Banana Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake

This recipe feels strange and out-of-place on my blog in the middle of summer. This recipe does not feel summery at all. It feels like something you bake up in October, when the air turns crisp. Or in December, for an office holiday party. Or maybe in late February, with the first snow melts.

But there have been summer cold snaps in the East Bay, and I feel like they perfectly justify this banana chocolate crumb cake in the middle of July. The longest day of the year has come and gone, and I feel like this city still hasn’t made up its mind about the weather.

I spent the summer solstice wandering city sidewalks, blocks of shops and houses in full afternoon sun. It was Father’s Day, so I painted a mug at the ceramics studio for my dad. I ran a few errands. I went to the market for fresh produce. Filled my bag with corn, peppers, shallots, lemons, apricots, apples, mangoes, and plums.

I had dinner at a West Berkeley comida under string lights and a crescent moon.

It was so hot outside, and the warm weather continued for a week and a half.

Less than a week later, the weather turned cold and foggy. I found myself in the kitchen with a mug of hot chocolate and craving this banana chocolate crumb cake. Sweltering hot days turned into a streak of chilly nights.

The weather is back to normal over here, blazing hot and constantly sunny… But I’m still eating slices of this cake out of the freezer.

Here’s how we make it.

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Challah

Challah | Kitchen in the Hills

Challah has long been one of my favorite breads. I first tried it after baking a loaf with a good friend several years ago. It was soft, springy, eggy, tender, and sweet.

Challah | Kitchen in the Hills

This loaf is from Kamren Siddiqui’s Hand Made Baking. It’s a little less sweet, and a little more sturdy than your typical loaf of challah. It’s wonderful served plain with butter, but you can also toast it up and top it with an avocado or fried egg.

My current favorite topping is nutella. Can we talk about how freakin’ adorable these mini nutella cups are?

Also, can we talk about how delightful Kamren’s writing is? I read his book cover-to-cover for the recipe descriptions and stories alone. Kamren effortlessly links food to memories, stories and emotions. You can read some of his writing on his blog, Sophisticated Gourmet. He’s a skilled baker, but he also has a knack for compelling storytelling. Go check it out.

On to the challah!

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Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Last summer, I learned to love rhubarb. Always unsure of what to do with the celery-like stalk, I had passed it by at the grocery store for weeks. But when I finally tried it— in pie, in jam, in lemonade— it was delicious. Rhubarb has a special sweet-tart flavor that’s like nothing else for me. At the end of the season, I made some rhubarb jam and tucked it away in my fridge for the winter.

I’m happy to say that I just polished off my last can of jam about a month ago, and I’m already seeing rhubarb in the markets again. I picked some up to make strawberry rhubarb pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

But can I tell you a secret? For a person who so loves to bake, I don’t actually own a lot of baking equipment. A few pans, spoons, spatulas, measuring cups, whisks and mixing bowls. That’s about it. I recently upgraded from one simple metal baking sheet to two. Not a single pie dish in sight. This kind of minimalism is necessary when you’re living in a small apartment, but it does limit your options.

I usually grab a disposable pie tin when I have an important pie to bake. (See this recipe.) But this time I didn’t want to grab a flimsy foil tin. I also wanted something that would look just as gorgeous as the traditional slice of lattice-top pie, with half the effort and mess. And bonus points if I could take it to-go.

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Garlic Sage Focaccia

Garlic Sage Focaccia | Kitchen in the Hills

If you haven’t heard from me in a while, it’s because school has taken over my whole life. It’s midterms season. It’s total craziness over here.

Okay, okay.

That might be a little bit of an exaggeration. But things are still busy, which means less time to make + photograph + write up recipes.

Garlic Sage Focaccia | Kitchen in the Hills

My favorite pre-exam ritual, though, is something I call “stress baking.” Stressed? Bake some cookies.

There’s just something intensely calming about butter, sugar, eggs and flour. Or, in this case, flour, water, olive oil and salt. Perfectly portioned out. Stirred together, kneaded, rolled out, and baked in a very hot oven.

The ritual of baking instantly puts all of the busy thoughts out of my mind. After all, how can I be stressed when there’s sugar to be caramelized, butter to be browned, or dough to be kneaded?

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Blood Orange Poppy Seed Loaf

Blood Orange Poppy Seed Loaf | Kitchen in the Hills

I must be the only person I know who is looking forward to daylight savings time. I will happily lose an hour of sleep once if it means later sunrises, later sunsets, and longer days. I have been craving those extra hours of light. Days long enough and light enough to allow time for work and a sunset hike. Clear skies and brighter stars and everything in bloom. And I somehow feel like I have more time to get everything done if the sun is out longer— it may not make perfect sense, but my brain works in crazy ways.

It finally feels like the start of spring over here— warm weather and sunshine, iced coffee, longer days, better photographs more time outdoors.

But the start of spring means the end of winter produce, and I’m determined to try as much of it as I can before it goes out of season.

Blood Orange Poppy Seed Loaf | Kitchen in the Hills

I enjoy produce, and I try to buy a lot of it. How I went so long without having a blood orange is a mystery to me. Finally this year, at the tail end of the season, I tried one for the first time.

The flavors were such a surprise to me. A bittersweet orange, with just the faintest hint of tart. The minute I bit into a slice, I thought, “this would go perfectly with vanilla.”

I turned those blood oranges into this loaf, with poppy seeds I spotted in the bulk aisle of my grocery store. I had never baked with either before, but citrus + poppy seeds has long been one of my favorite pairings, and I decided to go for it. The loaf turned out beautifully– butter, sugar, eggs, yogurt, blood orange, poppy seeds, and yes, just a hint of vanilla.

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Cherry Crumble Muffins

cherry crumble muffins

Soft, sweet, almond-flavored muffins. Topped with a rich, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth crumble. Studded with fresh cherries, baked, soft, juicy.

These muffins are something special. They’re just decadent enough, without being too much for the morning. I’ve been trying out protein shakes for breakfast recently, and these muffins are a welcome break.

They would also make a beautiful Valentine’s Day breakfast.

fresh cherries, pitted

Just last week, I found myself with a bag of cherries to cook with and no clue what to do with them. I searched through so many recipes. I exhausted the possibilities of jams, sauces, and pies.

And finally, I settled on the one thing I found no cherry recipes for.

Muffins.

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Dipped + Crisp Peanut Butter Cookies

dipped + crisp peanut butter cookies | kitchen in the hills

Let’s talk cookies.

Big, cripsy peanut butter cookies. Semisweet chocolate. Sprinkles.

I’ll admit something— I was never big on peanut butter cookies.

The flavor was never appealing to me. The texture was a little too goopy for my taste— I would eat a soft cookie, but not a grease ball. Cafeteria cookies left me with bad memories, and homemade and bakery versions were never as good as I imagined them to be.

Leave it to Joy the Baker to convert me into a peanut-butter-cookie-lover. Every time I’m on Joy’s website, I want to make every single thing I see. And if I had time to, I would. The even better thing is that every recipe of hers I’ve tried has turned out perfect, often better-than-perfect. Unexpected flavor combinations turn out to be surprisingly satisfying. Techniques are nailed down with detailed descriptions. Proportions of flour, butter, and sugar are on the mark. I end up making recipes I never thought I’d want to try, and loving them.

In fact, these are Joy the Baker’s Dipped + Crisp Peanut Butter Cookies, turned GIANT and topped with sprinkles.

dipped + crisp peanut butter cookies | kitchen in the hills

This is a batch of warm peanut butter cookies, just out of the oven. They’ve been rolled in sugar, crosshatched with a fork, and baked until golden brown. They set into crispy, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Trust me, these are like no other peanut butter cookie you’ve had before.

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Simple Apple Pecan Crisp

Simple Apple Pecan Crisp | Kitchen in the Hills

Let’s talk crisp. Apple crisp.

Possibly the most under-loved of fall desserts, but one of the homiest, tastiest, and easiest to pull together.

Simple Apple Pecan Crisp | Kitchen in the Hills

Do you ever have those days when you feel like you’re running around like crazy, switching from one task to the other, working long hours— only to look at your to-do list and find that nothing’s actually done? I’ve been having a lot of those days lately. Days when there isn’t a lot of leftover time to make a fancy dinner, or an elaborate recipe to blog about.

It was on one of those days that I made this apple crisp. I wanted to stress-bake, had half the amount of time a batch of cookies or a pound cake would take me, and a refrigerator filled with apples rapidly losing their crunch. This is real life. So I turned to something easier, something that was more approachable and incredibly simple.

Sometimes you need simple. Sometimes you need an apple crisp.

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Double Chocolate Chip & Orange Cookies

Double Chocolate Chip & Orange Cookies | Kitchen in the Hills

Everyone loves a good cookie.

This is a cookie that is intensely dark, rich, and fudgy. It borders on truffle territory. It’s brownie-like when it comes out of the oven, and cools with set edges and a soft middle. The flavor! It’s chocolatey-dark, semisweet, just right. A heap of orange zest gives it a bitter, citrusy edge.

Double Chocolate Chip & Orange Cookies | Kitchen in the Hills

I used Joy the Baker’s Double Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, added orange, and tweaked a few of the ingredients. I pressed my cookies down just so so they would come out of the oven with that traditional chocolate chip cookie texture— flat, chewy, crisp, soft, delicious.

I made a double batch of these last week. They’re all gone now, and with good reason.

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Salted Chocolate Oat Tart for Two

Salted Chocolate Oat Tart for Two | Kitchen in the Hills
It’s Monday again.

Last week was a long week. A seriously long week. Between exams and papers, I felt like I had minimal down time and was stretched thin. The weekend finally came. And somehow (so soon!) it’s Monday again. Another long day.

If you’ve had a long Monday, make this tart. It makes everything better.

Salted Chocolate Oat Tart for Two | Kitchen in the Hills
This tart is luxuriously silky, smooth, and dark. It’s filled with a semisweet chocolate ganache. It’s encrusted with a salty sweet oat crust, made with plenty of butter and brown sugar.

Join me in celebrating hard work by making a this tart at the end of a long day.

We’ve worked hard. It’s been a long Monday. And when we’ve had a long day, we make salted chocolate oat tarts.

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