Banana and Chocolate Crunch Cake with Graham Cracker Frosting


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:

Congratulations - You’re a SAVEUR Blog Awards Finalist

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.


And if I sound absolutely crazy to you, it’s only because this nomination really, truly means the world to me. The Saveur Blog Awards are the equivalent of the Oscars in the food blogging world, and there’s really nothing like it — to have such a legitimate food magazine recognize the work that us bloggers do is an incredible honor. There’s even a big awards ceremony! It’s the one opportunity to finally meet all the folks and bloggers I’ve been following for years and years, all in one place, celebrating each others’ work.

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.


As for the frosting… can we talk about this frosting??? Because it’s graham cracker frosting. It turns out that if you mix together any kind of cookie crumbs with a generous portion of milk, you can basically make cookie butter of your choice. You know, like Biscoff or Speculoos spread??? Imagine the world of possibilities though: cookie butter made from Oreos, chocolate and mint Milanos, those schoolboy cookies, and MORE. And you know what happens when you mix said cookie butter with some unsalted butter and a touch of sugar? You get cookie butter frosting. It’s amazing. In this case, I thought honey graham crackers would work best with the banana and chocolate cake. So yep, this is a banana and chocolate crunch cake slathered in graham cracker butter frosting. Oooh, baby, baby.

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.


Banana and Chocolate Crunch Cake with Graham Cracker Frosting

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Ingredients

Special Equipment:
  • a freestanding or immersion blender (I used the latter)

For the Banana and Chocolate Crunch Cake:
(makes three 6-inch layers)
  • 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

For the Graham Cracker Frosting:
(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
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Recipe

For the Banana and Chocolate Crunch Cake:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 

  8. 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!

For the Graham Cracker Frosting:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Frost the completely cooled cake using the frosting, before garnishing with 2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder and leftover Valrhona pearls.
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74 comments

  1. Wow, nominated two years in a row! That's interesting. There's a load of re-nominees this year it seems. Love this cake, it looks absolutely amazing...especially the graham frosting! That's one of my favorite recipes from the Momofuku cookbook :)

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  2. This is genius! Those chocolate pearls are such a great idea. Your nomination is so well deserved, I can only imagine how freakin' awesome it would be to be nominated...I'm surprised you kept your cool in a meeting!

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  3. Congrats Michelle! You deserve this so much. I love how much dedication and passion you have for your blog/baking. It truly shows to anyone who stumbles across it. Best of luck! We are all rooting for you!!

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  4. Those pearls changed my life when I first tried them! Love how they top the cracker frosting on this cake. Well only great bloggers get nominated twice; which means you must be one. Your creations are so mouthwatering and your photography is so unique. Be proud of yourself Michelle!

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  5. That is one good looking cake, Michelle. And I'm excited about your cookie frosting discovery. The wheels are turning!

    Congratulations to you! I'm so happy to have connected with you, Michelle. Extra bonus to a nomination, right? : )

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  6. I was scrolling down the post very quickly to see what it was like inside! Divine! I've baked a banana cake- it was half as good as your which is a great success!

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  7. So this might be my favorite thing you've made so far. Can I just tell you that I LOVE banana bread and have never ever had it in cake form. Also, cookie butter, LOVE. Those magic Valrhona pearls, ALSO LOVE. Then there's your reaction to your finalist status. MAJOR LOVE. Looks like we've got a whole lot of love going on. But it's true. Only thing I don't love is that I missed you in SF by a week. Good thing we've got NYC. xx

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  8. Aw, this makes me so happy! It really made me feel for you about how you couldn't go the last time you were nominated, so I hope you have a blast this year and really live it up. This cake is amazing (big surprise), and I can't wait to try making a frosting like this one. Yayyy!! Congrats!

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  9. If it makes you feel less crazy, I've had my job for 8 1/2 years and I'm still convinced that the job offer was all some sort of cruel hoax...hurrah for cake and nominations and receiving crazy news when you're in a meeting and have to try and pretend that everything's normal!

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  10. *GASP* ermagherd I want this! (PS - massive congratulations on your nomination!) xx

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  11. Gahhh Michelle graham cracker frosting!? Amazing. And I love the addition of the Valrhona chocolate pearls, I'm so hungry right now thinking of this cake.
    And again, congrats on the blog awards, you totally deserve it :)

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  12. butter and briocheApril 15, 2015 at 3:30 PM

    Michelle this cake is EPIC. You already a winner in my eyes!

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  13. Yayyayyay, Michelle! I'm pretty sure I've already congratulated you, but I'm going to say it again...
    CONGRATULATIONS!
    ... because your second nomination is SO well deserved.
    And this cake... wow! It's totally gorgeous & your photos are perfection. I love that graham cracker frosting :)

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  14. Congrats again, Michelle! I'm so happy for you for getting nominated again (:


    Also, this frosting looks amazing! I love the the big rounds you piped on top of the cake - so cute!

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  15. Congratulations on being a finalist! This is huge! Rooting for you all the way from Norway! Good luck! Sincerely Marie aka The Vanilla Monologues (www.thevanillamonologues.blogg.no)

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  16. Congrats! This cake really looks amazing by the way!

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  17. Thank you Marie! Glad to have a Norwegian vote ;-)

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  18. Thank you, Caroline! Not sure if you saw this on twitter, but I was worried that it looked like poop lol. Sorry, I'm a 7-year-old-boy deep down, lol.

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  19. Thank you Abby!!! You're the sweetest. Thanks for supporting the blog all this time!

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  20. Graham cracker frosting for real. And those Valrhona pearls are so addicting, I ate like half the box before I could bake them into this cake and had to go buy another one, lol.

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  21. Kathryn, you're ridiculous, lol! After 8.5 years, it clearly was not!!!

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  22. Thanks Sara!!! Also, I didn't know you've been reading my blog for that long! Crazy.

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  23. MAN think of all the things we could have eaten together in SF. But don't worry, we'll make up for it in NYC for sure!

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  24. Thank you, Sam! So excited to meet each other in New York! We should plan a mini dessert tour of all the bakeries we should visit :-)

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  25. Thanks so much Belinda! Also, these pearls are a total lifechanger. I love them so much and keep brainstorming ways I can incorporate them into other desserts!

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  26. Thanks Rachel!!! Also good job, pretty sure that comment was more than 9 words ;-)

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  27. Haha, thank you so much Sophie! I'm pretty sure I spent the entire rest of the meeting alternating between jigging my foot and clutching my arm rests super tightly until I could run outside and freak out, lol. I'm normal in real life, I swear.

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  28. Thank you, June! I love the momofuku milk bar cookbook, it's such an inspiration. Have you checked out the latest one? It's called Milk Bar Life!

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  29. Stephanie @ Girl Versus DoughApril 15, 2015 at 9:54 PM

    Congratulations! So well deserved. And ummmmm graham cracker frosting? Life = changed.

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  30. Ha! Yes I've been reading your blog for YEARS. #stalkerstatus

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  31. Dude YES to momofuku, YES to banana cake with a nestle bar texture, YES to this insane graham cracker frosting, and YES YES YES to your being (very worthily) nominated once again!!!!!!!!! Hahaha loved your anecdote about freaking out over whether you actually got it or whether it was just a big prank...I feel like that's the exact type of thing that neurotic me would do. Which makes me love you even more. And this cake. I am counting the days until I find an excuse to make it!!! ;) <333

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  32. You so deserve it! Because you make the world's most beautiful, scrumptious cakes!

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  33. There's that post! I've been waiting for it (both the cake and the write up.) So funny how similar our experiences are to one another!! And your nomination is so well deserved--honestly, I can genuinely say I was thrilled to see your blog name, but not shocked in the least. Congrats, congrats again!


    As for this cake, well it sounds amazing. And you've officially made me want to experiment with cookie butter....specifically, BISCOFF!!! (Remember when they used to pass that stuff out on airplanes? WTF happened to that?!)

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  34. Maureen Sutherland WeiserApril 16, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    Wow times two! Congratulations on your nomination! You deserve it! And. That. Cake. ....Making!!!

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  35. I am seriously bouncing with excitement for you. I reaaaaaaally hope you win girl!! xx


    Also, this cake? My heaven.

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  36. When I saw your instagram saying it's graham cracker frosting, my jaw dropped. I've never seen that before! I usually associate graham crackers with a crust or in smores, or crushed as a topping - never in frosting! I can only imagine how that tastes :). Love it, Michelle!

    PS Be proud you're a nominee! So deserving!

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  37. This looks stunning, congratulations on the nomination. Valrhona chocolate is wonderful and worth every penny.

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  38. Michelle, this cake is everything! Banana, graham crackers, those valrhona chocolate pearls? Three of my favorite things, such a fitting celebration cake for such good news! So glad you're attending the event in June too, it's going to be so much fun!!

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  39. Jessie Snyder | Faring WellApril 16, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    Graham cracker frosting?! You just stole my heart. And made it into frosting. Holy-shiitake-muchrooms. I love how both of our posts this week had grahams involved! Big time love. And CANNOT wait to meet you at the awards, going to be SO MUCH FUN!

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  40. Graham Cracker Frosting is my new mecca. I must get there. I need to get there. I want to get there. MICHELLE. This cake is so genius! I only wish we could sit down over two huge slices of it and talk about how amazing it is in person. I grew up snagging bananas from my backyard to make banana bread, so this makes me super nostalgic for my mama's version. Thanks for sharing such a gorgeous recipe.

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  41. There's a new one O_O I must find this immediately...

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  42. Wait, what — you had a banana tree in the backyard growing up??? So jealous!!!


    Also, your plan of sharing the cake together sounds great. DAMMIT, why don't we all live in the same city??!

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  43. lol, holy-shiitake-mushrooms made me crack up out loud! totally saying that the next time i'm swearing at some idiot driver on the road. wait, what? lol.


    ALSO YEAH GRAHAM CRACKER PARTY! bring your beautiful s'mores and i'll bring this cake ;-)

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  44. Thank you, Summer! I'm so excited to meet you, i just love your blog!

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  45. YES. For a long time I was in denial about Valrhona being the best, but it really is amazing quality despite its insane price.

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  46. Thank you, Betty! Yeah, the cookies in frosting thing was a little bit experimental, glad it paid off though!

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  47. Aw, thanks Katrina! I really appreciate all the support you've given the blog :-)

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  48. No, that's awesome!!! I always assumed that a lot of folks just came in within the last year, but honestly it's probably because that's when I started being more active in the community myself :-)

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  49. Thank you so much, Maureen! I really hope you get a chance to try the recipe — report back and let me know how you like it!

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  50. I KNOW! When I read your post about it last week, I was like, OMG. THIS. Also, Alana from Fix Feast Flair had a similar reaction, lol.


    Hahaha, also, your comment about planes serving Biscoff cookies made me laugh out loud. I think airlines figured out that people liked those cookies and switched just to make sure that our plane rides remained terrible and awful.

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  51. YES! Please make this and report back. Have you checked out the new Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook yet??! I'm so curious about it!

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  52. Yeah, well I think before I couldn't really comment for some reason ... it always failed when I tried, so once you switched to Disqus it made everything a lot better. But yeah - you were a big inspiration for me starting my own blog! I'm glad we've connected recently :-)

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  53. I'm so happy you're nominated again. I also hope one day you will start a bakery that I can visit and eat at. I took your advice on Cristina Tossi and preordered her new book and got the old one too. Both of you are very inspiring.

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  54. This cake is a stunner. Totally perfect for celebrating your nomination, too! I am so intrigued by that frosting and I'm a sucker for all things Valrhona...their cocoa powder has ruined me for all others.

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  55. jess @alittlealice.comApril 17, 2015 at 5:52 AM

    argh!!! so excited for you!!! and also that frosting looks like my diet's next big mistake ;)
    also where is that GORGEOUS cake stand from?!?! i love it!!

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  56. NO BUT I'M DYING TO!!

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  57. Ana @ Ana's Rocket ShipApril 17, 2015 at 5:45 PM

    Graham Cracker Frosting? I can see why you're a finalist!

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  58. Awwww congrats, m'dear!!!! I'm so ecstatic for you and that awards ceremony/gathering sounds so so so fun! And ummm graham frosting?? That's one of my favorite flavors at my favorite ice creamery which goes by the name of Handel's in LA ;)))

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  59. Thank you so much Nik! That means a lot to me, especially since your blog is such a big inspiration for me. :-)

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  60. Ugh, tell me about it. I wish it weren't so damn expensive, it's driving me broke!

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  61. Hi there, the cake stand is from World Market: http://www.worldmarket.com/product/round+marble+and+wood+pedestal+stand.do

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  62. I was so excited to hear you were a finalist, but totally not surprised. You deserve it! This cake is absolutely gorgeous and has all my favorite flavors. That frosting has me all kinds of excited.

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  63. I KNOW, RIGHT?! Grrr. Must plan something of the sort someday. So. Yes. Banana trees! Because #maui. I know. It's just. So lucky. We also had avocados the size of my head that could easily kill you if they fell at the wrong moment. And passion fruit, and mango, and like everythingblahhhhh I miss it let's go.

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  64. k, let me know when, i have to lose like 10lbs before i wear a swimsuit out in public tho and this cake isn't helping things ;-)

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  65. You and me both, girl. Now I'm gonna go walk to the grocery store, because that totally counts as exercise, right?

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  66. Congratulations,
    you really deserve to be nominated and to finally attend the ceremony you have
    missed last time around. I am keeping my fingers crossed :). And now let’s talk
    about THE cake, graham cracker frosting blows my mind and I love how you added
    chocolate pearls on top of banana sponge. What I would give for a (big) piece
    of this cake! :)

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