June 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, to Me!

Today is my (30th!) birthday.

This year I decided to take the day off and spend it doing whatever I wanted. And that whatever I wanted today included making myself a super decadent homemade birthday cake.

Make my own birthday cake, you ask? Yes! I know, not conventional. Zach would have happily purchased the DQ ice cream cake I had been requesting a few weeks ago. He also would have happily baked me a cake if that was what I wanted. But I love to bake. And I don’t have tons of time to bake these days. So, having a whole day to bake a cake felt like a fabulous birthday luxury.

I had fun trolling through my cookbooks and picking the recipe.

I had fun doing everything exactly right. I read the recipe from start to finish just like every good baker should do—twice, in fact. I measured the flour the right way, scooping it into the measuring cup and leveling it off. I purchased the bananas a few days ago so they would be super ripe. I put all of the ingredients on the counter to get to room temperature before I used them and didn’t even cheat by putting them in the microwave. I cut out the parchment paper circles for my cake pans precisely.

The best part of this whole project? When David Lebovitz himself direct messaged me via Twitter after I tweeted that I’d be making the Banana Cake with Mocha Frosting and Salted Candied Peanuts from his book Ready for Dessert. “Be sure to let frosting sit until room temperature to thicken. That was somehow omitted from the book, although seems evident ;)” he wrote.

Yes, sir!

I was giddy for a good hour over the fact that he messaged me! I love David Lebovitz!

I also loved his cake, which is remarkable since it was consumed within an hour of scarfing down a big buttery lobster roll.

The banana cake was super moist with two cups of mashed ripe bananas, sour cream, and butter. It was studded with walnuts. And it baked to a perfect consistency and didn’t get browned edges like some cakes do.

The frosting simply consisted of chocolate, espresso, and butter. You knew that would be good.

And the candied peanuts quickly crystallized after being cooked in sugar and water. After cooking, they were sprinkled with cinnamon and salt. Mine didn’t get glossy like I thought they should have—but they tasted good. That’s for sure.

I loved how the flavors were layered throughout—espresso was a hero in the frosting, but was also added as a secondary flavor to the banana cake. And there was cinnamon in both the banana cake and the candied peanuts.

I had to improvise a bit because the recipe didn’t make enough frosting to cover the sides of the cake. But whatevs, the frosting on the side of the cake is usually too much for me.

I think I’ve started a new tradition for myself: baking my own birthday cakes. (At least for as long as my mom doesn’t live in Minneapolis.)

Happy birthday, to me!

Banana Cake with Mocha Frosting and Salted Candied Peanuts, Adapted slightly from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz


2.5 c flour
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 c unsalted butter, room temp
1.5 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp espresso powder
2 large eggs, room temp
6 tbsp sour cream, room temp
2 c ripe bananas, mashed (I needed 5 bananas)
1 c toasted walnuts, chopped

Candied Peanuts

1 c  unsalted roasted peanuts
½ c sugar
3 tbsp water
½ tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon


10 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
½ c brewed espresso
10 tsbp unsalted butter, room temp

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper.

For Cake:

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and espresso powder; mix. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until blended completely each time. Add in half of the flour mixture; mix. Add in sour cream and bananas; mix. Add in rest of flour and mix until just combined. Stir in walnuts by hand.

Divide batter equally into both pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean when inserted into middle of cakes.

Let cool completely in pans.

For Peanuts:

Stir peanuts, sugar, and water together in medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Turn on heat to medium. Stir periodically until sugar starts to crystallize. At that point, turn heat down to medium-low, continuing to stir, coating all of the peanuts. (My sugar became completely crystallized quickly, and this is when I stopped.) Off heat, sprinkle with salt and cinnamon. Pour onto sheet pan to let cool.

For Frosting:

Place chocolate and espresso in bowl resting on pot of simmering water and melt the chocolate until smooth and well blended with the espresso. Off heat, whisk in butter. Let frosting cool to room temp before using.

To Assemble:

Remove cakes from pans one at a time. Place first cake down on cake plate. Pour half of frosting on the top and smooth out. Place second cake on top. Pour rest of frosting on top of second cake and smooth. Scatter one cup of the peanuts over the top.


  1. that's it...I'm going to get the book!!

  2. Sarah,
    I just found your blog, and I wanted to say that I will definitely become a regular reader! Based on your Fulton Farmer's Market post, it seems like we live in the same part of MSP, and I am excited to have someone so nearby posting about neighborhood restaurants, etc.
    Also, I took the day off work and made my own birthday cake this year, too! I chose Smitten Kitchen's almond cake with strawberry-rhubarb compote. The one you made looks delicious and pretty.
    Anyway, thanks for blogging. :)

  3. Thanks, Claire! Happy to hear I'm not the only one baking my own birthday cakes. :) Was just at FFM this morning! Love this neighborhood.