I’m doing the whole community garden thing again this year, even though I know I’ll be gone for most of the summer and my past plot no longer exists. We were just care-takers of that land for the last two years and the owners have decided to build a community health center on the space. So we moved and the great thing is this community garden idea has really taken off. Everyone wants in, including various aldermen. Over the winter, the Peterson Garden Project organizers were asked to turn five different abandoned lots into community gardens and people have responded. We’re going to be gardening all over the place! There’s still space available in two of the gardens – join the party here.
The challenge with the new spaces is we have to rebuild everything, five times over. For me, this means I have to refill that 26sf box with soil. Again. Ten wheelbarrow loads of rich, dark organic dirt. Hooray. I’ll just call it my workout for the year and take comfort in the fact that this new space is much, much closer to my house. I might actually visit it more than once a week. I also hear that The Mayor and his family have a plot here too. I missed out on the mayoral shoveling of dirt this weekend but got a giggle when someone snarkily pointed out that he was wearing white jeans. Ha! I’m just happy he’s supporting something like this. He could wear a tutu for all I care.
Though we pay a nominal fee for the use of our plots, I doubt they cover our needs – beds to build, soil to deliver, water lines to figure out, tools to purchase. Our fees only go so far so this past weekend, the PGP organized a big fundraiser plant and bake sale. Given that quite a few cooking professionals were part of the old and now new gardens, we were tapped for some donations and rightfully so. If you had a bunch of pastry chefs on your team wouldn’t you get them to bake too?
This year, I decided to break away from the standard cookies and brownies and baked some cakes. What’s a good ‘ol bake sale without some cakes? Plus I’ve been in a layer cake kind of mood lately and decided to ride that wave. There’s something zen-like in the process of putting one together. Cutting the layers nice and even. Spreading silky smooth icing evenly across a crumbly surface. Getting the sides and edges frosted just so. I rather like the whole process and the end result beats out anything you can buy at the local grocery store.
Since refrigeration wasn’t an option, I kept it fairly simple – Banana Cake brushed with a Vanilla Rum Syrup and filled/iced with a Dark Chocolate Banana Ganache. Yes, for me, that is simple. And I made ‘em small – sweet little 5” cakes, each with 3 layers and just right for a small family. Or one happy person.
Of course, I kept the ugly one for myself. The one the apple fell on top of in the fridge and took out part of the top layer. What you see here is a rather half ass patch job smartly covered up with some swirly piping. Camoflage, my friends. I had to photograph something afterall.
I love this cake. It’s a recipe from culinary school that I’ve held onto tightly. Too often banana cakes end up overly light and flavorless, or with an unpleasant fake taste and unnatural color from too much artificial extracts and dyes. Or it might tip the scale in the other direction with a heavy, dense cake more reminiscent of banana bread. This one falls ever so nice right in between – light and cake-like certainly but also with a good punch of real banana flavor. If you like nuts, by all means, throw them in. I happen to prefer it without.
I’m also in favor of baking one tall cake and slicing it into layers rather than dividing the cake between several pans. Only one pan to wash plus it gives you more cut surface area for that soaking syrup. And yes, always brush your cakes with a simple syrup of some kind. It not only keeps the layers moist, it adds an extra punch of flavor.
The ganache was easy – 3 pureed super ripe, almost black and mushy bananas (the best kind) with 1 ½ pounds of melted dark chocolate and 2 ¼ cups of warm cream whipped up in a blender until silky smooth. I greatly prefer to use an immersion blender for this but mine decided to die a few weeks ago and I have yet to replace it. The blender works fine, it’s just harder to clean. You can also just whisk it together but the bananas won’t be perfectly smooth, something important if you’re going to use this as an outer icing.
Chocolate and banana go oh so very well together and this is no exception. As the cake sets, it takes on a moist almost fudgy texture and keeps extremely well. I made quick work of this little cake and I can personally testify that a slice makes one fabulous breakfast.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: BAKE SALE BONANZA! It’s delicious, not overly difficult to make and a real crowd pleaser. I hope the bake sale recipients enjoyed it as much as I did. This one isn’t the flashiest cake out there but in my experience, those don’t always taste the best. Wait … those never taste the best. You can certainly fancy it up any way you like; I tend to keep things single and elegant. This cake is deceptively gorgeous – the Natalie Portman of cakes. Yes, beautiful at first glance but so much better once you get beneath the pretty surface.
BANANA FUDGE CAKE
Makes one 3-layer 10” cake or up to four 4”-5” 3-layer cakes
For the banana cake:
3 large ripe bananas
3 Tablespoons sour cream
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoons kosher salt
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Line the bottom of a 10″x3″ round cake pan with a parchment circle and spray with cooking spray.
- Process bananas and sour cream in a food processor until smooth.
- Add the eggs and vanilla and pulse a few times until smooth.
- Sift cake flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt directly into the mixer bowl.
- Add the softened butter and ½ the banana mixture and with the paddle attachment, blend on low until moistened.
- Increase the speed to medium and mix for 1 ½ minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add the remaining banana mixture in 2 additions, mixing on medium until well blended and scraping the bowl in between additions.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans, give the pans a sharp rap on the counter to pop any air bubbles and bake 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted just off center comes out clean with moist crumbs.
- Let cool, in the pan on a wire rack. Can be made up to 2 days ahead, or frozen up to 3 months.
For the banana ganache:
2 ¼ cups heavy cream (18 ounces)
1 ½ pounds semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 very ripe bananas, well mashed
- Melt the chopped chocolate by either 1) using a double boiler and stirring until melted and smooth or 2) using the microwave at 50% power in 45 second bursts and stirring between bursts until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool a little.
- In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the cream to just a boil. Remove from the heat.
- In a large bowl with an immerision blender or in a standing blender, combine the mashed banana and melted chocolate.
- With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the warmed cream until the mixture is homongenous, smooth and fully blended.
- Transfer the ganache to a bowl and for best results, leave covered at room temperature until firm yet spreadable.
- Can be made up to 4 days ahead. After 1 day, store in the refrigerator but let come to room temperature before using.
For the vanilla rum simple syrup:
½ cup sugar
¾ cup water
1 Tablespoon dark rum
1 Tablespoon vanilla
- In a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
- Off the heat, stir in the rum and vanilla.
- Can be make up to 2 weeks ahead; store in the refrigerator.
To assemble the cake:
- Turn the cooled cake out of the pan.
- Turn the cake right side up and trim the top if domed or uneven.
- Slice the cake into three even layers with a serrated knife. It’s also easiest to use a cake turntable if you have one.
- Mark the cake layers: mark the first layer, 1/3 up from the bottom by making a small – about ¼” deep – cut all the way around. Keep you knife level and your cut marks should meet.
- Cut the cake layers: begin to cut deeper, using the mark as a guide and turning the cake layer as you go. Do not cut horizontally through, rather use that guide to cut a bit deeper, and then a big deeper, turning the cake as you go and holding the knife level. Eventually, you will have cut all the way through the cake.
- Repeat: cut the second layer, 2/3 up from the bottom, in the same manner.
- Build the cake: Place a dollop of ganache on a platter or cake board to hold the cake in place.
- For the most even, stable cake build in reverse so the bottom becomes the top layer. Take the top cut layer and place on top of the platter/board, pressing lightly to adhere to the ganache so it’ll stay in place.
- Brush the layer with the cooled vanilla rum simple syrup.
- Place a few dollops of the soft ganache on the cake layer and smooth, with an offset spatula, to a nice even layer.
- Top with the second/middle cake layer, press lightly to adhere and brush with simple syrup.
- Ice with ganache and smooth evenly.
- Top with the third cake layer, bottom side on top, press lightly to adhere and remove the parchment paper.
- Brush the layer with simple syrup.
- Crumb coat: Ice the top and sides with a thin coat of ganache and refrigerate at least 30 minutes until set. This is the “Crumb Coat” and the final icing will look much better if you don’t skip this step.
- Finish icing the cake: Once the ganache is firm, ice the cake with a thicker, even layer of ganache. Hint: To make the sides and edges really smooth, heat the offset spatula over a burner flame and run it over the chilled cake surface, wiping clean between smoothing.
- Let come to room temperature before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.