Sweet Complexity: Banana-Carrot Cake with Buttermilk-Passion Fruit Ice Cream

On our last night in Nimes, we embarked on our pre-dinner stroll. The purpose of these walks was not only to build up our appetite, but a way for me to scope out a good place to eat. We struck gold when we stumbled upon a South African restaurant, which may sound like a weird choice in France, but since it is a cuisine that is exotic both to us Americans and the French, this restaurant sure wasn’t a tourist trap. In the two hours that followed we were treated to excellent aperitifs, fabulous seafood, and most importantly mind-blowing deserts. What I really enjoyed was how they took otherwise simple deserts and propelled them to the next level. For example, I had a banana-carrot cake with a cactus pear and lemongrass sorbet, and a chilled melon and berry soup. The presentation was stunning enough but being able to enjoy all of those thrilling flavors at once was purely exhilarating. Almost immediately, I knew I had to recreate these flavors at home.

I started building up my rendition of the banana and carrot cake by starting with my go to banana bread recipe because it creates a loaf that is just as moist and tender as any cake would be. To bring together the marriage of a banana bread and carrot cake, I added shredded carrot, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts. On the banana bread side I added fresh vanilla bean to really bring out that natural woodsiness in the spice. When I pulled the loaf out of the oven and hour later, I was greeted with a warm loaf filled with comforting flavors that want to hug you. The carrots combined with the warmth of cinnamon complements the sweet flavors of the banana and vanilla really well. As always, the chopped walnuts provide a pleasingly perfect textural crunch, and what is a carrot cake without nuts? Like I mentioned earlier, the loaf is tender, but it still holds up well enough to work as a breakfast bread as well.

As I had made sorbet recently, I really wanted to make some ice cream to go with the cake. This buttermilk ice cream is just as rich and creamy as any common variety ice cream would be, but the addition of buttermilk and passionfruit puree adds a wonderfully tangy note to this ice cream that pairs well with the sweetness of the cake. I also like the faint caramel flavor, contributed by using raw Demerara sugar, which also gives the ice cream a slight tan color.

Passionfruit is an exotic fruit that is widely grown in tropical areas of South America, Southeast Asia, Africa and Australia. It has a flavor that can best be described as a cross between an apricot and a mango. It’s definitely one of the flavors which linger on your tongue for while after you have eaten it, and that makes it all the more addicting. The fruit on its own is quite sour, so I simmered some passionfruit pulp with
sugar, cornstarch, and corn syrup to create a bit of a passionfruit syrup. I swirled some into the ice cream and then and then drizzled a little extra on top of desert before serving.

All of these flavors create a rather complex desert and surprisingly enough, they all work beautifully together. Each flavor holds up on its own, and this ends up being a sweet treat which you can savor all summer long.

Recipe: Banana and Carrot Cake with Buttermilk-Passionfruit Ice Cream and Passionfruit Drizzle

Ingredients

For the Cake:

  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 3/4 cup vegetable/canola oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Ice Cream (Adapted from Bon Appetit):

  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

For the Passionfruit Syrup:

  • 1 cup frozen passionfruit pulp
  • 3 tablespoons raw sugar
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoons corn syrup

Method:

For the Cake: Preheat an oven to 325 degrees Farenheit. Grease a 9X5X3 inch loaf pan with butter or nonstick spray. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat together the sugar, bananas, carrots, oil, and eggs until well incorporated. Then add the cinnamon and vanilla bean seeds and mix. Lightly beat in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and then fold it in by hand until the batter is well incorporated. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for about 60-70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted through the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely.

For the Ice Cream: Chill a medium-sized bowl in the freezer until cold, about 1 hour. Whisk the egg yolks in another medium metal bowl or stand mixer. Combine the cream, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Gradually whisk in half of the hot cream mixer into the egg yolks, then return the mixture to the saucepan. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Pour the cold buttermilk into the chilled bowl and then strain in the custard. Mix with the vanilla extract. Chill the mixture uncovered in the fridge for about 2 hours, till it is cold. Pour the custard into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Most machines take about 20 to 25 minutes to freeze the ice cream. Five minutes before the ice cream is done, throw in four to five spoons of the passion fruit syrup, and allow it to swirl into the mixture. Transfer the completed ice cream into a freezer container and freeze until firm, 6 hours to overnight. If you prefer your ice cream with more of a soft-serve consistency, then you can enjoy within 3 to 4 hours of freezing.

For the Passionfruit Syrup: Combine the frozen passionfruit pulp, sugar, corn starch, and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking continuously, till the mixture has thickened. Allow the syrup to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours till it is cold.

Dessert Assembly: Place a slice of the cake on a plate. You can warm it up for a bit if you so desire. Place a scoop of ice cream on top and drizzle with the passionfruit syrup. Serve immediately.

Cooking Notes:

  • Raw sugar, also known as turbinado or Demerara sugar, is an unprocessed sugar that has a molasses-like color and aroma, much like brown sugar. It can be found at most grocery stores and natural foods stores
  • Frozen passionfruit pulp can be found seasonally at some grocery stores. (For those of you who live in the Chicagoland area I have seen it at both Dominick’s and Caputo’s). I used the Goya brand. If you live in an area where fresh passionfruits are available, then you can make pulp yourself by scooping out the passionfruit seeds and innards and heating them in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Once a juice has formed, strain the mixture to get a smooth liquid.
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