Introduction: Banana Split Birthday Cake!
When I first met my now-Best Bud at the age of 16 or so, he, my sister and I would often go to the movies and then go to Demetres afterwards. When we didn't decide to go full-piggly and get a massive, eat-it-and-its-free style ice cream platter between the three of us, he would order the next best thing: a banana split.
Did I mention that he is lactose intolerant, has cold-sensitive teeth, and was ALLERGIC TO BANANAS??? What kind of special self-punishment took place in that humble dessert parlour every other Friday night or so? That is some SAW III style stuff right there.
He recently got an allergy test and it was discovered that his adverse reaction to banana has apparently disappeared, so when it came to his birthday last week, I knew exactly what I had to make: a banana split morphed into a cake.
This is a wonderful, light and moist banana cake (not the same as banana bread!) filled with strawberry buttercream and sliced bananas, strawberries and drizzled with caramel; covered in vanilla buttercream, rich chocolate ganache, sprinkles, peanuts, whipped cream, maraschino cherries and a candle. Whew. Eating this thing takes about as long as making it (but it is totally, totally worth it.)
Step 1: Prepare Your Pans and Your Oven!
Turn the oven to 350 and let that pre-heat for a good 20 minutes. Put your rack one down from the middle of the oven.
I did this as a two-layer cake, with a fat layer of goodies sandwiched between two thick banana cake layers, similar in spirit to the dessert itself.* Get your pans (in this case, 2 9" pans) and grease them lightly all over with butter, then cut out a parchment paper circle for the bottoms.
*You can mix it up and cut your layers in two, for a greater buttercream-to-cake ratio. Or bake it in 3 pans, or 6 pans, or whatever. The conversions will be pretty rough but just keep in mind that more smaller pans = shorter cooking time. Check for done-ness, YMMV, etc.
Step 2: Mix the Batter!
The first half of this recipe is actually done in a food processor, and the second with a stand or hand mixer. Use your ingredients at room temperature.
2 cups very ripe mashed banana (3-4 large)
3/4 c. full fat sour cream
1/2 c. full fat yogurt
1.5 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. maple extract
1 tsp. brandy extract
1 c. white sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. canola or vegetable oil
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. corn starch
2 tsp. baking soda
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Mash your banana up in the food processor for about 10 seconds to break it down. Add the sour cream and yogurt and mix again. Scrape it down with a spatula, then add the eggs and the extracts. Quickly blend. Add in the sugar and whir for about 30 seconds.
Before moving you batter from the food processor into the bowl, WEIGH YOUR BOWL. This will help you splitting up the batter evenly when you're done. This may seem like a fussy step, but when you're making layer cakes, having layers of equal thickness means a) they will bake evenly and b) they will look better when you cut your cake and c) make the eating experience nicer.
So, yeah. Weigh the bowl, then use a spatula to get the wet mixture into your mixing bowl. Run mixer on a medium speed and gradually add in oil.
Whisk together the dry ingredients. Sift them into the wet mixture and run the machine on low for a minute, scrape down the sides, then run again for 1-2 minutes.
Weigh your mixing bowl again. Subtract the weight of the bowl, and divide the result by two. This is how much you'll be putting in each pan.
Put your first cake pan onto the scale and zero it. Pour in half of the batter. Switch to the empty pan, and repeat. Slide into the oven, set for 20 minutes, rotate, then set for another 10-20 or until it springs back from your touch and a skewer comes out clean.
Make sure to take a picture of your lovely puffy cakes through your filthy filthy oven door.
Step 3: Make Your Puree!
If you are lucky and have strawberry puree on hand you can skip this step.
Take about 1/2 a bag of frozen strawberries and throw them into a pot along with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a half cup of water. Bring to a simmer and let them do their thing until the strawberries are very soft and broken down, and some of the water has evaporate. Let it cool a little bit, then get out your food processor or immersion blender and whir the mixture until smooth. Press it through a fine sieve to remove seeds or any weird bits and set it aside.
Step 4: Make Your Buttercream!
This is a Swiss Meringue buttercream; for more on the theory and an in-depth description, check out what my pastry hero has to say.
150g egg whites
200g white sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 lb room temperature butter*
Set a medium-sized pot half-filled with water over medium-high heat. In your mixing bowl, weigh out the egg whites and sugar; whisk to combine. Set the bowl over the pot and whisk frequently until you reach 60C or it feels quite hot to the touch (as in, you want to pull your finger out pretty quick.) Put it onto your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and run at a medium high speed until the meringue holds a medium-firm peak and is completely cooled to the touch.
Turning the mixer onto medium, throw the butter in one chunk at a time. Add in the salt and vanilla at any time after the first bit of butter has gone in. Once all the butter is in, turn onto high for 30 seconds - 1 minute.
Take out 2/3 of the buttercream. Get your strawberry puree and add it, a few tablespoons at a time, to the remaining buttercream. Keep adding until it has a nice strong strawberry punch. If you add too much, and the texture goes a bit funny, whip in a few tablespoons of your vanilla buttercream.
*If your butter isn't room temperature, cut it up into little chunks like in the picture and then make the puree and the ganache. By the time you get to the stage where you need it, it should be fine (presuming you don't live inside a glacier).
Step 5: Make Your Ganache!
This creates a nicely pourable ganache, slightly thinner than your usual 1:1 cream to chocolate ratio recipe.
110g heavy cream
95g dark chocolate
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter (optional, adds a nice shine and mouthfeel)
Set your cream in a pot over medium heat. Chop your chocolate fairly small. When your cream comes to right under the boiling point, remove it from the heat and put the chocolate in. Let it sit undisturbed for about a minute, then whisk until it comes together. If you're adding butter, cut it small and add it in along with the salt.
Let it cool off a little bit, then wrap it up by putting one layer of plastic wrap right against the surface and another around the whole bowl. Do not eat half of it with a spoon.
Step 6: Slice Up Your Fruits!
Take one large ripe banana and 4-5 ripe strawberries and slice them.
Step 7: Torte the Layers!
Once your cakes are out of the oven, let them sit in the pans for 15-20 minutes then flip them out. I put mine onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet, top side down so that they cool off nice and flat.
Once they're completely cooled, cut off any uneven top bits. My tops were actually fine, but I am a pig and wanted to snack on scraps so I cut mine down a bit. Make your layers as even as possible.
Step 8: Start Assembling!
For frosting, I recommend using the numbered tools in the picture above:
1. Metal bench scraper
2. Off-set spatula
3. Mini off-set spatula
4. Straight spatula
Put your cakeboard onto a turntable. Get your strawberry buttercream. Put a tiny smear of it onto your cake board to hold the bottom tier onto it (less is more!). Flip the layer onto it upside down, leaving the bottom of the layer facing upwards. This gives us a nicer, less-crummy surface to work with.
Put a thick dollop of buttercream onto the cake and using the off-set spatula, spread it evenly over the layer.
Step 9: Keep Assembling!
Scatter your sliced fruit over the top of the buttercream. Drizzle with a bit of butterscotch sauce if it suits you.
Spread a very thin layer of the strawberry buttercream over the cut portion of the second layer. This will act like a bit of glue to keep the cake from sliding off the fruit as you work with it. Invert the layer and place it on top, making sure the bottom side of the layer is facing upwards.
If it's a bit wiggly at this point, throw it in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to let the buttercream firm up.
Use the vanilla buttercream and the straight spatula to fill in any major gaps between the layers. Put this in the fridge for another 15-20 minutes; then, cover the rest of the cake. I did a crumb coat and then a final coat, and scraped it smooth with my bench scraper. I intended to take more pictures but I was kind of in the zone with my masking and didn't think of it.
At this point, you can loosely cover it with plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Step 10: Finishing Touches!
If you left the cake in the fridge overnight, let it warm up a little bit before proceeding. If you are a noob and dug into the side of the cake with the lid to your cake carrier, take a second to patch that up with leftover buttercream now. Use your bench scraper to make sure the cake is as smooth as possible; the smoother the top of the cake, the smoother your ganache surface will be.
If you're doing this over 2 days, your ganache will have set. Melt it down gentle in the microwave, stirring often. When it's ready, pour it over the cake, making sure to leave lots of the vanilla showing. If you want it to be smooth you only get one shot at this
Once the ganache has set a little bit, cover liberally with sprinkles and crushed peanuts. I didn't want to buy a huge $3 bag of peanuts from Walmart so instead I asked the girl at the McDonalds counter if I could buy a couple little bags of sundae peanuts for her. She gave them to me for free! FREE PEANUTS! Who says McDonald's doesn't do any good?
Whip a half cup of whipping cream to medium stiff peaks and add a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar. Fit it into a piping bag with a large star tip and pipe some rosettes around the top and along the bottom. Take your maraschino cherries and place them on a paper towel to get most of the juice off, then add them on top.
Step 11: Devour!
Add a candle on top, or don't. This cake should be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days in a cake container to avoid getting a fridge-y taste. Make sure it's out of the fridge at least 2 hours before serving so the buttercream can soften and get all pillowy.
Enjoy! Feeds 12 pigs or 16 normal people.