Gourmet No-Bake Banana Split Cake

A slice of banana split cake on a white plate with the entire cake in the background

PINEAPPLE CONFESSIONS:
Never have I ever dissected a whole pineapple.  Me – the woman who whips up her own marshmallows, won’t buy jarred caramel sauce when homemade tastes so much better, who measures out and combines 16 ingredients over 2 days to concoct her own vermouth  recipe – can’t be bothered to dismember an innocuous pineapple.  In the produce section, faced with the choice of intact pineapple or flayed and filleted cylinder,  I’ve always chosen the latter,  gladly plonking down a few extra quid for the convenience.  During my childhood, we often enjoyed fresh pineapple in our home on Nutwood street.  I remember mom deftly slicing off crown and bottom,  paring off the skin, gouging out the brown eyes, carving the pineapple carcass into equal disks, removing the core,  and then ultimately chopping the remaining succulent flesh into chunks to be devoured after dinner.  My mouth would water at the sweet, tart, tropical scent wafting from the kitchen.  To assuage my longing to savor a hunk of the golden flesh,  mom would hand me scraps of the core to suck and gnaw on while she worked.  A poor surrogate for the fleshy real McCoy, these woody nobs with mere hints of juicy tartness managed to sate my desire until after I had cleaned my dinner plate.  Perhaps watching mom wrestle with this bromeliad beast turned me off from the dismemberment process.   It’s always seemed like too much work and  too much waste compared to the juicy payoff.  I was faced with this pineapple dilemma when purchasing ingredients for the following recipe.  Convenience won out again. 

TODAY’S RECIPE:
With another nod to edible nostalgia,  I’ve whipped up one more sweet treat from my childhood.  The actual name of this dessert is “Banana Split Cake,”  but, growing up, it was known around our house as “Happy Easter Cake,” because mom would often serve this dessert after Easter dinner, spelling out “Happy Easter” with garishly bright red maraschino cherries on the top.  My favorite part of this cake was the decadent second layer, which I believed to be pure butter and confectioners’ sugar – should I be relieved to know now that it also contained cream cheese to, um, cut the richness?  Always one to gild the lily,  I’ve spiffed up mom’s recipe substituting fresh pineapple for the original canned, freshly whipped cream for Cool Whip®, luxurious Luxardo maraschino cherries for the grocery store variety, and I toasted the raw pecans. 


Gourmet No-Bake Banana Split Cake

Close your eyes and take a bite. You’ll be reminded of a banana split when the ice cream begins to melt and the flavors meld. For a twist, my mom added a layer of tart, homemade raspberry jam between the banana and pineapple layer for an added jolt of color and flavor. I've kept it out of this version.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 15 full sheets of crackers)
  • pinch salt
  • Filling
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) cream cheese
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups finely chopped fresh pineapple, well drained
  • 4 ripe bananas, sliced
  • 1 ½ cups whipping cream
  • 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 16 Luxardo maraschino cherries, drained and patted dry
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled

Directions

  1. Melt ½ cup (1 stick) butter and combine with graham cracker crumbs and salt. Press firmly into the bottom of a 9×13” pan.
  2. Beat together remaining ½ cup (1 stick) butter with cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and salt 3-4 minutes until fluffy. Spread evenly over graham cracker crust. Layer with chopped pineapple then bananas.
  3. Whip whipping cream with 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar. Cover bananas with whipped cream and garnish with Luxardo maraschino cherries and chopped pecan.
  4. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Frango Semifreddo

A small frango Semifreddo with a pink plate holding more on the side.

TODAY’S MUSINGS:
Oh, my goodness.  I’m seated at my desk astonished that it has been four months since I’ve practiced my writing exercises,  over three months since I’ve posted on this blog, and well over a month since I’ve attempted writing anything at all.  How has this lag happened?  If only I could blame it on a busy life and blossoming relationship, but those are pathetic excuses.  If I have time to watch Netflix,  I have time to write.  And, full disclosure,  I have plenty of time for Netflix.  So,  what’s the impediment?  Writing for me, alas,  is a lot like my efforts at a consistent gym schedule. It’s good for me; it’s something I need to do, I’m frequently satisfied with the long-term results, but I’m not wholly convinced I actually enjoy the process.  “Write” is on my daily to-do list,  yet the climb from contemplation to commencement is a monumental crag to ascend, necessitating further tenacity when the words on the page fail to satisfy me.  After a hiatus, after putting my pen down for far too long,  the first few visits to my writer’s retreat are a trudge…a snail’s pace on a treadmill while staring at a blank wall.  I want these efforts to be fruitful, expecting to see the contours of my writer’s muscles reflected on the page immediately, yet I often gaze upon flabby dreck even following an entire afternoon’s hard labor.  It takes consistent, focused determination to settle myself and put words on the page without expectation of an inspired outcome.  It takes a few sessions before I’m once again caught in a rhythm of writing and re-writing,  before it becomes part of my day and begins to feel natural, as if I was meant to do this.  If I practice, I will, eventually, produce results.  I will write and write and, in due course, dare to label myself “writer” once more, until, a distraction throws me off  yet again – a vacation, a need to work late, a new interest – and then, before I realize what has happened,  it’s four months later,  the season has changed,  and my writer’s muscles have atrophied again. After yet another hiatus, I will sit astounded in front of the recriminating blank page, admonishing myself for veering so widely from my decided path yet again.

One of my many barriers to writing consistently is the obvious fact that my writing is at its best when I am indignant over some personal affront. When I am passionately righteous in my position,  the words flow from my fingers to the page as if the tap of a deep, dark, underground well has been cranked wide open.  Yet,  I cannot live in a world of perpetual righteous indignation for the sake of writing.  The tap runs dry, the wound scars over,  the damage, if not repaired, is razed for rebuilding.  My obsession over others’ wrongs slowly fades away into “who cares?” and with this diminishing ire, my muse also dissipates. It’s difficult to write when my life is on track. Of course, I can always tap into that faintly festering swamp of ancient hurts and childhood traumas, but it’s not pleasant spending one’s down time perpetually slogging through the mire. 

Writing,  for me, never comes easy. Never.  Even when the words flow,  there is rewriting to be done and, even when the writing is good and I complete a piece, splaying myself on the page,  I hobble from this desk, sore and a bit delirious with stiff joints and cloudy brain, not prepared to reemerge into the world outside my writer’s retreat.  The process is never straightforward for me, and yet it beckons.  So,  after four months away,  I am hunched over my laptop again,  rusty in my attempt to make these words sing, tinkering with each sentence in hopes you can relate to what I’m trying to say.  I’ve renewed my membership, returning to my writer’s gym, gently, tentatively stretching these muscles once again. 

TODAY’S RECIPE:
When choosing desserts,  mint chip is a flavor both Mr. M and I agree on,  so when I decided to whip up a quick dessert a few weeks ago,  I recalled my mom’s iconic recipe for “Frozen Chocolate Frangos.”  These “special occasion” velvety chocolate and mint semi-frozen treats were so decadently rich, wee little Julie couldn’t finish one by herself.  I dug out my mom’s  old recipe and zhuzhed it up just a bit for an adult palate. These semifreddos are the result. NOTE: Semifreddos are made with uncooked eggs.  If this is a concern for you, substitute pasteurized eggs.


Frango Semifreddo

For those who love the combination of refreshing mint and smooth chocolate, these rich, not-too-sweet semi-frozen treats will delight your taste buds. Named after Frango mints, these melt-in-your-mouth treats are a perfect after-dinner dessert.


Ingredients

    Crust and Topping
  • 14 Chocolate wafer cookies (or Oreo cookies)
  • ⅓ cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream, Slightly sweetened and whipped
  • Mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. In a food processor, blitz cookies and toasted walnuts until finely ground. Add melted butter and blitz until crumbs begin to stick together. Reserve 2 Tablespoons of crumbs. Evenly distribute remaining crumbs between 8 lined muffin tins and lightly press into bottom of each liner. I use the bottom of a ¼ cup to help pack the crumbs into the liners.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sifted confectioner’s sugar, and salt until smooth and fluffy. Add melted chocolate and beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and peppermint extract. Beat for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until filling is very light and fluffy.
  3. Pipe filling into each muffin tin until full. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top and freeze until firm, about one hour.
  4. To serve, remove frangos from freezer and let set at room temperature for 10 minutes. Pipe with whipped cream and garnish with mint sprigs if using.

Simple Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

Two servings of rice pudding with stawberries

Today’s Musings:
My friend, Frenchy, asked me to show him photos of recent desserts that made me proud, because, “you know, you’re never happy with the outcome. You think it doesn’t taste good or the texture is off, or there’s some other issue.” Frenchy’s correct…partially. He’s a musician and should understand the creative process. I challenge him to write a song,  from beginning to end, without adjustments, without tinkering until he is pleased with it; not a piece that is “good enough” for his audience, but a work that makes him proud.  A recipe rarely comes out perfect the first time and, if it does,  it often cannot be duplicated with the same results the second or third.  Tinkering is needed.   It’s part of the process. 

Yet, I won’t deny that I’m also my worst critic.  Self-doubt and I have done battled in the ring since childhood.  Regardless of what others may think,  and I’ve heard my share of snarky comments,  this is not feigned modesty constructed in an effort to appear meek and humble or garner compliments.  Confidence has been a lifelong struggle.  I remember a fellow student in culinary school,  Michelle,  who always seemed self-assured, even when she screwed up,  even when she undercooked her shrimp or used a recipe from Epicurious and called it her own.  And,  the thing was,  Chef bought it.  Chef loved her, thought she was the best,  because she was self-confident.  I, on the other hand, have often felt I’m one step away from being found out as a fraud.  Although,  confidence does not necessarily translate into competence. 

Over these last few years over the last year,  if I’m really honest my self-confidence has improved…in my baking, in my writing, in my photography, partially due to the feedback and encouragement of my friends and readers,  but also because I’m beginning to silence that incessant critic inside me.  I may not have Michelle’s hubris yet,  but I’m trying.  I recently found the following, illustrating just how far I’ve come: 

With clammy hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, I gulp pranayama breaths of air, desperately trying to calm down. A cake box filled with my future slides around on the passenger side floor. I am running late.

I’m taking my tarts to the owner of the Steakhouse for final judgment. My worst critic, me, appraises the final products harshly. A week before, I was a proud cock, crowing about my tarts – the best key lime ever! Today, as I test and decorate them, my confidence crumbles. The key lime is too sweet and its crust is gummy. I re-bake it. The coconut cream is dry, flat, and lacking coconut flavor. I re-bake it. The lemon tart is cloudy on the surface and a little undercooked. If I had more filling, I would re-bake this one as well. I attempt to cover up its flaws with powdered sugar and whipped cream. The apricot-almond seems overcooked and lacking flavor, I also re-bake it. The hours tick by; my kitchen is a war zone with sheet-pans and counters scattered with the bodies of discarded tarts.

Can’t I call him and cancel, start over, and wait until I produce something I deem remarkable?

I can’t endure criticism and my fear of it has only grown with each new culinary plan, scheme, and pursuit. Negative comments sear my skin and positive ones bounce off the scars, unable to sink in. It’s a throwback from my youth, I am sure. In our house, crushing another’s confidence was how you buoyed your own worth and superiority. Now, the effects paralyze me.

I drive the tarts to him and gather courage in the parking lot. He gives me bottles of wine as payment for my work and we chat. He doesn’t fear failure and I admire him for that. We talk about how difficult it is to tell a vendor their product isn’t any good, like breaking up with someone – “It’s not you, it’s me!”

I can’t do it. I can’t watch as my work is judged. I ask him to taste them after I leave, share them with the staff, and call me with his feedback. I cannot endure a breakup, not from him, not now. I wait. My phone is silent and I am deflated.

– Written 2014

He finally did call.  He loved the key lime, coconut and apricot-almond. You are probably expecting one of these recipes to be listed below.  Nope, not today. 

Today’s Recipe:


Simple Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

  • Servings: About 4 half-cup servings
  • Print

Many rice pudding recipes call for raw rice and 45 minutes or more of simmering. With this recipe, you can have comforting rice pudding in less than 10 minutes.


Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cooked rice, cooled
  • ¼ t. vanilla extract or 2 teaspoons brandy

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together corn starch, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Whisk in egg, then milk, and finally cooked rice.
  2. Place saucepan on medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer for 4-5 minutes until pudding is thickened and the texture of oatmeal. Take off heat and whisk in vanilla extract or brandy. I enjoy eating rice pudding warm from the stovetop. If you prefer chilled rice pudding, place in a dish and cover with plastic wrap, ensuring the plastic wrap makes contact with the pudding surface to avoid a skin.

Frenchy’s Chocolate Raspberry Tart with Pistachio Crust

A chocolate raspberry tart with a slice on a plate

Today’s Musings:
I recognize this evening as a non-starter before I even order my Sauvignon Blanc. I realize before this ass of mine has warmed the bar stool. There’s no chemistry – no spice. I’m more interested in the cute, tattooed bartender (alas, a wedding ring) than the man beside me. Before my first sip of wine, my date has managed to “casually touch” my thigh and arm a half-dozen times during conversation. I don’t need to wear my body language decoder ring – I get it; you’re interested, now back off. Our tactile evening continues with me receiving a demonstration of his co-worker’s hugging techniques followed by an unsolicited and awkward one-handed back rub. He has unquestionably grabbed or stroked me at least three dozen times. Body language hint – if your date is slowly sliding away to regain her personal space, stop with the hands! Ten minutes into the conversation, he declares that he wants to “claim” me as his own and our next date should be in my neighborhood. Next date?! I’m squirming through this one – and I’m beginning to believe you’re stalker material as well. Okay…polite conversation, polite conversation; I can do this; just finish my wine and leave – fast. I’m out the door in 40-minutes flat, but he insists on walking me to my car. Please don’t try to hug, kiss, or molest me at my vehicle. Not surprisingly, I receive his text on the 10-minute drive home, “Good night, Sweetheart.” Sweetheart – already?! Disturbing.

Reaching the safety of home, I’m tempted to bee-line for the kitchen and bake up a batch of David Lebovitz’s chocolate chip cookies – culinary Xanax. This type of dating debacle deserves an edible pacifier – a dozen warm, gooey cookies or even a chocolate cake with thick chocolate frosting – devoured in one sitting. I content myself with a turkey sandwich and Netflix instead.

Today’s Recipe:
This recipe was especially made for my friend, Frenchy.  When it comes to dating, he’s the Jerry Seinfeld to my Elaine, always good for a few dating horror stories of his own.  But rather than chatting about our pitiful love lives over a “Big Salad,” we prefer coffee and dessert.  This one is especially for you,  Frenchy!  


Frenchy’s Chocolate Raspberry Tart with Pistachio Crust

  • Servings: One 9” tart
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The raspberry coulis is a must to help cut the richness of this decadently sinful dessert. If you love chocolate and raspberries, this dessert is for you.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 1 cup (about 10 cookies) shortbread crumbs, such as Lorna Doone
  • 1 cup pistachios, raw
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 1 lbs. dark chocolate
  • 1 ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 7 large egg yolks, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon instant espresso (optional)
  • ½ cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 12 oz. fresh raspberries
  • Raspberry Coulis
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 12 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 Tablespoon raspberry or orange liqueur (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine shortbread crumbs, pistachios, sugar and salt in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add melted butter and process until mixture begins to clump and resembles wet sand. Press crust along the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake until crust is golden and smells like roasted pistachios, about 12 minutes. Cool.
  2. Chop chocolate and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring in-between, until chocolate is fully melted, about 1 ½-2 minutes. Cool slightly.
  3. Whisk together heavy cream, beaten egg yolks, and instant espresso (if using). Add melted chocolate and whisk until fully combined.
  4. Fill crust with chocolate mixture and bake in a 350° F. oven until top is firm to the touch but center still jiggles slightly, 25-30 minutes. Cool 30 minutes and then refrigerate until completely cold.
  5. While tart is cooling, make raspberry coulis by combining sugar and water in a heat-proof liquid measuring cup. Microwave on high power for 2 minutes and stir to ensure all sugar crystals are dissolved. Combine this simple syrup with thawed raspberries in a blender. Blend until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir and push puree through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the seeds. Add liqueur, if using. Store in the refrigerator up to a week.
  6. When tart is cool, heat seedless raspberry jam in a small bowl in the microwave until it is liquid. Brush top of tart with warm jam, arrange fresh raspberries on top, and brush raspberries with more jam. Serve tart with raspberry coulis.

Triple Coconut Tart with Berries

Coconut tart with fresh berries and toasted coconut

Today’s Musings:
July 4th in my city – there’s nothing safe nor sane about it. It starts weeks prior with the random M80 explosion rocking the neighborhood, usually at 4:00 a.m., as well as the testing of mortar rockets at 7:30 a.m. before the culprits head off to work.   By the time dawn breaks on the 4th,  an alarm clock isn’t needed to wake me from my slumber.  Fire crackers, Piccalo Petes, and cherry bombs ensure I’m out of bed by 9:00 a.m.  The cacophony increases throughout the day to a crescendo of illegal sky rockets and mortars with skyward explosions akin to a war zone, overshadowing any display from my neighbor,  Disneyland. The night is punctuated by the howl of fire engines – and we wonder, “Has someone blown off a finger?  Has a wayward rocket caused a fire?” By 10 p.m., a sulfuric haze has blanketed the city and I’m thankful my roof is still intact. The next morning, a tour of my backyard reveals a smattering of detritus from the festivities – charred end caps from the mortars and thin red sticks from the sky rockets.

My dog-owning neighbors hate this time of year. I, on the other hand, delight in this reminder of my childhood and consider myself lucky to be owned by two unruffled felines, no matter how loud the blasts. This one night, my city is alive and decidedly lawless. The neighborhood celebrates with a backyard party each year – more anarchistic that patriotic, except for my choice of dessert.

Today’s Recipe:


Triple Coconut Tart with Berries

  • Servings: One 9” Tart
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Coconut in the crust, along with coconut milk and shredded coconut in the pastry cream ensures coconut lovers won’t be disappointed.


Ingredients

    Coconut Pastry Cream
  • 3 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Graham Cracker Crust
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 17 sheets)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Topping
  • Assorted fresh berries
  • ¼ cup apricot jam
  • Sweetened whipped cream
  • Toasted coconut

Directions

  1. Make coconut pastry cream: In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour, corn starch, salt, and sugar. Whisk in eggs, milk, coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until custard is very thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter and vanilla extract. Scrape into bowl, press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard, and chill in refrigerator for several hours until cool.
  2. Make graham cracker crust: Preheat oven to 350° F. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers, coconut and salt until ground into crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until combined and beginning to clump together. Press in the bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.
  3. To assemble: Spoon pastry cream into crust and smooth. Cover with fresh berries. Heat apricot jam for 1 minute in microwave and strain. Brush berries with jam, decorate with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.