I never have dinner parties. Never. Come to think of it, I rarely have people over. I’m not sure why. I suppose the idea just stresses me out. Yet, with every new magazine or cookbook that I purchase, I highlight and dog-ear recipes and pages for dinner parties that I could be hosting, one day. What’s funny, is I bake loads of treats all the time, and bring them to people’s houses, or to work. I’ve made birthday cakes for people. Somehow, this is less stressful, although birthday cakes are key at birthday parties, so I wouldn’t want to screw that up! Then, one day, I took the plunge and decided that I’d just do it.
Actually, I’m lying a little: I hosted a dinner party at my place once, years ago, with a friend as co-host. It was a baby shower to be held a Saturday evening. The plan was to have a mock-Thanksgiving meal because the mommy-to-be was French, and she’d never had a Thanksgiving meal. The menu was seemingly simple, and included shake-and-bake chicken because I decided it would be difficult to screw up shake-and-bake, but roasting a turkey could end in trouble. Of course, there had to be hitches, like when the grocery store had no more cut-up chickens, but instead only stocked small whole roasting chickens. In advance of the party, this seemed like no problem to me: just cut up the chickens into individual portions, then shake, and bake. I had never cut up a whole chicken in my life. How stupid was I to think I could just cut up a chicken? Oh, and I also thought it brilliant to go apple picking the day of the party. Nothing was ready, and yet I went apple picking. Needless to say, guests arrived on time, but I was behind schedule. I had whole chickens to cut up in front of everyone, and loads of sweat and stress to deal with. The thought of that night makes me cringe. It’s been about 3 years since that baby shower.
My menu was simple: lentil soup, beet wellingtons, sticky toffee banana cake for dessert. But then, my mom and I discussed that the soup would be even better with fresh bread, so I added RLB‘s butter-dipped dinner rolls to my menu. I also decided to make the puff pastry from scratch. And since a single wellington on a plate would look a little puny, I added a salad to my prep-list. The banana cake recipe also had a quick-and-easy toffee sauce to go with it. Why not? Plus, I don’t want people to be hungry while waiting for things to cook, and thus crudités and dip were added to my list. My excitement got the best of me, and my “simple” menu exploded!
Voici the revised menu: crudités and cauliflower hummus, lentil soup with butter-dipped dinner rolls, individual beet wellingtons (rolled in homemade puff pastry) served with a fattoush salad, banana cake with maple toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream (not homemade; at least I had the good sense not to add homemade ice cream to my ambitious prep list! Then again, I’m 100% sure that making ice cream would have been way easier than making puff pastry and beet wellingtons….).
The morning of my dinner party day, when I couldn’t get my beet wellingtons to seal, I contemplated vodka shots. I knew it was only 9AM at that point, so probably not the right time to start drinking, but I had a crisis on my hand! My dinner party was unraveling at the seams! Literally! Was it too late to turn back? I contemplated just not answering the door bell when it rang! Avoiding and ignoring is the mature solution, right?
Finally, I just did what I could, and after a few sloppier assemblies, I got better. I ended up with eight miniature beet wellingtons to be stored in the fridge for later. And, go figure, when the time came, they baked up beautifully.
The food was a hit, as you can see, especially the banana cake topped with toffee sauce and thin slices of banana flambéed in rum. V graciously offered to flambée the banana slices. She really loves fire so we used lots of rum (with the lid of the pot nearby in case of trouble).
Since the beet wellington recipe needs some work (in terms of perfecting the amount of filling and pastry to use), I’m only going to post the fabulous cake recipe (tweaked from Bon Appétit’s March 2011 issue, page 103). If you want more information on the wellingtons, you can always message me and I’ll fill you in on the details.
Sticky maple toffee banana cake
For the maple toffee sauce:
- 1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
- 1/2 cup maple syrup medium grade
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 –2 tbsp spiced rum
For the banana cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1 cup mashed banana I used 4 small frozen bananas, thawed to room temperature before mashing
- 1 tbsp spiced rum
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Banana cake it can be rewarmed in a low-temp oven
- Warm toffee sauce
- 1 banana you can flambée the banana, if you love fire, sliced thinly
- Vanilla ice cream we used some yummy <a href="http://www.coconutbliss.com/coconut-bliss-products/vanilla-island" rel="nofollow">vegan vanilla-flavored coconut ice cream</a>
For the maple toffee sauce:
In a medium saucepan, bring the toffee sauce ingredients to a boil over medium heat, whisking often.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the sauce gently simmer for about 15 minutes, until it’s reduced to about 1 1/2 cups. Be sure to keep stirring the sauce to avoid it sticking to and burning on the bottom of the pan.
The sauce is ready when it coats the back of a wooden spoon. When the pan is off the heat, add the rum.
You can either use it right away or store it in the fridge for the next day. Just reheat it in the microwave for a minute or so.
For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8×8-inch square, metal baking pan (a brownie pan). Be sure to tap out the excess flour.
Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. Set aside for later.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the brown sugar until smooth.
Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well with each addition, and scraping down the bowl as needed.
Add the mashed banana, rum, and vanilla, and mix well.
With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients slowly, in 4 additions, scraping down the bowl between additions. Mix the batter until the flour is combined.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 35–38 minutes (or until a tester comes out clean).
Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Pour half a cup of the toffee sauce over the hot cake, and return the pan to the oven.
Continue baking for 6 minutes. The sauce will bubble,
Remove the pan from the oven, and let the cake cool slightly (if serving warm), or completely (if serving later) in the pan.
Cut the cake into 9 servings.
Serve each piece of cake with several spoonfuls of warm toffee sauce, a couple slices of banana, and a scoop of ice cream.
Pass around the toffee sauce because your guests will want more.