Friday, April 4, 2014

Chocolate Banana Cream Cake

The impulse to decide on which pastry or dessert to create in my kitchen is driven by various things.  Sometimes something just jolts my mood as I sift through my collection of ideas and recipes.  Sometimes it's a desire to work on technique or to evoke the beauty I've seen in a window or on the pages of a magazine.  Or maybe it's a distant sense memory of something delicious I've sampled somewhere.  And sometimes it's simply the urge to use fruit that is ripening a bit too quickly in my kitchen.  This is most often the case with bananas.  Maybe I should have a page dedicated to what to do with very ripe bananas to address our gnawing responsibility to rush to their rescue.

I know there are people out there who don't care for the combination of chocolate and fruit.  But when done in good proportion, the acidity of chocolate can be nicely balanced and matched with the acidity of berries, cherries, apricots, figs, pears and bananas.  I understand chocolate purists but I think fruit and chocolate often complement and enhance one another quite well.

Who doesn't love a bite of chocolate cake?  Add some ripe bananas and whipped cream and it becomes a dream dessert.  Although there are four components to this cake, each one is very easy to do.  The cake recipe is from Alice Medrich and is pretty foolproof.  It features cocoa powder and brown sugar, the butter is melted and everything gets whisked together in one bowl.  Then there's a thin layer of caramel sauce that's a quick simmer of brown sugar, cream, vanilla and a few grains of salt and cinnamon.  The cake is finished with an irresistible chocolate ganache.  I think it's a great balance of ingredients that works really well to produce a delicious cake that isn't too heavy or too rich.  There's definitely plenty there to fire all your chocolate pastry neurons.

Bench notes:
- My usual weight for 1 cup of all-purpose flour is 5 oz.  Alice Medrich's standard is 4 1/2 oz, so go with hers.
- Use natural cocoa powder for this cake rather than dutched.
- No need to sift the dry ingredients unless your cocoa powder is lumpy.
- Use a serrated knife to cut the cake into two layers using a gentle sawing motion.  Start by making a small 1" cut into the side of the cake all the way around, just enough to score a mark around the edge of the cake.  Then bring your knife around again, sawing a little deeper.  You'll see that the cake will soon be cut in half.  If you try to cut it in one fell swoop, you'll end up with a lot of crumbs.
- I use a removable false bottom from a tart pan instead of a cake board for the bottom of the cake.  Once it's been cut into two layers, I also use another removable bottom to lift off the top half layer and set it aside.  It will slide right off and back onto the cake when you're ready to place.
- You can bake the cake one day ahead and store it in an airtight container or plastic wrap at room temperature.  The brown sugar caramel can also be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.
- When making the ganache, finely chop the chocolate so it melts quickly and evenly.  I usually chop mine into bits the size of mini chocolate chips.  Once you've added the hot cream, whisk slowly in concentric circles so you don't create air bubbles or cool the mixture down too fast before the chocolate is melted.  Cut the room temperature butter into small pieces and add while the mixture is still warm so it combines smoothly.
- If you use a 70% or higher bittersweet chocolate for the ganache, it might be slightly thicker so add an additional 2 tablespoons of cream.
- Let the chocolate ganache set up until it's spreadable.  Mine took about 25 minutes.  It will be soft as it spreads but will dry rather quickly once you've frosted the cake.
- Heavy cream whips best when it's very cold.  Add a couple drops of brandy or rum along with the vanilla for an adult variation.
- If you want a taller cake, use an 8" cake pan and bake the cake for 35 - 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Chocolate Banana Cream Cake
Serves 8 - 10

Fastest Fudge Cake
adapted from Alice Medrich

1 cup (4 1/2 oz) flour
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (1 oz) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and warm
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) light brown sugar, packed   [I used dark brown]
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (4 oz) hot water

Brown Sugar Caramel
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
pinch cinnamon, to taste
pinch salt, to taste

Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup (4 oz) heavy cream
6 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature

2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 oz) cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease a 9" x 2" cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the warm melted butter and brown sugar.  Mix in the eggs and vanilla until well blended.  Add all of the flour mixture at once and stir only until the flour is moistened.  Pour the hot water over the batter all at once and stir just until the water is incorporated and the batter is smooth.  Scrape into the prepared cake pan.  Tap the bottom of the pan a few times on a work surface to release any air bubbles.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25 - 30 minutes.  Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before unmolding.  Run a thin knife around the edge to release it from the pan.  Invert the cake and gently peel off the parchment.  Turn the cake right side up and cool completely on a rack.

For the caramel sauce, place 3 tablespoons of heavy cream and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a saucepan over medium low heat and whisk to combine.  Bring to a slow boil for a minute or so until the sugar is fully dissolved, whisking constantly.  Take off the heat and add vanilla, a pinch of cinnamon and salt, to taste.  Pour into a dish and cool.

For the chocolate ganache, finely chop the chocolate and place in a medium heatproof bowl.  Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate.  Whisk slowly and gently until the chocolate is melted.  Cut the room temperature butter into small pieces and stir in until smooth.  Set aside to thicken until it's spreadable.

For the cream filling, whip the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla to a medium soft peak.  Chill until ready to use.

To assemble, place the cake on a cake board, removable tart pan bottom or a serving platter.  Slice the cake in half horizontally and set the top half aside.  Spread the brown sugar caramel on the bottom half to within 1/4" of the border.  Slice the banana in half cross wise and then split each half along the length.  Place the pieces in concentric circles on top of the caramel.  Cover the bananas with a layer of whipped cream to within about 1/2" of the border.  Place the top half of the cake over the cream and press gently to secure.  Chill until the ganache is ready to spread.

Finish the cake by frosting the sides and then the top.  Let the ganache set up before slicing and serving.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful idea!
It looks appetising! :)

Kate said...

I anxiously waited for your Friday post and was thrilled to see yet another winning pastry.
i was worried you were taking a break.
I am always amazed that you aren't inundated with comments and questions and oohs and ahs. I am astonished every week. Perhaps you see many site hits but not as many comments of appreciation. I will always be your cheerleader and love what you do for all bakers looking for inspiration, tips and troubleshooting. You finesse is unmatched and your photos are like peeking behind world class bakery display cases and leave me wanting to sample every post. Thank you, Gayle!

pastry studio said...

Thanks a million, Kate, and you are most welcome! I'm thrilled that you've enjoyed this place. I've never been a site that gets lots of comments but there are about 25K - 30K site visits a month. So although there is a decent viewership, I'm not sure what motivates people to comment or ask questions. Anyway, I'm grateful for those who stop by and enjoy my work. It's still fun for me at this point.

Cheers and have a great weekend!

Beth said...

I actually prefer chocolate when it's added to fruit - sometimes pure chocolate seems a little overwhelming. What a great way to use up those ripe bananas!

pastry studio said...

I agree, Beth. Chocolate is really wonderful but sometimes it can also be too much of a good thing. For me, fruit tempers the richness.