There’s no denying banana bread is so comforting, so nostalgic, and so easy to make.
But I think it’s high-time to branch out of that ol’ banana rut.
It’s time to flip things around. Upside down to be precise.
As in “Banana Polenta Upside Down Cake.”
As the name implies, this cookbook, of which I received a review copy, showcases vanilla in every recipe, both savory and sweet.
If you’ve ever accidentally left out vanilla extract from a cookie recipe — ahem, yes, I have so blundered on one occasion — you know exactly how flat tasting it ends up. Vanilla adds an unmistakable lovely, natural sweetness to anything it touches.
Macaller gets some impressive help in these more than 100 recipes. She’s enlisted 33 renowned chefs to contribute recipes, including Josiah Citrin (“Fennel Flan with Orange Gelee, Cashew Foam & Vanilla Oil”), Norman Van Aken (“Pineapple Marinated Fish with Grilled Fruit & Spicy Pineapple Vanilla Vinaigrette”), and Nancy Silverton (“Vanilla Panna Cotta”).
This upside down cake is not that much more involved than making banana bread. You make a brown sugar glaze heady with vanilla that gets smeared onto the bottom of the baking pan. It’s got a hit of fresh lime juice and zest, which adds a nice bright tough of tang so the glaze isn’t cloying.
Next, arrange sliced bananas on top along with the vanilla bean pods. The recipe says you’ll need four bananas, but since they vary in size, you may end up using only 3 1/4 bananas as I did.
Pour in the batter, which gets extra lift from the egg whites being beaten separately.
When you unmold the cake after baking, the caramelized glaze will be on top, along with a mosaic of bananas for a quite striking effect.
The cake has a deep banana flavor. It’s not too sweet. It’s very moist with the crunch of cornmeal throughout. It’s a little like fluffy cornbread crossed with cake.
And I’m betting you’ll go bananas for it.
Banana Polenta Upside Down Cake
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 vanilla pods, split and scraped
Zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
4 large, ripe bananas with green tips
1/3 cup plain or gluten-free flour
1 cup polenta, medium-grind
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons skim or soy milk
1/4 cup vegetable or corn oil
Line a 9-inch cake or pie pan with foil and butter the foil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add brown sugar and stir with a heat-resistant or wooden spatula until the mixture begins to bubble. Add vanilla seeds and pods, stirring well for 1 minute. Add lime zest, juice and rum — the mixture will sizzle — and stir until blended. Remove from heat and pour sugar glaze into prepared cake pan with vanilla pods.
Arrange pods in center of cake pan. Peel, then slice bananas lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Carefully place in a single layer and drizzle with any remaining glaze. Set aside.
Whisk the flour, polenta, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
In a large grease-free bowl, and using a hand-mixer or stand-mixer, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Slowly stream in half the sugar and whip the whites to glossy, soft peaks, tripled in volume.
In a large bowl, whisk the yolks with remaining sugar until well blended. Add the vanilla, milk and oil, whisking well.
Fold dry ingredients into yolks, using a spatula to combine. Fold in the whites in 3 stages until just blended. Gently pour or spoon batter on top of banana mixture, smoothing the top. Place in center of oven and bake for 23-25 minutes until cake is set and springs back when touched in center.
Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate, carefully peeling foil off the top. Serve warm or at room temperature with a spoonful of Greek yogurt or ice cream.
From “Vanilla Table” by Natasha Macaller
More Banana Recipes to Try: Bakesale Betty’s Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping