Monday, November 16, 2009

Going over the top: Little Havana Coconut Ice Cream and Star-Spangled Banana Cake

If you know me, you know that I love having people over for dinner. "Dinner parties" would be saying too much, as that implies having centerpieces and set tables and a clean house and all. No, having people over for dinner is much more straightforward. I plot and plan and cook as much food as humanly possible, and Sami does the entertaining part. Fortunately we have the big open kitchen so that I can also chat with friends while I cook. I also make sure we have lots of munchies available because I've always overplanned and underprepared.

Thus Friday night. We had planned to have our friends Frank and Randolyn over. We've been trying to have them over since August, but what with our going to France all the time and their having kids and grandkids coming to visit and then Friday, a little thing called H1N1, it still hasn't happened.We keep hoping. Otherwise they'll have to come have dinner with us in France.
So when Randolyn, who had probably been hoping she'd get better so that we could finally do this thing, let me know that she was on strict bed rest, I kind of panicked. Of course I felt (and feel) terrible that she feels terrible, but also I had all kinds of party food and party plans going. Claire had even gotten the ice cream base started in the morning. So Sami, understanding husband that he is, found some wonderful pinch hitters.

So here it was, 4:00 in the afternoon, and all I had to do was 2 appetizers, a meat and 2 sides and 2 desserts. No problem. The problem was that I still had 20 pages of editing to do on a project due on Friday evening. D'ohhhh! So, priorities first, I got the cake in the oven. As Alicia points out, it is truly a "piece of cake" to make. No worries there. Then while it baked and Sami cleaned house all around me, I buckled down and worked on the editing, taking a few breaks now and then to take the cake out of the oven, slice and bake some cheese crackers, and do a few other chores. So I was still at the computer when our first guest came. It was Barry. Barry brings his laundry when he comes. We've renamed our guest room Barry's room. So that was no problem. I told him he could peel a few pounds of carrots while he was at it.

Long story short: Our other guests were fortunately quite late, and there was just a half hour of drinking and nibbling while I got stuff ready. The cake was baked, the ice cream mix was in the freezer doing a speed chill (not recommended, by the way), and dinner was just about ready. Whew!
What cracked me up was the frosting. We had eaten a delicious dinner, worked our way through a few bottles of wine, and now I still had to make 7-minute frosting, which I've never made before. Turns out, since I in fact used real egg whites left over from the OBSCENE amount of egg yolks in the ice cream, it was piece of cake. And this kind of frosting is so magical--from a little puddle of egg whites at the bottom of the mixture to the bowl filling up with this marshmallow fluffy stuff. Really cool.

You'll see from the pictures that it's probably not the greatest idea to fill and frost a cake when you've had a couple of glasses of wine.
But I tried to at least put on a show. Note the large amount of dirty dishes.
Ah, coconut. Love me some coconut. OK, my cake is not as beautiful as Alicia's.
But look at Maida's:

See that, with the ribbon? That's what it's *supposed* to look like. In my dreams, at least. You can also see many more desserts that mine will not look like. Oh, well.

Verdict on these two desserts? The banana cake is awesome. It was too sweet and fluffy for Claire (who I believe is turning into Pete), but the rest of us loved it. That sweet fluffy frosting is not my favorite, but it was pretty good here. As for the ice cream--well, it is over the top in and of itself. I made half a recipe, which means half and half and cream infused with coconut (and thus coconut oil) and then enriched with 6 egg yolks (which I cut down from 8). The US government could have fed this to Fidel Castro every day if they wanted to overthrow the regime quickly. It's delicious, and went with the banana cake really well, but Lord have mercy!
Let's just say that our guests waddled home feeling content. And I have a freezer full of lethal ice cream...

OK, here are the recipes. If you decide to go all out and make them both, start with the ice cream. Preferably the day before.

Little Havana Coconut Ice Cream

1-1/4 c. whipping cream
2 c. half and half (Maida wants you to use coffee cream, which is heavier--ha!)
6 oz. shredded sweetened coconut
1-inch piece of vanilla bean, if you feel like it
6 egg yolks (save the whites for your 7-minute frosting)
1/2 c sugar
1 T. Cream of Coconut (waste of the century--threw the rest away. Boy, is that nasty-looking stuff)

Heat 3/4 c. cream and the half and half in a medium saucepan. Add the coconut (and vanilla bean) and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Let it simmer for 5 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it sit for 30 minutes (I now realize there is no way Claire did this and still caught the bus for school). While it's sitting, get out a strainer, a mixing bowl, and a thin towel or old pillowcase; put the strainer over the mixing bowl and line it with the towel. Pour the coconut mixture into the strainer. Let it drain for a while, then twist and squeeze the towel so that all the coconut goodness can escape. Throw away the coconut. Now rinse out the saucepan or not, depending on how you feel about a few stray flakes of coconut in your ice cream, and put in the egg yolks, sugar, and Cream of Coconut. Whisk that together until it's thick and a bit lighter in color, then begin adding the warm cream mixture to it, whisking constantly. Keep your bowl and sieve handy. Put the custard over medium heat and cook and stir until the mixture starts steaming (or when it's thick enough to coat a spoon or when it reaches 178). Pour the mixture back through the sieve into the mixing bowl, and then add the remaining 1/2 cup cream. Let the custard cool at room temperature, then chill overnight. Or you could be lame like me and put it in the freezer to speed cool. Then just pour the stuff into your ice cream freezer and let it do its stuff. Be prepared to serve this in *tiny* portions. It would be dynamite with some roasted pineapple, I bet. This served 6 with lots left over.

Now the cake recipe:
Star-Spangled Banana Cake
(If you want Alicia's 4-layer extravaganza, just double the recipe)

6 T (3 oz.) butter, room temperature
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1/8 t. almond extract
1 c. (6.5 oz.) sugar
1-1/2 eggs (I used one egg and an egg white because of the ice cream situation)
10 oz. bananas (about 2-1/2), mashed with a fork
1/2 t. baking soda
3 oz. chopped toasted pecans (the Trader Joe's ones are excellent here, too)
1-1/2 c. (6 oz.) sifted flour (yes, I threw in about half whole wheat)
1/4 c. buttermilk

Heat the oven to 350; spray 2 9-inch cake pans. Cream the butter with the baking powder and the salt. Then add the extracts and gradually add the sugar. Beat for 2-3 minutes while you mash the bananas and get out the nuts and measure the flour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well until the mixture is light and fluffy. Now mix the baking soda into the bananas and add that, along with the nuts. It seems so odd to add the nuts before the flour, but there it is. Mix that well. Then at low speed, add half the flour, then all the buttermilk, then the remaining flour. Mix until just barely incorporated, scraping in between as needed. Divide the batter between the pans. The layers will be pretty thin. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until top springs back when pressed and a toothpick comes out clean. Turn out the layers onto a rack and let cool.

Now it's time for the fun frosting:
Southern Fluffy White Icing

1-1/2 c. (10.5 oz.) sugar
2-1/2 T. (1.9 oz.) corn syrup
6 T. boiling water
3 egg whites
Pinch salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1/8 t. almond extract

3.5 oz. shredded coconut

Put the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a saucepan over moderate heat. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. When the mixture comes to a full boil, remove it from the heat and set it aside for a minute. Now get out the whisk attachment of your big old mixer and whip the egg whites and salt until the whites are stiff--they "stand up straight when the beaters are raised." Pour the syrup into a glass measuring cup--mine fit into a 1-cup measure, though the 2-cup one probably would have been more comfortable. Then, while the egg whites are beaten at high speed, add the syrup in a slow, thin stream. Maida warns about overflowing icing; I didn't have that problem with the half recipe I present here. After all the syrup has been beaten in, add the extracts and continue to beat for about 15 minutes, until the icing is very stiff. I found that took more like 6-7 minutes. Now excuse me while I abdicate my responsibility of telling you how to frost a cake. I believe Deb over at smitten kitchen has a nice tutorial.
OK, I'm back now. Just sprinkle that baby with lots of coconut, close your eyes and pretend you put a ribbon around it, then dig in. This should feed at least 12 people.

1 comment:

  1. Love your description of "just in time" dinner hosting!