Vail baking: A classic taste combination
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado “-Chocolate and bananas … two flavors that are really happy together in Vail, Colorado. They started their relationship as a kid’s treat and have now become one of the classic matches in American baking. This little loaf cake demonstrates why; the play between the subtle, sweet banana and the strong, bitter chocolate is evenly balanced, pleasing and complex. And, these tastes are perfectly showcased by the cake’s dense, moist texture and even crumb.
While quite satisfying, the cake isn’t heavy and rich. An unadorned slice is a nice accompaniment to a cup of tea or glass of milk any time of day. When I serve it at the end of a meal, I embellish it with either sweetened whipped cream and some slices of frozen banana or ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s Chunk Monkey is my choice) and chocolate sauce.
To assure the success of this recipe, I suggest the following: Use very ripe bananas; any less mature fruit won’t provide enough depth of flavor to be noticeable and won’t mash to the right consistency. Cream the butter and the butter-sugar combination until they are quite light and fluffy. Make sure the egg is at room temperature; adding a cool or cold egg to the butter-sugar combination will harden the butter and destroy the lovely creaming that is so important to the cake’s weight and texture.
The cake can be stored for several days at room temperature or up to five days in the refrigerator. It also freezes well. However you store it, wrap it airtight in several layers of plastic wrap or in aluminum foil.
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Make in a loaf pan measuring 8-inches-by-4-inches across the top
3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/8 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one half stick), at room temperature
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons of mashed ripe banana (about 2 small bananas)
3/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 cup of sour cream (light or regular)
2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the long sides of the loaf pan with a strip of aluminum foil, extending it beyond each side to use as handles when removing the cake from the pan. Generously grease the entire pan, foil and all. Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature.
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk vigorously to combine and to eliminate any lumps of cocoa or flour. If any lumps remain, sift the ingredients to remove them. Set the bowl aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat the room-temperature butter at medium speed for several minutes until it’s very creamy. Add the granulated sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until well combined after each addition. Once all the sugar as been added, beat at high speed for about two minutes. Add the room-temperature egg and beat at medium speed, scraping the bowl as needed, until fully incorporated. At low speed, mix in the mashed banana and the vanilla. The batter may look curdled after these additions, but it will smooth out as you continue with the recipe. Add the flour mixture in three additions alternately with the sour cream (two additions), mixing at low speed after each addition. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, stir in the finely chopped bittersweet chocolate until it is evenly distributed throughout the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and level and smooth the top. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with only a bit of melted chocolate on it. This takes from 47 to 57 minutes in my oven. Remove the cake form the oven to a cooling rack. Cool for 15 minutes; carefully run a knife around the sides of the pan that are not covered with foil. Lift the cake out of the pan with the foil handles. Remove the foil and place the cake on the cooling rack to cool completely.
The cake recipe is a variation of one in “The Cake Book” by Tish Boyle.
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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