Monday, December 19, 2011

Birthday (Banana Cream Pudding Peanut Butter Cookie Pie) Cake For Meem

Recently, I read an article about children consuming thousands of calories during class birthday parties and certain schools hoping to ban the unhealthy celebrations. I recalled images of store-bought vanilla ice cream cakes, oil-stained pizza boxes, and empty cups of Coca-Cola from my childhood. Simultaneously, I felt nostalgia for the pure festivity of in-class birthday parties, as well as an overwhelming feeling of disgust in regards to the choices we were given as kids. And soda. And society as a whole.  

Then, I promptly remembered my mom's upcoming birthday.... and decided to bake a cake filled with pudding.

My mom (affectionately called "Meem") is a sucker for banana pudding... but how is pudding worthy of a birthday? Why would anyone get excited over friends and family bringing out a bowl of pudding? Where would the candles go? It just wasn't conceptually working. We needed a cake. But, this birthday cake would have to be better than the artificially delicious birthday cakes of yesteryear. It would have to maintain the elements of decadence and festivity (no spinach-laden, sugar-free, grain-free cake today), but nix the stomach ache, nausea, and crash that generally followed the demolishing of a store-bought cake... and, it would have to be filled with banana pudding.

I started with a Nutter Butter pie crust, because a) I'd just discovered Nutter Butters were egg and dairy-free (yes, that's a less radical-sounding way of saying vegan) which was particularly exciting and b) there needed to be one really decadent aspect of this confection. Plus, because Nutter Butters have a creamy filling, I only needed a little bit of Earth Balance to bring it all together. It seemed decadent... but still ended up being healthier than a classic pie crust. Oh, and by the way, "classic" is the new word for "sticks and sticks of butter and white flour." I'd definitely make this crust again with banana pudding, chocolate custard, mocha pie, or with another crust on top and bananas in the middle like a sandwich. For breakfast. Moving on...

On top of the pie crust went a ring of whole-wheat banana bread/cake, because if the middle was vanilla, the outside needed to be banana (according to the imaginary laws of reincarnating banana pudding as a cake). Using bananas is a smart way to make baked goods more nutritious, because they serve as a natural sweetener and as a fat substitute that won't make anyone fat. They also deliver a healthy dose of vitamin C, B6, and potassium. Why not sneak some nutrients into a cake... I mean, we are going to end up eating vast amounts of it anyway, right? <Insert dumb joke about going bananas here> The next order of business was a simple vanilla pudding. The ingredients are few, preparation is minimal, and it contains no butter, no cream, and no gelatin. Oh, and it's really good. (Paula Dean is turning in her grave right now... wait, she's not dead yet? That's awkward.) Anyway, it firms up pretty quickly, so you'll probably need to run it through the food processor before serving, unless you want to eat it in chunk form.
Why not just use this fabulous box of Jell-O Instant Vanilla Pudding? How dare you ask that, reader! Unless you're in the business of ingesting disodium phosphate and tetrasodium pyrophosphate, of course. They're both lovely alkaline chemicals which cause skin and eye irritation in humans, and "severe irritation and corneal injury in the rabbit eye"... it's always nice to see that scientists are using lab animals for a worthy cause (scoff). 

Jell-O also contains Yellow 5 & 6. The former is actually called tartrazine, and causes the most reactions of all the azo dyes. People who do have an intolerance to Yellow 5 are often also allergic to aspirin and develop migraines, blurred vision, itching, weakness, heatwaves, feeling of suffocation, insomnia and purple skin patches as a result of ingestion. Sexy. The latter is manufactured from petroleum. Yes, refined, chemically-altered petroleum is now considered a food ingredient. Last but not least, there's BHA, a preservative that the state of California has officially listed as a carcinogen and that countless furry creatures involuntarily sacrificed their lives for during testing. Syrian golden hamsters died of cancer for this Jell-O, people. If that's not a good enough incentive to avoid this powder, I don't know what is. Besides, everything tastes better when it's homemade. 

Cookie crumbs on bananas on pudding on cookie crumbs on bananas on pudding on bananas on crust, surrounded by a cake fortress.
Don't hesitate to just use the pie crust, make a bowl of pudding, or bake a cake in a normal shape. There's no obligation to construct this whole, giant confection. Feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.

Meem's Birthday (Banana Cream Pudding Peanut Butter Cookie Pie) Layer Cake:

The night before:
Nutter Butter Crust-
- 11 Nutter Butters
- 3 tbsp Earth Balance, melted 
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pulse cookies in the food processor until crumby, then blend in Earth Balance and vanilla extract. Press into the bottom of a spring form pan and bake for 5 minutes. Cool at room temperature, then refrigerate.

Banana Cake Ring-
- 1 C whole wheat flour
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp Stevia (you can use more brown sugar if you don't have Stevia)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 3-4 tbsp oil
- 2 large, ripe bananas, mashed 
- 1/4 C almond milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and stevia in a bowl. In a large bowl, combine beat together sugar and oil, then add mashed bananas. Stir in almond milk and vanilla, then gradually add in the flour mixture. Make a ring of cake batter on top of the Nutter Butter crust by placing a round casserole dish (or other oven safe mold that's approximately 2 inches smaller in diameter than the spring form pan) in the middle of the crust, then fill cake batter in around the sides. For a regular cake, just pour batter into a spring form or other cake mold. Then, bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool at room temperature.

Vanilla Pudding-
- 1/2 C sugar
- 1/4 tsp stevia
- 1/4 C + 2 tbsp corn starch
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 C almond milk
- 1 tbsp vanilla
Blend together milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a food processor. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly until thickened. Reduce heat to a simmer for another minute, the remove from stove and stir in vanilla. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, then blend in a food processor before serving.

Day of serving: 
- 3 ripe bananas
- 11 Nutter Butters, divided
- Vanilla wafers, optional

Slice one banana and layer it along the bottom of the cookie crust. Pour chilled vanilla pudding into a food processor and blend until smooth, then pour half of the vanilla pudding on top of the bananas. Slice another banana and layer it on top of the vanilla pudding. In a food processor, blend the 8 Nutter Butters to form coarse crumbs, then layer on top of the sliced bananas, followed by the other half of vanilla pudding. In a food processor, blend 3 Nutter Butters into very fine crumbs, then sprinkle evenly over the top of the vanilla pudding/banana cake ring. Slice the last banana and use with the vanilla wafers to make a decorative ring or flower in the center. 
Essentially, the layers should go like this: Nutter Butter crust, 1 sliced banana, 1/2 the vanilla pudding, 1 sliced banana, 8 crushed nutter butters, other 1/2 of the vanilla pudding, nutter butter sprinkling, 1 sliced banana and vanilla wafers (all in the middle of a banana cake ring). Serves 10 at 350 calories per slice. 

It didn't last long enough for pretty pictures... hopefully yours won't either. Enjoy.