A year ago, I made what I called Bananas Foster Puddings — individual puddings in which the bananas had been lightly caramelized in butter, brown sugar and rum before being layered with vanilla custard and kind of mediocre homemade vanilla wafers before being topped with a tuft of broiled meringue. The evening I made them, I managed to spill a pint glass of water (full, I mean, of course) right next to my laptop, which led to all sorts of drama including the loss of the photos and recipe, in case you’re wondering why nobody’s going to be mistaking me for a lifestyle guru anytime soon.
I have a theory that Mondays are for repentance, for undoing whatever damages to your liver, psyche or saddlebags you’ve done over the weekend. They’re for getting back on the gym horse, resuming those eight daily glasses of water, and going to bed early. They’re for kale salad; they are not for chocolate cake. But, guys, those bananas that are one day from fruit flies are not going to eat themselves, and they must be addressed, which brings us to this.
Growing up, we made popsicles by pouring orange juice into these molds, letting them freeze and eating them outside so we didn’t sticky up the kitchen floor. But when I first bought these popsicles molds a year ago, did I put juice in them? No. I started dreaming about frozen cherry cheesecake popsicles and key lime pie paletas. I became obsessed with recreating the creamsicles of my youth, but only if the outside layer was orange and the middle was white. I began scratching out recipes for rum-mango-coconut popsicles, roasted peach and frozen yogurt on a stick and strawberry black pepper frozen ices that might taste like one of my favorite summer cocktails.
There are a lot of good reasons to make banana bread: You have a pile of sad bananas on top of your fridge that have reached their life’s expectancy. You like things that are unquestionably delicious. It’s raining and you need something toasty and cake-like to go with your coffee. You’re into recipes you can make with one bowl, and feed a dozen. You’re going to be wildly busy this fall and are hoping to pack your freezer with all sorts of wonders that that can be warmed up whenever the craving strikes, even if you’re not around to enjoy them.
If this site could have a single prologue, it would go like this: It all started out so innocently. Because doesn’t it always? I wanted something simple but got carried away. A search for a lasagna I could love became a Mount Everest of a Lasagna Bolognese; a hankering for a great game-day snack became a mash-up of Welsh rarebit and pull-apart rye bread; and a hunt for a quiche that could serve a crowd became a 4 1/2 year vendetta until I triumphed over those 137 square inches of buttery flaky shell. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic. I’m likely scaring away people who just wanted something simple to cook (I promise, the next recipe will be so simple, you might, like me, weep and wonder where it’s been every rushed weekday night of your life thus far.)
I’m pretty serious about birthday cakes. When I think of someone being presented with some shortening spackled quarter sheet cake from a discount grocery chain on their birthday — a day they only get to celebrate once a year! Which is like forever if you’re a kid or perhaps the sort of grownup who didn’t get the memo that at the age of 34, birthdays are really not supposed to be a big deal anymore — it makes me sad. Not judgmental-sad, because lord knows I could barely eke out this cake on Saturday, and it’s supposed to be, like, my calling, but empathetic-sad because I totally blame lousy, intimidating recipes for making the two-layer + frosting task seem not worth it to go it at home. I hope to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get the fluffy, towering, butter-laden imperfectly frosted, slightly crooked homemade cake they deserve for making it through another year. Or, perhaps, one’s entire life to date, for the first birthday set.
Oh, look what I went and did now. Really, I must be stopped–this is out of control. One afternoon I saw a recipe for Caramel Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake in Gourmet and it was one of those moments when you pause and repeat all of the words to yourself slowly, trying to imagine how someone managed to fit all of these glorious elements into one 8-inch pan (they didn’t, but more on that later)–kind of like the Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake of two weeks ago. It immediately went on my Cook This list. The next day, I casually picked up the ingredients for the cake, just in case an opportunity presented itself where a Caramel Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake’s services would be called upon. (Hey, these things happen when you run the Smitten Kitchen.) But then it never did and by the end of the weekend, the bananas, they were calling to me and the cake and a few hours later, here we were: