Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Banana Cake


I had a jones, of no origin, for banana cake. I googled 'banana cake recipe', and chose the one that said "best ever banana cake recipe", of course. I wasn't going by the title alone, the recipe had 900 reviews and counting, which were overwhelmingly positive. Either it's a foolproof cake, or somebody has waaaaay too much time on their hands to write nearly a thousand spurious recipe reviews. I'm betting on largely foolproof. After my misadventures in baking recently, I did a little technical research on the behavior of cake, which I put in the notes at the bottom.

Of course, I couldn't possibly make myself follow the recipe. The original calls for buttermilk and lemon juice. The buttermilk I didn't have, so I swapped in an equal amount of greek yogurt, and the lemon juice is presumably just to keep the bananas from going brown. It was already too late on the browning prevention, so I left it out.

3 medium-large, very ripe bananas
3 cups AP flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 300.

Butter and flour an 11x15 cake pan.

Cream the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla together. I used my food processor. Mix in the yogurt.

Sift in half the dry ingredients and mix into the batter.

Puree the bananas and pour half into the batter. Mix in the bananas, then do the rest of the flour, then the bananas.

When everything is thoroughly mixed and there are no streaks or bumps, pour the batter into the pan and spread it out evenly.

The side bar on the recipe said that the cooking temps might be anywhere between 275 and 325, and the time somewhere between an hour and 1 1/2 hours. The lack of specificity made me a little anxious, especially since I have had poor luck with my baking lately. I ended up with 1 hr 15 min at 300.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting  

1 packet cream cheese
1 stick butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 or 3 tablespoons water
3 cups powdered sugar
1 packet trader joe's freeze-dried strawberries

Mix all the frosting ingredients except strawberries until you have achieved a smooth consistency, somewhere around that of very soft peanut butter. Put the strawberries in a food processor and process until they have turned into a fine powder. Make sure the bowl of the machine is perfectly dry, or the berries will turn into glue. Reserve half the frosting, and mix the berry powder into the other half to make a pink and white cake.

Some notes:

-I lined the bottom of my cake pan with waxed paper. It really helps get the cake out. Butter the pan, cut a piece of paper to fit, press it into the bottom, butter the paper, then sprinkle everything with flour. Tap the excess flour out before putting in the batter.

-I had my heart set on a cake with layers, and was a little worried that the cake would come out with a large bump in the middle of the pan, making it unsuitable for cutting and stacking. I needn't have worried, as it turns out. The low cooking temperature seems to result in a very even rise in the cake.

-Make sure the cake is completely cool before trying to frost it. I made the cake one day, covered it and put it in the fridge, then frosted it the next day. I obviously don't have a very skilled frosting technique, but here is what the experts say- 1) Stack your layers, then trim the edges to make a perfectly geometric cake. 2) Spread a thin layer of frosting over the raw edges, then wait for about 5 minutes for it to set up. This will glue down the crumbs, then you can put a thicker, nicer-looking layer on top.

-What's it mean when they say "cream the butter and sugar", anyway? Well, what they mean, apparently, is that the butter & sugar should be beaten together until the sugar dissolves, and there are enough microscopic air bubbles thrashed into it, that the mixture appears to have gotten paler than it was before. I think I got that part right, thanks to modern technology. Recipes usually don't say to add the eggs at this point, but I did it anyway, because as I understand it, the important points are 1) dissolve the sugar and, probably more importantly, 2) create those tiny bubbles in the batter. Yes there is a leavening agent (baking soda), but the tiny air pockets are a key factor in creating a light, fluffy, cake. In the oven, the heat causes the tiny bubbles to expand, and then the batter sets up around the air pockets. Unlike cookies or brownies, which are dense, crunchy or gooey as the recipe calls for, in cake the trapped air bubbles result in a food item composed largely of air.

Setting aside the fact that my decorating job looks like it was applied by a 3rd-grader, I'm fairly pleased with the result. It's really a cake. It has layers, with frosting, and it's pink, my favorite flavor. And boy is it banana-ey! I had a hard time convincing myself not to eat it for breakfast today.

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