Friday, January 31, 2014

Amazing Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

We're all about confusing the kids and making life more difficult for ourselves.

We celebrated Matthew's birthday as a family on his actual birth day. However, the following weekend, we hosted a little mini-party with his closest friends. Now, as Saturday approaches, I am realizing that we may have confused him as he seems to now think that every weekend until kingdom come we will be celebrating his birthday with cake, candles, presents and fun. He's in for a sore disappointment this weekend. At least he has the Super Bowl to console him - we're having pizza.

"WOW! It's my birthday every weekend!"

I wanted to throw Matthew a bigger party this year, but time just got away from me and I was unable to really plan something larger. So, I asked him to choose one friend to have over. His answer was immediate and with conviction: "Sophie-Bella!"

Actually, that's two friends not one. But if you get one, you get the other. I was not surprised that Matthew picked them. Those two little girls have been his best friends since birth and he is always so excited to see them. Plus, since their parents are Emma's Godparents, they are Matthew's Godsiblings (it's a thing - my dear friend Shannon (who is Matthew's Godmother) and I insist on it!) and share a special bond.

After consulting with the birthday boy, Paul and I decided that it would be fun to do a Ratatouille-themed party. If you've never seen the movie Ratatouille, it is essentially the story of a rat who has an exceptional palate and wants nothing more than to cook his little heart out in a fine French restaurant. It is Matthew's favorite movie to date, even though he insists that the rat is actually a mouse and that the name of the movie is in fact "Mouse Cooks" and not Ratatouille. Either way, we figured this would be quite the fitting theme for my little kitchen helper's birthday party.

Matthew was actually quite helpful in constructing ideas for his party. He absolutely insisted that the flavor of his cake be banana. No problems there. I have a banana cake in my arsenal that we all just adore. While going through Hobby Lobby, Matthew also spied some pint-sized chef hats and wouldn't you know they also happened to be on sale. He also picked out some tiny little wooden rolling pins, mini-spatulas, and cute notepads for the gift bags, all keeping with the cooking theme of the party. We also made a couple cookie mixes in a jar to add to the gift bag. They turned out pretty cute!

The blessed day soon arrived. Paul and I had stayed up into the wee hours of the morning decorating the family room and kitchen with crepe paper and balloons. Paul was a little wimp about blowing up the balloons since he has a fear of them popping in his face, so my little lungs were spent! Since he failed to help me with the balloons, Paul was in charge of the crepe paper and ended up making the room look a bit more like a giant spider web than a festively decorated area for a birthday party. No matter, Matthew was thrilled to see the decorations when he woke up in the morning.

The party began around lunchtime. Although we set out a few snack for munching, since this was supposed to be a cooking themed party we immediately put the little kiddos to work making their own lunch. The meal of choice was a baked pizza ravioli with a fruit salad. It was the perfect recipe for the kids to make on their own because it simply involved layering a few ingredients evenly in a pan and baking. Bella was especially focused on ensuring that the cheese was evenly distributed while Matthew carefully (and very, very slowly) commanded the saucing station.

While the meal baked, we held a coloring contest of a mouse picture. It was a three-way tie (naturally) although, just between you and me, Matthew's submission should have been dead last because he simply lazily colored over his mouse with a purple crayon. The other two put a lot more effort and creativity into theirs. Then we had a scavenger hunt to find the cake! Paul and I had written down 13 rhyming clues and hid them throughout the house. Each clue's rhyming riddle disclosed the location of the next clue, with the final clue leading to the missing cake! The kids LOVED this activity - they were crazily scurrying throughout the house searching for each clue and squealing with delight each time they found one! Paul and I were just relieved that they did not notice how terrible our rhyming was. As Paul pointed out, there is a very, very good reason why we do not work for Hallmark.

The kids were delighted to find the cake with small mice crawling all over it. This was Paul's brilliant idea - to pick up a set of cat mice toys from the store and use them to decorate the cake. It looked simultaneously cute and disturbing. Each child insisted on having a mouse on their individual slices of cake. We happily obliged.

After eating lunch, opening gifts, and distributing the gift bags, the kiddos settled down to quietly play and/or watch the movie Ratatouille. This gave the adults a little time to decompress and converse. Paul immediately made a pot of coffee. All the excitement was a bit rough on him.

Get the man some coffee!

I couldn't resist. The view from behind was just too adorable.

Sophie waiting patiently for her cake!

Beautiful Bella.

Emma really liked the cake. Good thing Grandma made that extra large bib for her for
Christmas or else we might have had a bigger mess on our hands!

Maddie working on her second piece of cake. She loved it!

Emma enjoyed having her best baby friend Madeline over to play with as well. Emma had not been feeling well due to some impending canines pressing on her tiny gums and Maddie really did help her cheer up a bit. Maddie is Sophie and Bella's younger sister and she is the sweetest little baby and has always loved Emma so much. The two of them were getting along really well just gently sharing toys and stroking one another's face. It was adorable. Those two will probably end up being great friends just like Matthew, Sophie, and Bella. Check out these throwback pictures from two years ago. The three musketeers, I like to call them. They really do love each other.

A little fuzzy...but you get the idea. These two used to smooch all the time.
He's a ladies man.

I wanted to share the recipe for the banana cake we made for the party. This is not a new recipe for our family, but it is so simple and not to sweet. I have yet to meet a child who does not love the cake base - it is basically a lighter, fluffier version of banana bread. And who can say no to a really good banana bread? Once you smother it with a lovely cream cheese frosting, it becomes one amazing cake. This is good stuff. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, although most of the kids ate the frosting first before attacking the actual cake part. As good as this cake was, after making two layer cakes in a week, I think I am done until our baby girl turns one in March! Matthew has already decided that she should have a strawberry cake. We shall see...

Amazing Banana Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted slightly from

For the Cake:
1 1/2 cups banana, mashed
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/8 cups white sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Make the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Butter three 8" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment. Butter the parchment as well.

In a small bowl, mix the mashed bananas with the lemon juice. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, waiting for each egg to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three additions with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the buttermilk. Stir in the banana mixture.

Divide the cake batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Immediately place the cake pans in the freezer for 45 minutes. This might sound strange, but it ensures that the cakes become extra moist. After about an hour in the freezer, the individual cake layers may be removed from the pans, double wrapped in plastic, and frozen for up to a month before needed. Let thaw just slightly at room temperature before proceeding with decorating.

Make the Frosting:

Beat the butter and cream cheese together in a mixer until very smooth. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. Add the powdered sugar in small batches, beating well between each addition to incorporate. When all the powdered sugar has been added, beat the frosting on medium-high until very smooth, fluffy, and silky.

To assemble the cake, spread 1 cup of frosting on between each layer. Spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Decorate as desired and refrigerate. Take the cake out of the fridge about 1 hour before you are ready to serve so that the frosting has an opportunity to soften. Enjoy!

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