BANANA LAYER CAKE WITH MERINGUE ICING

If you need a festive cake that is not that hard to make (trust me, as a former cake-o-phobe, I know what I’m talking about), look no further. Inspiration came from several sources: cake from one cookbook, icing from another, filling from my own imagination, based on my Mom’s “doce de banana”. It was one of the very few sweets she made regularly, as both my Dad and I were crazy about it. I had to control myself not to say we went bananas for it. There, I just said it. Good memories.

BANANA LAYER CAKE WITH MERINGUE ICING
(adapted from Sprinklebakes)

for the cake:
113 g butter, softened (1 stick)
350 g sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla paste
270 g all-purpose flour
3 + 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 + 1/4 cup milk, at room temperature (about 290 g)
for the frosting:
150 g sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup milk (230 g)
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/4 pound butter (1 stick), softened
2 Tablespoons icing sugar
for the filling:
4 medium bananas, cut into slices
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
pinch of salt
2 bananas, sliced, sprinkled with lemon juice
for the frosting:
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup egg whites

Make the cake. Heat oven to 350 F. Grease the center and perimeter of three 8 inch round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the center of the paper.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla paste, beat until combined.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the mixer in three additions, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat on high-speed for 3 minutes, cleaning the bowl midway through.  Divide the batter in the three pans, bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. After the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, invert them on a rack and allow them to completely cool.

Make the custard frosting. Mix the sugar and flour inside a saucepan. Add the egg and egg yolk, whisk vigorously. Add the  milk and vanilla and mix very well. Heat gently over medium-low heat until the mixture boils and thickens. The goal is to have the consistency of pudding. Let it cool completely.

Beat the butter and icing sugar in an electric mixer using a wire whisk. When they are very well combined and creamy, add the cooled custard prepared before. Beat on high-speed for 7 minutes, until it thickens.

Make the filling. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet, add the brown sugar and cook until it starts to dissolve. Add the slices of banana, the heavy cream, and cook everything together until the bananas start to get golden brown and the cream thickens slightly.  Cool and reserve.

Assemble the cake.  Toss the fresh slices of banana with lemon juice and reserve in a small bowl. Place one cake layer over a cake stand, and spread with a very thin layer of custard frosting. Add half the caramelized bananas, and half the fresh banana slices. Set the second cake layer on top. Add a thing layer of custard, and the remaining of bananas, caramelized and fresh. Top with the final cake layer, bottom side up.

Coat the whole cake with frosting, make it a thin layer, no need to worry about covering the surface, because the meringue icing will take care of that.  Keep in the fridge until frosting, for at least a couple of hours.

Make the meringue icing. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the egg whites with the sugar and place over a pan with simmering water. Heat until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture feels warm to the touch. Immediately hook the bowl to the mixer and beat in high-speed until stiff peak forms.  Remove the cake from the fridge and add a thick coating of the meringue frosting. You can then add all sorts of swirls and spikes to the surface, using either your bare fingers (a bit messy), or the back of a spoon. Have fun with it.  Torch the surface to give a nice effect all over. Don’t burn  it to the point it gets black, because then the sugar will taste bitter.

Slice and serve!

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I have four tips for you when it comes to cake baking.

Tip #1: Get that mis-en-place going. When you measure all the ingredients and lay them up spatially in the order they will be used, your life will be a lot easier. And the probability that you will forget the melted butter in the final stage of genoise preparation will be considerably reduced.

Tip #2: Have all ingredients at room temperature, eggs, milk, oils, butter. They incorporate better that way, and you will have a smoother batter. You can soak eggs in warm water for 5 minutes in case you forgot to remove them from the fridge.

Tip #3: Sift the leavening agent with other dry ingredients. This will disperse the powder (baking soda, baking powder) uniformly, ensuring that your cake will rise evenly.

Tip #4: For cake layers that are perfectly leveled, spray or coat just the center of the pan with your greasing agent of choice (Pam, butter), and a light coat on the sides. Amazing how well that works. If you look at the composite picture, I included a shot of one of the cakes when I just inverted it out of the baking pan. No trimming was needed in any of the three cake layers. I cannot take credit for this baking tip, it’s something I saw over at Pastries Like a Pro and have been using for a long time now. Always works. Thank you, Helen!

Some bakers recommend those Wilton bands that go around the cake pan to ensure even baking. I’ve tried them, and found that the cake ended up with a sort of “steamed” quality I did not care for. Maybe that could be fixed with a slightly longer bake, but to me nothing beats the trick of greasing just the center of the pan. It’s so much easier than messing with those bands soaked in water.

This is a big, hearty cake, a small slice will be enough, but you will be tempted to go back for another little sliver. The contrast of caramelized bananas with a few bites of fresh fruit made the cake even more flavorful and cut through the sweetness of the filling.  For the future, I would reduce the amount of icing (maybe start with 3/4 cup of egg whites and decrease the sugar proportionally), as it made way too much.  It was a recipe from Fine Cooking and they said it would be enough to cover one 9-inch round cake. In my opinion, that amount would be enough to cover two of those with some to spare and flick at drooling dogs standing nearby.

I made the cake on Sunday but added the frosting Monday morning just before taking it to the department. I don’t think meringue icing holds up very well and was afraid it would be compromised after a night in the fridge.  It was a ton of fun to torch it, maybe next time we should try to make a video.  Everybody loved this cake, even though it was massive, it was gone before 11am. I call that a successful Mondays with Sweetness deal!

ONE YEAR AGO: Mini-Frittatas with Broccoli and Cheese

TWO YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting

THREE YEARS AGO: Anne Burrell’s Focaccia

FOUR YEARS AGO: Double Chocolate and Mint Cookies

FIVE YEARS AGO: Cappuccino Panna Cotta

SIX YEARS AGO: Chicken Parmigiana, the Thriller

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Wild Mushroom Risotto

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Tartine Bread:  Basic Country Loaf 

NINE YEARS AGO:  Pugliese Bread

 

THE OUTCOME OF THE IRON (CHEF) CHALLENGE

(continuation from last post...)

For those curious about which cake our IT expert chose for my challenge,
here we go:

A GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE

All things considered, it could have been worse, but it still represented a big challenge to yours truly. A layered cake?  That is intimidating to say the least. I needed heavy artillery for it, so a trip  to my America’s Test Kitchen source was needed.  As you may know, they are notoriously difficult in allowing bloggers to publish their sacred recipes, but I found a very close adaptation to share with you. It comes from Leite’s Culinaria, a site that I’ve been following for a long time. Definitely worth subscribing to.

GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE
(from Leite’s Culinaria)

For the pecan filling
4 large egg yolks
One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans, toasted

For the chocolate cake
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Make the pecan filling: Whisk the yolks in a medium saucepan off the stove. Gradually whisk in the evaporated milk. Add the sugars, butter, and salt and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is boiling, frothy, and slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Pour the mixture into a bowl, whisk in the vanilla, then stir in the coconut. Let cool until room temperature.

Heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet until fragrant and browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

Make the chocolate cake:  Keep your oven at 350°F (175°C) and adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position. Combine the chocolate and cocoa in a small bowl and then add the boiling water over. Let stand to melt the chocolate, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth and let stand until room temperature.

Spray two 9-inch-round by 2-inch-high straight-sided cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and then line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper rounds cut to fit. Spray the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and tap out any excess flour. Sift the flour and baking soda into a medium bowl or onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter, sugars, and salt at medium-low speed until the sugar is moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through. With the mixer running at medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl halfway through. Beat in the vanilla, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds.

With the mixer running at low-speed, add the chocolate mixture, then increase the speed to medium and beat until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl once.  With the mixer running at low-speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat in each addition until barely combined. After adding the final flour addition, beat on low until just combined, then stir the batter by hand with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl. The batter will be thick. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans, spreading the batter to the edges of the pans with the rubber spatula and smoothing the surface.

Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pans 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a greased wire rack; peel off and discard the paper rounds. Cool the cakes to room temperature before filling, about 1 hour.

Assemble the German chocolate cake: Stir the toasted pecans into the chilled filling. Set one cake layer on a serving platter. Place the second cake on a work surface or leave it on the wire rack. Hold a serrated knife held so the blade is parallel with the work surface and use a sawing motion to cut each cake into 2 equal layers. Carefully lift the top layer off each cake.

Using an icing spatula, distribute about 1 cup filling evenly on the cake layer on the serving platter or cardboard round, spreading the filling to the very edge of the cake and evening the surface. Carefully place the upper cake layer on top of the filling. Repeat using the remaining filling and cake layers. Dust any crumbs from the platter and serve.

(I used only three layers, found that the cake was large enough,
more would be a bit excessive, in my opinion)

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: First things first, let’s clarify for those who do not know, that German Chocolate Cake has nothing to do with Germany. The name refers to Mr. Samuel German, an English-American chocolatier who developed the special formulation of baking chocolate used in the recipe.  Having said that, it is a classic indeed: chocolate, coconut and pecans. There, I gained two pounds just typing the ingredients, but in the name of having My Precioussss repaired, I don’t mind it at all.

As I mentioned, I turned it into a three-layer cake instead of four, and trust me, you won’t miss the fourth one, it is already pretty rich and decadent. The cake is very moist, and the filling is perfect, if you like coconut, that is. Sweet, creamy, with a nice added texture given by the nuts and coconut. A winner, perfect celebration cake.

So there you have it. A challenge proposed, accepted, and conquered. Not sure I want to set myself up for another one, so I hope our gamma-counter will be ok until my retirement…   And yes, our IT man, the Performer of Miracles on All Things Electronic, was very pleased with the cake.

Mission accomplished!

ONE YEAR AGO: Thank you!

TWO YEARS AGO: Salmon Rillettes, a Classy Appetizer

THREE YEARS AGO: Linzer Cookies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Baked Ricotta, Take Two

FIVE YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Uncanned

SIX YEARS AGO: Pork Ragu

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Friendly Kuri Squash

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Celery and Apple Salad

 

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BEWITCHING BIRTHDAY!

One year of blogging! It passed with astonishing speed, proving that time flies when you’re having fun!   It’s surely been fun, sharing what happens in our kitchen with friends, family and lots of other folks, and getting acquainted (at least virtually) with new people and bloggers through comments and emails.

A cake is a mandatory birthday celebration!  Unfortunately,  cake and Sally don’t make a good match.   But in the name of this special occasion I faced my demons and baked a cake. Choosing the recipe wasn’t easy, but I decided by elimination: genoise was out of the question, I’d rather be tortured.   Any recipes involving the instructions “cream the butter with the sugar” were also excluded.  Then, browsing the latest issue of Bon Appetit, I spotted a layered chocolate raspberry cake and I was smitten: that was it! Luscious, beautiful, perfect… would you believe  that the recipe didn’t need an electric mixer?  Instead, two bowls and a whisk…. my kind of recipe!  Even the layering didn’t bother me (although it should have, … but  ignorance is bliss).

So, here it is, my first layered cake, in honor of my baby blog…

CHOCOLATE-RASPBERRY LAYERED CAKE
(from Bon Appetit, June 2010)

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 + 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs

18 ounces bittersweet chocolate (maximum 61% cocoa), chopped
2 + 1/4 cups whipping cream
6 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, divided
resh raspberries
powdered sugar

Heat the oven to 350°F. Coat two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with nonstick spray. Line their bottoms with parchment paper rounds and spray the rounds. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl; whisk to blend and form a well in the center. Whisk 1 cup of water, buttermilk, oil, and eggs in a medium bowl to blend. Pour the wet ingredients into well in dry ingredients; whisk just to blend. Divide the cake batter between the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Cool completely in pans on cooling racks.

for the ganache and raspberry topping;
Place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring the cream to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Pour it over the chocolate.  Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until the ganache is melted and smooth. Transfer 1 + 1/4 cups of the ganache to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until the ganache is thick enough to spread, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Let the remaining ganache stand at room temperature to cool until  lukewarm.

Invert one cake onto a cardboard round or the bottom of 9-inch-diameter tart pan. Peel off the parchment paper and spread 3 tablespoons of raspberry jam over the top, then spoon dollops of chilled ganache over the surface, spreading it around.   Invert the second cake onto another cardboard round or tart pan bottom.  Peel off  its parchment paper. Carefully slide the cake off its round and onto the frosted cake layer.  Spread the remaining 3 tablespoons of raspberry jam over top of the second cake layer, and pour half of the lukewarm ganache over the cake, spreading it over the sides to cover.  Place the cake in the freezer until the ganache sets, about 30 minutes. Pour the remaining ganache over the cake, allowing it to drip down sides and spreading over the sides if needed for even coverage and smooth edges. Freeze again to set the ganache, about 30 minutes.

Arrange the raspberries in concentric circles atop the cake, then sift powdered sugar lightly over raspberries and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I wish that my cake-phobia was cured, but now I have a few more reasons to stick with breads and pizzas.   At first  my confidence grew as the batter behaved exactly as anticipated, filling two 9-inch cake pans and baking into beautiful brown cakes with only a slight dome in the center.  But the Cake Gods  weren’t quite finished with their conspiracy against me.   Spreading the ganache was nightmarish, to put it mildly. Thinking back, I realize that it wasn’t quite  hard enough to spread, so instead of forming a nice thick layer, it ran down the sides, but my cake-naivete made me go on, thinking  that eventually everything would be OK.

When I placed the second cake on top of the first, once all the slippage-fiesta stopped, the ganache layer had a big gap all around the edges, that stubbornly resisted my attempts to fill it.  In despair, I checked my cake pans, and was shocked and appalled to realize that they were not identical in size – a small difference from one brand of pan to another, which made my layers unequal. My last hope was that the “lukewarm icing” would solve all the problems and make a beautiful, smooth covering of all the boo-boos. But, this was not the case.  Not a chance.  To make a  long story short, my cake ended a bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.  Its sides had nothing to do with the “picture perfect” look in the magazine.    I had hoped to post a picture of my cake on a gorgeous stand with a nice candle in the center, but I settled instead for the only photo that showed more cake than boo-boos.

Cake, my friends, is not for sissies…But, even if its looks were not picture-perfect, it disappeared in an afternoon, devoured with gusto by hungry grad students!  The flavor was amazing: deep chocolaty, with a tangy background of raspberries, not overly sweet, but decadent.  I guess there might be hope for next year… 😉

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One year ago…. Welcome to my blog!