Orange Banana Bread {Vegan}

Added on by Monica Cheng.

Hey everyone! I've got a beautifully simple, *super* delicious, and pretty ~healthy~ recipe to share today. At long last, after tinkering around with 50 bajillion banana breads over the course of this summer, I've found the one. And, boy, am I excited to share with you all.

This orange banana bread tastes just as delicious as my previous favorite banana bread from Flour Bakery, but with a lot less fat and a vegan twist. Inspired by my friend (vegan at the time but now turned vegetarian...the aftermath of limited college dining options) whose mom care packaged her the most moist and flavorful vegan banana bread I've ever tasted, I was determined to replicate this awesome bread experience from freshman year of college.

The beauty of this recipe is that it takes just one bowl and requires no sophisticated mixing techniques. Just throw all the ingredients together and bake. I don't even bother with a mixer. Less dishes, right? The hardest part is quite honestly the wait, and resisting the aromatic banana from the oven.

What I love about this bread is its intense banana flavor enhanced by refreshing citrus tones from the zest. Orange banana bread is a true classic that never gets old in my family. I can't count the number of times I've made this bread over this summer. We love eating a slice alongside breakfast, or as a snack on-the-go. I hope you enjoy!

All best,

P.S. Summer adventures with hedgehog cupcakes (white almond sour cream wedding cake with hazelnut mousse filling and vanilla buttercream frosting). After surviving the ordeal of peeling and "rescuing"/resuscitating stubborn raw hazelnuts, I have a newfound appreciation for everything hazelnut, including the hedgehogs' filling.


Tips & Notes:

  • Super ripe bananas are key to the recipe. Look for bananas that have many brown spots and smell aromatic from the peel. If need be, it is okay to use a combination of 2 very ripe bananas + 1 sort-of-ripe banana. Note that using less ripe bananas may require a little more added sugar (maybe use 3/4 cup instead of 2/3 cup), since the ripened bananas contribute essential natural sugars.
  • Mash the bananas using a fork, pressing it against the plate until properly mushed. Then, proceed to combine with the other ingredients.
  • I like to use a combination of ~1/3 cup milk and ~2 tablespoons of yogurt. For non-vegans, dairy milk and Greek yogurt work really well.
  • A combination of 1/3 cup white sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar works well, in my experience. I suspect that using brown sugar results in a less puffy (but no less delicious!) bread, as shown in the present photos.
  • Cinnamon and nutmeg are optional but I enjoy the added subtleties of flavor. And, heck, why not?
  • Feel free to add walnuts and other add-ins (e.g., Booze?! I imagine orange liqueur would be an excellent choice to sub in with the milk.). The recipe is flexible, so please feel welcome to experiment!

Orange Banana Bread

Generously adapted from Food Network | Yield: 1 loaf, or 6 - 8 servings

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Zest of one orange
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
2/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/2 cup non-dairy milk or yogurt
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Chocolate chips, for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350F. Line loaf pan with parchment paper, or grease with cooking spray.

Whisk together mashed bananas, sugar, milk, oil, and vanilla. Add salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange zest. Add flour last, and mix until just combined. It’s okay if the batter is lumpy. Pour into prepared loaf pan and sprinkle cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate chips on top for a crispy crackly top.

Bake 50 - 60 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes. Serve & enjoy!

Juniper & Honey Pots de Créme

Added on by Monica Cheng.

A Blank Verse on Junipers, Honey, and Pots de Créme
From a practicing not-poet

Juniper, jenever, berry delight,
Oy, not chocolate chips, you say? Could it be? [Caroline's mother]
Fragrant pine, sweetened by honey, melting,
Gliding, sailing, subtle complexity,
Of harmonious custard pot de créme.
A simple light twist on a French classic,
Sure to please and wow, tickle the senses.
"What about me?" the princely nooblet asks.
Surely we could not, would not, leave him out.


Enjoy! Now, onward to graduation and sweet farewells to college~   -Monica

Juniper & Honey Pots de Créme

Slightly adapted from Yossy Arefi | Yield: 2-3 servings

3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries*, lightly crushed
3 egg yolks
Whipped cream, sea salt, toasted pine nuts to serve

*Alternatives: vanilla bean, lavender, rosemary, citrus peels/zest

To use the berries, place them in a zippered bag and lightly crush by rolling a rolling pin or wine bottle over them.

Combine heavy cream, milk, honey, juniper berries in a small saucepan. Bring to low simmer and turn off heat. Steep for 30 minutes, and then strain out berries.

While cream steeps, preheat oven to 300F. Place 2-3 ramekins inside a baking dish containing hot water that comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Whisk egg yolks until well combined. Then whisk warm cream mixture into egg yolks. Divide mixture into ramekins and fill to the top (maybe leave 1/2 inch space). Fish out extraneous floating substances (egg yolk or whatnot) using a spoon.

Tent dish with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until custards are set but jiggle slightly in the center. Cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Garnish if desired, serve, and enjoy!


Added on by Monica Cheng.

It’s the spring quarter, and I have yet to fully come to terms with the fact that this is the last nine weeks of my undergraduate studies at Northwestern. It’s weird because I’ve been so preoccupied with preparations for the future -- fellowships and medical school applications -- that I think I have not had a chance to truly appreciate the present.

Soo, this spring, I want to be able to enjoy my last months as a college student in Chicago, especially now that I know for sure that I will be leaving the city and spending the next year in Boston. Despite having ventured to the various parks, museums, shops, and neighborhoods of Chicago over the past four years, it feels like I’ve only just grazed the surface of what the city has to offer and there are still many new and exciting places to explore. Which is great. I have a list of things to do this last Chicago, bike down the lakeshore path to the city, see the Museum of Contemporary Art, try the Bongo Room, and relish another pistachio & honey ice cream from Jeni’s.

In the spirit of trying new things, I have decided to face my long-held fear of yeast, which is -- to be honest -- not grounded in any reality. Cue, focaccia.

Focaccia is the perfect beginner’s bread. Easy to make, no fuss, and no kneading necessary. It requires few ingredients outside of flour, warm water, and yeast. After a two-day slow rise and a second rise, you get a beautifully golden crusted focaccia with a satisfying chew and a springy flavorful top, packed with the flavors of rosemary, thyme, mozzarella, and other spices. Dip in olive oil to as a snacking bread, or slice in half to make a sandwich. Enjoy!



From Food52 | Yield: 6 - 10 servings

3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or high-gluten bread flour)
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 3/4 cup warm water
1/8 cup olive oil

Shredded mozzarella & parmesan cheese, rosemary, thyme, black pepper, garlic powder, for topping

Whisk together flour, salt, and yeast. Add warm water and stir by hand until sticky dough forms. Pour olive oil into container. Transfer dough to container, turn to coat, and cover tightly with lid or plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator to rise for 1 or 2 full days.

Line 9 x 6.5 inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer dough to prepared pan. Spread out as much as possible. Place in warm place (oven, with light turned on) and let rise until doubled in size, approximately one hour. The dough should feel fluffy.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Pat focaccia to even thickness of approximately 1 inch on baking sheet. Dimple entire dough using fingertips (kind of like playing piano chords on the dough), and drizzle with olive oil. Add toppings. Bake 15 minutes, or until top is uniformly golden brown. Enjoy!

Storage: Store in air-tight container or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Irish Coffee Eclairs

Added on by Caroline Zhang.
Irish Coffee Eclairs | Pass the Cocoa
Irish Coffee Eclairs | Pass the Cocoa
Cream as rich as an Irish brogue
Coffee as strong as a friendly hand
Sugar sweet as the tongue of a rogue
Whiskey smooth as the wit of the land.
-Joe Sheridan's Irish Coffee Recipe, 1943

Choux pastry is a nemesis. I'd be the first to admit that I'm quite complacent in my baking. No prayers and shortcuts in the kitchen; I've grown accustomed to expecting most things to turn out the way I planned--or at least, to look and taste pretty good. 

There is a handful of exceptions to that rule; choux is one of them. The first few times I made choux in a college dorm were unqualified disasters, soggy and egg-y lumps of dough or flat, collapsed disks. I've definitely improved my understanding of this strange, twice-cooked dough, but choux still has me imploring Saint Honoré and peering anxiously into the oven window to see if my eclairs are rising.

However, homemade eclairs are absolutely, completely worth it. It's so hard in most places to find eclairs and cream puffs with choux shells that are still crispy and filling that is rich and creamy and not thinned out with fake flavors and fats. 

Irish Coffee Eclairs | Pass the Cocoa
Irish Coffee Eclairs | Pass the Cocoa

I ironically had to give up coffee during the last few weeks of writing my thesis because it was making me too jittery. But the thesis is in,  the caffeine is flowing again, and I couldn't help but pair it with some Irish whisky, cream, and chocolate and stuff it inside an eclair.

For this recipe, I received a wonderful sample of a light roast Ethiopian coffee from Atlas Coffee Club, a subscription service that provides coffees from around the world. Their Ethiopia Sidamo coffee is light, fragrant, and fruity. It's strong enough to lend body and flavor to the Irish coffee pastry cream in the eclairs, but smooth and delicate enough to balance with the whisky I added.

And since the chocolate glaze looked a little plain on its own, I decorated the eclairs with white chocolate sprinkled with matcha, and green matcha polka dots. It seemed appropriate given Saint Patrick's Day and the Irish poetry thesis. 


Atlas Coffee Club provided me with a free sample of their coffee to review. All opinions are my own.

Irish Coffee Eclairs | Pass the Cocoa

Irish Coffee Eclairs

Yields: about 40 three-inch eclairs

For the Choux Pastry
1 cup water
½ cup unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 eggs

For the Irish Coffee Pastry Cream
⅔ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
⅛ teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
1 ¼ cup half and half (see notes)
1 cup strongly brewed coffee, hot
3 tablespoons Irish whiskey, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

For the Chocolate Glaze
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
¾ cup heavy cream

For Decoration (Optional)
4 ounces white candy melts or white chocolate (see notes)
1 teaspoon matcha powder
1 tablespoon finely chopped freeze-dried strawberries


You could substitute the half and half with a combination of whole milk and cream. I would advise against using all milk; the pastry cream requires some fat for flavor and texture. 

Though I’m usually a snob about chocolate, I would advise using white candy wafers, or white chocolate without actually cocoa butter for the decorations (I used Nestle brand), since it doesn’t require tempering and will set more firmly.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the water, butter, and salt in a pot. Cook over medium heat until the butter melts and the water begins to simmer. Take the pot off the stove.

Add flour and stir the mixture vigorously until it comes together in a thick dough. 
Place the pot back on the stove over medium heat and cook it for another 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, in order to dry out the dough.

Take the pot off the heat, and let the dough cool for about 5 minutes. Give it a few stirs to help it cool off. Whisking constantly, add 4 eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition. It will seem impossibly lumpy, but keep mixing and the batter will come together. The mixture should be smooth and shiny; if you scoop some batter out of the bowl, it should fall back into the bowl in a thick ribbon and hold its shape on the surface of the batter. If it is too thick whisk the 5th egg in a separate bowl, and add it a spoonful at a time, until the batter reaches the right consistency.  (Don’t add the 5th egg all at once, or the batter may become too runny).

Pour the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch round tip. (Or simply snip off the end of a gallon size Ziploc bag). Pipe 3-inch lines onto the parchment paper. Wet your fingertip and flatten any peaks in the batter you just piped.

Bake the choux for 20 - 25 minutes at 425 F until they are a golden brown. Turn off the oven and crack open the door, and let the choux sit for 15 more minutes. The choux should be hollow and completely dry on the inside. Let cool completely.

Make the microwave Irish coffee pastry cream (though you certainly could make it the traditional way over a stove). In a large microwaveable bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, and salt, breaking up any clumps in the cornstarch. 

Whisk in the cream, followed by the egg yolks. Whisk until completely smooth. While mixing continuously, add in the hot coffee. Add in the cubed butter.

Microwave on full power for 6 to 8 minutes (it will depend on the power of your microwave), stopping the microwave and mixing the pastry cream every minute or so. The pastry cream is done when it begins to boil and and thickens to a pudding-like consistency.

Cover the pastry cream with a piece of plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least 3-4 hours to allow the cream to chill and set. 

Put the pastry cream in a piping bag with a small round tip.

With a sharp knife, poke two evenly spaced holes in the bottom of each eclair that are large enough for the tip of the piping bag. 
Pipe the pastry cream into both holes of each eclair until they are filled and feel heavy in your hand.

Make the chocolate glaze. Heat the cream on the stove or in the microwave until it just begins to simmer. Add the chocolate. Let sit for a minute, then stir until combined and smooth.

Dip the top of each eclair in the chocolate, and place onto a cookie sheet to set.
Make the decorations, if desired. Melt the white candy melts and divide roughly in half between two wax paper-lined cookie sheets. Spread into a thin, even layer. Sprinkle half with freeze-dried strawberry, and dust the other half with matcha. Let set completely, then cut into small pieces to place on top of the eclairs. You can also reserve a little bit of the candy melt and mix in some matcha powder to color it green. Pour the candy melt into a ziploc bag, and pipe small dots. Let set, and place ontop of the eclairs.

Store eclairs in the refrigerator. They are best they day they are made, but can keep for 2-3 days.