Last week fall descended overnight. We went from sunny days in the 70’s to breezy, invigorating 50-degree highs. Every day I step outside and the smell in the air reminds me of orienteering when I was little, standing with map and compass in hand and breathing in the distinctive smell of wild grass that has spent the summer soaking up sun and is now coated with cold morning dew.
Last Friday Espen turned one.(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) And I discovered that it is completely true that it “goes by so fast,” and your memories do all become a hazy fog. This year has been very long and very full, and yet it feels like it was only two or three days ago that we had just met Espen for the first time, and he was a 6-pound peanut who rarely opened his eyes and almost disappeared when we put him into the Ergo to take him walking through the woods so I could watch the leaves turning gold and he would sleep (blissful sleep). And now he doesn’t want to go into a front pack at all because he can walk!!!! He walks a bit like a drunken sailor, but he definitely walks. And his favorite things are lights (“dight!”), dogs (“da!), trucks (“cruck!”), flowers (“ooooh”), and hoses (no word for hose yet). How did that happen? Wow. Wow wow wow.
This past year has been both the best and hardest of my life – baby, plus everything else of course, but especially baby. I’ve been inspired by classical music a lot again recently (I played flute in orchestras for years and years, but it’s a been a while now since I last played. I miss it.), perhaps because this last year has felt like a symphony. The most melodramatic over the top sort of symphony — Beethoven, Sibelius, Mahler, Wagner, even — with tear-jerking minor chords followed by crescendos into the most breathtakingly transcendent and triumphant moments.
I’ve realized that, oddly, I didn’t actually have very concrete expectations about what it would mean to be a parent, so part of the learning process has simply been accepting the very concreteness of it. You have a child; they are your child through thick and thin; and you have to parent them every day, whether you (or they) are feeling energetic and calm or tired and grumpy. Not sure why that hadn’t fully registered before. On his birthday, it occurred to me that maybe I should calculate how many hours this past year I had spent bouncing/rocking Espen to sleep, but then I thought better of it. I’ll just observe that while my stomach is still much, much softer than it ever was pre-baby, my quads are now killer.
I have to admit, I’ve been more inspired by symphonies than cooking lately, and what creative juices I have have been channeled into cocktail development for our business more so than into food or writing. But, I did make a pretty dang good cake for Mr. Baby’s birthday. He’s the world’s sweetest little boy, so I felt like he deserved some serious cake. Normally I would just make a Norwegian birthday cake and think nothing further of it, but I guess babies and their affinity for bananas had me set on making a banana cake. And boy did I! This cake, based on the recipe from Clementine Bakery, is possibly the best banana cake ever. It is everything you ever hoped for from banana bread, but that banana bread actually rarely manages to give you. It has ideal texture and flavor and is remarkably unfussy to throw together. And then the frosting. I’m not even a frosting person! 9.8 times out of 10, I’ll pick whipped cream over frosting. But, this, my friends is fluffy. ganache. frosting. Aka, the chocolate mousse of frostings. And it comes from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery, which means that it is amazing and what all other chocolate frosting in the world aspires to be.
If you don’t have a baby around who is turning one, quick find one so you can make this! Happy birthday my sweet Espen!
- Cake Ingredients:
- 4 cups cake flour (I actually used all purpose and it worked fine)
- 4 cups sugar
- 1⅛ tsp. baking powder
- 2¼ tsp. baking soda
- 1½ tsp. kosher salt
- 5-6 very ripe bananas
- 4 large eggs
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 1 cup + 2 Tbs. canola oil
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Frosting ingredients:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 12 oz. finely chopped dark chocolate
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
- 1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
- heaping ¼ tsp. sea salt
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- To make the cake: heat your oven to 350F and grease two 9-inch round cake pans (to ensure no sticking, it's good to line the bottoms with parchment paper and grease that two). In one bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a stand mixer (or in a bowl and using a handheld electric beater) beat the banana until it is thoroughly smooshed and basically a puree. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Once the eggs are all incorporated, beat in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until well combined.
- Divide the batter between the two cake pans and bake in the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake layer comes out clean. I lost track of how long this took, but I think it was around 45-50 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack, then turn the layers out of the pans.
- To make the frosting: In a small saucepan, heat the cream just to where it starts to boil around the edges. Put the chocolate in a heat proof bowl and pour the hot cream over it. Allow to sit for a minute, then use a whisk or rubber scraper to gently stir until the mixture is smooth and a uniform texture. Set aside to cool to room temperature (about one hour).
- In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-low speed until it is fluffy, about 15 seconds. Add the confectioners sugar, salt, and vanilla and beat for two minutes, until quite fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again for a few seconds. Then, add in the chocolate mixture and beat for another 2-3 minutes, until fluffy and thick, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl after about 2 minutes of beating.
- To assemble the cake, use a serrated knife to trim the very top off of one layer, making it flat on the top. This will be your bottom layer. Put this bottom layer on a plate or cake stand and spread about 1 cup of the frosting on top of it. Top this with the second cake layer. Put about 1 cup of frosting in the middle of the top of the cake and use a spatula to spread this over the whole cake in a thin layer this is called a crumb coat and helps make the next layer of frosting looking neater. Put the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes, then cover it evenly with the remainder of the frosting. The cake will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, but serve it at room temperature.
Frosting recipe adapted slightly from Flour by Joanne Chang