thick and most of the liquid has cooked off, approximately 2 hours.

2. Press through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the tomato skins and stir in the lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. Let cool and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.