February 2, 2010

Do Groundhogs Eat Banana Cake?

If I were a groundhog I would definitely eat banana cake. If the famous groundhog were offered a nice slice of cake, maybe he would stay out a little longer, not search for his shadow, and declare winter is over - instead of running back into his home....
I welcome every opportunity to make birthday cakes. I took this Groundhog Day to offer my baking skills to my office for birthday celebrations. Most of the time we just buy a cake from the grocery store two blocks from the office - they are fine if you enjoy boring cakes.... I was ready for change.
I've made cakes for a friend in the past who is allergic to pretty much everything - and the allergies are ever changing. My other friend used to be gluten free, sugar free, and now she is corn free. The other two are back thankfully, or this cake might have been a bad science experiment. Cake without eggs is difficult. Bananas help keep the cake moist but I had to get creative with the volume. I loosely based the recipe on an Elizabeth Falkner gem I found on a website in 2006 (website no longer exists). The website was connected to Citizen Cake, one of Falkner's restaurant, and she used to share some of her recipes (maybe imagining that no one would be able to match her skill and still crave her Demolition Desserts). I don't suppose she ever thought I might come along and turn her recipe into an almost vegan dessert. I used her recipe as an inspiration for the birthday cake we celebrated today, Groundhog Day.
Banana Cake. Banana Cake with Coconut Cream, Banana Caramel, and Sea Salt Walnuts. Yum! I was nervous baking this. I hovered around the oven peeking in the window every few minutes to determine whether or not the cake was rising appropriately or browning too much... I even prayed that the cake wouldn't be bad since I was feeding my office the next day. My prayers were heard and the cake turned out just fine. I should have added some parchment to the pan (hindsight) because the cake was so moist part of the bottom got stuck. Caramel is not typically my friend. I've made it only twice before and am always scared I'm going to burn it. I didn't burn this one but the color was super dark and it probably took much longer to get to 218˚F than it should have.
The whipped cream substitute is an entirely different story. I wanted to use a product I read about on the internet. Good reviews, and it seemed to be exactly what I needed. Unfortunately, Whole Foods didn't carry this specific one. They had one other type of whipped dairy substitute that I read about and decided to try. After all, one can of the stuff was about the amount I needed. When I got home and tried it, I spewed about half of the aerosol into an empty container before anything came out. Then the aerosol was gone... and in the can lives the rest of the fake cream. For all I'm concerned it can stay in there forever. It was disgusting! I feel bad for people who have to drink any sort of Rice milk (which is what this is made of even though it is called Soyatoo) and vow to never attempt substituting milk for rice any time soon.
My cakes were done, my caramel sauce was done, and I was really bummed that I had no frosting. This wouldn't have been so bad if I lived near a 24 hour grocery store, but I had to fix this problem the next day... at work... and haul my cakes all over the city before I actually got there. Yeah for the Bureau of Street Use and Mapping! So, I took some time to remind myself what I had read about substituting dairy for whipped cream and Coconut Milk came into my mind. I remembered a specific recipe that called for 3 cans of coconut milk (all while rushing through the grocery store on the way into work) and you had to refrigerate them to separate the cream from the water.... and it didn't whip up in volume but had the right consistency... (still running through Whole Foods) decided to get a soy substitute cream cheese just in case... ran to the checkout and power walked back to work.
Whipping Coconut Cream at your office is difficult. I couldn't see any good way to bring my mixer along that morning (had to substitute a power whisk attachment for my immersion blender) but wish I had. The whisk was a little out of control and my bowl was shallow. I made a slight mess, but with a little powdered sugar the cream turned out really well.
Everyone who stopped in the kitchen gave a "wow" as I was assembling it (which always makes me smile) even though it was not the most beautiful of presentations. I drizzled the caramel on top of the whipped coconut, and topped the whole cake with sea salted walnuts. It was a hit - and now I think I have sealed the deal for cake making. (Just like my friend Nicole in Chicago!) The rest won't be as difficult as this cake. Normal ingredients. Not so much stress. Glad to have made a successful cake though!
Happy Birthday you two!
Banana Cake with Coconut Cream, Banana Caramel, and Sea Salt Walnuts


2 ½ C flour

1 T baking powder

½ tsp (heaping) salt

1 stick margarine

2 T water

2 C sugar divided

½ C vegetable oil

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 T distilled white vinegar + enough soy milk to make 1 C

1 ¾ C diced bananas – about 2 medium ripe bananas

Banana Caramel

1/2 C banana chopped

3/4 C brown sugar

1 T margarine

3/4 C water

Coconut Cream

2 cans coconut milk (not light)

1 T powdered sugar

Sea Salted Walnuts

1 C walnut pieces

1 T marjarine

1 tsp fine sea salt

Prep the coconut milk by removing the tops of the cans and covering with plastic wrap. Place them into the freezer for 1 hour, then move them to the fridge until you are ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Spray two 9" round cake pans, line with parchment and spray lightly again. Cream the marjarine and 1 C sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the padddle attachment. Add water and continue to mix. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine soy milk and vinegar and set aside. Add flour in 3 additions alternating with two additions of soy milk. In your flour bowl, whisk remaining sugar and oil, mix in baking soda thoroughly. Add bananas and stir to combine. Pour this mixture into the batter on medium speed until everything is well incorporated. Separate evenly between the two pans, shake to eliminate air bubbles, and bake for about 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack until completely cool. Cover with foil if you are making the cakes ahead of time.

Make the Banana Caramel. Process everything but the water until smooth. Add to a small saucepan and add the water. Set pan over medium heat and whisk to combine water thoroughly. Set a candy thermometer in the pan and cook until the temperature reaches 215˚F. Do not stir during this period. Once it reaches the right temperature, pour into a glass measuring cup to cool.

Prepare the walnuts. Melt 1 T margarine. Add nuts to a small bag and pour in margarine and salt. Shake well to combine, then spread onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes at 325˚F or until crisp and fragrant. Cool.

Prepare the Coconut Cream. Once the coconut milk is completely chilled, the cream will separate from the coconut water and rise to the top of the can. Scoop out the cream making sure not to get the water in the mix. Add this to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed until cream is not lumpy. Add in powdered sugar - or to taste. Coconut Cream will not whip in volume like Whipping Cream, but this should be enough to frost two cake layers (I left the sides visible). If you want to cut the cake into 4 layers use 3 cans of coconut milk instead. Set aside until ready to frost.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a stand (don't forget to remove the parchment). Top with half of the coconut cream and smooth to the edges. Drizzle as much banana caramel on top of the cream as you desire. Place second cake layer, and top with the remaining cream. Drizzle caramel and sprinkle walnuts over the top.

This cake will last up to 4 days well covered in the refrigerator. Leftovers are tasty!

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