I have the pleasure of working with one of the nicest, sweetest, warmest, best-looking and most vulgar people I have ever met. He is Luciano, the bartender at the Peruvian restaurant where I make desserts. Seeing him, as I am ending my shift and he is beginning his, always brightens my day. He greets me with a huge hug, asks me how I’m doing, then shows me a picture on his iPhone of his latest conquest’s erect manhood, or a shot of him in full drag. Then he moves on to flirt mercilessly with the homophobic kitchen staff before setting up the bar for an evening of mixing pisco sours andcaipirinhas.
I love grilling Lucy about Brazilian desserts, mainly to hear his gorgeous accent. He taught me that ‘bolo’ means cake, and confided that his favorite desserts are ones made with bananas. (Then he took hold of one and spent several minutes making lewd gestures with it.) When I found this recipe for bolo de banana inMani Niall’s bookSweet!,a vibrant collection of recipes using every sweetener you can imagine, I knew I’d have to bake some for Lucy. I fell in love with Mani all over again when I turned these stunning cakelets, fragrant with rum, butter and molasses, out of their pans.
Lucy on the other hand, well, I’m always in love with him.
Aside from my meat phobias and a certain pesto incident many years ago, I am not a particularly picky eater. I am, however, picky about bananas. (Look, I didn’t mean that in a dirty way, ok?) They have to be perfectly yellow for me to want to eat them. (Not dirty!) A bit green, and they taste pithy, but bespotted and soft they lose their appeal (uh.. get it?). Since there is only so much banana bread a person can eat, I often end up looking for unique ways to use up slightly overly ripe fruit.
Unlike banana bread, here there are no bananas in the batter. Instead, butter and the brown sugar of your choice (muscovado, panela, or plain old dark brown) are melted together in the bottom of muffin cups, and banana slices are arranged on the bottoms and sides.
A simple oil-based cake batter laced with rum and more brown sugar is added, and minutes later you are the lucky recipient of a dozen luscious banana cakes. (Now all you need is a hot Brazilian cabana boy to feed them to you.)
These cakelets remind me of really easy sticky buns, with bananas instead of nuts. They bake up golden, gooey and tender with the tang of dark rum in the batter cutting the sweetness of the cake. They are fun and easy to make, and would look impressive at a brunch buffet, with or whithout a Latin theme. Or serve them warm with a scoop of ice cream for a warmly satisfying dessert.
These cakes are best the day they are made, when they are handsome and golden, but they can be kept for several days at room temp or in the fridge and reheated before serving.
Banana Rum Upside-down Cakelets
Adapted from Sweet! by Mani Niall
Makes 1 dozen
vegetable oil, for greasing the pans
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) salted or unsalted butter, cut into 12 equal pieces
1/2 cup packed grated panela (or muscovado or dark brown sugar)
4 ripe bananas, peeled, sliced diagonally into 12 pieces each
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cuppacked grated panela (or muscovado or dark brown sugar)
1/3 cup vegetable oil (such as sunflower)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons half and half or milk
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º.
Lightly oil 12 standard muffin tins with the vegetable oil. Place a piece of butter and 2 teaspoons of the sugar in the bottom of each cup. Place in the oven for 10 minutes, until the mixture is melted and bubbling. Remove the pan and let cool slightly. Arrange two banana slices on the bottom and two along the sides of each muffin cup.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Whisk together the sugar, oil, eggs, dairy, rum and vanilla in a separate bowl, then stir the wets into the dries until just combined. Spoon the batter into the cups; it will come almost to the top of the pans.
Bake the cakelets for 15 – 20 minutes, until puffed, golden, and springy when pressed with a finger. Immediately turn the cakes out onto a pan; they will be drippy and messy! Cool at least 10 minutes, and serve warm or at room temperature.