Monday, April 5, 2010

Frosted Banana Cake and Lemon Cake

You'd think as a medical student, Dan would be highly concerned with the recent healthcare reform issue, but it's not actually something we've discussed in great detail, probably because as soon as he starts, my eyes sort of glaze over and I just start nodding along and "mhmming" at regular intervals. Since my sister's currently about to graduate law school, he's discovered that he probing me with his thoughts and equally strong opinions about reforming our seemingly corrupt and disadvantaging legal system usually results in a more spirited response. So, when I logged onto facebook the other day, I was not that surprised to see that he had posted a link about affordable, accessible, legal care for all. Along with it came this text: "According to the Times of London, our legal system is worse than those of Russia and China. Are we any more safe, just and lawful than other industrialized countries such as Japan or Great Britain where the legal care cost burden is half of what we pay per capita?" Ok.

So in case anyone might think that Dan is too serious and cerebral and doesn't appreciate the simple things in life, I then posted this right above it: Otters Holding Hands, with the following commentary: "Look! Sea Otters! Holding hands! Just try to make it to the 1:20 mark without saying Awwwww. And one is so much longer and taller than the other one...kind of like us."

We create a nice balance for one another, don't you think?

And speaking of balance, with all the chocolate that went on in the last post, I thought it was time for a change of pace, especially considering the nice warmer weather. It's not quite warm enough for delicious berries and stone fruits to be in season, but I still wanted to make some lighter, fruitier options, so I chose these two cakes which use fruits you can really find all year long.

First up, the Frosted Banana Cake, which can be made in either a small springform pan or into cupcakes. I sprung for the cupcakes. Because they're cuter.

flour, baking powder, dark brown sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, banana, pecans

To start, I put the eggs, brown sugar, and oil into a bowl and mixed on medium speed for about 4 minutes, until the mixture was pale and fluffy. 

Pale! fluffy!...and drippy

Meanwhile, I sifted the flour with baking powder and mashed the banana. 

  mmm dee-lish

This recipe calls for about 6 oz of mashed banana, and when I was shopping, I weighed a banana to see how many I would need. The one I weighed was about 8 oz. so I thought: great! only 1 banana! It'll be, like, 26 cents! Of course, I got home and weighed it peeled: 4.4 oz. Whoops. There was nothing I could do about it at that point though, so I just shrugged my shoulders and pressed on. I added the flour and banana to the rest of the batter and mixed for about 30 seconds. Last, I stirred in the pecans.

I poured the mixture into the prepared muffin tins using a small ice cream scoop so that each cupcake would be the same size.

These went into the oven for the prescribed 20 minutes, after which I checked for spring-ability (cake that is done should spring back when pressed gently). They definitely still needed a few minutes (of course) so I checked again after another 3 minutes, and then finally took them out 3 minutes after that (total baking time: 26 minutes). I don't know why all the cooking time for these recipes is so off; it's the one thing that seems unreliable, but now of course I've come to expect it. But, to be safe, I always follow the directions to begin with and then just tack on the extra time at the end. Anyway. Here's what the cupcakes looked like fresh out of the oven:

But they're topless! Woohoo Cupcakes Gone Wild! Spring Break! Where's that rum from the butterscotch sauce?!

Ah yes, the frosting. While the cakes cooled, I whipped that together.

confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, butter, vanilla, pecans

I put all the ingredients into the mixer, except the pecans, and whipped until it was light and creamy.

Using the same little ice cream scoop as before, I scooped one spoonful of frosting onto each cake. Once all had the same amount of frosting, and it was mostly used up, I used a butterknife to spread it out evenly. I topped each cupcake with a few more chopped pecans.

See? So cute!

Since it was still Passover when I made these, and I don't like banana or pecans, I took them to Dan who was on duty at the fire station. Becuase really, what manly fireman doesn't like a lovely, adorable cupcake every now and then? Dan ate two almost as soon as I delivered them...for research purposes of course, since I couldn't sample them myself.

He said these reminded him a lot of banana nut bread, but with icing, which he really liked. They were a touch dry and didn't have quite enough banana flavor, two things which might have been aided by having the correct amount of banana. The icing was different, not a cream cheese frosting, but also not quite a buttercream, but delicious nonetheless. Dan and I both agree that cupcakes really have to pack a punch; no one wants to be the awkward one who needs to take another cupcake at the party because 1 just didn't do it for you. I think we can safely judge by Dan's inhalation of 2 of these back to back that they were somehow lacking in satiability. Although they were clearly good enough that he wanted that second one.

The next day, I made Lemon Cake to take to Dan's parent's house for Easter. It's a simple cake but comes with a recipe for a very adult trifle, made with lemon curd, limoncello, and Lemon Posset. I wasn't going to go all out and do the trifle, but I thought adding the lemon curd would be a nice extra touch. The recipe calls for gelatin sheets, which I am familiar with but have never used before. They're similar to gelatin powder, but some chefs prefer to use them I think because they don't require quite as much work. With gelatin powder, you have to dissolve it with water and then heat it gently before you can add it to whatever you want to thicken. With a gelatin sheet, all you have to do is soak it in some cold water and then squeeze it out right before adding it. Gelatin sheets can be hard to find, so I called some different cake supply stores to see if I could get some without having to order them online. 


I read about substituting the powder, but that involved using a "scant teaspoon," dissolving with cold water, heat proof cups, and boiling. And I didn't even know if it would be any good with the cake. I sort of took it as a sign that I should just skip the lemon curd until next time, and just stick with the simple cake. It did however, require a trip to the store to find a 6'' cake tin, and I had to seriously restrain myself from loading my basket with all kinds of fun things like fondant, piping bags and tips, different sized cake tins, molds, dyes, and all kinds of other things I'm sure I would never ever need! Where was my sponsor when I needed him! I managed to escape relatively unscathed with just my cake pan.... And a pastry brush. What? I needed it!  

Ok, ingredients:

butter, eggs, self-rising flour, sugar (ideally caster, but there was none at the store when I went shopping), salt, lemons, confectioner's sugar

This is a recipe that apparently can be done using the "all in one" method, meaning you dump everything into the bowl and just mix. Typically, a recipe starts by creaming the fat (butter) with sugar, adding flavorings (extracts, zest) and then finishing with the dry ingredients. I'd never tried the "all in one" method before, so I was interested to see how this would turn out. 

I put the butter, flour, sugar, eggs, salt, and lemon zest into my mixing bowl. 

And mixed them all together for about 3 minutes, stopping every now and then to scrape the batter down into the bowl. At first it looked like the batter would be way too thick, more like a pastry dough than a cake batter. It was thicker than your average cake batter, more closely resembling a cookie dough, but at the end of 3 minutes, the batter was smooth and all the ingredients were incorporated.

I transferred the batter to my prepared cake tin (greased and lined with parchment) 

And put it in the oven for 35 minutes. When I checked at 25 minutes, the cake almost looked like a souffle as it rose above the cake tin, and I started to get curious (read: fearful) about how it would turn out. At 35 minutes (the projected cook time) it, of course, wasn't done. I left it for another 10 minutes, then another 6, then another 4. Finally, after 55 minutes in the oven, it was cooked through. 

While the cake had been baking, I made some lemon syrup. I combined the confectioner's sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and brought it to a boil, boiling for about 1 minute until all the sugar had dissolved into a clear syrup.

As soon as the cake was out of the oven, I spooned the lemon syrup over top, trying my best to mitigate overflow, which worked. Most of the time. Since the cake was still warm, it absorbed pretty quickly, and I left it to cool completely in the pan.

It took a few turns with a knife to get the cake out of the pan, but it came out pretty cleanly, and I wrapped it up in wax paper and took it to Dan's parents' house for after dinner. Of course, I couldn't try this one either, but everyone seemed to like it and more than half of it was gone when we left. Unfortunately, I don't have a final picture of how the cake looked plated, but I think it would have been a little awkward to whip out my camera and snatch Dan's sister's plate away with her fork poised, just so I could take a picture.

It looked nice and moist, but Dan said it was just a touch too lemony. He said it seemed most of the lemon flavor came from the syrup, and suggested that reducing the amount of syrup just a little would result in a really delicious cake, so that's definitely something to keep in mind next time. This is the second lemon dessert I've made, and it sounds like it had the same problem as the first. Given this critique, I'm thankful I skipped the lemon curd, which just goes to show that it's good to follow my instincts sometimes. And for comparison's sake, if locked in a room with the Lemon Cake or the Banana Cake, Dan would go for the Lemon. And then probably the Banana.

Ok, enough with the blogging. More squeeky toy please.

Next Indulgence: Chocolate Chip Cookies and Carrot Cake (because they're two of my favorites and because I CAN)


  1. As I have finished the cupcakes, I'm contemplating a mission to steal back the remaining cake from my parents.

  2. Those cupcakes look sooo cute!!!

    And tell Dan to leave his opinions on America's legal system in the same place as his opinion on Duke winning the NCAA Championship...That's right. I said it. Go Duke!!! (And while I am spending the money I won from my bracket I will be sure to think for a half a second about Dan's "dislike post" on fb. he said 2 people dislike...I am assuming that couldn't possibly be you right? right?)

    See you this weekend!!!

  3. So I almost resisted commenting on these recipe given that bananas are interesting to put atop cereal & lemons are great for ice tea but to actually use them in deserts when chocolate is available seems a waste of good bakeware. And on that note I am glad you didn't reach out to me as a sponsor to support the management of your kitchenware addiction. Remember I made your 82 year old grandmother go to 3 different kitchen stores in pursuit of the perfect 2 inch molds. But it does seem that Dan and his family (though I am not sure about Dan given his comments on your sister's choosen profession)did really enjoy the cupcakes and cake though I sometimes question his objectivity.
    The real reason I rsponded is because those otters are soooo cute, even cuter than the banana cupcakes.


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