In case you missed it, Saveur Magazine recently announced that my blog is a finalist for the “Best Baking & Desserts Blog” award in the 2015 Saveur Blog Awards. I got the notification email from Saveur a few days before the news was made public the following Monday — it was around 9:30AM, and I was sitting in a meeting with my coworkers discussing the intern role we were hoping to fill, when my phone buzzed with a new email contaning the subject line:
You know how in movies sometimes, when somebody receives any kind of shocking news, everything else goes blurry… the lights fade, the sounds mute, and there’s a strange ringing sound in your ears? Well, that’s kinda what happened to me! I spent the rest of the meeting fighting the urge to grab my phone, run out the room, shriek and do several cartwheels down the hallway. When the meeting finally ended, I took a couple of deep breaths, shakily opened the email, did a little jig, and spent the rest of the day grinning like a maniac.
I wish I could have ended there, but something odd happened. Later in the day, as the glow of the news faded, I proceeded to go into a weird state of denial. I spent the rest of the weekend in a mild state of quiet panic, regretting telling the handful of people I'd told since I was somewhat convinced that the entire thing was a cruel joke or hoax. I only finally chilled the frig out when, on Monday, I officially saw my blog listed along with the other finalists.
This nomination is especially meaningful for me because, a few years ago, when I was first nominated in 2013 for the Best Baking & Desserts Blog Award, I wasn’t able to attend since the ceremony that year coincided with a rare family visit. I really, really regretted not being able to go — I felt like I had missed the opportunity of a lifetime, to say the least. I really didn’t think I would ever have the chance again, since it’s incredibly difficult to be re-nominated! So I cannot emphasize how grateful and thankful I am to have just made it to the finalists again this year (though of course, I wouldn’t mind if you took the time to vote for me in my category, winkwink). I can finally go to the ceremony!!! And of course, there’s no way I’m missing it this year, come hell or high water. Really. I think the only thing that could potentially stop me is a zombie apocalypse. (And gosh, I said really a bunch of times in that paragraph, didn't I? Sorry.)
To officially celebrate making it to the finals, I whipped up this wonderful banana and chocolate crunch cake. I’ve been wanting to make a banana cake for some time now to get rid of the crazy stack of frozen black bananas in my freezer. The banana cake recipe is adapted from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, whose recipe for banana cake is the best I’ve tried — the final product straddles the line between a banana bread and cake, maintaining all the fudgy denseness that I love from banana bread but light enough to be able to eat and layer with a generous amount of frosting. To make it a little extra special, I decked the top of each cake with a generous amount of Valrhona chocolate crunch pearls (literally rice puffs covered in Valrhona chocolate), which gave the cakes the texture of a Nestle Crunch bar.
And again, thank you to everybody who took the time to nominate me. This cake is for you. And even if you didn't, please take the time to check out all the wonderful bloggers who were also shortlisted. It's an incredibly, incredibly talented and creative bunch and I'm honored to be a part of the ranks.
Some baker's notes:
- Plan ahead for this one and use the ripest bananas you can find for this recipe. Buy bananas that are ripe and let them get overly black and brown — the riper they are, the more sugar in the fruit, and the more flavorful and caramelized the cake's flavor will be. Epicurious even has a guide that tells you how far in advance you should buy bananas and where you should them to get them to their ideal state. And if you're just not a planner, you can always use this neat trick from the Kitchn to ripen them in the oven.
- Valrhona chocolate pearls are available online at Valrhona's online store, or at Amazon. Alternatively, you can find some in the chocolate and bulk section of Whole Foods supermarkets.
- If you want to instead use store-bought cookie spread like Biscoff or Speculoos instead of making your own, feel free to do so, but be sure to omit all the sugars added with the butter in the frosting recipe. Even if you do this, however, it will result in a much sweeter frosting than the one from the recipe I provide. I like making my own cookie butter because I can control the amount of sugar that goes in it (I prefer to make one that is less sweet than the store-bought version) and avoid the funky hydrogenated oils, though it admittedly doesn't last as long as the store-bought stuff.
- a freestanding or immersion blender (I used the latter)
For the Banana and Chocolate Crunch Cake:
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 9 ounces super ripe peeled bananas (I used around 3 medium-small bananas)
- 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup Valrhona chocolate pearls, plus more for decorating
(makes enough for one three layer cake)
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons tightly packed dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
For the Banana and Chocolate Crunch Cake:
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 (F). Prepare three 6-inch cake pans by spraying generously with cooking spray and lining the bottoms of each with a parchment paper circle; spray the parchment paper circle as well.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt until fully incorporated. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and 6 tablespoons unsalted butter. Cream together on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy and has doubled in volume. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add 1 large egg, and continue mixing again on medium-high for another 2 to 3 minutes.
- Lower the mixer speed to its slowest setting. In a liquid measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, and 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, whisking briefly before streaming into the butter and sugar mixture. Once all the mixture has been added, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and paddle for another 5 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white and completely homogenous. You're basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn't want to make room for it, so if it doesn't look homogenous after 6 minutes, keep mixing. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl every few minutes or so.
- Once the mixture is homogenous, reduce the mixer speed back to its lowest setting once more. Add 9 ounces of banana and mix for 45 to 60 seconds to ensure that the bananas are broken apart and scattered throughout the batter.
- Still on low speed, add the flour mixture (from the 2nd step) and mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until the batter comes together. DO NOT OVERMIX. Mix just until the dry ingredients have disappeared, before stopping the mixer, scraping down the sides of the bowl, and incorporating any remnants of dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared cake pans, using an offset spatula to smoothen out the top of each cake. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips and 1/4 cup Valrhona pearls, using your hands to toss the ingredients together until they are well combined. Scatter about 1/4 cup of the mixture over the top of each cake.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes; it's a little hard to tell when the cakes have finished baking because of the chocolate chips and pearls, so take a knife and tap each cake pan. The center of each cake should no longer be jiggly, but be careful not to overbake since the cakes will continue to cook after you've taken them out of the oven — it's better to pull them out on the slightly early side than later. Allow to cool completely in the pans on a wire rack before turning out. If you flip the cakes out too early, the chocolate will still be molten and you'll end up with a hot mess!
- In the bowl of a blender (or a medium bowl, if using an immersion blender), combine 2 cups graham cracker crumbs, 2/3 cup whole milk, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Blend on medium high and puree until smooth and homogenous — it should take about 1 to 3 minutes, depending on your blender. The end result should look like grainy peanut butter. If the mixture doesn't catch on your blender blade, use a small spoon or rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and the underneath of the blade. Repeat until you've got the puree.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 3/4 cup unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons tightly packed dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Beat on medium-high for 3 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy and speckled yellow. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Turn the mixer back on to its lowest speed. With the mixer on, spoon in the graham cracker puree (from the 1st step) a couple of tablespoons at a time. Once all the puree has been added, turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and continue beating for another 3 minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl of the spatula. The end result should be a pale tan color — the longer you beat the frosting, the lighter and fluffier it will be.
- Frost the completely cooled cake using the frosting, before garnishing with 2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder and leftover Valrhona pearls.