Posts Tagged ‘chocolate chips’


The holiday season is a cranium-clocker of a monkey wrench when you’re told to keep an eye on your sugar intake. Ten years or so ago I significantly lowered the amount I eat, but of late, have had to reduce it further. A treat now and then is fine, but when you bake a cake for yourself, that’s some ten or twelve treats. And if you only eat certain cakes once a year, and really look forward to them…well, let’s just say the treat quotient adds up.

I wasn’t about to bend on making my favorite holiday cakes. I have to have two—sour-cream cinnamon chocolate chip cake, and sour-cream coffee cake. I’d already reduced the sugar in them, and had for a few years. But now I either had to reduce it further, or go without. I think we both know what happened.

Solid recipes stand up to almost anything, thank goodness.

The result was surprising. When you’re already accustomed to tasting less of one thing, everything else on stage steps forward to mug for the audience. (This is why I rhapsodize about restaurants who have the stones to serve a plain dessert on a plate. It means they trust that it can hold its own without a pile of goo on top.) Going even further: Making a cake with far less sugar, even than usual, made the other ingredients pop that much more…and the biggest diva in this cast of ingredients was butter.

As I ate, I thought about the things in our lives that we’re used to doing, and the things we’re obliged to change for whatever reason. Granted, some things just don’t fly, and never will.*

But who among us, biting into warm homemade cake and eagerly awaiting the first hit of flavor, would snub butter?


*Things That Don’t Work Despite Any Amount of Optimism
1. Driving while eating yogurt
2. Bruce Willis’s 1987 R&B album
3. Me wearing anything Empire-cut


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Did the research: I can’t have chocolate more than every four days. If I do, I get on the express train to Migraine City. It’s a fairly new caffeine intolerance that does not have me aflutter with happiness, but there it is. First world problems. And I have a reader out there who can’t have cocoa at freaking all, so I’m not whining.

Having realized this, Day Four is a lovely day. One I cherish. One I don’t fritter away on crap chocolate. I’ll have a third of a bar* of the good stuff, or a great-quality chocolate chip cookie, or a great brownie. That last gave me the incentive to find the best in the state. This I sweated through, dauntless, because I am a hero, and heroes don’t do the daunt.

Some like their brownies cake-like. Others like them with a bit of moisture, what the English call ‘squidgy.’ I’m an easy sell; either is fine.

The one up top is the clear king thus far. It’s from The Flaky Tart in the Atlantic Highlands, the bakery that kindly sells my marzipan creations, but it rules nonetheless, I promise you. Thick, very dark, and (most importantly) not too sweet. It’s a European’s brownie.

Below is my favorite downtown brown. It’s at The Grateful Deli. A little on the sweet side and with chocolate chips, neither of which are a requirement for me, but delicious—squidgy and unfussy.


Next is one of the varieties sold at Whole Foods, sourced from an outside bakery. You all know I’m not a bells-and-whistles girl (dolling up food is often done to disguise poor quality underneath), but I liked these toasted coconut brownies even better than the plain. Wonderful, not sweet, and cakey.


There are actually two places where one can buy a brownie in my little town of 500 residents, because we have our priorities in order. This is from the second place: Cravings. A peanut butter and chocolate brownie with peanut butter chips on top. This will be a noble choice for my next fourth day: Thursday. I’m stoked.


*I have to ration amounts as well. This took more research. But when you believe in something, by golly, you make it work and suffer the migraines. This post would be sponsored by Imitrex if the stuff worked on me.

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There are times during this chronicling that I play the arrogant card and tell you I have a recipe that trumps whatever it is others are making. I’m afraid this is another one of those times.

I grew up eating banana bread. It’s one of my mom’s specialties, but it’s not her own recipe or a family one, either. It’s Lady Bird Johnson’s. Mom clipped it from our local paper, The Asbury Park Press, sometime in the 196os. I like to picture old Lyndon padding downstairs to the White House kitchen in his jammies on sleepless nights during Vietnam to have a slice of this. Any port in a storm, I guess. I imagine the bread also made a nice dessert if Lady Bird’s guests still had an appetite after all of that barbecue.

While pregnant with my brother, my mother had a nauseous reaction to the smell of fresh bananas. Some forty years later, the smell still turns her stomach; but she can eat banana bread, and was always able to make this as long as she added the bananas to the batter quickly enough. Which she did, and often, for which I’m grateful.

The bread cooled on the kitchen island and there it stayed, still in its loaf pan, with a piece of Saran Wrap over it. We ate it all week for breakfast or for a snack. It was probably the first thing I ever baked. Once I got cocky and added toasted walnuts to the batter and made it into muffins, much to my dad’s delight (and indeed, I was not allowed to make ordinary banana bread ever again). Toasted walnuts, as opposed to those just shaken out of their bag into the batter, make a marked difference in flavor, by the way.

This banana bread recipe is the best because unlike others, which are simply generic batter with chunks of banana here and there, this batter is permeated with banana. Your taste buds don’t have to hunt for bits and pieces of it as you go, which is a sorry way to eat anything.

I substitute whole wheat pastry flour for some or all of the flour it calls for (all-purpose works well) and cut back the sugar. Can’t taste the difference. The recipe calls for sour milk, a quaint addition that hearkens back to when people used everything, even milk that had naturally gone a little sour. (Regular milk, what we buy today at Shop-Rite, was called ‘sweet milk’.) You can use buttermilk or plain yogurt instead of sour milk if you like. Mom used regular whole milk.

The recipe calls for soda. This means baking soda.* It also says a ‘moderate oven’; 350 degrees works fine. (People also used to describe oven temperatures as low, slow, moderate, hot or fast. One imagines chasing their giggling ovens down the street, swearing and balancing a pan full of batter.)

As far as bananas go, the recipe is extremely forgiving; fresh yellow bananas work fine, spotty old bananas even better. Or you can be lazy and put them, in any state, right in the freezer until you want to make banana bread. They’ll turn the color of your bedroom armoire, but that’s okay. When you’re ready, put them on a plate on your counter and let them defrost for an hour or so. Now this is fun: Just tear open one end of each banana, hold it upside down over the bowl, and it will slide right in with a satisfying sploop, just like a boat on the Log Flume.

Here’s the yellowing, stained original recipe Mom cut out of the paper. Note the word written at top, in caps, lest we forget to add them.

This is a wet batter, so it takes a while to bake in a loaf pan. Use a tester to be sure it’s fully cooked. If you don’t feel like waiting, bake it in a shallower brownie pan or make muffins. Bake for 20 minutes to half an hour. Just like cupcakes, they’re ready when you can smell them, when they’re a little golden around the edges, and when they spring back when gently pressed in the middle.

A final note: Adding great-quality semisweet or dark chocolate chips to the bread makes a perfect house gift for people you really, really like or a luxurious treat for you should you not be able to part with it after all.

Here’s the bread the way my mom used to slice it, when we ate it for breakfast on school mornings.

* My cousin once passed along a cake recipe to an aunt who apparently wasn’t much of a cook. The aunt called her and asked, “It calls for soda. Do they mean…like…Coke?’

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