Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bananas Foster Cake

         There is something very exciting to me about a multi-layer cake. I know it sounds silly, but something with layers, a great frosting, crafted by hand...it just does not get much better than that in dessert world. Everyone can relate. Children and adults all like cake. They are sweet and decadent, moist and fun, interesting to eat (I mean everyone has their own way about going about digging in to their own slice), and can be truly beautiful to behold. Yes, a good slice of cake is hard to beat.
          As I was deciding what to make for my next post, I walked into my kitchen to fill my water glass, and the cabinet above the sink hit me hard in the nostrils with the strong scent of bananas screaming "USE MEEEE!" When I opened the cabinet, sure enough, there were three perfectly overripe bananas, ready to be mashed up and put into my sweets. The decision was made; Sunday afternoon baking had to include bananas. 
         The obvious road here would have been banana bread, but gosh-darn it, I wanted dessert, not another tea cake. So it was time to forgo the spiced loaf with chocolate chips and make a true cake to behold. My trust in the "Fannie Farmer Baking Book" by Marion Cunningham is garnering increasingly large portions of my love. I knew that this book was where I should start my brainstorming and it was absolutely the right decision.
            The banana cake was so light and fluffy, not at all like the traditional dense loaf I wanted to avoid. Achieved through folded in whipped egg whites, it was more like a classic yellow cake with the gentle sweetness and moisture of bananas. The toasted walnuts throughout added not only a great texture, but also a wonderful depth of rich, nutty flavor.
         Then I had to decide what was the proper topping for such a cake. I do not make big cakes at home to often because of the size of a double layer 9-inch cake in ratio to the people in my household is a bit off. So when I do make a layer cake, I insist on making it as decadent and fulfilling of my dreams as possible.
          I have to admit, I have a very strong affection for caramel. It is one of the beauties of life to me. Equal parts inverted sugar and deliciously sinful heavy whipping cream, hit with some salt and vanilla...I dream of it. It is brilliant. I will eat it by the spoonful. I will put it over and in whatever I can. I think caramel sauce, no matter how simple in concept, is a stupendous culinary feat.
        My favorite frosting is cream cheese. It goes so well with so many flavors, and similarly to the sweet-salty combo we are all so fascinated with, it fulfills another palate desire-sweet and tangy. So I thought "What if I combined the sweet cake, salt in the caramel, and tang in the cream cheese on my lazy Sunday afternoon?" And so was born, the Bananas Foster Cake.
            Oh my goodness. I am so happy eating this cake. I have nothing else to say about it. Forget banana bread for breakfast, buy your bananas, let them brown and make this cake. Let the flavors meld in your mouth to form a balance of sweet bananas, rich, salty caramel, deep walnuts, and tangy cream cheese. Let the thick, gooey topping ooze down with your teeth between the moist crumb of the cake as you bite in to it. Do not resist. Do not think twice. I do not care if you live by yourself which is making you think you do not want to make a full cake. Invite people over. You need to eat it, because sometimes we all just need a two-layered delicious hunk of cake on our plate.

Inspired by "Fannie Farmer Baking Book" by Marion Cunningham
Oven Temp: Sea Level-350 F
                      Altitude-375 F*
Equipment: 2 X 9 inch rounds
                     Multiple Mixing Bowls 
                     A hand or stand mixer
1/2 C (1 Stick) Unsalted Butter, room temperature
1 1/2 C Granulated Sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 C Buttermilk (or 1/2 C Whole Milk minus one TSP and add 1 TSP Lemon Juice)
2-3 smashed bananas (about 1 C)
1 TBPS Vanilla Extract
2 C All-purpose flour
3/4 TSP Baking Soda* (1 TSP at Sea Level)
3/4 TSP Baking Powder* (1 TSP at Sea Level)
1 TSP Salt
1 C toasted, chopped walnuts (optional, but strongly encouraged)
4 TBSP (1/2 Stick) Unsalted Butter, room temperature
8 oz. Cream Cheese, room temperature 
1 3/4 C Powdered Sugar (sift if there are clumps present)
1 TSP Vanilla Extract
Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 C sugar
1 C Heavy Whipping Cream
1 TSP Fine-grain Salt
1 TSP Vanilla Extract
A small amount of water
1. Preheat oven. Grease and flour, or grease and line cake pans with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
3. Cream the butter until for about 30 seconds then add the sugar and cream the two together. Since it is a 3:1 sugar-butter ratio, it will not look as normally creamed as other things. You are more looking for a smooth consistency and light color. 
4. Beat in egg yolks.
5. Mix buttermilk/milk-lemon mixture. It will likely look broken or curdled now. 
6. Mix in mashed bananas and vanilla extract.
7. On low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 additions, until well incorporated and thick batter is formed. Scraping down the side, finish by hand with a spatula to make sure no dry flour spots are left.
8. In a small mixing bowl, beat egg whites to a firm, but moist peak.
9. Put a small dollop of the whites on top of the batter and begin to fold them in. To fold, use gentle, large strokes, moving your spatula around the sides of the bowl and folding the batter up and over. Once the first dollop is incorporated, add the rest of the mixture and repeat the same motion until it is all folded in. You want to take the time to fold gently, or you will collapse the whites and the cake will be dense.
9. Fold in the walnuts.
10. Pour the batter into the two prepared pans. If baking at 375 it only takes about 20 minutes, at 350, expect closer to 25-30. Check with an inserted toothpick coming out clean (be careful not to mistake banana mush for cake-this could lead to over baking) and look for the cake edges pulling away from the sides.
11. Remove, allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and let rounds rest on cooling rack.
1. Meanwhile, add butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl beat until a smooth consistency is achieved. 
2. Place a piece of plastic wrap over top and place in fridge until ready to use.
Caramel Sauce
1. Get heavy bottom or non-stick sauce pan and make sure there is nothing on the sides. It is very important in sugar cookery to start with a clean pot or your sugar will crystalize. 
2. Carefully add sugar to the middle of the pan, avoiding getting any crystals on the sides.
3. Gently add a small amount of water; just enough to make the sugar appear like wet sand.
4. Turn on heat and bring to a simmer, DO NOT STIR, but watch carefully for the development of color. Do not go fold laundry now folks.
5. Once a rich caramel color is achieved, move the pan off the heat momentarily and add the heavy cream. The mixture will seize up. Let it settle for a moment, then return to heat stirring until combined. 
6. Stir in vanilla extract and salt until dissolved.
7. Remove from heat and pat yourself on back. You made caramel.
1. Beat in 2-3 TBSP of caramel to the cream cheese frosting.
2. Place down your first cake round, scoop on a generous amount of frosting and spread in an even layer over top.
3. Repeat with the second layer.
4. By placing extra icing along the edges of the cake, use an offset spatula to push it over the edge and begin to ice the sides of the cake.
5. Using a spoon, drizzle the cake with caramel sauce, allowing it to get a good amount on top and drip over the sides into a beautiful mess of deliciousness.

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