Banana Cake with Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting

I thought it would be fun today to share some of the cooking tips and kitchen pet peeves I've picked up over the years, so that you can benefit from all the times I've screwed things up, or just laugh at me. Whatever you want.

1a. For the love of all that is good and beautiful in this world, DO NOT PUT YOUR KNIVES IN THE DISHWASHER. Like ever. Like don't do it. Not only does it dull your knives much faster than the usual wear-and-tear, but also ruins the handles of your knives. It basically forces water into places water shouldn't be, and will force the handle to crack. So yea. Bad.

1b. Same goes for nice pots and pans. You'll break the handles and it's bad for their surface.

2. Don't buy imitation vanilla. It's gross.

3. Also don't buy bleached flour. You don't need to buy super fancy organic whatever whatever, but avoid bleached flour. I can taste it, and also it sometimes reacts strangely with the chemistry of whatever you're making.

4. Stupid single-purpose gadgets are a waste of your money. That cute little thing that cuts an egg all at once? Yea that's called a knife. Also an egg separator? You can just use your hands (let the white go through your fingers and you'll be left holding the yolk) or do the shell trick.

There are some gadgets that will save your life -- my citrus juicer (not this one but same idea) is super helpful for getting every last bit out of limes and lemons, and having a cherry pitter with a feeder is a blessing for making pie -- don't get me wrong. But really, you just need a good set of knives and your hands, and you can do most tasks in the kitchen.

5. You can tell an avocado is ripe by pulling away that little knobby-thing at the top (where the stem used to attach) and seeing when the spot turns brown.

6. Most produce doesn't need to be stored in the fridge, and a lot of it is actually harmed by refrigeration. Tomatoes are the biggest no-no for me, but also things like potatoes, onions, garlic, stone fruits (peaches, plums, etc), and apples shouldn't go in the fridge. The potatoes, onions, and garlic should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place, but the others can just go on the counter.

7. If a pastry recipe tells you the ingredients need to be room temperature, they actually need to be. Part of the chemistry is temperature-based. When you're creaming butter with sugar, you're essentially creating tiny air pockets in the butter by scraping the sugar crystals against it -- if it's too warm and melty, it can't sustain the air pockets, and your pastry won't be the right texture. When you're making pancake or crepe batter, if you add cold milk into a mixture with melted butter, it'll seize up, and you'll get lumps. And egg whites whip up much more easily when they're not super cold, but cream likes to be wicked cold for whipping.

The same thing goes for recipes that need the ingredients cold -- I'm looking at you, pie dough. It's all part of the chemistry. SCIENCE!!

8. Another note on butter -- if you're in a pinch to soften butter for a recipe, don't microwave it. Get a bowl with hot water (not like boiling hot, but hot from the tap hot), put the sticks of butter in a baggie, and submerge them with a plate or something.

If I think of more as I check back on the page, I'll add them.


Banana Cake with Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting

Banana Cake
from Smitten Kitchen

3 1/2 c (14 3/8 ounces or 406 grams) cake flour
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
3/4 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon
1 c (2 sticks, 8 ounces or 227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c (7 ounces or 200 grams) sugar
1 c (7 5/8 ounces or 218 grams) packed golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 c mashed or pureed very ripe bananas (5 to 6 large)
6 tablespoons (3 1/4 ounces or 91 grams) sour cream or (weight will vary) plain yogurt
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line the bottoms of 2 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and coat the paper and sides of pans with butter and flour.

Whisk cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl and set aside. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until blended. Beat in eggs one at a time, then bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients in two additions just until combined. Divide batter evenly between the two pans.

Bake cake until firm and cooked all the way through, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool each layer in its pan for 15 minutes before flipping out onto a rack to cool completely.

Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting
from Food52

12 ounces cream cheese, slightly chilled
7 ounces unsalted butter at cool room temperature
1 c confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 c granulated sugar
1/4 c water
3 large egg whites

Beat the cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the butter, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy, then set aside in a cool place.

Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Do not stir, or else the sugar will crystallize!! Just swirl the pan if you need to stir, and wash any crystals from the side of the pot with a wet pastry brush. As the mixture comes to a boil, place a candy thermometer in the pot and cook to 238 degrees F.

While the sugar is cooking, place the egg whites into a mixing bowl set up with the whip. As the sugar syrup approaches the correct temperature, turn the mixer on to medium-low and begin whipping the whites. When whites are foamy and the sugar reaches temperature, slowly pour in the sugar, avoiding contact with the whip or it will splash. Once all of the syrup is added, turn the speed to medium-high and whip until the meringue has cooled to room temperature and has formed stiff peaks. Make sure everything is cool before moving forward.

Turn the speed to low, and slowly add the cream cheese mixture a spoonful at a time. When it is all added to the meringue, turn the speed to medium and whip until smooth and fluffy.

Assembly:

A couple tablespoons of cocoa powder
Cup of hot water
Offset spatula(s)
Plate/cake stand
Parchment paper

You need your cakes to be flat. Trim off the tops so they're flat (and so you have a snack). Get the plate/stand/whatever you're putting your cake on, and put a dollop of frosting in the center -- this will anchor your cake. Now rip a few pieces of parchment paper and put them at the edges of the plate with some hanging off the edges -- this will keep your plate clean while you're frosting, and then you can pull them away after from under the cake. 

Put cake number one down on the plate, right side up (i.e. the side you trimmed facing the ceiling). Put some frosting in the middle (as much as you want the middle layer of your cake to be) and spread it out until you're an inch away from the edge. Now take the second cake and place it upside down on top (i.e. the side you trimmed facing the frosting). 

Ok so you're going to have two layers of frosting on your cake: the crumb coat and the finished layer. The crumb coat is a really thin layer of frosting that makes sure all the crumbs are held in place and don't mess up your final frosting layer. Transfer about a third of your frosting into a smaller bowl for the crumb coat (so you don't get crumbs in the main frosting supply). Working from the top of the cake, spread frosting down and around the sides, creating a smooth, thin layer. Chill the cake and frosting completely before moving forward.

Once the crumb coat is cold and set, add the final layer of frosting. Work from the top of the cake, finishing the sides and then the top. Use the cup of hot water to wash off and warm up your spatula while you're frosting. Refrigerate until completely set, then dust with cocoa powder and remove the parchment paper.

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