Saturday, December 3, 2011

Caramel Banana Cake (The 1st Sweet of Christmas)

I'm starting a little "series of sweets" this month, which hopefully will give some of my readers ideas for holiday sweet treats for family and friends.  And the first sweet of Christmas is Caramel Banana Cake.

We do birthdays big time at my school.  Anytime somebody has a birthday, their grade level breaks out the metaphorical party hats and celebrates with the birthday girl's (or boy's) favorite baked treat.  A coworker of mine requested a banana cake for her birthday, because she loves banana cake and hasn't been able to find a recipe that really knocks her socks off.

I scented the challenge a mile away.  Especially since I was already primed to try out this caramel banana cake after Amanda at i am baker gave it a whirl (with her own buttercream twist).  My coworker's birthday proved the perfect opportunity.

I called dibs on making her birthday treat almost two months before her birthday rolled around.  It proved particularly delightful because my grade level happened to be participating in DIBELS Next training the afternoon we had chosen for the birthday lunch.  As much as we "love" training, having cake definitely made the afternoon much more enjoyable.

The process starts off by making your own caramel sauce from scratch.

I have to insert a disclaimer here.  I'm not so good at homemade caramel.  This was only the third time I'd attempted it.  The first two times were for the same dessert, and used Julia Child's method from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The very first batch of caramel I ever made completely burned and I had to dump it, scrub my sauce pan, and start over.  Because I was then a little "syrup shy", I pulled it off the heat far too early, and while it was delicious it was extremely mild.

The method put forth by the kitchn for the D.I.Y. caramel sauce is slightly less hairy of a process than Julia's method, only because you don't cover the sugar syrup while it's cooking and can keep a much closer eye on it.  What I didn't count on was the syrup continuing to boil after I pulled it off the heat, so it cooked way past what the recipe indicates it should.

To be honest, I really think it was burned.  And while everyone still loved the end product (somehow the burnt caramel flavor really worked with the cake), I was a little disappointed.  Next time I'll know better.  But I didn't have time to make more or to run to the store and buy a bottle of Hershey's caramel syrup, so I made due and whisked in the cream.

While this sad caramel sauce cooled, I made the cake batter.  I creamed butter and sugar....

...then beat in the eggs.  It was lovely.

Next I sifted the flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.

Next I mashed up my bananas (not hard since they were already pretty mushy - I'd frozen a bunch of bananas a few months prior and when they thawed they were halfway mashed) in a large measuring cup with the milk.  Just so you know, bananas aren't my favorite thing. It honestly looked kind of gross.  But I knew it would be wonderful in the end, so I forged ahead.

Next I alternately added the banana/milk mixture and the sifted dry ingredients to my mixing bowl and mixed it all it it was nice and smooth.

The instructions in the original recipe say to grease two 9 inch cake pans, but I went a step further and sprayed them with my awesome Wilton Bake Easy spray (think of it as shortening and flour in one).  Then I divided the batter between them.

Next I poured half the caramel sauce into each pan and swirled it with a butter knife.

Then I popped the cake pans in the oven for an hour.  My house smelled very caramel-y and banana-y and yummy, and my husband was dying for a piece by the time they came out of the oven.

I'd been expecting my cakes to be golden and swirled like Amanda's turned out.  However, what I got was this:

I'm not sure if the dark color was due to the fact that I'd basically burned the caramel sauce, or what.  But if you look closely, the swirls are there.

I didn't have time to make a buttercream like Amanda did.  But I didn't want to just stack the cake layers and go.  So I decided to make a quick glaze and drizzle it over the cake.

I let the glaze set, then put the cover on my cake carrier and headed to bed.  My husband was still begging for a piece, as I'm always making yummy things to take to work and he never gets to eat any.

The next afternoon, second grade handed our classes over to the assigned substitutes and gathered for the birthday lunch.  And the cake was eaten to a chorus of "MMMMMmmmmm!" and "Wow!"

Because we have last lunch, and because we had our birthday cake in the training room rather than the faculty room, there was lots of cake left.  So my coworker brought some home, we sent a piece to the principal, and I had a nice big piece left to bring home to my husband.

And everybody was happy.

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