Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Life Hands You Black Bananas

All I can say about last weekend is "Thank God for pot luck on Sunday!"

Back in my other life of barely managed busyness, I wouldn't have said that. I really enjoy a good church pot luck dinner and want to contribute, but with an already exhausting life, it was difficult to be up to the adventure of picking and preparing dishes back then. Now, with weekends being way too leisurely for my mental health, I was glad to be in the kitchen.

As I pondered what to make, my eyes fell on these.

What to do when life hands you black bananas? No, don't throw them out as my mother-in-law was about to do! This is the time to think of baking. When bananas are so overripe that you can, as The Village Baker's Wife cookbook says, almost pour them out of their skins, they are in the perfect condition to lend their over abundance of flavor to something yummy. Since I was in the market for a dessert, I immediately thought of banana cake with cream cheese frosting, which is a delicious combination if you haven't sampled it. (Of course, there's also banana cake with caramel frosting and banana cake with chocolate frosting, but I distract myself.)

If you haven't already guessed, that aforementioned cookbook containing the excellent recipe that began my love affair with banana cake is packed away in a tottering pile of storage boxes. So instead of pulling out my trusty old friend, I pulled a basic banana cake recipe off the internet and adapted a tiny thing or two. (Why ever would the baking soda need to go in the banana puree anyway?) Then, this being not my kitchen, I could find no layer cake pans, so I decided to make a Susie homemaker sheet cake in my mother-in-law's pan with the handy dandy lid. All the better for toting anyway. Or so I thought.

No sooner had I started to mix up the cake, than I was slammed by Loser-itis. With my father-in-law sitting at the bar asking questions and making...ahem ...helpful suggestions, I realized that it's been a while since I made a cake. I suddenly lost confidence in my grasp on proper creaming (the all important step in scratch cakes), felt compelled to check my technique on the internet, chickened out, dumped out the butter and sugar that suddenly looked so wrong to me, and started over--using the last of the butter, which meant that I would have to go back into town for more before I could make the icing. An auspicious beginning, don't you think?

But it gets better. I started adding the dry ingredients before the eggs but corrected myself in time to avoid a disaster of tough proportions, then finally got the thing mixed and in the pan and into the oven, after which I thought it would all be downhill from there.

But no, not downhill at all. When the baking time was complete, I realized that I had not noticed quite how dark the nonstick surface of the pan was and therefore had not dropped the oven temperature by 25 degrees to avoid over browning. And the cake stuck a little anyway! So much for nonstick pans.

We now pause for an educational note for any baking newbies (which, contrary to the image produced by my star crossed stories on this blog, I am not): Equipment really does matter. I have been totally spoiled by the straight-sided, shiny-surfaced cake pans that I picked up through my previous bakery job. If I'd had a pan like this, my cake wouldn't have turned out about an inch tall and way too dark. Yes, professional grade pans are a little more expensive, but they're an investment in lots better results and worth every penny. I look forward to being reunited with mine someday.

Anyway, now I had an unimpressive cake that shamed my status as a culinary wannabe but that also tasted quite good. This ugly duckling needed a makeover. So I trimmed off the overdone edges, cut the cake in half, and stacked the halves with icing in between and on top only (There would literally have been one crumby mess if I had tried to frost the sides.) A sprinkle of toasted walnuts on top and Banarella was ready for the ball. It looked almost like I meant to do that.

My husband said about this misadventure that the mark of a professional isn't that she doesn't make mistakes, but that she can salvage them. I don't know about that bit of comfort, but it sure reminded me of the fruit destined for the trash that was now a tasty dessert and the underwhelming sheet cake that got doctored into a torte of sorts. Salvage operations can turn out pretty well sometimes. So I guess the moral of this story is: When life hands you black bananas, don't despair. Make cake! (In a good pan.)

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
adapted from Moms Who Think

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1/2-1 teaspoon vanilla
3 very ripe bananas, pureed

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 lb powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one 9" x 13" pan or two 9" round pans.
2) Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and lightened in color. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.
3) Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4) To the butter mixture, add the flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour.
5) Stir in the vanilla and pureed bananas.
6) Pour batter into pan(s) and bake 35-40 minutes for 9" x 13" pan or 25-30 minutes for 9" round pan.
7) Let 9" x 13" cake cool in pan. Turn out 9" round layers onto rack to cool completely.

Frosting directions
1) Mix butter and cream cheese until smooth.
2) Add powdered sugar and vanilla and blend well.
3) Spread on top of 9" x 13" cake or on top and sides of 9" round layers.

No comments: