Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Banana Layer Cake

October 3, 2009 - Banana Layer Cake with Tangy Vanilla Frosting

My favorite banana cake is from Icing on the Cake in Los Gatos - every time I try a new banana cake recipe, I compare it to that. This recipe is from Abigail Johnson Dodge's Weekend Baker and, appropriately enough, I made it last weekend. The cake turned out fairly well - had a good texture that was nice and cakey, not too heavy like a pound cake and not too light like a sponge cake. It was similar to Icing on the Cake's but not quite the same so my quest to find the perfect banana cake recipe continues.

I made 2 novice baker mistakes with this cake. One, contrary to my previous posting on the use of bananas, I didn't let my bananas get ripe enough before I used them for the cake. The bananas I had were too ripe to eat but still not at that almost-completely blackened skin stage which would make them the most flavorful. But this weekend was the only time I had to make a layer cake so I was willing to risk it. The cake still turned out okay but would probably have been a smidge more flavorful if the bananas had ripened even further.

The second mistake is probably common to most cake bakers - I didn't let the layers get completely cool before I frosted them. Usually I have more patience but I was on a schedule and needed to get going so I let them mostly cool but frosted them while they were still just a tiny bit lukewarm in the center. It didn't matter too much except the frosting did get a bit moist/melty and I had to let it set in the fridge after I frosted the layers. That's one thing in baking that I've learned through the years - oftentimes, you can't really hide your mistakes. You can see my 2nd mistake clearly by looking at the layers - you can't see the frosting layer in between them. That's because not only did I use a thin layer of frosting (since I'm more of a cake girl, not a frosting chick) but what frosting there was between the two layers melted into them. It didn't affect the taste at all and the taste was actually quite good but from a presentation standpoint, I wouldn't follow my example on this one.

The original recipe has this frosted with chocolate frosting but for a banana cake, I prefer a more neutral flavor pairing. Vanilla (or cream cheese) showcases the banana flavor, chocolate competes with it. Whichever you choose is more of a personal preference.

Banana Layer Cake with Tangy Vanilla Frosting
For the cake
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
3 medium very, very ripe bananas (about 14 ounces including peels), peeled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
¾ cup (3 ounces) chopped, toasted walnuts, optional

For the fudgy frosting
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon table salt

To make the cake
1. Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of two 9 by 2-inch round cake pans, tapping out the excess flour.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Whisk until well blended. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer (stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or handheld mixer) on medium-high until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until well combined. Add the bananas and vanilla and beat until well blended and only small bits of banana remain. Add the eggs two at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture will look curdled and a bit lumpy. Don’t worry, it will all come together. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until blended. Add the buttermilk and mix just until blended. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix just until blended. Stir in the walnuts, if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.
3. Bake until the tops are light brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of 1 layer comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to racks and let cool for about 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the sides of each pan to loosen the cake. Invert the layers onto the racks, lift off the pans, and let cool completely.
To make the fudgy frosting
4. While the cake is baking, make the fudgy frosting. Melt the unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, evaporated milk, butter, vanilla and salt in a blender; there’s no need to blend at this point. When the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat or the microwave and give it a stir. Scrape the hot melted chocolate into the blender. Cover with the lid and blend on high speed until the mixture darkens and is very thick, about 2 minutes. Scrape the frosting into a clean bowl and set aside at room temperature. When the frosting is cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap until the cake is completely cool and ready to frost.
5. Frost the cake

Tangy Vanilla Frosting
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup sour cream

1. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer (stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment) on medium-high speed until very smooth and creamy. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, salt and beat until blended and fluffy. Add the sour cream and, using a rubber spatula, gently stir just until blended. Cover and set aside at room temperature until the layers are completely cool and ready to be frosted.

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