The cakes of February…

032…which seems ridiculous now that it’s March!  That should give you some indication of how February went.  Most of the month, I had this idea to share three great cake recipes — one a tried and true favorite and two that were new discoveries that turned out so well they had to be shared (and hopefully repeated).  Well, there you go.

Still, I think of them as February cakes.

Now I didn’t create any of them, and I’m happy to credit others for really great ideas.  If you want the original recipes, they are:

The applesauce cake was a find from one of my favorite websites, Food 52.  I made it a few years ago for my parents and it’s become a favorite for us both ever since.  The best part is I usually have all of the required components, including canned homemade applesauce, and it comes together with a spicy secret — black pepper.  It’s not much, but it adds that special something that you can’t quite put your finger on…  The glaze is a thick, deeply satisfying “caramel” made simply with brown sugar, butter, cream, and powdered sugar.  The brown sugar gives it the color and the feeling of caramel.  One note:  sift your powdered sugar.  If you don’t, you’ll see little blobs of it in the glaze that don’t dissolve.  It doesn’t harm anything (I’ve never had anybody refuse to eat it!), but if you’re trying to impress, then take the effort.

Also, it’s easy to not thin the glaze enough.  In that case, you get odd looking layered glaze like I did.  Again, nobody refused to eat it!

***

The banana bread coffee cake was a revelation because of the browned butter.  I toyed with the idea of skipping that step, but it really did improve the end result.  The cake itself is not particularly dense or hearty and there’s a lot of streusel on the top, so the extra nutty flavor of the browned butter helped the cake stand up to the streusel.  I’ve been obsessed with pecans, so I used pecans instead of walnuts, but either would be delicious in the streusel.

Browning butter is not difficult.  You melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat until you start to hear it spurt and splatter.  At that point, you really need to look at it carefully, especially if you have an electric range like I do and can’t cut the heat immediately.  The butter will foam and sputter, and then it will calm and clear, and then the dark bits will begin to collect on the bottom.  This is a case where having a light colored or stainless pan can be helpful for monitoring the browning.  If you’re not careful, you go too far to burnt.  I now am able to trust my nose and eyes, but the first couple of times were pretty scary.  Now, bring on the browned butter in everything.

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Golden goodness in a simple pan.  Once browned, all of that yummy butter gets swirled into the banana-batter and then topped with the sugary pecan streusel.

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035This recipe smells amazing in the oven while it’s baking and it’s delicous eaten slightly warm or even at room temperature.  The best part, maybe, about the cake is that the bananas keep it moist for several days so it’s a great cake to have even when you don’t have a crowd to help you eat it.

***

The pecan upside down cake was kind of a random find while looking for pecan recipes on the Martha Stewart website.  I’ve had lots of luck with other upside-down cakes, mostly with fruit, so this was intriguing.  It was a lovely, simple cake and it was good to eat for almost a full week.  That alone might be a reason to keep it.  The only dilemma was that it didn’t look so pretty.105

It kind of looked like the cratered surface of the moon.

Or a deserted landscape somewhere.

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I really hoped the chopped pecans would make a pretty pattern in the cake.  They were nearly invisible.  I think this is partly due to the fact that the bottom of the cake pan is dusted with butter and then white sugar BEFORE scattering the pecans.  If I were to do it again, I’d scatter the pecans in the melted butter first and then put the sugar on top of that.  I think, like the fruit, it would make the nuts more visible and the overall cake look better.  I’d also pay attention to how the sugar was being scattered.  I was a bit careless which meant thick and thin spots.  104

None of my friends complained.  Still…

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