Wednesday, April 29, 2009


From-scratch cakes aren’t hard to make, but I only seem to do it about once per year: for A’s birthday. I’m just not much of a cake fan, particularly when there are cookies and candy around. Every now and then, however, cake really hits the spot—and this one was so good, it made me want to bake cakes all the time.

I made the banana cake, lifted from this recipe at The Smitten Kitchen, for A’s last birthday and mentioned it in passing here, but wasn’t quite satisfied enough to write a full post. That’s because I mucked up the frosting—the original recipe was a caramel-walnut-banana cake, but the Smitten Kitchen verdict was that the banana cake was the best part, and besides, A wanted chocolate banana cake. So I picked a new-to-me recipe for fudge frosting off the Web and it totally failed, leaving me no choice but to whip up an emergency batch of standard chocolate frosting from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Nothing wrong with that, but when I tasted the cake it became clear that it was crying out for a more bitter counterpoint, like a dark chocolate ganache. I spent the ensuing year secretly (and, occasionally, not-so-secretly) hoping that A would pick banana cake for his birthday again so I’d have an excuse to take another shot at this cake. And he did.

I hadn’t made ganache before, but I’d heard it was easy, and it certainly lived up to that reputation. In the comments on the cake post, Deb recommended this ganache recipe as a nice pairing for the banana cake, so I used that as a starting point. I omitted the coffee, because we are not coffee people and I didn’t have any around or want to buy any, and I increased the cream just slightly. Then, although Deb said it hadn’t worked for her with this particular ganache, I used the lazy heat-cream-and-pour-over-chocolate method (well described in this Orangette post about a very similar cake) because the words “double boiler” in a recipe are always a huge turnoff for me. I slacked even more by heating my cream up in the microwave rather than on the stove. When it looked like my chocolate wasn’t melting into the cream enough, I even popped the whole bowl of cream and chocolate into the microwave for 10 seconds. Despite all these shortcuts, the ganache came together just fine—easy to spread over the cake, just the right amount to cover, firmed up admirably to a texture somewhere between fudge and frosting (so prettily glossy I had trouble photographing it!), and tasted amazing (use the best-quality chocolate you can, of course; I used the last of my fancy Callebaut chocolate chips from last year’s birthday gift card to Surfas).

In short: I will strenuously urge myself not to wait an entire year before making this cake again. Sure, it’s a great way to celebrate a special occasion, but it’s also simple enough for everyday eating. The cake itself is a cinch to make and well worth buying cake flour and a small bottle of rum for. It would probably be just dandy on its own, dusted with powdered sugar, garnished with strawberries, dolloped with whipped cream, or maybe with chocolate chips mixed into the batter—but why not make ganache when ganache is so ridiculously easy to make?

1¾ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar (I used dark; no big deal)
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (2 to 3 large)
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate
⅓ cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in a large bowl until blended. Beat in eggs one at a time, then mashed bananas, sour cream, rum, and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients in two additions just until combined. Spoon batter into a buttered 9-inch cake pan.

4. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Place pan on a cooling rack and let sit for 15 minutes. Invert cake out of pan onto rack and cool completely.

5. Place chocolate in a medium mixing bowl. Either on the stovetop or in the microwave, heat cream until it is steaming and about to boil. Pour cream over chocolate and whisk until most of the chocolate is melted; then cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir or whisk gently until the mixture is completely smooth. Drizzle or spread over cake and let cool.

Yield: One 9-inch cake
Time: About 2 hours (including cooling time)
Leftover potential: High. I keep leftover cake in the fridge and eat it cold, washed down with a glass of milk. A even had some for breakfast.

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