Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Best Banana Bread Ever. Really.

I got a weird batch of bananas a few weeks ago. They were green for days and then overnight developed brown spots while still green. When I peeled one open, it was mush inside. Solution for 7 mushy bananas? Banana bread. I found this recipe for Flour's Famous Banana Bread, mashed the bananas, sifted the dry ingredients, and went to the fridge to grab eggs and realized I only had one egg. Quick search online suggested I could use 1/3 cup of canned pumpkin to replace an egg in muffins or quick breads... so instead of the remaining 3 eggs, I used 1 cup pumpkin. The darn loaves took nearly 2 hours to bake, but seriously, the result was really, really, good. Flavorful, not too sweet, a soft and creamy crumb that's not soggy at all. I mean this is the-best-banana-bread-I've-ever-eaten good. I know that's a tremendous claim and I'm setting myself up for people to try the recipe and possibly be disappointed, but I love it. Dylan and my family loved it. Friends have loved it. 

Each time I've made this I've doubled it, and made a slight alteration--I've tried half Splenda and half sugar, I've forgotten to add the sour cream, I've skipped nuts, and I've used only 6 bananas instead of 7. Still amazing. I haven't made the original, but I can't imagine it would be more delicious that the recipe below. So here it is:

Pumpkin Banana Bread
(makes 2 loaves or 1 loaf and 12 muffins)

3 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
2 c. sugar (or 1 sugar, 1 Splenda)
1 egg
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 c. oil
6-7 ripe bananas, mashed
4 Tb. sour cream (or not, if you forget)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. chopped pecans (or not)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 loaf pans with parchment paper-do not grease sides. I used parchment liners when I made muffins.
Sift flour, soda, cinnamon, salt several times.  In another bowl, whisk sugar, egg, and pumpkin on medium speed for a couple minutes. Drizzle in oil while whisking. Then add bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients and pecan--I also reserved a handful of pecans for the top. Split between loaf pans, top with nuts, and put in the lower middle of the oven. Bake for a LONG TIME. For me, the loaves have taken anywhere from 1 1/2 - 2 hours. The muffins took about 25 minutes. Test, test, test, and then enjoy the heck out of this bread. 

(The original recipe said bake 45 minutes to an hour. I've found the top will look done after 45 minutes, but the middle is complete soup for another hour or so. The first time, I laid a piece of foil over the top after about an hour, because I was worried about the pecans burning. They were okay. Without the pecans, there was no need for foil.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cake 2: Almond Chocolate

Or almond cake with dark chocolate ganache and vanilla "buttercream". #2 is just a baby, a single layer that I sliced into two. More details to come.

What I learned about cake: Reflections on #1

Yesterday I finished my second cake! In comparing the process of making my first and second, I realized I learned a lot.
Here are a few notes on my first cake.
It was a lemon cake, made from scratch using a recipe I found on epicurious here. The batter was pretty time intensive, and I followed the recipe exactly, except I made one layer with cake flour, as the recipe suggested, and the second with all-purpose flour, just to see. (In the picture above, the right side is cake flour, left side is all-purpose) I filled the layers with homemade strawberry curd instead of using lemon curd and raspberries, made the lemon syrup to help keep the layers moist, and whipped up lemon meringue buttercream frosting. From curd-making to frosting, the entire process took about 6 hours.
And now, onto the the mistakes I made and the most important lessons learned:
  • Use enough batter in the pan. This recipe was supposed to fill a 10" round cake pan. I didn't change a thing and poured it into a 12" round. Too little batter meant skinny layers. They were hard to slice evenly, broke as I tried to stack them, and the cake wasn't as tall as I hoped it would be. Next time I'd alter the recipe using my 6th grade math teacher skills.
  • Concave layers are no good. I used 2" deep pans, but because I didn't use enough batter, the cake layers only rose up 1" around the edge of the pans. They were taller in the middle, and I didn't totally trim off the curved top to get perfectly even, cylindrical layers. I wish I had. As I was assembling the layers, the strawberry curd ran out the edges, the cake was difficult to frost, and the sliced pieces just weren't as pretty.
  • Create a dam along the circumference before filling. Like I said above, the curd spilled out the edges of the layers. I wish I'd piped a thin ring of frosting around the edge to prevent that.
  • Have all the ingredients you need before you bake. This is an embarrassing and silly one, but I ran out of butter, eggs, and flour. It just didn't register that I would be making two batches of batter and need SO MUCH BUTTER for the buttercream!
  • I don't really like buttercream. At least this buttercream. Much too rich and buttery for my taste. I used Trader Joe's Lemon Curd instead of making my own. It was easier than I anticipated, but just didn't taste as delicious as I'd hoped. I did not read the reviews before moving ahead with it, but it sounds like I could have gotten away with adding less butter. Oh well.
  • Cake flour=not a big deal. There was definitely a finer crumb and more delicate texture on the half with cake flour. It was delicious. But I don't think I care, and neither does the bride. So all-purpose flour, here we come.
So, in the end, my first cake was a tremendous learning experience. I loved the experience, I love baking, and I'm SO, SO glad I'm giving myself the time to learn and get this right. I have 3 more months to find some great recipes and to perfect my decorating skills!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cake 1: Lemon Strawberry

Or: Lemon Cake with Strawberry Curd and Lemon Buttercream Frosting
Details soon.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Commence Cake Adventure!

One of my very best friends, Britany, is getting married in June, and asked if I would be interested in baking her wedding cake(s). Yes, yes, yes!

The past month or so I've been doing cursory research and adding photos to a pinterest board here. I've been reserving library books and studying blogs and websites. I've been trying to learn just how one goes about baking a 16", 14", or 12" cake without gooey centers or burnt edges, trying to find which recipes will hold up under what conditions, and attempting to figure how one stores enough cake for about 200 people without filling the fridge with 7 lbs of butter and 12 dozen eggs and more cakes than will fit.

I think I've only decided one thing. I won't be making a single 3 or 4 tier cake. The storage of 16" layers, inner support system, transportation, assembly, and unstacking/cutting of such a cake would be beyond my ability. So, my initial plan: make four beautiful, delicious, 12" round cakes.

I'm starting my recipe-testing today. At this point, I've decided stop reading and planning and just dive in to see what happens. Yesterday I purchased 2 lbs of butter, 2 dozen eggs, two 12" round cake pans, a cake leveler, meringue powder, and a rotating cake stand. Today, I'm making strawberry curd, lemon cake, and lemon buttercream.

Details and pictures to come!!