Friday, March 25, 2011

Banana-Caramel Cake

This cake is a CRAZY amount of work.

I got it from my go-to Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, and what's so wonderful about it is (unfortunately) the part you can't see. Between the two layers of banana cake are caramelized bananas. Sort of like bananas foster in a cake.

You start by making two 9-inch layers of banana cake. One tip I learned in a baking class is that if you're making banana bread, mash the bananas chunky, but if you're making a cake or cupcakes, you want to puree the bananas into a cream. The cake has sour cream in it as well, to keep it moist.

Next caramelize sugar in a skillet, add butter, then sautee 3 bananas, sliced, until they're browned on both sides.

Place the bananas on top of the bottom layer of cake, then cover with the top layer. Frost the outside with a mascarpone cheese frosting (1 pound cheese, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 1 1/4 cups heavy cream), and then drizzle with caramel sauce.

The original recipe is too long to print here, but here are the ingredients for the cake, which you bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Beat together:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup sugar

Add, one at a time:
4 large eggs

Sift together:
2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Mix together:
3 very ripe bananas, mashed (plus another 3 to make the bananas foster)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar first, then add the eggs one at a time, then add the flour mixture, and finally fold in the banana mixture.

You can see the process here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Break

I'm taking this week off, but will be back next weekend with more desserts. In the meantime, check out my next cooking class at Whole Foods:  Out of the Box: Making Brand Name Desserts at Home.  The menu includes Pop-Tarts, Oreos, Milano Cookies, and Nilla Wafers with Banana Pudding, all homemade!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting Ever!!!

photo by Anthony Palatta

I'm getting a reputation.

Last month, I brought a strawberry cake to one of my writing classes for a student's birthday. This month, three students who have birthdays got together and made a request:  CHOCOLATE!!!

I'm more of a lemon guy myself, but I know that I'm in the minority here, so I've found a few chocolate recipes I can always count on, like this simple yet astoundingly good Martha Stewart recipe for one-bowl chocolate cake. 

I made two 8-inch round layers, and then split these in half. I also made a simple syrup (1 cup sugar, 5/8 cup water brought to a boil, plus a tablespoon of creme de cacao) and brushed it on the cut layers. I shouldn't have bothered. Martha's cake is moist and delicious enough without it.

The last time I made this cake, I paired it with a simple buttercream frosting. This time, I decided to experiment with a recipe for chocolate buttercream from Warren Brown's cookbook Cakelove. I ended up with the most delicious icing I'd ever tasted.

In a large bowl, mix 6 egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar (Brown calls for superfine sugar), 2 tbsp of potato starch (I'm not sure what this does, but Brown swears by potato starch), and 3 tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder. In a large saucepan on the stove, bring 2 cups of milk and 1 1/2 cups of sugar (superfine is preferred) to a boil.

Slowly whisk the milk into the yolks until combined, then pour the new mixture back into the pan and return to the stove.  Heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles. Boil for one minute, then pour the mixture into a stand mixer bowl and whip (with whip attachment) until it's cooled to room temperature. Brown says this takes about 5 minutes. Try 10.  It's important that your mixture is cool or the frosting will go all runny on you.

Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium-low and add 1 pound of unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pats, one pat at a time, plus 2 teaspoons of vanilla.  When it's all in, whip on medium speed until smooth.

The results are creamy and light, with a rich chocolate flavor that's not overly sweet. The buttercream can be a bit wet at room temperature, but firms up like butter in your fridge, so you want it to be slightly cooler than room temp, but not cold. I'd say it's best to frost and serve the same day if you can, though I served mine the day after and the results were fine, though I'd have liked the frosting to be a bit firmer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Chocomint Heaven

photo by Anthony Palatta

I'd been salivating over this recipe, from the Betty Crocker Holiday Cookies Magazine, for about a year before I got up the nerve to make them. Click here for the full recipe.

They're actually quite easy, except for one step:  You have to unwrap 52 Andes creme de menthe thin chocolate mints. This takes quite a bit longer than I thought, and is pretty tedious, so I recommend doing it when you have some free time in advance, and then storing the unwrapped mints in a plastic baggie.

The rest is pretty standard. Preheat your oven to 350. Cream brown sugar, white sugar, butter, shortening, vanilla and eggs. Beat in melted unsweetened baking chocolate. Next, stir in flour and baking soda, and finally, fold in 1 cup of the unwrapped mints (chopped) plus 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips. Keep 1 cup of the chopped mints in reserve.

Bake your cookies 11 to 15 minutes, until the sheen is gone from the top, but as with most chocolate cookies, be careful not to overbake. As soon as they come out of the oven, sprinkle each cookie with chopped mints. They'll melt into the top of the cookie. You can play around with the timing on this to get a firmer or more melted sprinkling of chopped chocolate mint candies.

Either way, these are moist, chocolatey, minty, and delicious!