Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Flour, sugar, eggs, salt, baking powder, pure vanilla extract -- all these ingredients are as important to a baker as sand, mulch, water and seeds are to a gardener. However, I'm willing to bet my rolling pin that chocolate chips are at the top of most bakers' list of favorite ingredients. If you use them just to make chocolate chip cookies, you may want to consider adding this versatile ingredient to your baking inventory.
Chocolate chips, specially formulated to stud a variety of baked goods with bursts of rich chocolate, retain their integrity of flavor, texture and shape in any recipe. Stir in a few chips and you have instant variations on your prized cake, quick bread, bar cookie, brownie or muffin recipes. Scones, puddings and some pie and pastry fillings are other possibilities. Though you may be tempted to melt chocolate chips to flavor frostings, fudges, other confections and baked items, you really should keep chocolate bars (i.e. semisweet and bittersweet) on hand since they melt to a smoother, creamier consistency.
Consider the various kinds of chips available (semisweet, bittersweet, milk, mint and white chocolate, mini, standard and large). There are so many brands on the market that you may want to sample a few types to see which you like best. In general, the most intense chocolate flavor is found in semisweet chips that list chocolate liquor (thick, dark paste from cocoa beans) first in the ingredient declaration on the package. With just a bit of cocoa butter and no chocolate liquor in the ingredient list, white chocolate chips provide the most subtle or hardly any chocolate flavor.
Chips store well at room temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees, are easy to measure (a standard six ounce package equals one cup), and fold into almost any mixture with just a few strokes.
One of the nicest features is that chocolate chips add flavor without overpowering other ingredients in a mixture. The chips not only add some complexity and dimension to the Banana Chocolate Chip Bread but they also compliment the rich moist banana flavor. Everyone's Favorite Congo Bars are wonderfully indulgent because you taste a buttery chewy cookie bar, creamy chocolate chips and crunchy toasted walnuts all in one bite. If your pantry isn't already stocked with all types of chocolate chips, perhaps these recipes will convince you. In any case, I wish you what a dear friend once wished me, "May all your chips be blue or chocolate!"
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped toasted walnuts
1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 medium)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Adjust the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9 x 5 x 3-inch baking pan.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the finely chopped walnuts. In another bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla; add to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined; add chocolate chips. Pour batter into baking pan and bake for 60 to 90 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the bread comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before inverting from pan. Cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, slice thinly.
Everybody's Favorite Congo Bars
makes 25 squares
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 pound light brown sugar
2 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Adjust rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease well a 10 x 15 x 1-inch pan.
In a large bowl, mix together the melted butter, brown sugar and eggs just until blended. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into another bowl and add this to the egg mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts. Spread in the pan (the dough is sticky, so you may want to pat it out with your fingertips). Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. It will still look soft. Remove from the oven to a wire rack. Cut while warm.
Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.