Basic Buttercream Frosting

I remember when I was growing up, my mom was always baking these big, gorgeous wedding cakes for friends and family.  It was so exciting to sit and watch her frost the cake and stack the tiers high, then decorate it with perfect frosting roses and embellishments. She always made the most perfectly white, fluffy vanilla buttercream frosting to frost it with.  She would spread leftover frosting on graham crackers for Joanie and I.

When I started baking cakes and cupcakes several years ago, I couldn’t get the consistency of my buttercream frosting right.  The frosting would never be fluffy enough and would never hold up when I piped it through a tip.  I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong until finally I had my mom walk me through it.  Turns out there is a very simple trick to getting the fluffiest frosting that’ll stay where you put it.  The trick is, you beat the crap out of it!  My mom told me to whip the butter in the mixer on high for no less than 7 minutes!  So here is my buttercream frosting recipe based on my mom’s recipe, but I don’t use shortening like she did because I just don’t like the mouth feel.
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Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature.  (This is VERY important, if your butter is too soft or melted it won’t fluff up.  I would err on the side of too cold if anything.  Let your butter set on the counter over night if you can.)

4-5 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp real vanilla extract
5-6 Tbs milk

Method:

With an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the butter on high for 10 minutes.  You can periodically stop the mixer to scrape down sides of the bowl.  The butter will get fluffy and almost white in color.
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When butter is very light and fluffy (after 10 minutes of whipping) turn mixer off and add the vanilla and two cups of the powdered sugar.  Turn mixer on low until the sugar is combined and then turn it on medium speed and add 2 tablespoons of the milk.
Turn mixer back to low and add the rest of the powdered sugar and a couple more tablespoons of milk until you have a fluffy, light, spreadable consistency.

You are now ready to spread the frosting onto cakes or cupcakes.  This can be done using an off-set spatula or pastry bag and tip.  If you don’t have either of these, the back-side of a butter knife works just fine.  This recipe will frost approximately 24 cupcakes or 1 9×13 cake or a two layer 8 inch round cake.  Happy frosting!!

~Janna
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Joanie’s Favorite Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

I can honestly say that these are the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever had.  No exaggeration.  I’m a big chocoholic and, in my opinion, the darker the better!  Sure there’s a time and a place for milk chocolate (and even white chocolate, though that’s not really chocolate) but dark chocolate takes the cake.  Or rather, MAKES the cake!

I came across this recipe from Life, Love & Sugar in the news feed of our Facebook page.  The chocolate cake was layered with a decadent pumpkin cheesecake and frosted with pumpkin icing.  The photos were so beautiful and enticing that I was more than happy to test it out for a friend.  While the original layer cake was delicious, the chocolate cake really stood out to me.  Since then, it has been my go-to for chocolate cake.

This recipe is rather quick and easy, and you don’t need a mixer.  So far, it has been absolutely fool proof.  The best part is, they are so rich and delightful that you really don’t even need icing…that’s just a bonus.  =)  However, if you do want something sweet to spread on top, try our Basic Buttercream or Coconut Pecan Spread.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark baking chocolate powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup boiling water water
2 tsp real vanilla extractIMG_5447

Directions:
Prepare your pans ahead of time.  Line cupcake pans, OR thoroughly grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans.  You may consider adding parchment paper rounds to the bottom of the pan to ensure an easy release.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and whisk together thoroughly.
Dry Ingredients

Add eggs, buttermilk & oil and mix until combined and glossy.
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In a measuring cup, combine the boiling water and vanilla and add it to the chocolate mixture.  Give the batter a final stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.  The consistency will be a little runny, but, trust me, it’s perfect.
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Pour the batter into prepared pans.  For cupcakes, leave about 3/8 inch to the top of the liner to avoid ugly muffin tops.  =)
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For cupcakes: bake 25-30 minutes.  (My stone pan takes 30 minutes on the dot, every time.  Metal pans may need a little less time.)
For round cakes: bake for about 35-40 minutes.

You know your cake is done with you can insert a toothpick into the middle and it comes out clean.  However, DON’T disturb the cake until the final minutes of baking.  You don’t want to cause it to collapse.  Collapsed cake is not pretty, I’ve seen it.
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Allow the cakes to cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to cooling racks and let them come to room temperature before you frost them.

Makes 24 cupcakes (25 if you’re lucky!) or one decadent, layered round cake.
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Grapefruit Pie

I love citrus and grapefruit is one of my favorites.  It reminds me of being at my grandparents house in Florida and picking the tart fruit right from the tree!  As I was testing my key lime pie last year I started thinking about the possibility of grapefruit pie.  I’ve tried different variations of grapefruit pie over the last year and finally came up with one that I think is perfect.  As I researched grapefruit pie, I realized that they all use the actual wedges, and made a fruit pie, while I wanted more of a custard.  So I juiced the grapefruit and simmered it and reduced it by half so it was super sweet and super tart.  I also used the zest of one whole grapefruit to make sure it had tons of flavor.  Then I took the custard base that I use for the key lime pie and used the grapefruit juice and zest instead.  I couldn’t be more happy with the results and I hope you like it too!

~Jannawhipped-cream-birdie 3

Ingredients for filling:

1 cup grapefruit juice, I used Ruby Red but any variety will do (One very large grapefruit will give you about 1 cup)
Zest from your grapefruit
1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
3 large egg yolks
1 9″ graham cracker crust  (or you can use a ready made crust)

Ingredients for crust:

2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbs granulated sugar
5 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

Ingredients for whipped cream:

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 tsp vanilla extract
*If you don’t have a vanilla bean you can double your vanilla extract.
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Method:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a 9 inch pie plate mix the graham cracker crumbs with the sugar.  Pour the butter into the dish and mix with a fork until all the graham cracker is coated.  Press mixture onto the sides of the dish and then press into the middle making an even thickness throughout.  Set aside.

To make the whipped cream, put the heavy cream into a cold mixer bowl (I stick mine in the freezer beforehand for a few minutes).  Using the whisk attachment and the mixer on high, whip the cream until it thickens up and forms peaks (3-4 minutes).  Turn the mixer off and add your vanilla and powdered sugar.  Turn the mixer on medium to incorporate the sugar and vanilla.  Once finished, put the whipped cream into a lidded air-tight container and store in refrigerator.  You will need your bowl and whisk attachment again so you’ll need to wash it.
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Squeeze grapefruit juice into a small bowl or sauce pot.  Strain out seeds and big clumps of pulp.

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Simmer in sauce pot on med/high heat to reduce by half.  This will take approximately 10-15 minutes.  Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally.  You will end up with 1/2 a cup of reduced juice.  Add the zest and cool in an ice bath.  (Don’t skip the ice bath!  You do this so you don’t cook the eggs by adding hot juice.)

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Once the juice isn’t hot to the touch (it’s okay if it’s warm) add it, the sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks to a mixer bowl.  Using your whisk attachment again, blend on high until well incorporated, 1-2 minutes.

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Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for 15 minutes.  grapefruit5

Let pie rest out of the oven for 10 minutes before chilling it in the fridge.  Top with homemade whipped cream and serve cold.
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Gooey Marshmallow Treats

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Also known as Rice Krispies Treats, these simple squares are a fun finger food that will instantaneously transport you back to childhood.  Rice Krispies Treats were invented in 1939 by Malitta Jensen and Mildred Day at the Kellogg Company home economics department as a fund raiser for Camp Fire Girls. (source: Wikipedia)
And what’s not to love?  Crispy rice cereal is generously coated in fluffy sugary marshmallows so it’s bound to be delicious.  Best of all, they are fast, easy and inexpensive.  Yes, they are full of carbs, sugar and delicious full-fat butter.  But that’s what dessert is all about!  Indulge a little….

Ingredients:
16 oz mini marshmallows, divided
4 oz butter + some for greasing (Coconut oil can be used for a dairy-free treat.)
1/4 tsp salt
6 cups crisp rice cereal
OPTIONAL: 1 cup chocolate chips, mini chips, mini m&m’s, caramel chips, etc.

Directions:

Generously grease a 9×13 pan with butter.

In a large pot, melt butter on medium-low heat.  Stir in HALF the mini marshmallows and continue to stir until they are completely melted and form a gooey cream.

Add salt and stir.  Remove from heat immediately.

Pour cereal into the pot and fold it into the melted marshmallows until all cereal is thoroughly coated with marshmallow.
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Add the additional whole marshmallows and any optional chips that you want.  Quickly fold them into the cereal.  You don’t want this second addition of marshmallows to melt, it’s so delicious when you bite into a fluffy whole marshmallow!

Turn the mixture out into your buttered pan and press it flat with clean, buttered hands.  It’s delicious when it’s warm, but they will cut much more easily if you allow them to cool completely.  RC

*Tip: If you have leftover chips, consider melting them and drizzling over the top of the cut squares.  Yum!
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Zesty Fried Pickles

pickleAnyone who knows me knows that pickles are one of my favorite foods.  I’m obsessed with pickles, so I’m always looking for new and fun ways to incorporate them into my meals.  These fried pickles are addictive and are a fun finger food!  Who needs utensils, right?  Everytime I make them they are gone in a matter of minutes!  These go perfectly with my hot wings on game day, GO SEAHAWKS!!!!  Or my pretzels and beer cheese!  Fried pickles and beer cheese?  I think I’m on to something!!
~JannaDSC_0119

Ingredients:

About 3 cups of dill pickle chips, drain on paper towels.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
¾ tsp dill weed or fresh chopped dill
1 cup of buttermilk
1 qt vegetable, (canola or peanut oil works too) oil for frying

Directions:

Combine all dry ingredients into a bowl, put buttermilk into separate bowl.  Make sure your pickles are well drained.DSC_0122

Heat oil in a 4 to 6 quart heavy bottomed pot to about 350 degrees F.  Dunk ½ a cup or so of pickles into the buttermilk, coating all sides.  Shake off excess buttermilk and put into the flour mixture, toss the pickles around so they are all coated.
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Fry in the hot oil until golden (2-3 minutes) and let them drain on paper towels for a few minutes.  Repeat with the remainder of the pickles.
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Enjoy as they are or for an added kick of flavor dip them in ranch or bleu cheese dressing spiked with hot sauce!!  These go fabulous with a cold beer!

Orange Essence Zucchini Bread

Zucchini is one of the most abundant fall vegetables here in the US.  And zucchini bread is one of the most popular ways to use it up, especially when your garden produces an abundance of overgrown, deep green squash.  While I don’t have a garden (just a few tomato plants on my patio), one of my associates at work has generously shared this years zucchini crop.

Quick breads often seem more like cake than bread, and I’m ok with that.  Classic zucchini bread is so comforting and delicious!  However, I wanted my zucchini bread to really stand apart, so I started baking.  And baking.  And baking.  I don’t know how many loaves and muffins I’ve given away in my quest for the perfect bread, but it’s been a lot!  However, it has been well worth it because I really do believe that this is the best zucchini bread I’ve ever had.  It’s subtly sweet with just a hint of orange while still maintaining that classic zucchini bread flavor.  If you like to drizzle yours with a sweet glaze, I’ve included directions for a quick orange glaze that perfectly compliments it.  I hope it’s your new favorite!

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest from 1 large orange
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts or unsalted pistachios (optional)

Orange Glaze (optional):
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed orange juice
¼ teaspooon orange zest

Makes about 2 full-sized loaves, 4 mini-loaves, or about 24 muffins.
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Directions:

Prepare your loaf pan or muffin tins.  I highly recommend using parchment if you’re making loaves because, for some reason, this bread seems to stick to my stoneware EVERY time if I don’t.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 C)

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off the orange being careful to get as little white pith as possible.  Toss the orange peel and the granulated sugar into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulverize until the peel is very finely minced into the sugar.  Set aside.Orange Sugar 1.jpg

Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla, brown sugar and orange sugar together.  Add sifted ingredients to the wet mixture and beat will.
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Stir in the zucchini and nuts until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 40-60 for a loaf pan.
Bake approx 30 minutes for muffins.

Test doneness by inserting a toothpick or small tester into the middle.  When it comes out clean, it’s done!

Allow bread to cool in pans for about 20 minutes (not necessary for muffins using liners), then turn them out and let it cool completely.

To prepare optional glaze: whisk sugar, orange juice and zest in a bowl until smooth.  Drizzle over bread.

Enjoy!
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Rustic Blue Cheese Apple Tart

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I can’t recall the day I decided that I actually like blue cheese.  For years I considered it a disgusting, smelly hunk of mold, hardly classifiable as food.  Then one day, it was like someone flipped a switch and now, I crave the stuff!

This delicate recipe is a little twist on a blue cheese pizza that was prepared during a cheese class at my favorite local produce store, Chuck’s Produce.  Their resident “Cheese Whiz,” Andrew, allowed us to taste several varieties of blue cheese in various different ways.  One of the cheeses he sprinkled over his apple pizza and topped with agave syrup.  It was delicious!  For my version, I replaced the pizza dough with the lighter puff pastry, which I think lends itself better for a breakfast item, and used organic clover honey as the drizzle.

Aside from the incredible sweet & savory combination, you’ll love this recipe because it uses minimal, common ingredients and it is really quick and easy to prepare, while still being impressive in both flavor and presentation.

Are you a blue cheese lover?  If not, maybe this recipe will change your mind.  If you already love it, enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 sheet puff pastry
1-2 fresh apples, sliced (Honey Crisp or Pink Ladies taste great!)
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
Honey (enough to drizzle)

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Directions:

Follow thawing directions on the puff pastry box.  Lay pastry sheet out flat on a baking sheet.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for approx 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Pastry will puff up…a lot!  It’s okay, it,s puff pastry, that’s what it’s supposed to do!  Once golden, remove from oven.  Puff.jpg

Slice and core apples and arrange evenly on the cooked pastry.  Top with blue cheese crumbles and drizzle with honey.4 pix.jpg

Bake for about 15 minutes or until blue cheese is golden and apples are soft.

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Southwest Enchiladas

Taco salad is a staple in my household.  We probably have it 3-4 times a month.  I cook and season the meat and make a bean salad, then it’s a free-for-all where we each get to build our own salad.  The only problem is we ALWAYS have leftover meat and beans and, even though we love it, we get kind of bored after the 2nd day of taco salad leftovers.  That in mind, I decided to work on a dish that would use all those leftovers and turn it into something new.  SUCCESS!  Those same savory southwestern spices carry over beautifully into this dish, but in the form of a hot, gooey, delicious enchilada.  And the best part is, they are so easy, even if you don’t have a bunch of leftovers to use up.  Prep takes about 20 minutes and baking is minimal since the filling is already hot.  We still love Taco Salad, but now we also look forward to “leftover” enchiladas.

This full recipe makes a about 18 enchiladas.

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef or turkey, or pre-cooked shredded chicken*
2 Tbs taco season
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn**
3 green onions, chopped
¼ cup fresh diced tomato
½ cup fresh cilantro
1 Tbs lime juice
1 Tbs cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
3 +/- Tbs coconut or canola oil
18 +/- corn enchiladas
2 10 oz cans red enchilada sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded mexican blend cheese

*If you want to make this a vegetarian dish, simply replace the meat with an additional can of beans or about 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa.

**You can also use grilled sweet corn when it’s in season, which is what I prefer.  The grill adds so much flavor!

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

If using ground beef or turkey, brown meat in a skillet.

Add taco season and 1/4 cup water to meat and allow to simmer about 5 minutes.

To the skillet add beans, corn, tomatoes, 2 of the onions, cilantro, lime juice and spices. Reduce heat to medium low and allow the mixture to heat through.

In a separate small frying pan, heat oil on medium-high heat.  Once it’s hot, fry the tortillas one-by-one, about 10 seconds on each side.  Drain on paper towels and allow tortillas to cool enough to handle.

Coat the bottom of a 9×13 pan (or 2 8×8′s as I did) with a few tablespoons of enchilada sauce.

Spoon about ¼ cup of filling mixture into each tortilla plus a pinch of cheese.  Fold over filling and place enchiladas seam-side-down in the pan.

Top with remaining enchilada sauce.

Cover with remaining cheese and green onion.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and starts to brown.  

Pile on sour cream, diced avocado, shredded lettuce, black olives, jalapeno’s or whatever toppings your prefer.  Eat up!

Six Pepper Chili

I love chili! Probably partly because I like spicy food and I put a lot of kick into my chili.  In our house, when Joanie and I were kids, chili was a staple and it was always homemade. Sometimes we would even make moose chili but that’s a whole other blog!

Over the years I’ve tried many different chili styles adding this or that, making it spicy or mild, or trying different meat or beans.  I even made it cheesy a time or two, which essentially turned out to be a chili dip that went perfectly with nacho cheese Doritos!  I finally perfected this chili on a crisp autumn evening up at our cabin in the mountains.  I also recently used it to win a chili cook-off!  One thing I would change in this recipe is I would fire roast all of the peppers to bring out all of the flavors in the different varieties.  This one is a little spicy, fair warning.  If you don’t want as much spice, omit the cayenne pepper and jalapeno.  ~Janna

Serves: 12

Ingredients:

1 lb sweet Italian pork sausage
10-12oz of pearl onions, whole (or 1 medium yellow onion roughly chopped)
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
2 Serrano peppers, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
2 poblano peppers, diced
12 oz bottle of beer
2 cans 15oz tomato sauce
1 can 12oz tomato paste
1 can, 14.5oz fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 cans 15.25oz each of dark kidney beans, drained but not rinsed
Cayenne pepper
1 Tbs Chili powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbs sugar
black pepper
salt to taste

Method:

Brown pork in a skillet on med/high heat.

In large stock pot, sauté onions and all peppers. Once tender, (about 5-7 minutes) add the bottle of beer and stir a couple of minutes.

Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and beans, stir to combine and bring back to a simmer.

Add the pork without draining (unless there is tons of grease) and all of the spices.  Stir to combine and Simmer at least 1 hour.  Salt to taste and enjoy on a cold winter evening!6 Pepper Chili with Title

America’s Test Kitchen Banana Bread

I have been baking banana bread as far back as I can remember.  It was one of the first things I learned how to make by myself when I was a kid.  I remember pulling the steaming loaves out of the oven and being so proud of my creation!  They never lasted long, and to this day, banana bread is one of my favorite comfort foods.

This recipe is not the same recipe I used growing up.  It is a creation of America’s Test Kitchen and was introduced to me through a foodie friend at work who generously shared the banana bread she had made with the rest of the office.  Although I wasn’t fast enough to snag a piece out of her bread from the break room, she did provide me with the recipe.  After hearing the comments around the office, I knew I had to make it for myself. Seriously, this is the most banana-y banana bread I’ve ever had and it is so incredibly moist!  Don’t scoff at the little bit of extra work with the bananas because THAT is what makes it so incredible.  Just do it, you will be rewarded!

When selecting bananas, be sure to use those that are heavily speckled, or even black.  If you are one of those people who freezes bananas, this is YOUR recipe!! The darker the banana, the sweeter and more developed the banana taste will be.  A lot of grocery stores will even sell these “overripe” bananas at a deeply discounted price.  Yes, those mushy, black banana’s seem really gross, but trust me, you’ll be hoarding them in your freezer like they are gold once you’ve seen (and tasted) what they can do.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ Cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp table salt
5 large very ripe bananas, peeled
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 Large eggs
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tsp granulated sugar

**Note:  The photo below shows baking powder, which is NOT in the recipe…my mistake!

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray an 8 ½  by 4 ½ inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

Place bananas in a microwave safe bowl.  I used a round casserole dish with a lid.  You can use plastic wrap with a few cut steam vents to cover if you don’t have a lid, but personally I avoid putting plastic in the microwave.  

Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released most of their liquid, about 5 minutes.Transfer bananas to a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl and allow them to drain, turning the bananas occasionally for about 15 minutes.  You should end up with ½ – ¾ cup of liquid.  

Transfer liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to about ¼ cup.  Liquid should be light caramel color and thick, almost as thick as syrup.  I stirred mine pretty vigorously and ended up with some bubbles, but you get the idea.

Remove from the heat and stir this reduced liquid back into your mashed bananas and mash everything together with a potato masher.  The original recipe says “mash until fairly smooth” but mine never made it to that point…it stayed semi-lumpy.  I’m sure whatever stage of lumpiness your bananas end up is just fine.

Whisk in melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.


Pour banana mixture into your flour mixture and stir until just combined.  Do not over stir. Some flour streaks are okay.  Gently fold in walnuts if you’re using them.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over the surface.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, approx 55-75 minutes.  Cool bread in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.

**Note:  I used a mini loaf pan and a muffin pan instead of the larger, single loaf pan.  I started checking them at 30 minutes.  The muffins were slightly drier than the loaf and I would probably turn the oven down a few degrees the next time.

***Variation:  I added ½ cup of flaked coconut to the muffins and they were SO good!

Slice loaf and serve slightly warm or room temperature.  Enjoy!