Life is Sweet
Living in Summit County is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the high country successful. Each recipe has been tested numerous times in my home kitchen in Frisco and, whenever necessary, altered until it works. Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day.This little cake is the Miss Congeniality of desserts; everyone likes it. Weight-watchers are pleased that it is reduced in fat. Healthy eaters are won over because it relies on egg whites, uses no yolks, and is flavored by bananas. Those who want great taste describe its combination of bananas, warm cake and caramel as true comfort food. And, hostesses are delighted that the cakes can be prepared in advance and are pretty and impressive when served. I find this dessert to be a lovely paradox, for it is light and satisfying, homey and sophisticated, all at the same time. I get wonderful responses every time I make it.Because it is served warm, this is a wonderful winter, dinner-by-the-fire dessert. It is reminiscent of a banana split, so it also works well as a finish to a warm-weather meal.You need six three-inch or five four-inch fluted tart pans, preferably with removable bottoms, to make the cakes. If you don’t have them, you can find them at the kitchen store in the Outlets at Silverthorne or, sometimes, at Target or Wal-Mart.The recipe is adapted from one I found in Food and Wine magazine five years ago.
Banana-Almond Cakes with Caramel Sauce(Makes five or six, depending on the size of tart pans used)Ingredients:1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons blanched almonds or the same amount of almond meal or almond flour (which is ground blanched almonds sold in a package; Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour is a good brand. Safeway carries some of the Bob’s Red Mill products and might be able to get this for you).1/2 cup flour2 ounces of butter (half of a stick), melted2/3 cup of granulated sugar, divided2 tablespoons dark rum; one for the batter, the other for the caramel sauce3/4 teaspoon vanilla3 ripe bananas; one chopped3 egg whites at room temperatureA pinch of saltGood-quality caramel sauce; store-bought is fine. Don’t use anything labeled a “topping”; get a thick jarred sauce, like Mrs. Richardson’s, which is available in Summit County groceries. If you want to make your own caramel sauce and don’t have a recipe, email me and I’ll send you one.Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt (optional)
Step One. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Grease the small tart pans. I use Baker’s Joy, rubbing it in with a paper towel after spraying it.
Step Two. If you didn’t purchase ground almonds, grind the almonds in a food processor until very fine but still dry. Stop before they turn into a paste. I often add a tablespoon of the flour called for in the recipe to the processor with the almonds; this prevents them from getting pasty.Step Three. Stir the almonds, flour, melted butter, one tablespoon of dark rum, vanilla and 1/3 cup of sugar in a medium bowl until combined. Fold in the chopped banana.Step Four. In a medium metal or glass bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt at high speed until they become frothy. Slowly add the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, either in a very small stream or adding a teaspoon at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat until soft peaks are formed … just short of stiff peaks. For egg whites to form peaks, they must not come in contact with any fat. So, be sure not even a trace of egg yolk is with the whites and that your bowl and beaters are completely clean. Plastic bowls often hold traces of fats from previous uses – that’s why I suggest you use a glass or metal bowl to beat the egg whites. Step Five. Using a whisk or spatula, fold the beaten egg whites into the almond batter, one cup at a time.
Step Six. Spread the batter into the prepared pans and level the tops. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or so, until the cakes are firm to the touch.Step Seven. Cool the cakes on a wire rack. When they are completely cool, they can be unmolded, wrapped individually in an airtight package and frozen. Step Eight. Warm about a cup of the caramel sauce in a microwave. Stir a tablespoon of dark rum into the sauce before or after you heat it. Step Nine. Serve the unmolded cakes warm (if needed, re-warm them in either the microwave or the oven. Cover them loosely with foil if you reheat them in the oven). Slice the remaining bananas. Use about a third of a banana on each cake and arrange the slices on the tops of the warmed cakes. Step Ten. Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt next to the cake. Pour the caramel sauce over and around it. Enjoy!If your business or organization would like to sample and review one of the baked goods featured in the Life Is Sweet column, contact Vera Dawson at email@example.com
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