Thursday, March 16, 2017

Banana Cake and New Beginnings

So... I used to have this blog...

I cooked and baked and took lots and lots of pictures, and I shared stories of the process with a few people who were kind enough to stop by.

And then I stopped.

It started feeling more like work and less like fun, and that told me that it was time to take a break.

That break wound up being a long one.

But... I'm thinking about dipping my toe back in the blog-water. Because, while I may have stopped writing about it, I never stopped cooking and baking.

My recent baking addiction is cake. I've seen amazing posts on amazing blogs featuring amazing recipes, and it reinspired me for this. So here I go, hoping to share some of that inspiration with anyone who dares venture over here after so long.

My cake addiction started innocently enough.  Whenever I run on the treadmill, I distract myself by watching random television shows. Okay, not so random. I watch baking shows. Usually either Cake Wars or Cupcake Wars. After who-knows-how-many episodes (and many, many miles), I decided that I wanted to actually learn more about the different kinds of frostings I see commonly on these shows. Most specifically, I wanted to learn how to make Italian meringue buttercream and Swiss meringue buttercream, the two I heard about most frequently on the show.

So a few weeks ago, I set out to learn how to make each of those frostings.

And from those few attempts, an addiction was born.

I am constantly on the lookout for new recipes to try, new cakes, new frostings, new methods, new techniques, new combinations...

I've had my eye on this Fluffy Brown Sugar Icing for a while, but couldn't quite decide what cake to pair it with.

So when I saw that my bananas were starting to go over-ripe, I knew I had my excuse.

This frosting is not a buttercream - it is a meringue. A brown sugar syrup is boiled, and then whipped into whipped egg whites. The heat from the syrup cooks the egg whites, don't worry, and the result, according to the recipe, is supposed to be fluffy and soft and amazing.

Unassuming little pile of white on the outside...

The interesting thing about meringues like this is that they can be very finicky. The sugar has to be heated to just the right stage or else things don't come together as expected. This recipe did not give an actual temperature for the syrup. I assumed that it would be similar to the other meringues I have made, and decided to heat it to 240 degrees, to the soft-ball stage of candy making.

My candy thermometer, on the other hand, had other plans. It stopped working somewhere around 200 degrees, somehow got liquid in it, and decided it was done for the day.

So I tried to emulate in my kitchen the way the recipe was writting - to heat the syrup until it "drops like hair from a spoon." Lovely imagery!

I thought I had it there, beautiful and strand-y... so I whipped the hot syrup carefully into my egg whites.

The results... were not the kind of fluffy I was expecting. I was expecting light and airy. What I got was more like marshmallow fluff - thick and sticky.

But don't at all let me fool you into thinking that's a bad thing. It might not have  been as easy to work with as a light, airy frosting, but holy smokes was it delicious.

I added a hint of cinnamon to my frosting, not called for in the original recipe, to pair it a little better with the banana cake I'd made and it was addictively delicious.

I need to look into the science side of what happened... Did I overcook the syrup or undercook it? I'll look into it and certainly try it again.

But it was an absolutely delicious mistake.

So to anyone actually reading this, anyone who wandered over here after my long hiatus, thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more cake (and non-cake) adventures with you!

Banana Cake
(from Cookies & Cups)

1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup butter, room temp
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups flour
3 ripe medium bananas mashed, approximately 1½ cups

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
Coat round cake pans (3 8-inch or 2 9-inch) with nonstick spray. Cut parchment paper into rounds to fit into the bottoms of the pans. Place the parchment into each pan and coat again with nonstick spray. Set aside.
In a medium bowl combine the milk and lemon juice. Stir and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Add in the eggs, vanilla, salt and baking soda and mix until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Turn the mixer to low and alternate adding the flour and milk, beginning and ending with flour, scraping the sides of the bowl between additions.
With the mixer still on low speed, add in the bananas, mixing until just incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly among the pans and bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans in the oven half-way through baking.
Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15-20 minutes and then turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Icing
(from I Wash You Dry)

1 cup packed brown sugar (I used light brown sugar)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup corn syrup
4 egg whites
2 teasoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, water and corn syrup. Bring to a full rolling boil. (Be careful, as it will rise, so make sure the sides of your pan are taller). Let it boil at medium to medium high until the syrup drops like a hair from spoon (approximately 10 minutes). Remove from burner and set aside.
Meanwhile, beat egg whites until stiff. I used my KitchenAid mixer - beats them up in no time!
Slowly pour the hot syrup in a very thin stream into egg whites, beating constantly. Again, I used the KitchenAid mixer, with the whisk attatchment, at full speed. Beat until icing holds peaks, then blend in vanilla.
Let cool to room temp, then store covered in the fridge until ready to use.

I added a few generoud sprinkles of cinnamon after adding the vanilla extract and it was delicious!

Layer your cake and frosting as you like and enjoy the deliciousness!

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