No, that’s not a new dance move. We were mixing a cake using a different method — one that would require the kids to do the opposite of what I told them not to do the last time we baked a cake. Simple right?
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, let’s talk bananas.
Me: “When you guys go to the farmers’ market right now, what kind of fruit do you see there?”
Me: “So, citrus fruits, like lemons, limes, grapefruit…anything else?”
Me: “Do you see peaches? Or plums?”
Me: “Well, why not?”
“Cause they’re not in season?”
Me: “Right! But the kids and I were in the grocery store the other day and we saw cherries. So, where did they come from?”
“From somewhere where the season is opposite of ours?”
We talked about the different foods available to us in California during the different seasons and where those January cherries and plums might have come from. I explained how, as a pastry chef trying to come up with an interesting dessert menu in winter, I would often times turn to tropical fruits…pineapples, mangoes, passionfruit, and yes, bananas. We reviewed which areas would be considered tropical, and I reminded them that our lesson on cocoa took us to those same regions.
But back to the cake.
I’d already heated the oven, so the next step was to prepare the cake pan. For a butter cake, that means greasing the pan, (we used the butter wrapper), placing a round of parchment in the bottom, and dusting the surfaces with flour.
I showed them a photo that Dorie Greenspan, (a famous cookbook author and personal idol of mine), posted on Facebook recently of a “baking fail” in which a chunk of chocolate cake clung stubbornly to the bottom of her pan; the caption read, “should have used parchment”.
I have my own “should have” stories, but bottom line, you won’t ever be sorry for taking the extra few minutes to prepare your pans properly.
“So is this like banana bread?”
I knew they had all baked banana bread or banana muffins before, so I asked, “How do you guys make banana bread?”
“You put the wet ingredients in one bowl, and the dry ingredients in another bowl. Then you put them together.”
We remembered that this muffin method is what we used when we baked pumpkin cupcakes. The resulting texture of that method is coarser and more open than the fine crumb achieved with the creaming method we used to make butter pound cake.
The process we were using for this banana recipe, called the two-stage mixing method, would result in a similarly fine textured, very tender cake.
Therefore, the difference is the crumb and tenderness — the texture and chew of a muffin versus the texture and softness of a birthday cake.
We placed a sifter on top of our mixing bowl and placed the whole thing on a scale.
“Don’t forget to zero it out!”
They took turns placing the dry ingredients into the sifter.
Then, everything was sifted together directly into the mixing bowl.
“Hello? Is that you?”
Next, the wet ingredients, also measured by weight, were added to a pitcher.
I was very proud when they remembered, without my asking, that all the ingredients should be at room temperature.
A couple of eggs…
Finally, they each took a turn using the microplane to zest an orange.
A lot of concentration was required to keep a very large orange from tumbling out of small hands.
“It looks like an ice cream sundae!”
With all of the wet ingredients in the pitcher, we used an immersion blender to combine them and puree the bananas.
Vocabulary word of the day: immersion.
This is where I had to instruct the kids to forget everything I had told them about over mixing their batter.
Up until now, I’ve always warned them not to mix the batter too much once the wet ingredients were added; that flour, when combined with liquid and agitation, results in gluten development, which in a cake is not usually a good thing. Gluten development is what gives baked goods structure and chew; strong gluten development is good in bread, not as much in a tender cake.
However, in this two-stage technique, by adding softened butter and a small amount of the liquid in the beginning, we would be coating the flour in fat while the sugar would suck up the liquid that would usually promote the development of gluten.
And because we were using cake flour, which is softer than all-purpose flour, we could mix away without worry. In fact, we wanted to mix enough to develop some structure; about a minute and a half would do it.
“I need someone to count 90 seconds.”
They sat silently counting. It was the quietest moment of the afternoon.
We scraped down the bowl with a spatula, added half of the remaining wet ingredients, and mixed for another twenty seconds.
That’s when the chanting started.
We repeated the scraping, adding, and chanting to “twenty Mississippi.”
The batter went into the oven for about 30 minutes, and ta-da…cake!
Everyone agreed that this was way better than banana bread, and just as easy.
Banana Cake, from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9″ by 2″ cake pan by buttering it, placing a round of parchment in the bottom, and dusting with flour
2 large ripe bananas
1/2 c (4 1/4 oz) sour cream, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
zest of one orange
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
2 c (7 oz) sifted cake flour
3/4 c +2 T (6 oz) sugar
1 t baking soda
3/4 t baking powder
3/4 t fine sea salt
10 T (5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer. Set aside. Place the bananas, sour cream, eggs, orange zest, and vanilla in a pitcher and process with an immersion blender, or process them in a food processor. Add the butter and 1/2 of the banana mixture to the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until everything is just moistened. Increase to medium speed, (high speed if using a hand mixer), and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the remaining banana mixture in 2 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake 30 – 40 minutes or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.