My friend Hanna at Hanaa's Kitchen has been encouraging me to join ABC Bakers for a while. I thought the last thing I needed was another group (true), but this time she caught me at a weak moment. I had a week off from work so I was relaxed and, at the time, had finished Tuesdays with Dorie with no intention of continuing on with the group when they moved to Baking with Julia, nor of finishing the recipes I had missed.
Fast forward and a lot has changed. I've decided to continue on to BwJ, and I'm joining Nancy and a few other baking buddies in making up the recipes I missed in Baking From My Home to Yours. We're starting with the recipes picked in the very beginning and working through we get to the point where we had joined and were baking with the group every week.
But when Hanaa asked me again if I'd like to join ABC (Avid Bakers Challenge), I took a look at the book they would be baking from in 2012 (The Weekend Baker by Abby Dodge) and was very impressed with what I found. Virtually all of the reviews on Amazon are 5 star. It has the weights for the ingredients (yippee!) The recipes are interesting and approachable and are organized by how long they take.
The first recipe the group is making is the nut-crusted chocolate-banana swirl cake. During the winter, it can take a week for a banana to ripen in my cool kitchen, and it did. In fact, I didn't make these with fully brown bananas, but they were spotty. I was running out of time before I left for a conference so I hoped for the best.
I made this one morning in one of my pre-coffee stupors, and I completely forgot to mix in the buttermilk in between additions of flour. By the time I remembered, I had already divided the batter (by eye, instead of my usual obsessive weighing to get exact quantities of the two batters) and started spooning the melted chocolate into one bowl of it. I put half of the buttermilk in each batter. Turns out I had way more chocolate batter than plain so the plain was a little runnier than the chocolate, but it all worked out in the oven. A few things to keep in mind:
- Preheat your oven really well. I used to stick cakes in when it went ding but now I give it an extra 10 minutes, and I believe that gives cakes a little more oven spring.
- One of the things I liked about the recipe is she gives the weight for the bananas peel and all. Another is you don't have to mash the bananas. I dropped banana chunks into the mixer while it was running. A real time saver!
- I used 70% bittersweet chocolate and added it to probably 2/3, not half of the batter. It gave the finished cake a very pronounced chocolate flavor that people loved.
- After going to the trouble of buttering and nut-and-sugar-coating the pan, I was convinced that it just wasn't worth it and I would skip that step if making the cake again. After tasting - no way. It gives the cake a very special element.
- I used pecans rather than walnuts because we love them and because my buddy Margaret had sent me some (thanks, Margaret!)
Hanaa had said her cake stuck a little bit (find out the beautiful way she remedied that here), but mine popped right out. It looked a little odd because it was predominantly chocolate batter, but my tasters were ecstatic with praise of the finished cake. People who don't normally indulge in the sweets I bring to work were having some because the word in the office was that this one was fantastic. And I have to agree. I'm not a huge fan of baked bananas or banana-flavored things, preferring to peel and eat my bananas. But even I couldn't believe how good this one was - super moist, crunchy on the outside and totally luscious. I'll definitely be making this one again. And again. And again.
If you'd like to see what the other bakers thought of the cake, you can find them here. We're not posting recipes from the book, but you can find the recipe on Fine Cooking.