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Clementine Bakery's Banana Cake


As promised, dear readers, I come bearing cake. Not just any cake, mind you, but the best banana cake the world has ever seen, if you will allow me some superlatives. This is not banana bread, in case you're wondering; it's nothing rustic and it's not remotely acceptable for breakfast. This is cake, rich and tender as all get-out and sporting a gorgeous cap of creamy-sour frosting.

To tell the truth, I made the cake for you. Because yesterday this blog turned six years old. Six. Six! If this blog was a child, it would be in first grade! It would be reading. And telling jokes! If this blog was a dog, it'd be middle-aged! I think that calls for some celebration. And what, pray tell, is a celebration without cake?


Six years is a long time. And it's a preposterously long time for a blog whose originator speculated it would barely last a year. The fact that it's still around and kicking and featuring unbelievably delicious cake is really, in no small part, due to all of you coming here and reading and cooking and commenting and all the rest of what you do. So I made you all a cake. You have no idea how much I wish I could have shared this actual cake with you, slice by slice.

When the book is published, do you know what I'm looking forward to the most? The book tour, is what. Because then I'll finally be able to meet some of you in person instead of just sort of vaguely knowing that you're out there. In fact, when the going gets rough, that's what I think about, I really do. It peps me right up. Puts a spring in my step.


But back to the cake. Hoooo, people. The cake. It is so good. It's super-tender and amazingly not-too-sweet and fragrant with bananas and velvety and moist and the frosting (which I changed a little from the original recipe, to make it a little less sweet) is the perfect foil for it, though I suppose if you left off this frosting and topped it with, say, something dark and glossy like this, I wouldn't kick it out of bed either. My friend Suzy, who I consider to have terrifyingly high standards when it comes to food, gave it high praise. As in, halfway through her first slice, she stopped eating, put her fork down and fixed me with a serious look. Then she said, "This is really good." Then she went home with a doggie bag and ate another piece after dinner which, according to her, never happens. Never ever.

The recipe comes from Los Angeles's Clementine Bakery and is, really, the holy grail of banana cakes, as far as I'm concerned. It even keeps well for a day or two, though it beats me how on earth you'd manage to keep it hanging around for more than a day, unless you were the kind of nut who bakes cakes for her blog and then has to run around the city delivering leftovers for friends lest she eat the entire thing all by herself. And best of all, it is so easy to make - no layers, no complicated mixing techniques. Just a bowl, some ripe bananas, a mixer and you.

I lessened the amounts of cream cheese, butter and sugar in the frosting, but then I added a little extra crème fraîche instead of sour cream, because I think that deeply creamy, sour flavor would be nice to underline. Plus it gave the frosting a little sensuous floppiness, instead of leaving it a stiff spackle. Which I think is sort of crucial when it comes to simple cakes like this one.

Now go forth and bake! And thank you for being here. And happy blog birthday to, uh, me!

Clementine Bakery's Banana Cake
Makes one 10-inch round cake plus a few extra cupcakes, or one 9 x 13-inch rectangular cake
The original recipe is here.

2 2/3 cups pastry flour or 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour minus 2.5 tablespoons
2 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Into a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, mash the bananas with an electric beater until smooth. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until each is completely incorporated, then mix in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Finally, mix the dry ingredients into the batter just until thoroughly combined.

3. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch greased pan or a 10-inch round cake pan (you might have enough batter leftover for a few spare cupcakes). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden-brown on top, a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool on a rack.

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 ounces butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons crème fraîche

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth and there are no lumps. Add the butter and whip until incorporated, then add the powdered sugar and the sour cream. Beat until the frosting is very smooth and lump-free. Frost the top of the cooled cake, then slice and serve.

Friday Link Love


Hello, friends. It's 10:33 pm in Berlin right now and instead of drinking a gin & tonic on the balcony or staring at an outdoor movie screen or, frankly, sleeping, I am sitting in a café near my apartment with free wireless because my Internet connection at home inexplicably stopped functioning sometime yesterday afternoon. Fantastic timing, Internet gods! I will not bore you with the details of how long it took me to find a place that had wireless for me to tap into, but let's just say there's a reason why I'm now sitting here typing to you all from a red velvet arm chair whilst listening to very loud 90's R&B pounding on the stereo - reminding me of the sweaty discos I went to in high school - and smelling the fruit-scented smoke wafting my way from the table of four dudes my father's age who have just started smoking a water pipe. Oh, Berlin.


Clotilde did a little interview with me about how I cook on vacation.

This sounds like my kind of frozen yogurt.

Can you imagine people once thought the pickle was "totally depraved"?

I want to be invited to Winnie's next BLT party.

I loved this interview with Nigel Slater.

These beet-pickled deviled eggs are so pretty.

I miss my babka-loving grandma and grandpa after reading this ode by Lila Byock.

Coming to Berlin any time soon? Check out my lists at the Guardian (!) for my favorite cafés and bakeries and breakfast and brunch spots in this lovely city.

Okay, folks. I'm giving myself permission to call it a night. I'll see you here next week - and guess what? I'm bringing cake.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Roasted Corn with Manchego and Lime


In the last two weeks, I have cooked four pounds of plums into four jars of jam, I have boiled pretzels in lye and baked them into chestnut glossiness and I have turned nine lemons from my mother's companion's garden into creamy limoncello. I have made lentil soup and panna cotta and roasted cauliflower and pickled salmon. I have made three different batches of yeast dough - one to be rolled and filled with a poppyseed filling and baked into breakfast buns, one to be covered with marzipan cream and red currants and baked into a pie, one to be turned into doughnut rings and doughnut holes and plain old doughnuts, too, filled with puckery jam and fried to a sugary crisp. I am making liquor out of plum pits and vodka, there is a towel-wrapped bottle of milk being turned into yogurt wrapped in my oven right now and there are egg whites in the fridge waiting to be meringued.

I am also in need of a stiff drink.

Folks, I love my kitchen and being busy in it. But lately, when dinner rolls around, I just want to throw up my hands and take a hike. Living alone during the week means that I can at least get away with just eating buttered bread for dinner or a handful of cherry tomatoes while standing at the counter, hoping that by keeping very still, I won't lose my radio connection. But I feel guilty doing that, like I'm short-changing myself. I'm supposed my own best caretaker, but lately, I haven't been doing a very good job of it.


So yesterday at 4:00 pm, I pushed back from my desk and went outside. I took a long walk in the sunshine and stretched my legs. It felt so good to feel my muscles moving and to smell that clean Berlin air. I went back to TJ Maxx to buy the watercolor set I'd abandoned last week when the mean reds caught me off guard and I went to a nice organic grocery store that I should go to more often, where I bought really good tea and a nice, crackling loaf of bread and two ears of corn, still husked. Corn! Husks! That is a small luxury.

At home, I followed this recipe, roasting the unhusked cobs in the oven until the husks turned brown and papery and the corn beneath got all fragrant and sweet. After their pass in the oven, the yellow of the nibs practically glowed. I cut the nibs off the cobs and sautéed them until they started to pop in the pan, turning golden-brown and even sweeter still.

Once the nibs were done, I scraped them into the bowl and turned to the seasoning. I didn't have the jalapeño that the original recipe called for, so I used this potent Turkish red pepper instead. I left out the butter and the chives, but I used twice the amount of lime juice and didn't skimp on the Manchego cheese grated on top.


Then I took the bowl of seasoned, spicy, sweet-sour corn and I sat on the couch for dinner, alternating between watching the sky change color as the sun slipped below the horizon and watching 22-year-old footage on the tube of East Berliners charging through the border, whooping and hollering and weeping. That never gets old, never, ever, ever. (The Wall went up 50 years ago this weekend, hence the video retrospective on the television. Soon enough, the amount of time it's been gone will eclipse the amount of time it was up. How's that for the passage of time?)

The corn was sugary and super-spicy and the combination of the lime juice and the manchego cheese gave the whole thing these super-intense blasts of flavor, not unlike the ones you get when eating salt-and-vinegar potato chips. You know, when your whole mouth sort of suddenly puckers together or something, because of the intensity of flavor? I thought that kind of thing was only possible when engineered in a lab. Turns out that lime juice, Turkish red pepper and Manchego cheese can give MSG a run for its money.

This is best served as a side dish, maybe alongside a chicken thigh that's all sticky and charred from the grill. I bet it's even better when made with the local corn that you lucky ducks in the US can buy at the farmer's market, just-picked and still milky, husks soft and tender. But even with my tough old German corn, eaten out of the serving bowl all by itself while sitting on the couch, shoulders heaving at the sight of those cheering crowds, it was still pretty great.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Roasted Corn with Manchego and Lime
Serves 2
For the original recipe, click here

2 ears of sweet yellow corn, unhusked
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 lime, juiced and zested
1/2 ounce finely grated Manchego cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Roast unhusked corn on a baking sheet, turning occasionally, until heated through and crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Shuck corn and cut kernels from cobs. Discard cobs.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add corn kernels and sauté until heated through and light-golden in spots, 3-5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Transfer corn to a large wide bowl or deep platter and sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes. Pour the lime juice over the corn and sprinkle with cheese and lime zest. Mix quickly and serve immediately.

David Tanis's Tomato Salad Sandwich


I don't have much for you today. I've started and stopped this post about four times already. For a while, I thought about giving up. I turned off the computer and went for a drive in the rain, with Four Sticks and Neil Young on the radio. But now I'm back again and since I can't seem to let this be, I'm going to try again.

I don't know how the weather is where you are, but here, it's gray and rainy. I woke up twice in the middle of the night last night because the rain on the roof was so loud. I got caught in the rain a little while ago, when I was making off with two chairs from my mother's apartment, it's raining right now as I type and I assume I'll still be listening to rain drops when I nod off to sleep tonight.

It's been rainy here for weeks, really. All signs point to the fact that summer in Berlin is over, that it ended sometime in July. I'm trying not to listen to those signs, though I do still remember that one August - I was twelve - when my mother and I came back from our summer vacation in Italy on August 11th and had to turn the heat on in our Berlin apartment. We retell this story incredulously to each other every year. This year, though, I'm a little worried.


In truth, this is great weather for working. It's hard to feel bad about being chained to my desk every day when there's no way I'd want to be outside anyway. But the thing is, too much time spent indoors isn't good for the soul either. And I'm feeling a little bit soul-sick today.

I went to TJ Maxx earlier today (or, TK Maxx, as it's known here in Germany, which never fails to make me giggle) and somewhere between the kitchen supplies and the thank-you cards my heart was suddenly seized with an awful case of existential angst. Does that ever happen to you? Enormous big-box stores do it to me every time. I think I need to be drunk to shop there. Though that would probably make things worse.

I hightailed it out of TK Maxx as fast as I could and decided that instead of eating sad leftover soup that's been in my fridge since Monday, I needed to do something nice for myself. So I bought some tomatoes, perfect little Italian tomatoes. Tomatoes, you see, are my desert island food. There is nothing, nothing, I'd rather eat than a tomato. No brownie comes close, no hand-cut fries, no T-bone steak or foie gras. (Tomatoes, my darlings, I love you.)


Then I went home and made this sandwich for lunch. The bread was pathetic, flabby and flavorless and a pitiful excuse for a baguette, but soaked with fresh tomato drippings and olive oil and all the rest, I didn't even mind. Such is the power of a good tomato. I ate my drippy, messy sandwich in front of the computer. And wouldn't you know, it made the gaping chasm in my chest grow a little bit smaller, just a little. Such is the power of the tomato and the tomato salad sandwich.

I left out the garlic, but I urge you strongly not to leave out the anchovy. If you mince it fine enough, you don't taste any fishyness at all, but it deepens the flavors of everything else in the bowl, like magic. Your pretty great tomatoes will suddenly taste like the Best Tomatoes of All Time. And so on. You'll notice that my capers are pretty funny looking - all I had were some enormous caper berries, which I sliced.

Mr. Tanis says to let the sandwich sit for an hour, which I'm sure would result in an even more delicious lunch. But I didn't have that kind of time, so I ate it after about four minutes. It still hit the spot. Sometimes you just have to take care of yourself first and worry about following recipes later.

Folks, I hope you all have a lovely weekend. Full of sunshine and squishy, salty, savory tomato sandwiches.

David Tanis's Tomato Salad Sandwich
Makes one sandwich (here's the original recipe and quantities)

A handful of cherry tomatoes or one beefsteak tomato
Salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, finely minced (optional)
1 small anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon capers, rinsed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes
6 basil leaves
A few tender parsley leaves
1 crusty roll or a sandwich-sized piece of baguette

1. Cut larger tomatoes in thick slices or wedges and smaller ones into halves, and put them in a salad bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Add the garlic (if using), anchovies, capers, olive oil, vinegar, pepper flakes and half the basil, torn or chopped. Gently toss with the tomatoes and leave for 5 or 10 minutes.

3. Split the roll or baguette lengthwise. Spoon tomato salad and its juices onto bottom of each roll (or bottom half of the baguette). Lay a few basil and parsley leaves over tomatoes. Replace top and press lightly.

4. Cover sandwich with a clean dish towel and wait for an hour or so before serving, if you can.

David Lebovitz's Herb Rub


Poppets, do I have a story for you. Four days before my manuscript due date, last Thursday, to be precise, I woke up feeling rather strange. This strangeness got worse all day and by the end of it, I found myself in the hospital with an anesthesiologist pumping stuff into my arm just before some very nice doctors relieved me of my appendix. Ain't that a kick in the head?

I got out of the hospital yesterday and am feeling a little bit like I got hit by a truck, both literally and figuratively. My head's still all woozy and I have the oddest tugging sensation on my insides and the deadline situation makes me want to cry and I really want to take a shower and it would be lovely to be allowed a cheeseburger for dinner instead of broth and boiled zucchini and to top it all off, I can't stop thinking about how, if I'd been born a Pilgrim, my life probably would have ended rather abruptly at 33. (Of course, if I'd been born a Pilgrim, a great many things probably would have ended my life much sooner than at 33, but logic and rational thought are not having a great day right now in the Mind of Luisa, so bear with me.)

I am trying not to wallow too much in the vat of Self-Pity (see Not Being Born A Pilgrim and so on for reference), but abdominal surgery, a missed deadline and the lack of a daily shower is starting to take its toll on your heroine. But before I slide completely off my rocker into the deep end, I need to quickly tell you about something sort of quietly wonderful.

It starts with my balcony, a little patch of white-tiled space nestled into the corner of our apartment building. By some stroke of luck, though it's on the courtyard side of the building and we are surrounded by apartments on all sides, no one can actually look into our balcony, which would be lovely if we were the type to sunbathe naked and as such is just sort of nice because we can have lunch out there in the summer without feeling watched (old Berliners love to watch people) and because I can neglect the plants out there without anybody giving me a disapproving look.

The only plants I have growing on the balcony are herbs, because I hate buying herbs only to see them grow black and moldy in the fridge and because I like my balcony plants to be useful, not just pretty. (Even if I do go and neglect them every now and then). I have high standards for plants, you see. So I've got two types of mint, oregano, thyme (that keeps migrating from its pot to other pots, magically), basil, rosemary, a very sad lavender bush and an exuberant spray of sage. So exuberant, in fact, that it sometimes feels as though it could be growing about half an inch a day.

The sage got to be a bit of a problem, in truth. To use it up, we tried eating a lot of ravioli in sage butter for a while. Surprisingly, that gets tired pretty quickly. So when I stumbled across David's method for using up sage, I never looked back. He first got the recipe from his friend Judy Witts Francini and, folks, it is a secret weapon if I've ever seen one. Now let me be clear: I have always nursed a healthy suspicion of herb salts. Or herb rubs. They seemed like a gimmicky way for chefs to sell products in grocery stores. The idea of cooking with them left me cold. But David has never led me astray. In fact, I'd probably eat a cold rubber tire if David told me that, marinated in Korean chile paste and sprinkled with sesame seeds, it tasted good. (Actually, that does sound good. Sweet cracker sandwich, people, I need some real food.)


So I cut back my sage and rosemary plants, chopped them up very finely with a mess of garlic and a big spoonful of Maldon salt and then let the mixture, sandy and herby and fragrant as all get out, dry on my kitchen counter for a few days. When it was good and dry, I packed it into a little jar and forgot about it. Really!

Weeks later, starving on a Sunday night, we had nothing but some nice bread and some very ripe tomatoes in the house. No cheese, no pasta, no nothing. Rummaging through the cupboards, I stumbled upon my herb rub. On a whim, I decided to quick-roast the tomatoes mixed with the herb mixture, liberally splashed with olive oil. What emerged from the oven was rather difficult to stop eating, especially when we started dragging the bread through the herby, tomatoey olive oil at the bottom of the baking dish. Next up was a pot of beans that I'd cooked into creamy submission, but that desperately needed some pepping up. I spooned the beans into a baking dish, mixed them with a bit of the herb rub, a good glug of olive oil and a few shreds of canned tomato and put that in the oven until the house smelled like a rustic Tuscan lodge (or something). We put pieces of toasted peasant bread into our deep soup plates and ladled the baked beans over the bread and attacked. Dinner was a quiet affair that night, nothing but spoons clanking against plates and lips smacking.

The herb rub has pepped up rice salads and simple roast chickens, a lackluster pork tenderloin and countless pots of beans. I've dipped into it over and over again until, a year later, the jar's entirely empty. Which is serendipitous timing, because my sage plant has gone into overdrive once again.

To sum it all up, people, you need this stuff in your stash. It will make countless Sunday night dinners, when you're cobbling together weird little meals out of odds and ends, that much better. It will make you seem refined and with-it when you mix it with olive oil and set it out for nibbles with some nice bread before dinner. It will help your balcony looking neat and groomed and, best of all, it just tastes so good.

That is all. I feel better already.

Herb Rub
Makes 1 small jar

A very large bunch of fresh sage, two to three times as much as the rosemary
A large bunch of rosemary
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 heaping tablespoon Maldon salt

1. Pick the leaves off the sage and rosemary stalks. In a small food processor, chop up the herbs with the garlic cloves and salt until the mixture is pretty fine. Discard any sticks or seeds.

2. Spread the herb mixture on a baking sheet and let it dry for about three days. Once dry, store your herb in a tighly-sealed in a jar for up to a year.