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I gave 2.0 months to decide on his birthday cake. I told him to pick whatever he wanted – sky’s the limit! I figured he’d pick something covered in icing roses or fine printing – you know, just for kicks. I wondered how many elements from cake decorating class I might have to work into its design. But instead he picked this banana cake with mocha frosting. Elegant and refined; an appropriate choice for someone turning 40.
We invited 2.0’s family and mine to celebrate his big day. And when you’ve got families that cook as well as ours do, the pressure’s on. Rosie Beaucoup brought some of her famous sweet and sour meatballs, and I made a big pot of rice for them to lay on. 2.0 requested chicken pot pie with a chive biscuit topping, so I made that as well. A lovely salad would accompany dinner to make us look slightly more healthy. And with the menu finalized, I starting prepping ingredients the night before 2.0’s birthday, and then got up very early on the big day to start putting things together.
The cake was, of course, a priority. It’s the big finish, and honestly, the best part of birthdays. Cakes = love. I don’t care if you bake it yourself or buy it at the supermarket – if you give someone a cake, you’re giving them love. I set the items that needed to come to room temperature on the counter at 6:30 am. The key to success, in my opinion, is being highly organized in the kitchen. I take all of the ingredients out, measure and prep everything, and then triple check each item before it is added to the mix. I pureed some bananas with my hand blender. I assembled the dry ingredients. I greased the pans, and cut out parchment paper to line them. And at the same time, I was assembling various parts of the chicken pot pie, biscuits and salad. The kitchen was humming. (Have I told you that for most of the summer the only station that would come through clearly on the kitchen radio was an easy listening station? That if I wanted music in the kitchen, it had to be insipid, whiny and heavy on saxophones? It was torture. And then, over the course of the summer, I realized that every time I got into the car or 2.0’s truck when he was driving/after he’d been driving, that the radio was on that same station? And that I told him he was an old geezer because he obviously likes Air Supply and low-effort listening, and that cool people like me only listen to bands like Maroon 5 and hardcore rappers? True story.)
Wait. Where was I? Right: the kitchen was humming. I plugged my KitchenAid mixer into the wall socket and began to beat the butter and sugar. I could hear crackling. Then spitting. And sizzling. I looked at the electrical outlet. It was foaming! A tan coloured foam was oozing from the socket. I frantically turned off the mixer and yanked the plug from the wall. My brain couldn’t figure out what was happening. What was wrong with the house? What was pouring from the electrical socket? Was a fire starting?
I yelled to 2.0 to come and help. He ran to my side. I told him that I thought a slug might have crawled into the socket, and was fried when I turned the mixer on. He looked… doubtful. 2.0 got out his screwdriver and removed the faceplate from the outlet. He looked concerned. His brow was furrowed. And then he carefully wiped away some of the partly-oozing-partly-fried slug. “Hey,” he said, “I think this is banana,” pausing to sniff, “yup. This is definitely banana.”
What? How could this be? The slug in the socket theory was much more likely, wasn’t it? You have to understand – I guard my KitchenAid with my life. I carefully wipe it down after every use. Every nook and cranny. I handle it with extreme care. I don’t let anyone touch it. How is it possible that I dragged its plug through the banana puree and then stuck it in the socket? Well, it’s not. It was a slug. May he/she rest in peace.
The cake, despite nearly starting an electrical fire, was a huge success. It sat centre stage in the dining room, and just before serving was topped with a little golf bag and golf ball candles. The espresso in the batter gives depth. The banana and buttermilk give moisture and richness. The frosting, which at first seemed like it couldn’t possibly be spread on a cake, was delightful. Melted chocolate, coffee and butter? Too thin for frosting, right? Well, once you let it cool for about 20 minutes, it gets a little thicker, and spreads on the cake like silk and then magically sets. I topped the whole thing with some crushed walnuts, but you could leave it at frosting if you like.
So, if you’re here in Canada, you might want to consider making this for Thanksgiving this weekend. But watch out for slugs.
. . .
For the cake:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 6 tablespoons buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 cups banana puree (3 to 4 large bananas)
- 1 1/4 cups pecans or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms parchment paper. (Trace your pans onto a sheet of parchment paper and then cut out – trim if necessary to get a nice fit in the bottom of the pan.)
Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium-sized bowl and whisk to combine. (Sifting is going to give your cake a nice crumb, and help all of the dry ingredients marry.)
In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and espresso powder and beat until just combined.
The add the eggs one at a time, beating well until fully incorporated.
Mix in half of the flour mixture, followed by the all of the buttermilk and banana puree. Reduce speed to stir, and stir in the remaining flour mixture. Then stir in the pecans (or walnuts) just until combined. Do not over mix.
Divide the batter evenly between your baking pans. Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the centres of the cakes comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
For the frosting:
- 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans for garnish (optional)
Combine the chocolate and coffee in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the butter until combined. Set the frosting aside to cool, stirring occasionally, until thickened and spreadable.
Place one cake onto a serving platter or cake stand. Spread about 3/4 cup of frosting over the surface of the cake. The frosting is not thick, and will spread easily. Don’t panic. It will be okay. Trust me.
Place the second cake on top of the frosted cake. Spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.
Top with chopped walnuts or pecans (optional).