I’ve known Hannah since we were young, like really young. Braces young. Even training bras young. And though we went to school together for many, many years, I never really got to know her- that is until I moved to New York. I was lucky enough to develop a friendship with Hannah during my brief time in the Big Apple. I had a hard time meeting and making friends there, but Hannah definitely made things easier for me. Honestly one of the sweetest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, she was always reaching out and inviting me places. One of my favorite memories with her in New York was going to the Big Apple Barbeque Block Party. Rows upon rows of barbeque vendors from all over the US were there to share their finger lickin’ ribs and pulled pork, even some Texas standards such as The Salt Lick, which if you’re from Texas, you’ve no doubt heard about and hopefully had a chance to try- seriously good stuff.
It was actually at this block party that Hannah planted the seed, urging me to start my own blog writing about food and cooking, which is wherein my true passion lies. Before then, I was pretty oblivious to the world of blogging, but her suggestion intrigued me, and a couple months later I took Hannah’s advice and opened myself up to a whole new world of food blogging, a world I didn’t even know existed. But exploring this new world of virtual foodie friends and followers and writing and tweeting (twitting...?) about my culinary adventures, has allowed me to discover a new passion for writing, one that I didn’t even know I had, and that is, of course, thanks to Hannah.
I may have chosen to leave New York and return to the South, but that doesn’t mean my whole time spent up north was a waste or that it left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not bitter about my time there. I actually had some fantastic experiences and was introduced to quite a few things, besides the smell of subways or how quickly rage could consume me when trying to fight my way trough the sea of people in Times Square. It was in New York that I had my first encounter with a farmer’s market, which is hard to believe considering my immense love for local and fresh ingredients.
I guess living in Dallas, the farmer’s markets here were always a destination, where as in New York, every time I stepped out in Union Square (after making my brief, but painful commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan) there were throngs of people scoping out what the vendors on that particular day had to offer. I’d always stroll- ok rush, I hate crowds- up and down the congested aisles, stopping every so often to linger over a particular piece of produce, but never making a purchase.
I had always thought farmer’s market purchases were supposed to be cheaper, encouraging folks to buy local instead of the chemical soaked copies that stock the grocery stores. Alas, the minuscule budget I lived on in New York did not allow me to enjoy the organic fruits and vegetables farmers from upstate had worked so hard to haul down into the city. So a couple of weeks ago I decided to wake up early- on a Saturday (gasp!) no less- and drive all the way to downtown Dallas to check out the Dallas Farmer’s Market.
I was like a kid in a candy store, except this candy store wouldn’t give me a stomachache or rot my teeth. There were so many choices of plump, juicy red Texas tomatoes, enormous green onions, the most delicious watermelon I’ve ever had, and some new little round “8-ball”squash that I had never seen before.
And not to brag or anything, but the farmer’s markets in Texas have got it right, on the prices that is. A bucket of 16 tomatoes cost $2! Ahhh, visions of bruschetta are dancing through my head…
Another newbie for me in New York, although quite less profound, was the side by side escalators, one of which was for your shopping cart. You New Yorkers, no doubt, know exactly what I’m talking about, while most Texans, I’m sure, don’t have a clue- that is unless you’ve made a trip to the brand spanking new Whole Foods that opened on Park Lane. My mom and I first encountered these escalators during our venture out to the Target on Flatbush, deep in the heart of Brooklyn- and man do I mean deep. My mom and I were pretty astounded at these escalators, which I guess is pretty silly, but that’s how we country bumpkins react to that fancy New York City stuff- ha.
The idea of 24/7 delivery, of absolutely anything, was also new to me in New York. Although I was only exposed to this luxury for a brief time, and this luxury was also “limited” to me living in Brooklyn, it has still spoiled me rotten, right to my core. There have been many, many nights that I have found myself lying on my couch, paralyzed with laziness, wondering what I should have delivered for dinner, and upon making my decision, only then do I realize that I don’t even have that option. There are sadly very few places that will deliver, and even fewer that do so past 9 pm. In New York, you could have groceries, wine, greasy Chinese food, and even toothpaste delivered at 4 am if necessary. How dare Plano make me get in my car and drive all the way to the nearest Asian take-out.
Bakeries were obviously not introduced to me during my time in New York, but the immense amount of them was. I probably could have a tried a different bakery each week during my year there and though I tried quite a few of them, there were more than a few that I never had a chance to sample. However, the two bakeries that really resonated with me were the two darlings of New York City: Billy’s Bakery and Magnolia Bakery. The two have long held an infamous rival with one another and it’s easy to see why. The cupcakes, which were basically made famous by Magnolia with thanks to Sex and the City, were, while delicious, not the real reason why I would frequent these bakeries. (But for anyone wondering which cupcake I favor of the two… I’d have to go with Billy’s- the actual cake of the cupcake is much lighter.) No, it wasn’t the cupcakes that kept me coming back, not even with their towers of buttercream. At Billy’s, it was their heavenly banana cake with cream cheese frosting.
I remember the exact moment that I had put that first bite into my mouth. I had just come from the Bronx Zoo and decided to take a detour to Billy’s Bakery. I took my tired self home, from the Bronx, to Chelsea, and all the way back to Brooklyn, climbed the stairs to my 3rd story apartment, and before I even allowed myself to sit down, I took that first fateful bite of banana cake. It really was life changing. The creamy, tangy frosting paired with the impossibly moist cake with small bits of banana baked through, (pause to wipe drool) literally made me weak in the knees. Like I said, heavenly. Then there is Magnolia Bakery, that has my second and third favorite desserts, and, oddly enough, one of them is also made of bananas. The banana pudding there is insane. It’s not your grandma’s banana pudding. The other dessert is the red velvet cheesecake. I had never heard of red velvet cheesecake before this. And I love red velvetanything. And I adore cheesecake. So this particular dessert had high standards to live up to. It did not disappoint, but rather soared right past those expectations.
While I do feel a little sad reminiscing about those delectable desserts from such charming bakeries, don’t feel too sorry for me. Dallas has some quality competitors. I ordered a cake for my mom’s 50th birthday from Society Bakery, but this wasn’t just any old cake. This was a chocolate, turtle, caramel, gooey, rich- did I mention chocolate?- cake. It was pretty darn awesome. While I was there picking up the cake, I of course also had to pick up a couple other goodies, a couple of cupcakes and some petit-fours. The petit-fours are definitely where it’s at. The cupcakes were somewhat forgettable for me. If you want a good cupcake in Dallas, check out Dimple’s, they’re delicious and jumbo sized which is always a plus. I mean, is there such a thing as too much cupcake?
I still haven’t found a worthy replacement of the banana cake, however. So making my own would have to suffice. My recipe for Banana Cake is a good enough substitute, so I invite you to indulge in your own “Billy’s Bakery” moment. For me, it’s like having a little slice of NYC, where each bite allows memories to come flooding back. I can’t promise the same for you, but it’s worth a shot. The frosting alone, if nothing else, is worth it.
I’ll be back next Friday with a follow up post on more New York memories and another NYC inspired recipe.
(Banana Cake recipe follows)
Heavenly Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Inspired by Billy's Bakery
Crisco for greasing pans
2 3/4 cups cake flour (plus more for pans), sifted
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sour cream
5 ripe bananas
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1. Grease and flour 3, 9-inch round cake pans; set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350º F.
2. Mash the bananas with a fork in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine; set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the eggs and oil and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened; do not beat.
4. Gently stir in the sour cream, banana mixture, pecans, walnuts, and vanilla. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and place in the oven. Set a pan of water on the rack below the cakes; it will help to keep the cakes moist. Bake for 23-28 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake layers in the pans for 10 minutes, and then turn them out onto a rack to cool completely.
5. Once completely cooled, assemble, fill and frost the cake. Sprinkle with additional chopped pecans or walnuts. Enjoy!
(cream cheese frosting recipe follows)
Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe Courtesy of Paula Deen
2, 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts
1. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth in consistency, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar and continue to beat until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.
2. The pecans/walnuts can be stirred into the frosting or reserved to sprinkle on top of the frosted cake.