KITCHEN NOTES: Recipe Development::Chocolate Banana Poppyseed Cake


The seven bananas sitting on the counter were quickly turning to a solid black save for the spot where the sticky tape held them together. Once again I had been overzealous in my banana purchase, thinking I'd make another banana cake, banana oatmeal scones, and some banana cookies. Somehow in the course of the previous two weeks, the bunch got neglected and should have been tossed. However, I wanted to see if I could make at least one recipe.

I’m not a banana fan to begin with. If they’re bright yellow with no spots, I might eat them a few times during the year. If they’re the slightest bit mushy, I won’t eat them. Neither will my children. However, the guilt of letting the bananas turn past their prime got me to try salvaging them. Sadly, I ended up tossing the remaining three bananas.

Looking through the various cake recipes I wrote during my summer in Berlin last year, I decided to combine aspects of each into a new recipe. Thus was born this combination of flavors using "drunken" bananas, chocolate in the form of a powder, and poppy seeds. I wasn't sure how it would taste, but the result was surprisingly better than expected, although one could definitely note the strong banana taste.

There were mixed reviews from each family member in regards to this cake experiment. Cinnamon immediately stated that it tasted like brownies. Saffron said it tasted like bananas, chocolate, and poppy seeds - exactly what it was. My Sagey had a few bites until he no longer wanted it and pushed the plate away while my husband used the German words "gewürze kuchen" (spice cake) to describe the taste. Hearing all of this feedback, I was already changing the recipe in my head.

This was Sunday cake for this past Sunday - a tradition that the children have lately grown to expect, along with Sunday dinner eaten at the "fancy" table. It was important to get a cake made this past Sunday seeing how I was unable to make one last weekend. An unfortunate throat ache, which sent me to unwillingly see doctors and more unwillingly take medication, robbed me of a couple weeks of time. When you have children who bring home illnesses from preschool, you're bound to get your turn in the sickness merry-go-round. With three children, you can expect months of illnesses throughout wintertime. Truth be told, this is the main reason for the lack of posts since late last autumn. Now with spring lurking around the corner and bringing with it some much needed warmth, making it possible to eat our meals outside again, I look forward to a healthier and more productive existence.


Chocolate Banana Poppyseed Cake

makes one 9" cake



200 grams all-purpose flour

50 grams natural cocoa powder

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp sea salt (I used Pink Himalayan)

50 grams poppy seeds

100 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled

200 grams granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

320 grams mashed bananas (ended up being from 4 small, overripe bananas)

100 ml buttermilk



Heat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9” springform pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk well to combine and set aside.

Add poppy seeds to the melted butter and leave to cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in the sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and bananas and mix until fully incorporated.

Starting and ending with the flour mixture, carefully whisk in the buttermilk (in two additions) and flour mixture (in three additions). Make sure not to over mix. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted in the middle comes out almost clean (a few crumbs attached is fine).



THE NOTES (as jotted down in my journal):

What started out as a simple chocolate cake turned into a recipe combining elements from four of my previously developed cake recipes: chocolate hazelnut cake, chocolate cinnamon plum cake, lemon poppy seed cake, and banana cake.

At first I thought the flavors might be a bit too complicated, but despite the "drunken" bananas the flavors worked surprisingly well together. The cake was moist and the crunch resulting from the addition of the poppy seeds added another element of texture.

Changes I would try for next time:

Remember to treat the cocoa powder as part of the flour percentage in calculating baker's percentages. I forgot and thus need to compensate for the extra grams the cocoa powder contributed although the cake rose nicely and was relatively moist.

* Increase amount of butter. Due to the reduced fat content of the natural cocoa powder, more fat needs to be added to compensate for this fact.

* Add an egg yolk. Egg whites dry out a cake while egg yolks contribute to its tenderness. Even though the cake was not dry, I would like to see what happens when I add the extra yolk.

* Add more sugar. Cocoa powder has no added sugar. Increasing the amount by another 50 or 75 grams would counter this. Since these bananas were super sweet to begin with, the reduced amount of sugar was not as noticeable.

* Increase poppy seeds to 60 grams. More crunch is always good for added texture.

* Use a combination of all-purpose flour and cake flour. I'll start with half of each and see what happens.

* Increase baking soda. To counteract the acidity in the cocoa powder, more baking soda might be needed. Might not be necessary if reducing the amount of cocoa powder.

* Use bittersweet bar chocolate (such as Valrhona or Callebaut - about 65%) in addition to the cocoa. Melt the chopped bar chocolate with the butter. In this case, you might not want to increase the sugar amount by too much.

* Reduce cocoa powder. Try 35 grams or 40 grams.

* For another version...omit the bananas and try a simple chocolate poppyseed cake.


KITCHEN NOTES: Recipe Development::Almond Peach Cake

"What do you think?", I asked my husband as he cleaned his plate.

"It's good", he says.

"That's it?", I reply.

"Can I have more?", he asks.

I guess I'll take that as my answer, although I would have liked a little more input. Which flavour stood out more? What was the overall texture? You know, questions that are important to know when coming up with a new recipe. Having another opinion helps. So, when I asked what I should change for next time, aside from reducing the baking time, he replied "Nothing. It's perfect as is." I can work with that, but I'm not one to simply leave things as they are - particularly when it comes to desserts.

Originally, I called this cake "Cake Inspired by Summer". At least that's how it's written in my journal. For some reason, I find myself experimenting with a new recipe shortly before it starts to get dark, which means that step-by-step photos are few. In this instance, it was after 18,30h when I gathered together the ingredients and started to measure and write down the quantities of each ingredient.

This recipe started out as a desire to have a simple Summer cake using the dozen or so apples that are scattered about in the refrigerator. Instead, I decided to use one of the three peaches that were starting to soften. They were still mostly firm - I'd just bought them two days before but had left them in the paper bag together (touching each other as they shouldn't be) so a few started to bruise.

These were local peaches - from Fredericksburg. Sweet and delicious. I looked up the "PEACHES" section in The Flavor Bible and selected a few choices of flavours that would compliment the peaches: almonds, cream, rum, and brown sugar. I used the white rum but think that perhaps I should have added one tablespoon to the batter and the other to the peaches.

As the butter was mixing with the caster sugar in the stand mixer, I walked away from the counter to my journal to jot down a few notes. A moment later I heard a subtle cracking sound.

"What was that?", my husband asked. I turned to find that one of the eggs had rolled off the counter and splattered on the floor. My husband suggested that I simply scoop it up and use it. Did I? No. I threw it away, cleaned up the floor, and took another egg out of the refrigerator and placed it in a cup of warm water to quickly bring it up to as close to room temperature as possible before I had to add it to the butter and sugar.

I have the tendency to overthink my work. I strive for perfection knowing that the state of perfection does not exist. Despite the overbaking, the cake was delicate and flavourful.

I will be making it again soon - with a few minor changes.


Almond Peach Cake

one 8-inch cake



1 peach, diced

2 tablespoons white rum (I used Oronoco)

1 tablespoon dark muscavado sugar

170 grams unsalted butter, room temperature

150 grams caster sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

150 grams cake flour

125 grams almond meal (finely ground almonds)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

30 ml heavy whipping cream



Heat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, combine the diced peaches, rum, and dark muscavado sugar. Set aside.

Butter bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment round and butter that as well.

In bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and caster sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy (5 or more minutes), scraping down sides of bowl as needed. In the meantime, prepare other ingredients.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

To the fluffy butter and sugar mixture add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just until combined.

Reduce mixer speed to low and alternate adding the flour mixture with the cream, starting with a third of the flour mixture and ending with the cream.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Top with the drunken peaches.

Bake for 45 minutes (I baked this for 52 minutes and it was too long), or until skewer inserted in middle comes out with a few crumbs attached. Remove cake from oven and let cool on a wire rack. We waited until the following morning to eat it.


THE NOTES (as jotted down in my blue journal):

What started out as a light Summer apple cake, turned into a delicious almond peach cake. The intention was the same - simple and flavourful. If you're patient to wait until the following day to eat the cake, you'll notice that the flavours have had a chance to develop further. Coffee and cake. Perfect for a warm Summer breakfast.

Changes I would try for next time:

* Reduce baking time. I baked the cake for 52 minutes at which point the sides started to brown more than desired. In reality, I was outside watering the herbs in their containers and didn't monitor the oven. I will try 45 minutes next time.

* Reduce sugar and salt. I know that I wrote this down in the journal, but I'm not sure I'd touch the sugar next time. Perhaps I will reduce the salt to 1/4 teaspoon salt.

* Make more moist. I need to experiment with this challenge - more butter, more eggs? I'm guessing that reducing the baking time will help with this, so I might not make any changes to the eggs and butter for the second version.

* Substitute cake flour. The cake needed more structure. It wasn't too bad but I'll need to experiment with a higher protein flour.

* Use whole milk instead of cream. Perhaps use 3 tablespoons of whole milk instead of the 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Might also contribute to the moistness.

* Reduce almond meal/increase flour. Also need to experiment with this change for next time. Perhaps 175 grams cake flour and 100 grams almond meal.

* Add rum to batter and peaches. Next time I will see what the difference will be when I split the rum between the batter and the peaches.



KITCHEN NOTES: Recipe Development::Flourless Chocolate Torte version #1

It starts as a desire to make something - sweet, savory, simple, or a bit more complex. You jot down a preliminary list of ingredients, consult the Bible for some new flavor pairings, and research a few similar recipes. For recipe development, one might look to recipes of the past - either ones that were tried and true or ones handed down from family members, peruse the many online resources now available, browse through vast home libraries of accumulated cookbooks, or it might be as simple as trying something completely new and different. Regardless of the method, a recipe has to start somewhere. Notes are taken, ingredients prepared, and the experiment begins. A recipe is born. But it does not stop there. Refinements are made along the way and this is where my newest feature comes about.

In this first installment of my feature Kitchen Notes: Recipe Development, I start with a simple flourless chocolate cake. I wanted a flourless cake that was light and airy instead of dense and truffle-like.

I've made many cakes in my lifetime - the first one I recall was a boxed chocolate cake with the chocolate Better Crocker frosting when I was either 9 or 10 years old. Along the way, I've experimented with countless recipes, accumulated many cookbooks, clipped recipes from a variety of sources, and have amassed a great collection of cooking and baking magazines over the past two decades or more that now sit in plastic boxes in my garage. My latest cooking journal is a nice shade of aqua blue and has been recently brought back to life with my newest recipes and notes along the way. Many times over the past few years, I would simply make something and then forget exactly what I did or made. Now, I plan to change that with my Kitchen Notes. It's a place where I and my children (as they grow older and take more part in the kitchen) can refer to when we want to see how we made something and what we thought of it. I already have a few things jotted down about this recipe that I'd like to change, such as adding more rum.

The recipe, as written, was not bad (as can be witnessed by the few crumbs left over from finishing off the cake tonight). It's the quest for perfection that keeps one going. It's the constant wondering of "what if" - "what if I added more of this", "removed this ingredient", "used a larger/smaller pan", and so on that recipes constantly develop into new recipes with experimentation.

Without further Flourless Chocolate Torte, the first version.


Flourless Chocolate Torte - version #1

makes one 9-inch torte



8 ounces (226 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into half-inch pieces (I used El Rey Apamate 73.5% chocolate)

228g (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 16 pieces

1 tablespoon white rum (I used Oronoco)

2 teaspoons Madagascar vanilla extract

1 Madagascar vanilla bean, seeds removed and combined with the extract

1 tablespoon Black Onyx cocoa powder

6 large eggs, separated and brought to room temperature

1/3 cup Dark Muscavado sugar

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup caster sugar

hazelnut meal, for dusting springform pan


heavy whipping cream

sliced almonds, toasted

caster sugar




Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9" springform pan and dust with hazelnut meal.

Slowly melt the chopped chocolate with butter using a double boiler or pan set over simmering water, making sure that the pan containing the chocolate and butter is not touching the water below it. Remove from heat and cool down to room temperature. When the mixture has cooled, add the rum, vanilla extract with vanilla beans, and the cocoa powder.

While the chocolate and butter mixture is cooling, cream the egg yolks with the dark muscavado sugar until light in color and creamy in texture.

Transfer to a large bowl (NOTE: this is where I should have used a much larger/wider bowl), and pour in the cooled chocolate mixture. Mix well and set aside.

Beat egg whites at high speed for one minute to break them up. Add cream of tartar and beat for another minute. Add caster sugar and beat whites until stiff peaks form, making sure not to overbeat them. Add about a third of the whites to the chocolate mixture and gently fold until incorporated. Add rest of whites in two more additions, taking care not to deflate the mixture.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until skewer inserted in middle of cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool. Meanwhile, place bowl and whisk in freezer to chill for about 30 minutes before use. Right before serving cake, pour cream into chilled bowl and add sugar. Lightly whip the cream and fold in the toasted almonds (that have been cooled to room temperature). Slice cake and spoon a small amount of the cream. Serve.


THE NOTES (as jotted down in my blue journal):

The texture was exactly as I had set out to make - light and fluffy, even on the following day. My daughter described it as a brownie and my husband agreed, adding "but it's lighter".

Still light and fluffy the following day* Keep the 9" springform pan. The cake rose to about an inch over the height of the pan and sank as it cooled. I considered using a different size pan, but I'll keep this recipe at the 9" pan with 3" high sides. I wouldn't recommend using a regular cake pan as it might be too difficult to remove and the batter will overflow.

* Reduce, omit, or combine Black Onyx cocoa powder with Dutch process cocoa powder. The taste was intensely chocolatey. Next time, I will either leave out the Black Onyx cocoa powder completely, reduce the amount, or combine it with a Dutch process cocoa powder.

* Add more rum. Increase by 1 tablespoon, thus the recipe would now read 2 tablespoons white rum.

* Add more vanilla extract. Increase by 1 teaspoon, making the new amount 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

* Add 1 egg yolk.

* Use cocoa powder to dust springform pan. Hazelnut meal might not be readily available at most stores, so I will use cocoa powder next time.


The next time I make this will most likely be this Memorial Day Weekend for guests - my husband's friend from Germany is visiting us with his family. So, in addition to my observations, I will have four new opinions and suggestions.