Banana Cream Pie

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For the longest time I had been craving a slice of banana cream pie.  I know I could have probably satisfied that craving by heading to the local Village Inn, but why do such a thing when baking my own would much that much more satisfying?  Cream pies are, in my opinion, overlooked in the dessert world.  They’re finicky – what with the custard, and all.  They are time-consuming, as the crust must be pre-baked and totally cooled prior to being filled.  And often, they simply don’t turn out well; they may be too runny, too “stiff”, or the crust might not be hearty enough to stand up to the custard filling.  For whatever reason, I felt like accepting the challenge.  I love bananas and I love pastry cream, so what the heck, right?  Bring it on.

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Strawberry Shortcake

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I think the last time I posted I lamented the sluggishness of the oncoming spring weather here in Omaha.  Well, surprise surprise, it’s still not here.  We’ve had freezing rain, snow, rain, clouds, wind, and pretty much everything else you can think of that isn’t spring weather.  To top off the disappointing weather, I have been deep in finals for this semester at school.

With this easy version of strawberry shortcake, I hoped to usher in the sun, the budding trees, and the singing birds.  For the moment, it lifted our spirits, but ultimately, spring has yet to be sprung here in my lovely city.

This isn’t so much a shortcake as it is a sponge cake.  It’s light and airy due to the whipped egg whites, but it retains a tender cake texture because of the egg yolks, sugar, and small amount of flour.

What I love so much about strawberry shortcake is that there are many variations or additions one can make.  For instance, one could add Cointreau or Grand Marnier to the strawberries as they macerate.  Instead of a liqueur, one could add a splash of balsamic vinegar or even the seeds from a vanilla pod.

As for the cake, I could see orange zest as being a nice addition to the batter.  Or perhaps a dash of cardamom for a floral note?  I enjoy adding fresh herbs to my desserts and I think a little fresh thyme would be lovely in the batter!

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Nobody Hates Cake

Okay, just to be clear, I don’t only make cakes at home.  Although, wouldn’t that be nice?  All cakes all the time?  But seriously…as you all know, I love to bake and I love to share my favorites with anyone who will enjoy them as much as I do.  Today’s featured cake: the Chocolate and Vanilla Angel Food Cake.  Otherwise known as: the best of both worlds.

Right?!?!

I have this friend who, for as long as I’ve been baking cakes, has been eating the cakes.  He’s never complained, never once steered me toward pies, tarts, or turnovers.  Whenever we get together for our dinner parties, he’s always accepted cake as the dessert du jour.  He’s taken a slice, added some ice cream, and ate without saying a word.

However, one day I happened to find myself perusing a certain restaurant review website, and lo and behold, what do I find?  But a review written by my friend in which he states explicitly, “I hate cake.”  He wrote those words. I.  Hate.  Cake. 

OUCH!  I was crushed, perplexed, gobsmacked, if you will.  “He hates cake,” I thought to myself.  I found myself staring off into space and asking the question, “Has he been eating (read: choking down) my cakes all this time?  Has he been faking it just to protect my fragile cake-baking ego??”

Glossy and gorgeous egg whites, whipped to perfection.

Folding in the cake flour/sugar mixture.

What did I do, you ask?  I did what any lover of all things baking would do – I confronted him and demanded an explanation!  Well, not really.  I mostly joked sarcastically about it and he assured me he’s loved each and every cake I’ve toiled over in the many years I’ve been baking.  He explained to me that, more often than not, cakes are dry and crumbly.  I couldn’t argue.  “But,” he affirmed, “yours are not like that.  Yours are always moist and baked to a precise consistency, totally free from any blemishes.” 

Okay, so, I may have made up that last part.  But he did say that historically speaking, the cakes I’ve baked have always managed to be soft and unlike most of those he “hates.”  I’ll take that as a compliment.  Definitely.

He doesn’t hate my cakes.  He just hates all the others. 

Adding cacao powder to remaining whites.

Ready for the oven.

Baked and cooling on a parchment-lined cake stand.

Whipped cream icing layer.

Completing the “chocolate drip” layer.

Cross-section.

Chocolate/Vanilla Angel Food Cake
Adapted from: Salad in a Jar

Ingredients:

For Cake:

1 cup cake flour**
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar – divided
1 2/3 cup egg whites (about 10-11 large eggs)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cacao powder, sifted

For Chocolate Ganache:

5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (if using bar, chop it up)
2/3 cup heavy cream

For Whipped Cream Icing:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

For Cake:

Preheat oven to 325ºF.  Sift together cake flour and 3/4 cup sugar.  Using stand mixer and wire attachment, begin mixing egg whites and cream of tartar on low for one minute.  Add salt.  Increase speed to medium-high and mix until egg whites are thick and billowy.  With mixer running, slowly pour the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar down the side of the bowl.  Continue beating egg whites until glossy and soft peaks gently tip over when you pull the beater up.  Add extracts and turn the mixer on for a couple of seconds to incorporate.  Stop mixer.

Remove bowl from mixer.  Use your largest rubber spatula to delicately and carefully fold sifted flour and sugar into whipped egg whites.  Add about 1/4 cup of flour/sugar mixture at a time.  To fold:  Slice with spatula perpendicular to whites down to bottom of bowl and turn spatula slightly to pull up batter from the bottom and lay over the top.  Turn the bowl 1/4 turn and repeat slice with spatula until flour and egg whites are just mixed.  Have patience and use a light hand when folding.  You don’t want to deflate your egg whites!

Pour more than slightly half of batter into an ungreased angel food cake pan with removable bottom (a.k.a tube pan).  Use a spoon to draw a trough around the middle.  Carefully fold sifted cacao powder into remaining batter until completely mixed.  Fill trough with chocolate batter and smooth over the top.

Bake for 50-55 minutes (my oven required only 50 minutes).  Remove from oven and immediately turn over to cool for several hours, or overnight.  Use a firm hand and a skinny knife to loosen cake from edges of pan.  Invert cake onto a parchment-lined cake stand.

Chocolate Ganache:

Put chocolate chunks into a small glass bowl.  Heat heavy cream just to a simmer and pour over chocolate.  Let sit for at least a minute, then whisk together until chocolate is smooth.  Let cool to thicken.

Whipped Cream Icing:

Whip heavy cream in a chilled bowl with whisk attachment.  When thick with soft peaks, add powdered sugar and extract and continue to whip until cream makes stiff peaks.  Be careful not to over-whip, as you might end up with butter!  Yikes!  Spread icing smoothly over angel food cake using offset spatula.  Chill in fridge for 15 minutes.

Assembly:

Pour chocolate mixture into plastic food storage bag or piping bag, if you have one.  If it’s too thick to make nice “runs” down the side of your cake (or practice on an inverted bowl if you want), add a few drops of warm cream.  If too thin, let cool awhile longer.

Run ganache along the upper/outer edge of cake and slowly squirt ganache from small hole in food storage bag (or from tip in pastry bag) making “runs and drips” around entire cake.  Don’t stress if it’s not perfect.  It’ll be just fine.  It’s cake, after all.

Squirt remainder of ganache on top of cake and spread out using offset spatula. 

Chill at least one hour in refrigerator.  Best eaten within 24 hours.  Store remaining cake (if there is any) in the fridge.

**If you don’t have cake flour, measure 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into a 1 cup dry measuring cup and fill with all-purpose flour.  Sift into small bowl.  It won’t rise as much, but it will work in a pinch.