Beehive Cake (Brown-Butter Banana Cake and Honey Buttercream)

Up until very recently my father has been a beekeeper. He had bee hives at our home in Vermont and then drove them, full of bees to Minnesota. Due to a city ordinance he was not allowed to keep bees in his Edina yard and had to set them up at a friend’s house farther out of the city. My dad would drive out on the weekends to tend to them. His love for bees was made more complicated by the fact that he is very allergic to their sting. He swells up like a balloon when stung, but this never deterred him, even though it seemed to happen with some regularity. As a result of his love for bees I have always had a fondness for them and the delicious nectar they produce. Growing up we ate the precious honey he collected on everything from homemade granola to freshly baked bread. In fact, I never knew any sweetener other than honey and maple syrup before I was about 6. Sugar, in any form, didn’t exist in our house.

This cake is a tribute to both the elegance and ingenuity of honeybees, which are in terrifying danger of disappearing. Hopefully more folks like my dad will step up and continue the tradition. The shape of this cake is based on an ancient beehive called a skep, which was made of a coiled basket. My dad’s bees were kept in a box hive, but that isn’t nearly as romantic. Under the hovering marzipan bees are layers of brown-butter banana cake, walnuts and honey scented buttercream. (more…)

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Nutella Swirled Banana Bread

nutellabananabread zb 15

The first time I tried nutella was in France, on my honeymoon. I thought French kids were the luckiest people on earth. There was no way my mom would have given me a chocolate hazelnut spread on anything. (For the record it was the 1960s, she was a hippy and didn’t allow any sugar at all. Hence my full on sugar rebellion and career as a pastry chef.)  French kids get nutella for breakfast, on their bread at lunch or as a late night snack. They all seemed healthy enough, so I think the French moms are on to something. My honeymoon was 23 years ago and in the meantime we Americans have had a hazelnut spread revolution of our own. Now you can find it on the shelves of costco and seven-eleven. My house is never without a jar.

I’ve spread nutella on just about everything, but one of my favorites is freshly baked banana bread. In an “aha! moment” I decided to swirl the nutella right into the batter and bake them together. I’m not claiming to have discovered this combo, but I believe this may be the tastiest pairing ever there was. I now always make two loaves, otherwise it disappears too quickly. One we eat while it is still warm and a bit gooey, the other sits for breakfast the next day. It is magnificent and super simple to make. (more…)

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Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

chocolate banana bread pudding

Almost 13 years ago I had this dessert on the menu at The Local, where I was the pastry chef. It was hands down the most popular thing we ever made. Perhaps its success is due to the blend of the comforting banana bread and decadent chocolate ganache, all baked together in a warm pudding. Then I served it with roasted banana ice cream, which takes it to new heights, but I also love it with a bittersweet chocolate ice cream. Try both and decide.

Last night I needed something to bring to an Oscar party. I love the Awards and all the pageantry that goes with it. Watching the show is an annual event with two of my closest friends and my step mother. We sit on the couch in our pajamas and critique the outfits on the red carpet. The evening is the perfect blend of our ultra-casual-comfort while we watch the over-the-top formal event. This chocolate banana bread pudding just seemed to match the contrast; elegant comfort food. (more…)

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Banana Bread

banana bread

Here in Minnesota there is a timeless tradition of going to the “cabin.” During the summer everyone heads out of the city on the weekend to fish and during the winter they still fish, but on frozen lakes. I am not originally from around here and have not quite embraced this weekend exodus, but I have a friend who is and she lures me to her cabin, not with the prospect of fishing, but with her banana bread. She always bakes the loaf in the early morning while I am sleeping; I wake to the fabulous smell of the bread and fresh coffee. It is sweet and cakey, much lighter than this fruity bread has the reputation for. After 17 years in Minnesota I still don’t have a cabin, but I am grateful for the 5-hour drive to my friend’s, just to have her banana bread.

I also keep a stash of overly ripe bananas in my freezer, so I can make it at home. The flavor of this recipe depends on the sweetness of the fruit. Those black spotted bananas your kids don’t want to eat in their lunch are perfect. If you don’t have any overly ripe ones on hand, you can roast the fruit to bring out the sweetness. Just throw your yellow bananas; the green ones won’t work, on to a cookie sheet, peels and all. Pierce the skins and bake them at 350°F for about 45 minutes. Let the bananas cool and then peel and mash. (more…)

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Ice Cream 101 – One Simple Custard Base, Several Flavors! (Roasted Banana and more…)

Last week I did a post on the tricks to creating Sorbet and it got me thinking about ice cream. I always tend to make a big batch and then mash other ingredients into it. This way I can tailor the flavor to the dessert I am serving it with or the mood I am in. You have to, start with a really great ice cream base, which for me means lusciously smooth, with a dense and silky texture. The flavor should be rich, but not too buttery (greasy) and I always start my “French custard” ice cream base with vanilla, there really isn’t a flavor that it doesn’t compliment.

When the first frozen dessert was created by the ancient Chinese, it was just a mixture of fruity syrups and snow, basically a sorbet. Not until the 18th century in England did you find the first ice cream made with milk, cream and eggs, no snow. Today homemade ice cream is still made this simple way. The secret to getting the perfect texture and flavor is not only the ingredients, but the technique of creating a custard and then freezing it.  You want to cook the cream, yolks, sugar and vanilla until the eggs thicken slightly, known as creme anglaise (English cream), and then chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator, about 6 to 12 hours. This last step is a bit of a mystery, but it works to create the best mouth feel. I have heard the overnight chill described as “maturing,” “ripening,” or “aging.” You get the picture, it gets better with age.  I find when I do this extra step my ice cream is smooth and less ice crystals form. The way big manufacturers get past this step is to add gums, starches, or gelatin. I’d rather not, so I just wait.

Once you have the base, you can freeze it as vanilla ice cream or add other flavors. For this recipe I am adding roasted bananas, which I just used in a banana bread post  I wrote for the Cooking Channel. Roasting the fruit not only concentrates the sugars, but it also expels some of the water in the bananas, which can cause the ice cream to be icy. I don’t stop there, I also mash in toasted maple-pecans, brandied cherries and chocolate ganache into the roasted banana ice cream, for a total of 4 flavors.  What can I say, I like variety! (more…)

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Going Bananas for Mardis Gras – Banana Pudding, Caramelized Bananas and Bourbon Banana Sauce

Banana Pudding is a thoroughly classic Southern dessert. It comes in many forms, but almost all involve vanilla pudding with slices of bananas and a layering of vanilla wafers. This combination, quite frankly, reminds me of going to Morrison’s Cafeteria with my grandmother in Clearwater, Fl. Although I have fond memories of those outings, the food was neither good, nor memorable. It seems to me that banana pudding should be made with bananas, not just as an accessory. This may be a conclusion based on the fact that I only had two overly ripe bananas in my fruit basket when this recipe came to me. I pureed them and added them to the vanilla pudding as I whisked it. The result is a rich flavor, which beats the pants off of the unnatural “banana extract” or liqueurs many recipes call for and it has a silky smooth texture. I thought it should be topped with something warm, caramel-y and have just a slight bite of Bourbon. Banana Foster on top of the pudding, an ode to Mardi Gras! For those who just can’t fathom banana pudding without vanilla wafers, by all means you should crush some up and sprinkle them over the top.

I’d like to thank YOU and Babble.com for voting Zoë Bakes on to the list of Top 100 Mom Food Blogs 2011! It is a crazy honor to be listed with such talented women. (more…)

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