Banana Cupcakes

First post of the New Year!! I know it’s already two weeks into the 2010, but I’ve just returned to North Carolina where I have a full service kitchen and supplies. I spent the past three weeks visiting my mom in Israel. It was loads of fun, but her kitchen is nothing to write home about. She had a baby oven, a hot plate, and well, that was just about it. I was able to make a few different dinner meals with our limited appliances, but no baking. Needless to say, I still ate lots of delicious things during my visit. In my opinion, food – especially dairy products – are just better in Israel. I guess that’s why they call it the land of milk and honey. 😉 I had a hot chocolate almost everyday from either Aroma or Cafe Hillel. Both for superior than any hot chocolate you can get at an American cafe. I could go on and on about all the food I ate in Israel, but I’ll spare you my rant.

Now that I’m back in Raleigh – I head back to NYC tomorrow – I’ve jumped into baking once again. Last night, we had the whole family over plus a few extra friends for our usual Saturday/Sunday night meal together. Instead of actually cooking a meal though, we ordered thai. I guess when I think about it, we order Thai food more often than regular meals. Okay, that’s not true at all, but sometimes it feels like order food from them all the time.

Anyway, for Chanukah I got a new cookbook – Baked – and I decided to make banana cupcakes. My original intention had been to make monster cookies, which resembled kitchen sink cookies with peanut butter, but after realizing that they had to be put in fridge for 5 hours, and guests were coming in about 2, I come to the conclusion that those were a no go. And then when my dad pointed out to me the 4 incredibly blackened bananas sitting on the counter, banana cupcakes seemed like the way to go.

The cupcakes themselves were very yummy. Much lighter then banana bread, and a little sweeter as well. (Side note – my dad made banana bread the other day and FORGOT to put SUGAR in it. He tried to hide his error by saying you could just put jam on it to sweeten it up, but there was no lying, it was lacking sweetness). Back to the cupcakes – they were easy enough to make. Given the bananas, they were a little thicker than basic cupcake batter making them easier t scoop into the tin. My dad was in charge of the icing. It was actually a vanilla pastry cream. It was a rather tedious thing to make – heating half & half, whisking for 6 minutes, and straining through a sieve. Once it was strained and in the fridge, it seemed to be thickening up nicely, but the first time we took it out of the fridge to try and frost them, it was just like pudding, falling everywhere. So we put it back into the fridge for another 45 minutes or so and it thickened up nicely. I’m not sure I’d make it again – it was much more like pudding than frosting – but for the banana cupcakes, I think they actually complemented each other well.

BANANA CUPCAKES WITH VANILLA PASTRY CREAM

(Adapated from BAKED)

INGREDIENTS:

CUPCAKES

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (I used 4)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

PASTRY CREAM

  • 3 cups half & half
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tbs. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

CUPCAKES

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two 12-cup cupcake pans with paper liners.

2) Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl and set aside.

3) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes.

4) Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl, add eggs, and beat until just combined. Scrape down the bowl again and add the bananas.

5) Turn the mixer to low, add the flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, in three addition, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

6) Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 way full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes our clean.

7) Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let for 20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and place them on the rack to cool completely.

PASTRY CREAM

1) Set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl.

2) In a medium saucepan, bring the half & half to a simmer and keep warm.

3) In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together until the mixture is pale, about 1 minute. Whisk half of the warm half & half into the yolk mixture, then pour mixture into the remaining half & half in the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 6 minutes.

4) Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through the sieve and press and piece of plastic wrap directlcy onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.

5) Put in the fridge for about 1 hour, or until chilled. (I’d say more like 2 hours).

ASSEMBLY

I simply took the cream, put it in a plastic bag, snipped off the end, and attempted to frost them presentably. Since the cream is simply that – more cream like than thick frosting like – it tended to pour over the sides of the cupcakes, but with a slice of fresh banana on the top, they looked okay. Depending on how thick your cream turns out, I think there are countless ways to frost them – whatever floats your boat 🙂

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