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Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Drummond Monkey - "Amazing cakes come in small packages"

The Drummond Monkey
"Amazing cakes come in small packages"
Baked 05.29.14

Drummond Monkey

Banana / Peanut Butter / Chocolate Hazelnut

Requested by:

The "Drummond Monkey" holds the honor of being the first crowd sourced creation. Knowing Drum, this inaugural effort would need to 'Crush it!'.

So, armed with a highly complementary set of 'must-have' ingredients, I entered the kitchen determined to go big or go home. 

The end product is a 2.5" cake (weighing in at 75g), proving the merits of amazing things in small packages. With five distinct components jammed into such small space, it's the tardis of desserts. 

The base is a cinnamon banana cake baked in a ring of fresh banana slices. The result is a cake so dense and moist, it's decadent sans adornment. But why stop there?

Peanut butter cheesecake! Yes, that should help. Surprise the diner with a creamy filling that plays as both sweet and salty. Tears of the confectioner. Oh, the humanity! 

Yet an amazing filling was not enough. Inner beauty alone is lost on the casual observer. This cake wanted to yell, "Look at me! Check out this ganache. That's chocolate hazelnut... actual hazelnut. And yes, the peanut brittle is real, and it's fantastic!"

At this point, I could see that I was pushing the the boundaries of obscenity. It was almost too much for one little cake to take on. And who would take such a thing seriously? 

....so I added a bruleed banana hat! 

- The Components -

Banana Cake:
Banana Bread Cake
Banana Bread Cake Molds
Banana Bread Cake Molds Mise en Place Test Banana Bread Cakes Banana Bread Cakes
"I'm banana!  The means I'm fruit."

The base of the "Drummond Monkey" is a simple banana bread. What makes these cakes unique is the molding process.

Looking to create single cakes, I settled on 2" silicone canele molds. Compared to the hour baking time for a full loaf, these cakes required just 25 minutes at 350 degrees. After five minutes of cooling, they just slid right out of the molds.

With silicone molds, it is usually not necessary to use a non-stick spray or butter. But for good measure, I wanted to test several scenarios to see which would produce the best cake.

  • Plain mold: Produced a solid, moist cake
  • Butter: Added shine and richness to the cake's exterior
  • Butter & Sugar: Yielded a gritty appearing exterior
  • Butter & Flour: Yielded a dry exterior (pastry sin)

Given the extra richness provided by the butter coating, I had a clear favorite.

"But mini banana bread? What is this, continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn?" 

To add some flair (and a lot more banana) I decided to line the tops of the molds with thin banana slices (approximately 1/16th of an inch - good knife skill practice). The slices create a unique flower shape to the top of the cake. They also produce a differentiated texture. Something for the eyes and the mouth! 

The banana lining, what initially seemed like a simple addition, took several test runs to get right. Oh, the struggle for pastry perfection.

I quickly discovered that even the freshest bananas become rather slimy when sliced so thin - a challenge when trying to line the tops of the molds. To keep the slices from sliding down into the molds, I first filled each cup half way with batter. This created a helpful base upon which the lining could rest. 

After the molds were successfully lined, I filled the cups to the 3/4 mark, allowing for some rise during baking. 

Recognizing that I was adding a lot of moisture to the batter with these banana slices, it seemed best to retest the mold preparations again.

  • Plain mold: Again, successfully produced a solid, moist cake
  • Butter: More shine and more richness, yet again
  • Butter & Sugar: Yikes! Yielded a very surprising cake that could only be described as slimy (slimy is not the same as rich or moist). The sugar had pulled considerable moisture from the bananas and prevented the exteriors of the cakes from baking, producing what was almost a syrup
  • Butter & Flour: Yielded an unappetizingly pale cake, although it was cooked all the way through

"Banana and butter lining -- the day is yours!"

Peanut Butter Cheesecake:
Cream Cheese and Peanut Butter Baked Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Filling
"Wait until they get to the creamy filling."

With everything else that was going to be inflicted upon these cakes, stuffing them with a plain cheesecake would have been a bit much.

Pastry goddess, Christina Tosi of the Momofuku empire, has created an amazingly versatile product called Liquid Cheesecake. She shares the recipe over on the Milkbar website. Like a pastry cream or custard recipe, it can be easily modified and used in countless ways.  

My personal modification - replace half of the cream cheese with smooth peanut butter (wait, how is this going to be lighter?). 

To change the consistency of the cheesecake, the number of eggs is roughly cut in half (compared to a standard custard recipe) and that volume is replaced with milk. When you reduce the number of eggs in a cheesecake, you are reducing the quantity of proteins that would otherwise work to make a custard dense when heated. 

There's also more than twice as much sugar as a typical cheesecake. Sugar interferes with the protein bond formation during baking creating a more liquid (and sweeter) final product.

Hazelnut Ganache:

"Fact: Everything tastes better dipped in chocolate.  Before they were dipped in chocolate, no one had heard of the strawberry."

For the ganache coating, I used a chocolate hazelnut spread (e.g. Nutella) in place of plain chocolate, adding another layer of flavor (more layers! more layers!)

A traditional ganache is prepared by pouring heated cream over chocolate that has been roughly chopped. A chocolate to cream ratio of 2:1 achieves a consistency best used as the base for truffles. Increasing the amount of cream to as much as a 1:1 ratio produces a mixture that is more like a glaze or syrup.

Hazelnut spread, however, is already very fluid at room temperature. Less cream is needed to produce a pourable coating. For this ganache, a chocolate hazelnut spread to cream ratio of 3:1 worked perfectly.

*Chef's note: Chocolate can be very temperamental.  If you use cream that is not warm enough (nearly boiling), or if the ganache comes into contact with water, the entire mixture can seize (i.e. turn into a solid mass).  I had one batch of chocolate that seized.  It was a delicious, fudge-like mistake that I saved for future snacking. 

Peanut Brittle Dust:
Peanut Brittle Mise en Place Caramel and Peanuts Caramelizing Sugar Cooling Peanut Brittle Peanut Brittle Dust
"I like to hear my food."

Texture is important. There is no getting around it. 

Let's face it, unless there are sprinkles involved, halfway through a jar of Duncan Heinz frosting, I am pretty numb to the experience.  

Another nod to Ms. Tosi for the idea of using peanut brittle as a textural element in many dishes. It is so effective because it not only adds crunch, but there is an addictive, sweet and salty balance to the mix (but what else would you expect from the mind that brought us Crack Pie)?  

Making a brittle is amazingly easy. There are just two ingredients: sugar and nuts. Peanut brittle is nothing more than caramelized sugar poured over peanuts and cooled. The trick is heating the sugar to a high enough temperature for it to melt and develop deep flavor without burning (and by that, I mean both burning the sugar and burning yourself).

"So that's 2 part sugar, 1 part nuts, and all the seared flesh from my hand?!"

There are two ways to make the caramel: dry and wet. Both are best attempted using no less than 1 cup of sugar.  Smaller batches can be tricky. 1 cup of sugar is enough for 1/2 cup of nuts, which will yield a lot of dust.  

With the Dry Method, sugar is placed in a wide (to maximize surface area) heavy bottomed pot over a strong flame. The sugar will eventually begin to melt and then turn deep amber.

An alternative 'wet' method starts with sugar that has been covered (just barely) in water. Some argue that the additional time required for the water to evaporate results in a deeper flavored caramel.

Regardless of which method is used, once all of the sugar has melted, caramelized, and smells like the greatest thing in the world, the peanuts are tossed into the pot while mixing quickly (the cooler nuts cause the mixture to start hardening immediately) and spread into a single layer on a silpat-lined baking sheet to cool.

*Chef's note: silpat is a non-stick silicone mat that can endure extremely high temperatures. They are indispensable (my collection is growing). Everything literally slides off these mats. Generic brands work just as well, too, so throw away those non-stick cookie sheets that cost you a bundle but never worked and buy a silpat. 

Turning the brittle into 'dust' is a cathartic exercise involving a towel-wrapped plastic bag full of the cooled brittle and a rolling pin. Smash away! But don't actually turn it into a fine powder. Keep it somewhat granular. Remember, this is for texture. 

Bruleed Banana:

Banana Brûlée Mise en Place
Banana Slices Brûléed Banana
"Two words.  Blow torch."

I will confess, having the opportunity to literally play with fire (under controlled conditions, of course) is one of the great pleasures of working in a kitchen.  Homemade Bananas Foster are amazing, provided that you have the confidence to light the blaze (and a fire extinguisher under the sink).

The bruleed banana toppers for the cakes might seem like an unnecessary adornment.  But despite all of the bananas that bravely sacrificed themselves for these cakes up to this point, there was no uncooked banana to be found.  I wanted to add one bite of that raw, banana flavor.

I dusted somewhat thicker (1/4") half slices of banana with sugar and then caramelized the sugar by passing a culinary torch over the slices for about 15 seconds (long enough for the sugar to melt and turn a deep amber, but before the sugar burned). The slices remained uncooked, but with a crisp, sweet shell.

*Chef's note: I discovered that this was a good step to save for the very end. While the slices will remain pretty resilient with a full sugar coating, the combination of sugar and moisture from the banana will eventually get sticky.

- Putting it Together -

Banana Bread Cake Cores
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Filling Mise en Place Peanut Butter Cheesecake Filled Banana Bread Cake Peanut Butter Cheesecake Filled Banana Bread Cakes Chocolate Hazelnut Nutella Ganache Covered Banana Bread Cakes Peanut Brittle Dust Covered Banana Bread Cakes The assembly process was actually the most fun (well, second most fun... eating was the most fun). Armed with cake, filling, ganache, brittle dust and banana toppers, it was time to make magic.

1. Core the cakes:
An apple corer was perfect for making holes in each cake, creating space for the peanut butter cheesecake filling (I should confess, my apple corer has never touched an apple).

Approaching from the top, I made the holes about 3/4 deep into the cake, making sure not to cut through the bottom. From each cake, the corer easily removed a 'plug' of dough, which I trimmed to 1/4" in length and saved to replug the holes after the cakes were filled.

*Chef's note: Save the 'plug trimmings'... great snacks. You would be a fool to throw them away. 

2. Fill the cakes:
To fill the cakes, I used a pastry bag fitted with a Bismarck tip. I could have used a plastic sandwich bag with a cut corner, but a Bismarck tip is the only way to make sure the filling gets all the way into the cake. The tips are cheap and worth the investment.

*Chef's note: I am extremely unskilled when it comes to cleanly filling a pastry bag. You would think it had been a part of grade school gym class, given how uncoordinated I am at it. However, I've been successful in using a jar (or any freestanding container smaller than the pastry bag) to aid in the task. The pastry bag can be inserted into the container like a trash bag in a trash can. This frees up both hands for the task of filling the bag.  Voila!

3. Replug the cakes:
The 1/4" plugs were reinserted into each cake, compressing the filling and creating a flush top to each cake.

4. Cover in ganache:
Before adding the ganache, I first made sure there were no crumbs left over from the coring process on the tops of the cakes. They would make for an unsmooth finish under the ganache.

Second, I spread a sheet of parchment paper below my cooling rack so that any drips could be cleaned up quickly. The clean-as-you-go rule is all the more important in a small, New York kitchen.

Rather than dip the cakes in ganache, I poured a healthy stream over each cake - enough to completely cover the top and most of the sides. I wanted some cake to show at the bottom.

5. Dust with brittle:
While the ganache was still warm, I rolled each cake individually in the peanut brittle, making sure to cover the sides as well as the tops.  After the cakes were placed back on the cooling rack, I added some larger pieces of the brittle.  Forever to excess!

6. Top with bruleed banana:
... and enjoy!

- The Finished Product -

The Drummond Monkey

The Drummond Monkey

The Drummond Monkey Inside View

The Drummond Monkey Close Up

The Drummond Monkey

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