Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Banana Cake with White Chocolate & Pecan Streusel

A few years ago I made the most delicious triple layer banana cake for my birthday.  I don’t remember now why I decided that a banana cake (with cream cheese frosting) was what I wanted—I usually make my Marbled Chocolate Sweet Potato Cake on my birthday.  Whatever the reason, I didn’t actually have a banana cake recipe in my repertoire that I particularly liked.  So I went looking for one.

Most of the time a spur of the moment search like this will result in an acceptable—maybe even excellent—recipe.  But this time, I happened upon the best banana cake I have ever had in my life.  There must have been something about her description (light and fluffy?) that attracted me.  Most banana cakes don’t seem very cake-like.  Often what passes for banana cake could be mistaken for banana bread that has just been baked in a layer cake instead of a loaf pan.  This style of cake tends to be kind of dense and dark…and not very sweet.  And I actually don’t object to this…as long as it is what you are prepared to have on your plate.  But since this was for my birthday, I wanted a true layer cake:  Something light, tender, finely grained…and sweet.  And that’s exactly what this recipe produced.   It is now my go to banana layer cake.

Unfortunately, I don’t make layer cakes that often.  I just don’t have that great of a need for them.  But I do make streusel-topped cakes (for my breakfast) on a regular basis (true story).  I’m not sure why it took me two years to turn this cake into a breakfast cake. 

Besides baking the cake in a 13- by 9-inch cake pan…and topping the cake with a streusel…I only made one minor change to the recipe itself:  I omitted a quarter cup of brown sugar.  I really didn’t want to change such a lovely cake too much, but the original cake really is quite sweet…and with a streusel more sugar would be piled on top.  I didn’t think this small percentage reduction in the sugar would have too much of an effect on the structure and tenderness of the cake…and it didn’t.  The cake is still sweet (and light and tender)—but not overly so (for a breakfast/snack cake).

I toyed with the idea of making only 2/3 of the batter for the same size pan and the same amount of streusel.  If you are a person who always wishes there was more streusel and less cake, then that might be  the route to go (you will find this to be an easy calculation).  But I really love the cake….and feel like it (rather than the streusel) should be the main event.  The result is a lofty cake…crowned with just the right amount of sweet crunch on top.  Perfect.  Now I have not only a “go-to” banana layer cake, I have a fantastic addition to my breakfast cake repertoire….which is just great since you can never have too many streusel cakes in your recipe file.

Banana Cake with White Chocolate & Pecan Streusel

1 c. (120 g.) all-purpose flour
1/2 c. (100 g.) golden brown sugar
3/8 t. salt
6 T. (85 g.) melted butter
3/4 c. (85 g.) pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
3/4 c. (128 g.) white chocolate chips (see notes)
Place the first 3 ingredients in a small bowl.  Add the melted butter and mix until the mixture is homogenous and clumpy.  Stir in the pecans and chips.  Set aside.

3 medium very ripe bananas (340 g. net weight)
2 t. lemon juice
3 c. (360 g.) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
1 1/2 sticks (170 g.) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. (400 g.) sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. whole milk plain yogurt

Butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch cake pan.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment and butter the parchment.  Flour the pan, tapping out the excess.  Set aside

Pass the bananas through a food mill, or purée in the food processor.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Set aside.  Combine the flour, soda and salt and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy.  

Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla.  Fold in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the yogurt in two additions.  Fold in the bananas. 

Spread the batter in the prepared pan.  Scatter the streusel evenly over all.  

Bake in a 325° oven until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—about an hour.  Serves 15 to 18.

Note: Try to get real white chocolate chips for the streusel and not the inferior “white morsels” or “white baking chips.”  I’m partial to Baker’s White Chocolate Chips—which are reasonably priced and widely available.

(Cake portion of recipe adapted from Divas Can Cook)

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Anne Rosenzweig’s “Best Brussels Sprouts”

In all the years I have been keeping a blog, I don’t think I have ever gone a full calendar month without at least one post.  Last year—for a lot of reasons—I didn’t post often, but I managed at least once a month.  This year I promised myself (which is as close as I ever get to a NY resolution) that I would post more often…and try to gradually return to a rate of about four a month.  Well…today is February 1…and my last post was on December 31.  All of January just slipped by.  I mention this only because I want to put it out there that in spite of how it might appear, I am not bringing For Love of the Table to an end.  At least not for now.  I will attempt to return to more frequent posting, but I don’t ever want to get to the place that I post something that I consider substandard just to get a post up.  I will continue to aim for a more frequent and regular schedule….but unfortunately may not succeed for a while.  The good news is that I’m still at it…just in a more sporadic way for the time being. 

As for today’s post, it is a bit unusual.  For the most part the recipes that I share are either my own or recipes from another chef or cook that I have tweaked in some way—great or small—to suit my tastes…or my pantry…or my idea of how it really should have been done in the first place.  I have never taken an inventory of recipes that I have shared without any changes, but there aren’t very many.  Today’s recipe is one of the few that I am posting with no changes.  It just didn’t need any….

In fact, the recipe’s creator—Chef Anne Rosenzweig—dubbed them “the best Brussels sprouts.”  I don’t know if I would go that far (there are a lot of really delicious ways to prepare Brussels sprouts!), but they are indeed very, very good. 

Before I share the specifics of what it was about the recipe that appealed to me, I wanted to mention that I was drawn to the recipe because of the source.  It is unfortunate that many of today’s cooks and chefs have never heard of Anne Rosenzweig.  She is an important figure in the recent history of American food and cooking.  When I was just starting out in restaurant work, women who had succeeded in that male dominated world were few and far between.  As I sit here typing and try to come up with a list of women chefs with national reputations who were role models for young women chefs and cooks during the late eighties and early nineties I can only think of a few:  Alice Waters, Nancy Silverton…and Anne Rosenzweig.  (I’m sure there were others…but a quick brainstorm only produces those three…).  Waters and Silverton are still active and well known.  But Rosenzweig—who was the chef at the helm of Arcadia in New York for many years—seems to have slipped out of view.  Last year when I ran across this Brussels sprouts recipe from Arcadia, I wondered about what had happened to her….so I Googled her.  I found a wonderful recent article detailing her career…and where she is now.  It is well worth reading.

In terms of the recipe, many things about it were appealing.  First and foremost, it includes two of my favorite food partners for Brussels sprouts—bacon…and carrots.  The bacon is an obvious and traditional companion.  All the brassicas (cabbage, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi, broccoli…to name a few) are enhanced by the addition of salty and fatty cured pork products.  The carrots aren’t so obvious...but I know from experience that their natural sweetness make them a perfect foil for the slightly bitter Brussels sprout.  I have posted several recipes—a couple of pastas and a side dish—that feature these combinations if you would like to sample it in other ways. 

The other thing about this recipe that is particularly appealing is how easy it is to prepare.  None of the ingredients have to be pre-cooked (no toasting nuts…or blanching the Brussels sprouts…).   Simply render the bacon...then add the pine nuts and allow them to toast in the bacon fat while the bacon finishes crisping.  

Then add the garlic and carrots and cook briefly to release the fragrance of the garlic.  

Then add slender wedges of Brussels sprouts 

along with a splash of water, cover the pan and cook until the sprouts are tender—which typically takes about 5 minutes.  The whole process from start to finish only takes about 15 minutes…and only requires one pan. 

It would be enough if the dish were just delicious.  But it is attractive too.  The tiny cubes of carrot are elegant.  And because the sprouts aren’t subjected to the heat long enough to lose their fresh color, the dish is a lovely green.  To me this is a lot of return for a small amount of effort.  (And if you are put off by the tiny dice required for the carrots

—it has to be this way so they will cook quickly—think of it as a wonderful opportunity to practice your knife skills!)

These sprouts of course make a great side dish, but they are not limited to that.  Recently I made them for my lunch and topped them with a poached egg (a fried egg would work too). And even though this did require another pan, I have to say it was worth it.  I highly recommend it.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Pine Nuts & Carrots

3 slices bacon, cut cross-wise in 1/4-inch strips
Olive oil—as needed
1/4 c. pine nuts
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons)
1/2 c. very finely diced carrot (you will need 4 oz. whole carrots)
1 1/4 lb. Brussels Sprouts (4 cups), trimmed, halved and each half cut into quarters
Salt & freshly ground pepper
2 T. minced flat leaf parsley

Render the bacon in a large sauté pan set over moderately low heat.  When the fat is rendered, increase the heat to medium and add the pine nuts.  Cook, stirring constantly until the bacon is crisp and the pine nuts are golden brown in spots—this will only take a minute or so.  Watch carefully to avoid burning the bacon and pine nuts.  If the bacon was very lean, you may need to add a bit of olive oil. 

When the bacon is crisp and the pine nuts are golden, add the garlic and carrots and cook (stirring constantly) until the garlic releases its fragrance (less than a minute).  Add the sprouts, along with a good pinch of salt, and toss to coat in the fat.  Add a 3 or 4 tablespoons of water.  Cover and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the sprouts are cooked to your liking.  Depending on the size and age of the sprouts, they will take anywhere from 2 to 7 minutes.  Check occasionally to make sure they haven’t boiled dry.  If necessary, add more water (but just enough to create some steam).  When the sprouts are tender, uncover and continue to cook until any remaining water has evaporated.  Fold in the parsley.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt (if necessary) and pepper.  If you like, add a drizzle of olive oil (if the bacon was very fatty, this won’t be necessary).   Serve warm.  Serves 3 to 4

Note:  You can make this recipe in just about any quantity (just a portion…or multiple…of the original).  Simply choose a pan that will hold all of the Brussels sprouts so they are not piled too deeply in the pan. 

(Recipe from A Well-Seasoned Appetite, by Molly O’Neill.  The original dish was served at Arcadia in Manhattan for many years.)
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