Orange Banana Bread

We can get citrus year round today, but specialty citrus like blood oranges are still only available seasonally, and that’s a good thing. We like instant gratification just like the next person (one of us more than the other), but some things are better when we have to wait, and when that thing is almost over it’s nice to preserve some of it for a little longer.

Candied citrus is an easy way to make a good thing last another month or two. I read about the technique at and made up a batch. Slicing was a bit of a challenge since the fruit was a little soft. That didn’t matter much, the fruit topping produced an interesting rustic look for the banana bread, a slight adaption from something I found at, thank you.

Fruity olive oil and dark chocolate play well with the ripe bananas and orange. Adding zest to the bread batter will enhance the bright orange flavor from the candied topping. I forgot the zest in the batched in the photos, but I included it in the recipe. No matter. Like everyone else, we have more than enough bananas in the freezer to whip up a batch of banana bread anytime we want, and a little more time to make another batch of blood orange candied citrus.

Candied citrus can be used in a variety of ways. When sliced properly, the beautiful rounds fit perfectly on top of muffins and cupcakes—either baked in or decorated with.  Chopped candied citrus can be thrown into a variety of baked goods or desserts when a little citrus is needed. Candied citrus truly is a good thing for any baker, but hurry and get the end of season citrus now or you’ll just have to wait until next year. Enjoy!

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Orange Banana Bread

1 cup / 4.5 oz all-purpose flour
1 cup / 5 oz graham or whole wheat flour
1/3 cup / 2.35 oz light brown sugar/coconut sugar/muscovado sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup / 3.5 oz coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups / 12 oz mashed, ripe bananas (~3 bananas)
1/4 cup / 60 ml plain, whole milk kefir or yogurt,
Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the top:
canned orange slices

Preheat the oven to 350° F, and place a rack in the center. Grease a 9- by 5- inch (23 x 13 cm) loaf pan, or equivalent.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate pieces and combine well.

In a separate bowl, mix together the olive oil, eggs, mashed banana, yogurt, zest, and vanilla. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and top with candied orange slices.

Bake until golden brown, about 50-55 minutes..

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out of the pan to cool completely.


Chocolate Magic Shell

The kid in us loves this simple, crispy chocolate ice cream “sauce.” A little mysterious, the warm glossy chocolate hardens on contact with frozen scoops of ice cream, leaving a thin shell that breaks into shards as the spoon takes its first swipe at the cool creamy treat below. No matter the ice cream flavor, a drizzle of homemade chocolate shell is always a welcome addition.

So what’s the secret? How does liquid chocolate turn to a brittle shell on top of ice cream? Coconut oil! That’s right, pure, extra virgin coconut oil. This delicious tropical oil remains liquid at temperatures above 76 degrees, a not uncommon temperature in a busy kitchen. But once cooled, coconut oil gets very hard. And, like chocolate, the colder the coconut fat gets, the more brittle it becomes. The result of combining them is a delightfully crunchy ice cream topper.

The flavors of coconut and chocolate compliment one another perfectly. Beyond great flavor, their high saturated fat content protects them from oxidation. That means your batch of chocolate shell will last months at room temperature if kept tightly covered. We recommend using the best dark chocolate you can afford for this recipe. If you want to make a large batch to share with others, we’re fans of Trader Joe’s PoundPlus bars of 72% dark Belgian chocolate. Besides having great flavor, it offers a big bang for the buck. If a Trader Joe’s is not in your area, use the best chocolate you can find. The coconut oil used here is a cold-pressed, organic extra virgin coconut oil from Nutiva. It has a light taste and beautiful white color. When shopping for coconut oil, just remember to look for organic options and buy only non-hydrogenated virgin oil.

The chocolate shell on the shelf of the local grocery may be easy enough to grab, but if you can warm water on the stove, you can whip up your own batch of chocolate shell in minutes. We use the recipe written by the good folks at America’s Test Kitchen here. They know how to test a recipe and we’re happy to report this one is perfect.

Chocolate Ice Cream Shell
By America’s Test Kitchen*

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder
Pinch salt
4    ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (whatever dark chocolate you prefer)
1/3 cup coconut oil
1    teaspoon cocoa

Stir vanilla, espresso powder, and salt together in small bowl until espresso dissolves. Microwave chocolate and coconut oil in medium bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk in vanilla mixture and cocoa until combined. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, before using. Chocolate shell can be stored at room temperature in airtight container for at least 2 months; microwave, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, before using.

*We do not own a microwave (shocking, we know). Instead of nuking the ingredients here, we made a double boiler out of a sauce pan and a stainless steel bowl. It’s easy enough to melt the chocolate and coconut oil on the stove top over boiling water. It really doesn’t take much more time than a microwave. Remember, once cooled and stored, your magic shell may turn into a solid mass in the cupboard. To rewarm, loosen the lid, set the jar in a small saucepan and add enough water to come half way up the side of the jar and heat over a very low flam until the chocolate is liquid. This process takes less time than it takes your ice-cream to soften for scooping!

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Dark Chocolate: Chocolate Coconut Lava Cake

This Valentine’s Day do yourself and your loved ones a favor and vow to eat dark chocolate everyday. The health benefits of dark chocolate include improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels, helping blood flow to the brain, and hardening tooth enamel. It’s also full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The reason we, and others, recommend dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate is because dark chocolate has less dairy and fat in it than milk; and white chocolate is absent of cocoa solids which is where all the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are located. Essentially, there is a time and a place to eat milk and/or white chocolate, but it just shouldn’t be eaten daily. Actually, today, of all days, is the day to eat milk, white, or dark chocolate. Just eat chocolate!

What is dark chocolate? Dark chocolate is made with cocoa, or cacao, cocoa butter, and sugar. In the U.S. there is no formal definition of dark chocolate, but in Europe, it’s defined as having a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. There are two types of dark chocolate in the U.S., semisweet and bittersweet, both of which are used frequently in cooking and baking. Often the package will state the cocoa percentage. Dark chocolate can range from 70%-99% pure cocoa, with the high numbers indicating more cocoa and a more bitter taste.

Semisweet chocolate is the one dark chocolate that most people are familiar with. Just think of those Toll House Cookies made with Nestle’s semisweet chocolate chips. Semisweet chocolate has half as much sugar as the amount of cocoa.

Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than semisweet chocolate. It’s made up of chocolate liquor, some sugar, cocoa butter, and often vanilla and soy lecithin.

There’s a third type of dark chocolate called Couverture chocolate. It’s a high quality chocolate with extra cocoa butter, 32%-39%, and the total percentage of cocoa butter and cocoa solids must be at least 54%. This type of chocolate is mostly used for dipping, coating, and molding chocolates. This would be the type of chocolate found mostly in the upper-end chocolatiers, like Godiva.

Chocolate doesn’t have to be eaten at the end of a meal as dessert. There are many recipes that call for chocolate as a main ingredient. If you like Mexican food, and who doesn’t, try chocolate mole. In the novel, Like Water for Chocolateit was served with turkey, it can also be served with  chicken or vegetables like hard shelled squashes. Chopped cocoa nibs can be sprinkled on a bitter winter green, like radicchio, as a substitution for nuts on a salad. We’ve even included cocoa powder in our favorite chili recipe, Chocolate Cherry Chili.

For all those looking to surprise your chocoholic loved one who is also an avid reader, we suggest the perfect book, Chocolate–A bittersweet saga of dark and light, by Mort Rosenblum. Had we discovered the book sooner, and had a bit more time to read it before Valentine’s Day, we would have included references to the history of chocolate; from the Swiss to the French, and all around the world. With only a small dive into the book, we’re already hooked. Maybe a sequel to the Chocolate blog is in order, with an exploration of white and milk chocolate, just in time for Easter.


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Chocolate Coconut Lava Cakes

The original epicurious recipe is by far the best Molten Lava Cake we have tried, and we have tried many. We’ve altered this recipe to include coconut sugar and coconut oil to make it healthier-ish. Should you choose to use the unadulterated version, we suggest not making the Mint Fudge Sauce. A few fresh raspberries and maybe some vanilla ice cream is all this dessert needs.

5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter six 3/4-cup soufflé dishes or custard cups. Stir chocolate, butter, and coconut sugar in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted. Cool slightly and add vanilla. Whisk eggs and egg yolks in large bowl to blend. Whisk in chocolate mixture, then powdered sugar, salt and flour. Pour batter into dishes, dividing equally. (Can be made 2-3 days ahead, cover and chill in the refrigerator.)

Bake cakes until sides are set but center remains soft and runny, about 11 minutes or up to 14 minutes for batter that was refrigerated. Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Immediately turn cakes out onto plates. Serve with coconut gelato or vanilla ice cream, if desired, or fresh raspberries.

Toaster Oven Method: These cakes are perfect for a toaster oven. Add the cakes to a cold oven and bake at 400°F or 425°F, ovens will vary, until slightly set on sides, and top, about 12-14 minutes. The cakes may rise in the center and if the temperature is too high may even explode and ooze out of the top, like a volcano. If this starts to happen, reduce the temperature and continue to bake another minute or two.

A couple notes on Coconut Sugar and Coconut Oil: Many of our recipes call for coconut sugar and/or coconut oil. From the information we can find, both products are better than their alternatives – refined white sugar and most vegetable oils. Their flavor and coloring may be slightly different, and often times better, in our opinion – they taste like coconut.

The coconut sugar is a low glycemic product and is high in potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6. The only downside is the price: it’s about 5 times more expensive than regular white sugar and about two to three times more expensive as brown. That is why we often combine coconut sugar with white or brown sugar.

Coconut Oil has begun to resurge on the market after years of being vilified as a “bad” oil because of its high levels of saturated fats. The studies done on coconut oil used partially hydrogenated coconut oil and not virgin coconut oil. We’ll be exploring more about these two products in later posts.