Bites from Europe: A Post in Photos, Part I.

I spent four months in Europe, most of that time spent either on trains or somewhere on campus buckling down on schoolwork. One thing I wish I’d done more: photographed more of my meals & snacks.

Train life: One of my European staples, very early one, was the nutty, seeded, grainy bread found in bakeries and grocery stores.

Train life: One of my European staples, very early one, was the nutty, seeded, grainy bread found in bakeries and grocery stores.

Italian food in Budapest: cheese & herb-stuffed chicken topped with tomatoes.

Italian food in Budapest: cheese & herb-stuffed chicken topped with tomatoes.

Tiramisu in Roma on Mardi Gras.

Tiramisu in Roma on Mardi Gras.

Cold "pasta fresca" from a cafeteria on a Roman side street.

Cold “pasta fresca” from a cafeteria on a Roman side street.

More pasta in Roma - the best I had abroad!

More pasta in Roma – the best I had abroad!

Une crepe au jambon et fromage in Lisieux, France.

Une crepe au jambon et fromage in Lisieux, France.

Pain au chocolat in transit from Lyon to Barcelona.

Pain au chocolat in transit from Lyon to Barcelona.

A very unfortunate sandwich (brie and cranberry - delicious in theory, not so much in practice) but wonderful bravas in the background (small potatoes).

A very unfortunate sandwich (brie and cranberry – delicious in theory, not so much in practice) but wonderful bravas in the background (small potatoes).

The best way to finish off a not-so-good lunch: deep, dark, and dare I say deadly, chocolate cake from a professional pastry chef.

The best way to finish off a not-so-good lunch: deep, dark, and dare I say deadly, chocolate cake from a professional pastry chef.

Maria's fancy chocolates; the flavors included olive oil, rosemary, and lemon.

Maria’s fancy chocolates; the flavors included olive oil, rosemary, and lemon.

Churros con chocolata in Barcelona - or, in Catalan, xurros con xocolata. This might have been my favorite dessert in all of Europe. The churros were freshly fried then promptly sugar-coated at a small place down the road; we carried them in white paper cones to a cafe where we ordered our hot chocolate, a drink so thick you can't sip it - it MUST be eaten with a spoon, or consumed on a churro!

Churros con chocolata in Barcelona – or, in Catalan, xurros con xocolata. This might have been my favorite dessert in all of Europe. The churros were freshly fried then promptly sugar-coated at a small place down the road; we carried them in white paper cones to a cafe where we ordered our hot chocolate, a drink so thick you can’t sip it – it MUST be eaten with a spoon, or consumed on a churro!

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, revisited.

[PSA: Wordless Wednesdays has moved to currently unnamed Friday in honor of this recipe.]

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Hi, my name is Cakey, and I’m perpetually five years old.

I like to make messes. I like to play with the bubbles in the sink when I wash dishes. This weekend, I bought two coloring books. Last week, I ordered chicken strips for dinner with friends. When I was at a boy’s house, he asked what I wanted to drink – of course, I asked for a juice box. Part of me still wants to scream when I sit down in the dentist’s chair. A very large part of me.

Eventually, adult mode kicks in – flour is swept up, Anna Karenina is opened & read, and yes, please, I would like a side salad.

Oh, and packing for school happens.

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It’s that time of year again, when all my friends leave for college, leaving a week between me having friends and me heading back to campus. Thus, separation anxiety sets in, sadness ensues, and my oven mysteriously turns on.

I went back to the start to revisit one of my very first recipes. Kathryn & I baked it with the idea of sending some of it to a boy. Strangely enough, I baked it again this time with the same intention, for the same boy who is once again going to be six hours away from me for a few months. C’est la vie.

At least this time he’s fully aware of the intention behind the banana bread. I’m twice as alluring when I’m holding a freshly baked loaf of one of his favorite foods.

Feminine wiles, indeed.

Enough of the romance mush. Allow me to turn your attention to banana mush instead.

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I made a few more tweaks from the recipe I originally adapted from the great Joy the Baker, although very few. There seem to be varying opinions on the addition of vanilla extract to banana bread – this time, I added it to deepen the sweetness of the bananas. Self-control is null and void when it comes to vanilla.

Happy accident! My four pound Nestle chocolate chip bag (finally) ran out, leaving me with no choice but to chop up some dark chocolate sitting in my fridge. Chopped chocolate is, to me, more aesthetically pleasing than

This has become an all-butter/no oil recipe. A lot of bakers like using oil in breads and muffins to keep them moist (hold up, I hate that word with a passion. Unfortunately, it’s the only one that conveys what I’m trying to say), but then you miss out on the flavor the butter gives.

Finally, I added a crumble. Banana bread covered in sugar, oatmeal, and walnuts makes it a little more special.

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It’s as spectacular as it was before, only better. Do I contradict myself? (Very well, then I contradict myself.) This is probably the best banana bread you’ll ever eat – the perfect balance of sweet banana, smooth peanut butter, and just enough chocolate to round it out.

I’m still five years old when I make this bread, considering I had to taste-test it. Several times. This might’ve fueled my recent child-like spontaneity.

Embrace your inner child.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (printable recipe here)
makes 1 loaf pan (can use a cake pan or muffin tin)
originally from Joy the Baker
adapted from yours truly

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups (about 4 medium) mashed oh-so-very ripe* bananas
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
  • 1/2 cup walnuts

Optional oat-nut topping

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a loaf pan; set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combing flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. In a separate medium mixing bowl, combine mashed bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, and melted butter.
  4. Beat in eggs, then sugars, until mixture is smooth.
  5. Barely fold the wet ingredients into the dry, until the mixture is mostly combined but a few flour streaks still remain. Fold in chocolate and nuts.
  6. If desired, in a small bowl, combine brown sugar, walnuts, and oats for oat-nut topping. Set aside.
  7. Pour batter into prepared baking pan; sprinkle with oat-nut topping or brown sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean.
  8. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 20 minutes. Invert loaf onto a wire rack to cool completely. Devour.

*NOTE: If your bananas aren’t yet ripe but you’re craving banana bread anyways, place them (skins still ON) on a baking sheet and stick them in a 350 degree F oven for about 35 minutes. The peels will turn black, but the inside will be ripe and sweet (and very easy to mash). Proceed with recipe.

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Black banana peels, mmmmm.

 

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Hey, you! Yes, you! What do you think of my tweaks – unnecessary or delicious? Do you have a favorite banana bread recipe or add-in of your own?

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars.

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My blog felt a little empty without the combination of peanut butter + chocolate chip. Thankfully, these bars have remedied that.

I’d wager that the best things in life are the simplest, like feeling cool grass beneath your toes, having a guy hold the door open for you, sitting in silence with the people you love, waking up to the sound of rain. And strangely enough, the things that are worth it are the most difficult, the most heartwrenching, the most frustrating.

Lucky for us, these bars are both simple and worth it. Why? Here’s a list.

  • chocolate
  • peanut butter
  • one bowl
  • one bowl
  • peanut butter
  • one bowl
  • chocolate
  • one bowl
  • peanut butter + chocolate

And here’s a picture, too.

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Observe the texture. Observe the chocolate chips. Observe the lovely aroma. (Whoops, you can’t do that, can you?)

The peanut butter and chocolate combination sold me right off the bat. No star-crossed food-lovin’ here – peanut butter and chocolate were clearly made for each other. Food soul mates. Then I saw the tablespoon of vanilla extract and very nearly swooned. Vanilla makes me weak-kneed.

Speaking of weak knees, I’ll be honest: initially, these were made for a boy (what I lack in charm I make up with baked goods) BUT, most unfortunately, my plans were foiled when my parents informed me that, instead, we’d be taking them to my cousin’s birthday party. “What? No, of course I didn’t have plans for these, I was just…baking stuff. Because I actually have time to. All right, we can take them to the party…”

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Regardless of how my plans were thwarted, these did not disappoint. After 22 minutes of baking, the toothpick came out clean, and although I freaked out a little because I still thought they were underbaked, they weren’t. The edges puffed up while the middle remained miraculously soft and gooey. Peanut buttery, chocolate chippy, buttery, deliciousy.

Have I mentioned they’re made in one bowl? All the goodness of cookies without the fuss. Perfect if you’re lazy (like me) or in a hurry (like most of humanity). Not too much chocolate (let’s be honest, is that ever possible?), just enough peanut butter (although adding another tablespoon or two wouldn’t hurt too much), and more than enough sweetness. And CRAZY GOOD.

Clearly my cousins thought so, considering all of them were gone within an hour.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (printable recipe here!)
from Averie Cooks

[Note: Honestly, I laughed out loud when I saw you could scramble the egg if you mix it in while the butter is still too hot. But apparently it can really happen – make sure the butter is cooled!
Baking time will also depend on how gooey you want your center. I’d wager they could be baked up to 30 minutes if you want a more-set center. Just keep an eye on them.]

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • heaping 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 6 – 7 ounces (about 3/4 cup) semi-sweet or dark chocolate (chips or chopped)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter (about 2 30-second intervals). Transfer to a mixing bowl and allow to cool before adding the egg (to prevent it from scrambling).
  3. Stir in egg, sugars, and vanilla extract until well combined. Stir in peanut butter.
  4. Add flour, baking soda, and salt; mix until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate.
  5. Scoop batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Bake for 20-24 minutes, or until center is set and golden (or toothpick inserted into center comes out clean).
  6. Allow bars to cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Cut into slices and devour.

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Guest Post(!!): Chocolate Fudge Pomegranate Cookies.

CAKEY’S NOTE: Hi! We’re taking a break from our normally scheduled programming from the world of my kitchen and brain and giving you, with great pleasure, Cakey Bakes’ first-ever guest post, brought to you by my dear friend & partner-in-crime Kathryn, & I wouldn’t have anyone else for our first guest post. I happen to be horrendously jealous of her (don’t tell her!) art, writing, fashion, and sweet-talking skills, not to mention her dedication to everything she endeavors upon. She’s been a huge encouragement to me when it comes to blog matters as well as real-life stuff, and she’s let me use her iPhone to take pictures countless times. She is smart, clever, and all-around fabulous in every sense of the word. Oh, and she knows how to spell “pomegranate”, unlike yours truly. So without any further ado…

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Kathryn: I’d like to consider myself a balanced health-freak.

Which means I work out for an hour and a half a day, eat organic and whole foods (no gluten here), and feed my cat non-chemical-doused food. I do yoga, peruse healthy-cooking blogs, volunteer at the local environmental outreach and Humane Society – if you’re looking for “organic”, here I am…or as granola as a girl who likes designer fashion and jazz can get.

Uh, yes, I’ll take “break-in at Tiffany’s” for 100, please?

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But where’s the balance, you ask? In these cookies.

These decadent, delicious, sexy cookies provide the balance.

There is nothing even remotely healthy about these treats, which is why I love them so much. Smooth cocoa and rich dark chocolate combined with the dash of salt create a surprisingly soft, gooey center. And the pomegranate arils? Perfection. A little burst of tangy-sweet in every bite. Don’t be intimidated by the pomegranate, please! She may look dangerous, but trust me. You can handle her.

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Horribly, irrevocably seduced yet?

Good.

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Chocolate Fudge Pomegranate Cookies (recipe from How Sweet Eats)

Ingredients:

1 cup butter (melted)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup pomegranate arils

(*alternatives: replace half the butter with coconut oil, switch out a lower-fat/whatever margarine for the butter, use whole-wheat OR oat flour. You can also replace up to 1/3 of the flour with almond flour, for those of us who can’t have gluten.

Dark chocolate is healthy for you. Don’t replace that sucker with anything. Shut up and enjoy it.)

Directions:

1. Cream together the melted butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy.
2. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
3. Add pomegranate juice and mix until combined.
3. Fold in chocolate chips and arils. Refrigerate dough for 2-4 hours (or less/more)**.
4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350, roll the dough into balls and set on baking sheet.

**I made a batch without refrigerating and they turned out fine. They were actually softer without the chill, so…take that advice as you may.

Tip: freeze any leftover dough for slice-and-bake chocolate fudge pomeganate cookies up to two weeks later!

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Pair with milk, a good book, and enjoy the decadence, lovelies.

Double Chocolate Cookies [with Homemade Oreo Creme Filling].

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My dear reader, I pray you have more self-control than I do. And if you don’t, I beg and plead and implore you with all my heart (and – groan – stomach) to keep your fingers out of the damn bowl. Not just for my sake, but for your own. I know how tempting it is to take a spoonful of dough, to scrape a finger down the side under the guise of mixing all the ingredients equally, to lick the spoon after you finish mixing. Oh, believe me, I understand that temptation all too well (maybe Eve was tempted by cookie dough, not an apple).

Now, here I sit, two water bottles and three green-tea-with-lemon tea bags later, nursing a cookie dough hangover. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about, don’t pretend like it’s never happened to you. If only I hadn’t eaten those last two spoonfuls! If only I had been nibbling on fruit while I was mixing everything up! If only I had kept my hands clean! If only I had steel-plated temperance!

What on earth possessed me to do such a ridiculous, unhealthy thing? Well, it was partially stress-eating. It was partially my need for security and comfort. But mostly? I was seduced. Heartlessly, utterly seduced by the irresistible combination of cocoa powder, sugar, butter, and chocolate. And more chocolate. Can you blame me?

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I should have known better. By the age of 19, I should be deaf to the cries of, “Eat me! Eat me! Ruin your dinner, eat me! You won’t get salmonella, eaaaaaat me!” You’d think I’d have built up a cookie-dough-stomachache tolerance. Nope. I was wrong then, yet I’m still tottering on the fence between, “Do I really regret this?” and “I REGRET NOTHING.”

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. These babies are ridiculously good. Gooey, chewy, sweet…and full of chocolate. Chock full of chocolate (oh, I take that phrase back. I detest any usage of “chock full”). You need these in your life to bring you up on sad days and share in all your triumphs and joys. Just one will satisfy the most severe chocolate craving. Two will have you running for a glass of cold milk. Or whatever it is you use to wash down cookies.

If you decide you’d like to send all your loved ones into a sugar coma, you can make some creme filling and make chewy chocolate chip Oreos.

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I leave you with one thing: when you endeavor to make these, guard your heart. Guard your hips and thighs. These things will steal your soul faster than you can say, “Ooh, cookies!”

Double Chocolate Cookies
from Inspired Taste
makes 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups chocolate chips (any kind)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Add sugars and butter to a large bowl; mix until creamy. Beat in first egg, then beat in second egg with vanilla extract. Mix until well incorporated.
  3. In a separate smaller bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Slowly add dry incredients to the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Mix until combined. Mix in chocolate chips.
  5. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoons onto baking sheets. If you want flatter cookies, press them down a little with a knife or fork. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool completely on a cooling rack. Devour, or fill with creme.

Homemade Oreo Creme
from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Place butter in a mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer on low speed, gradually beat in sugar and vanilla.
  2. With the mixer on high, beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until creme is light and fluffy.
  3. To assemble the cookies: place about a teaspoon of creme on the bottom of one cookie. Place another cookie on top of the creme and lightly press down until creme is evenly distributed between the two cookies. Repeat with the remaining cookies and creme.

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Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins.

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One of the best feelings I’ve experienced in my short life: coming home after a long year at a college six hours away from home. No more shower shoes, no more paying $2 for each mound of laundry, no more small, confined space. Real food, access to a car…and my very own clean, well-stocked, well-equipped kitchen.

It took a lot of self-control not to fall on the floor and kiss it, let me tell you. Home, sweet, sweet home.

I’ve been itching to use the mini-muffin tin my mom bought me for my birthday. Mini-muffins are (pardon the word) super cute and perfectly porportioned. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the enormous, sugar-covered muffins sold at bakeries, but sometimes, they’re a lot to handle. It’s a big commitment.

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Never before in my life have I used “cute” to describe food. In grade school, I was the tomboy who scoffed at the other girls at my lunch table who referred to baby carrots as “adorable” or my small Tupperware containers as “cute”. “How can food or plastic be considered cute? ‘Cute’ is reserved for cats and puppies, not tiny vegetables.”

Obviously, things have changed.

Cuteness factor aside: the actual excellence of these muffins lies in their flavor. It’s reminiscent of unbaked cookie dough. One ingredient I couldn’t resist adding was almond extract. It’s a staple in my house, bought almost as often as vanilla extract; ever since I was a child, it’s been added to recipes from pancakes to cookies to cheesecake. You only need a little bit, but it makes a difference, taking these muffins from good to great.

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Yes, I know they’re oddly shaped. For some reason, my brain calculated 3 dozen to 24. Whoops.

Anyways. Another contributing factor to this greatness? Buttermilk. On principle, I use buttermilk in any recipe calling for milk. It makes the end product more tender and flavorful. It’s also easy to make if you don’t have any buttermilk on hand – simply add replace one tablespoon of one cup of milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice or distilled white vinegar, stir, and then let sit 5-10 minutes. Et voila, buttermilk!

The original recipe calls for mini chocolate chips, but I used regular-sized ones and they turned out fine. They’re best when warmed up before serving…or eaten straight from the oven.

You’ll never even know there’s whole wheat flour involved.

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Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins
Adapted from Taste of Home
Makes 36 mini muffins or 12 normal-sized muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 whole wheat, 1/2 all-purpose)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup chocolate chips, preferably miniature

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease or line a mini muffin pan and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in egg, followed by milk and extracts.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  5. Add to butter mixture until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  6. Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into mini-muffin tin. Bake for 10-13 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool in pans for about 5 minutes, then place on wire racks to cool completely. Most delicious when served warm. Devour.