If you are trying to improve on banana cake, you’ll probably end up baking a dulce de leche banana cake. The addition of caramelized milk takes this plain dessert cake to a level you probably would not have thought possible. Instead of refined white sugar, I used my all-time favourite, light muscovado, to give the crumb a rich golden hue and omitted the eggs, replacing them with 1/4 cup applesauce. The substitution resulted in a delightfully moist texture for an eggless cake without compromising the integrity of the crumb. Adapted from Bakers Royale, this simple teatime treasure can be topped with a layer of cream cheese frosting for those with an incurable sweet tooth.

DULCE DE LECHE BANANA CAKE

Ingredients:

For the Cake

½ cup unsweetened yogurt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup light muscovado sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon table salt

1 cup bananas, mashed

¾ cup dulce de leche

Method:

  • Heat oven to 350 oF. Lightly butter a 9-inch cake pan and then dust with flour. Place parchment round on bottom of pan.
  • For the cake, place the plain yogurt in a bowl and add baking soda; set aside. Mix butter and sugar until light and creamy.

  • Add eggs (if using) and beat until combined. Add vanilla extract and beat till combined. Mix flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Mix bananas, dulce de leche and yogurt. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with banana mixture.

  • Mix after each addition until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared cake pan and bake at 350 oF for about 45 minutes.
  • Cool cake for 5 minutes in cake pan. Remove cake and continue to cool cake completely on a wire rack. Makes a 9-inch cake.

Dulce de Leche & Banana

The birth of Lord Rama remains a major celebration in all Hindu households and falls on the ninth day of the Chaitra month (March-April) of the Hindu lunar calendar. The seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, born to King Dasharatha and Queen Kaushalya of Ayodhya, Lord Rama is described as the Maryada Purushottama/the perfect man in the epic, Ramayana. His words and actions portray the epitome of righteousness which has been followed for generations and remain to guide many more in future.

COCONUT LADDOO

Ingredients:

1 large coconut, husk removed

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

Method:

  • Remove the skin from the coconut and grate finely using a box grater. Place on a baking sheet.

  • Toast coconut at 75oC until the moisture has evaporated. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

  • Set aside 1/2 cup for the final step. Add condensed milk and cardamom to remaining coconut.

  • Knead mixture lightly to form a soft dough and shape ping-pong sized balls out of the dough.

  • Roll the balls in the remaining coconut and space them apart on a lightly greased baking sheet.

  • Bake laddoos at 75oC for 30 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and cool completely.

  • Store baked laddoos in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes about 20 coconut laddoos.

Coconut Laddoos

The March 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins. Nougat is an aerated candy made from sugar, honey, egg whites and nuts. This type of nougat has been around since the 16th century (according to Larousse Gastronomique). The most well known nougats are the French Montélimar nougat and the Italian Torrone nougat. Montélimar nougat contains at least 30% nuts and includes pistachios as well as almonds. Italian Torrone and Spanish Turrón are similar, typically containing almonds and sometimes other nuts.

The cooking temperature and the quantity of sugar determines the texture of the finished product. Nougat can be chewy, soft and tender to hard and brittle. The flavors, textures and add-ins may vary, but the process of making nougat is fairly standard. Traditionally, nougat is made by adding cooked honey syrup to egg whites that have been whipped. Nuts are usually folded in and occasionally dried or candied fruits or citrus zest are added. The mixture is poured out onto edible wafer paper and smoothed into a block, which is allowed to set before cutting. Nougat is most commonly white, but can also be flavored. To really dress it up, it can be dipped in chocolate.

Success in nougat (as with most candy-making) relies on an accurate thermometer, dry weather, no distractions, and preparing everything in advance so it’s ready to go when you need it. Testing is important because even 2 degrees can make a difference in the finished texture of some candies. The candy thermometer should not be directly touching the bottom of the pot when you use it or you will be measuring the temperature of the pot, not its contents, and you run the risk of blowing out your thermometer. There is also great variation in sugar syrup temperatures in nougat recipes, ranging from 252°F to 320°F (122°C to 160°C), but most commonly 270°F-300°F (132°C-149°C).

Weather also plays a part in the outcome of nougat. Nougat is best made on a cool, dry day, as humidity can noticeably affect the texture of the nougat and its shelf life. Nougat made on a humid day may turn out softer than nougat made on a dry day even if you cook the sugar syrup to the same temperature each time. You may want to play with the temperature of the sugar syrup to work with your climate. Cooking with hot sugar can be dangerous and requires full attention. Nougat sets up pretty quickly, so it’s important to work fast once the sugar syrup has been added. It’s a bit of a judgment call in whipping the nougat enough that it is well aerated and not so long that it stiffens up on you.

NOUGAT TORRONE

Ingredients:

For the Meringue

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

¼ cup (60 ml) (50 gm) (1¾ oz) granulated sugar

½ teaspoon (3 gm) cream of tartar

For the Syrup

1½ cups (360 ml) (500 gm) (18 oz) honey, preferably light in color and flavor

3 cups (720 ml) (600 gm) (21 oz) granulated sugar

½ cup (120 ml) (170 gm) (6 oz) light corn syrup

½ cup (120 ml) water

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Add-ins

2 tablespoons (30 ml) (25 gm) (1 oz) cocoa butter, melted, optional

5 cups (1.2 litre) (680 gm) (24 oz) toasted whole unblanched almonds

4 sheets edible wafer paper, 8×11 inches (20×28 cm), optional

Method:

  • Place the toasted almonds in a heat safe bowl or baking sheet and put in an oven at 250°F/121°C until needed.
  • Line the bottom of a 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper, then with the wafer paper.

  • Combine egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar for the meringue in a 5 quart bowl fitted with a whip attachment.
  • Do not begin whipping the egg whites. Heat honey in a small saucepan or in the microwave until nearly boiling.

  • Combine remaining ingredients for the syrup (sugar, corn syrup, water and vanilla bean) in a 2 quart saucepan.
  • Bring the sugar mixture to a boil and then lower the heat and boil for 3 minutes, covered. Remove the lid.

  • Attach thermometer. Continue to cook uncovered on high heat without stirring until it reaches 290°F/143°C.
  • When the sugar mixture reaches a temperature of 290°F/143°C, start whipping the egg whites on high speed.

  • Move the sugar mixture off the heat and carefully and slowly pour the heated honey into the sugar mixture.
  • The mixture will foam up initially. Put back on the heat and cook until the mixture again reaches 290°F/143°C.

  • Remove from the heat and take out the vanilla bean pods. Slowly pour the hot syrup into the whipping whites.
  • Let the hot syrup run down the inside of the bowl. Do not pour it directly on the whites or they may collapse.

  • Whip on high speed for 3 minutes. Add the cocoa butter and whip just until the mixture is smooth again.
  • Do not over mix. Remove bowl from the mixer and dump the warm nuts from the oven into the hot mixture.

  • Mix quickly with a spatula until nuts are evenly distributed. Immediately pour hot nougat into prepared pan.
  • Cover the top of the nougat with more wafer paper and press to smooth and even out the nougat in the pan.

  • Let the nougat cool at room temperature until just warm to the touch, about 45 minutes, but not for too long.
  • Pry the nougat out of the pan with a spatula and dump it out onto a cutting board. Trim the edges of the block.

  • Cut the nougat with an oiled knife into the size pieces you want. Wrap the nougat individually with parchment.
  • Store at room temperature in an airtight container. The texture of the nougat will soften a bit after a few days.

Daring Bakers March 2014 Challenge

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PrerrnaMirchi
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