Vintage Banana Cake and why I am not so fond of baking

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There’s no better way to warm up the home than by baking. It warms the air and fills it with a heavenly scent. Yesterday, that heavenly scent was from a vintage banana cake baking in my oven. It’s a recipe I found on Pinterest (follow me here) that dates back to the 1940s. It is simple, made with whole ingredients and is loaded with yummy bananas.

If I am in the kitchen it’s usually to cook. There is something freeing about creating a meal from an idea, taking ingredients and turning them into something wonderful. I am constantly thinking about food. Just ask my  husband. I have thousands of recipes pinned on Pinterest and dozens of cookbooks I’ve poured through too many times.

For me, recipes are ideas to base my own creations on. I rarely follow a recipe to a T, at least not since my early days of cooking. Either I don’t have an ingredient or don’t like an ingredient and I swap it out, or the recipe calls for an onion dice when my picky palette prefers a mince. But that’s the great part about cooking, it’s pretty hard to get wrong. I mean sure, we’ve all made mistakes in the kitchen, over-cooked (ok fine, burnt), over-seasoned, under-seasoned. Regardless of any bad outcomes, I am always ready to go back into the kitchen and try again.

While I enjoy baking, I don’t love it like I do cooking. It’s more of a love-hate thing. I love it when everything goes as planned, I hate it when it doesn’t. Like yesterday’s frosting experience.

Caramel: 4, Amanda: 0

Well, I guess technically I should get a one because I did eventually make caramel, but I gave up on the original recipe and made a cheater one.

The first two times I screwed up the caramel part. I stirred the sugar and water as they simmered on the stove. Big no-no in caramel making. Of course with baking I follow a recipe — another part of my hate, there isn’t as much freedom in baking as there is in cooking. Baking is more of a science, cooking is more of an art. The recipe said to constantly swirl the sugar and water as it heats. I thought the writer was using “swirl” as a fancy way to say “stir”. Nope. She meant swirl the pot. Oops.

So after two lumpy, clumps of sugar I finally had that part mastered. It should be easy from here right?

Wrong.

Once it reaches an amber colour you remove it from the burner and slowly, while constantly stirring, add the cream. I stirred, I poured. I watched it foam up and gently fall back down and what I saw did not look like creamy, gooey caramel. It looked more like natural peanut butter when you first open the jar, a brown sort of gritty mixture with a clear oily substance. My cream had curdled and the caramel separated. Drat. This time not only am I wasting more sugar, but organic cream.

I turn to Google for help. I read a few more caramel sauce recipes and find that recommends to heat up the cream first. Duh! That should fix it. I repeat the steps from above and as the foam starts to settle it looks like I have success, I see a creamy, golden mixture. But then, as I keep stirring, it separates. Boo.

That’s it. I give up.

Back to Google searching for a new caramel sauce recipe and I find one that doesn’t involve boiling sugar and water. And I cheat. Finally, caramel.

Originally, I was not going to share the buttercream recipe because I was unsatisfied with the results. However on trying it on the cake I have changed my mind — with some convincing from my test audience.

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Vintage Banana Cake — inspired by Bake this Cake

  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 1 Cup mashed ripe bananas (about three large-sized ones covered in brown spots but not black)
  • 2 1/2 C flour
  • 2 1?2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 C buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375. Grease two, 9-inch cake pans with butter.
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and stir a few times until fully incorporated. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar in a mixer until light and creamy, two to three minutes. Beat eggs together in a bowl and add to running mixer. Mix until it becomes nice and creamy, slightly yellow. Add the vanilla.
Add buttermilk to mashed bananas and incorporate. Alternate adding banana mixture and dry ingredients until you have a smooth golden batter. There will be a few lumps from the bananas, don’t worry about the batter being completely smooth.
Pour into pans and bake for 30-40 minutes. It took 40 in mine, recipe suggested 30.
Bourbon Brown Sugar Caramel Buttercream
  • 1 Cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 Cups powdered sugar
  • Bourbon Brown Sugar Caramel Sauce (recipe below)
  • Cream

Cream butter until fluffy, add sugar one cup at a time. Beat until fluffy and combined. Slowly add bourbon caramel sauce. Add cream if the frosting is too thick, I had to thin mine out just a touch.

Bourbon Brown Sugar Caramel

  • 1/2 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 Cup butter
  • 1/4 Cup cream
  • 2 Tbsp Bourbon

Combine first three ingredients and bring to a boil for two minutes. Lower temperature, add Bourbon, cook a few minutes longer.

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Chocolate Raspberry Pie Bars and dreams of a backyard farm

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It never seems to fail, the May 24 weekend is too cold to plant — again. At least we didn’t get hit with rain — or snow! After this winter, it could have been possible. Instead of planting, I am gazing at my seedlings dreaming of what our backyard gardens will look in just a few months.

Yesterday wasn’t totally unproductive in terms of gardening however. It’s the long weekend and there are plant sales every where. I chose two that I knew of that were selling organic, heirloom seedlings just a short drive away, Linda Crago’s Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm in Wellandport (the sale continues today until 3 p.m.) and The Sentimental Farm in Grimsby, which is operated by Rob and Chris Croley. Today I picked up a few new tomato varieties (one called Isis, how could I resist?), a hot pepper, some different kales, mint and the best raspberry jam that I have ever had. If you live near Grimsby, I suggest you head to the Sentimental Farm on Ridge Road and pick up a jar of Chris’ raspberry jam, it is amazing and this is coming from someone who rarely reaches for jam.

With two jars of this amazing jam now in my possession I was inspired to bake. Since I can’t plant food, I might as well cook it. I turned to Pinterest for some inspiration and came across these Dark Chocolate Raspberry Pie Bars from Deliciously Sprinkled that I had pinned a while back. While the original recipe calls for whole raspberries it suggests you can use jam if you don’t have fresh or frozen, so I subbed in the delicious jam with fair trade chocolate chips and organic ingredients. The only non “clean” ingredient I used was the condensed milk as there was no organic version available at my local grocery store. Anyone know of a good alternative to condensed milk?

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Here is my take on the recipe

For the crust and crumble

  • 1 Cup organic, unsalted butter
  • 2 Cups organic, all purpose flour
  • 1/2 Cup dark brown sugar
  • pinch of salt

For the layer of chocolate

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 Cup organic, fair trade chocolate chips

For topping

  • Seedless Raspberry Jam from the Sentimental Farm
  • more chocolate chips
  • left over dough

Set oven to 350.

Cream butter in a mixer. Add flour, brown sugar and salt and mix until it forms a crumbly dough (make sure you add the whole 2 cups. I initially didn’t and could not figure out why it was so creamy not crumbly). Press the crumbly dough into the bottom of a greased baking pan. Mine was about an inch and a half thick. Bake 15 minutes.

While the bottom layer is baking, pour the can of condensed milk in a saucepan with a cup of chocolate chips, I used semi-sweet. Heat, stirring constantly until combined.

When crust is golden, remove it from the oven and top with the delicious, chocolate. Top this with left over crumb, blobs of jam and more chocolate chips.

Bake 30 minutes.

Let it cool, slice and indulge. These pie bars are a perfect combination of indulgent chocolate, buttery shortbread and tart raspberries. I will definitely be making these ones again. Picky to Plenty’s official taste tester approves. He says the edges are especially tasty. He says this is one of the best desserts I have ever made.

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