June 18, 2008
Among the countless blessings this blog has brought to my life is this one: I have met and become friends with a few cookbook authors.
They are delicious people to be around, naturally, and if I manage to fox my way into their house they may actually cook for me, but the invaluable bonus is that, once I've come to know and trust them, once I've witnessed how exacting they are, and how much pressure they submit themselves to in order to produce bulletproof recipes, I feel I can use their cookbooks with blind faith. I know I'm in good hands, and things had better work out because I know where they live.
One of my cookbook-writing friends is Marianne Magnier-Moreno, whom I met almost three years ago at Chocolate & Zucchini's second anniversary party, and who wears many hats -- recipe writer, journalist, translator, cheesecake maker, young mother, and significant other to a gifted painter.
Marianne has written a fantastic book called La Pâtisserie (Marabout), a baking manual that offers seventy recipes, with step-by-step pictures and detailed instructions. Step-by-step photography is nothing new in the world of cookbooks, but I've always thought it could make a book look dull. Not so here, where the shot-from-the-sky visuals and tasteful styling make each double-page an aesthetic treat.
I've only recently ordered this book and already a flurry of sticky tags mark the recipes I want to try. And since I had über-ripe bananas to use last week, the first one I played with was her recipe for banana nut bread, which I topped with a maple glaze, another one of Marianne's recipes.
I did not make the cake as written. I substituted almond butter for part of the butter, and agave syrup for part of the sugar; I also lowered the amount of flour, added a little amber rum, and used pecans in place of walnuts.
Now, I know I just stated that I wanted to feel I could follow a cookbook's directions with my eyes closed, but before you dismiss me as an illogical person, let me explain: I like to bake/cook things my own way, but in order to tweak a recipe, I need it to be rock-solid, otherwise it might not hold up to the tweaking.
But this one did, and brilliantly so. The crumb was moist and fluffy, the flavors multi-dimensional, and the overall sweetness was moderate, which left ample room for the maple glaze to step in and do its thing.
Banana Pecan Cake with Maple Glaze
- 80g (3/4 cup) pecans, toasted and roughly chopped (see note 1)
- 280g (2 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour (I used the French T65)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 60g (1/4 cup) salted butter, softened (see note 2)
- 80g (3 level tablespoons) whole almond butter (unsalted and made from whole, unblanched almonds)
- 100g (1/2 cup) raw cane sugar
- 40g (2 tablespoons) agave syrup (substitute cane syrup, maple syrup, or honey)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon amber rum
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 4 ripe bananas, about 600g (1⅓ pounds) weighed with skin
Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and grease a 24-cm (9½-inch) savarin/ring mold, a loaf pan, or a simple 20-cm (8-inch) round cake pan. (Alternatively, you can use muffin tins; the recipe will yield about 18.)
In a medium bowl, combine the pecans, flour, and baking powder. Set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, mix the butter and almond butter until creamy. Add the sugar, syrup, vanilla, and rum, and mix until fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition.
Peel the bananas, dice them, and mash roughly with a fork. Fold the bananas into the batter.
Add the dry ingredients to the batter and use a spatula to combine, gently lifting the batter and folding it over itself until no trace of flour remains; don't overmix. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes (25 minutes for muffins), until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the pan rest on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife or a thin spatula around the cake (center and rim if you've used a savarin mold) to loosen, then turn out on the rack to cool (the pan will still be hot, obviously, so wear oven mitts).
Let cool for 30-40 minutes before glazing (see below), and serve slightly warm, or at room temperature.
Note 1: When I need to toast nuts for this sort of cake recipe, I spread the nuts in a baking dish and place the dish in the oven when it's almost preheated, and check it after 5 minutes, or as soon as I start to smell the nuts.
Note 2: I use French salted butter, which is salted with sea salt and works well in baking. If you have issues with the salted butter available where you live, use 60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter + 1g (1/4 tsp) sea salt.
- 50g (6 level tablespoons) confectioner's sugar
- 40g (2 tablespoons) grade B maple syrup
Sift the sugar into a small bow, pour in the maple syrup, and whisk vigorously with a fork until smooth. Spoon over the cake and spread with the back of the spoon or, if you insist, with an icing spatula.
Note: This makes enough to coat the top of the cake above thinly. If you prefer a more generous layer of icing, double the recipe.
Adapted from Marianne Magnier-Moreno's La Pâtisserie.
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