Saturday, July 08, 2006

When you can't beat them

I have been ranting about the border-on-madness refined sugar consumption of the Argentines. In the past year, I have braved many dry and coarse birthday cakes, saturated with sugar syrup, then topped with an inch thick of dulce de leche. They were simply diabolical, or it was just my untrained taste-buds, not tough enough to handle all that sugary gunk.

One year on, I still think the Rogel (thick layers of dulce de leche sandwiched between layers of tough pastry – to compare it to a millefueille would be an insult to French patisserie) is an awful culinary invention. I would still prefer to dip my spoon in homemade Nutella or Whole Food Planet's organic sugar-free peanut butter than dulce de leche any day. However, the Argentine taste is not going to change for me so if I can't beat them, and boy, have I tried...I feel I have to at least acknowledge some elements in their national psyche.

It was with this frame of mind that I acquired my first jar of dulce de leche last week. Yes, yes, it was surreal that I actually handed over money for some overcooked milk and sugar, mixed with colour and flavour enhancing agents – real gourmet stuff. I had little idea what to do with it at first; Guillermo who couldn't believe his luck, had dollops of that brown gloop with bananas after dinner.

Actually it was his concoction that gave me the idea for some cupcakes. I thought I would model my creation after an extremely popular ice cream flavour named Banana Split. It is a flavour, not a sundae, with banana ice cream, dulce de leche ripples and chocolate chips.

Since our lovely graphic designer, Valeria and our mighty Chinese masseuse, Diana were both coming Friday afternoon, I relished the opportunity of having willing guinea pigs and got to work immediately.

I knew Diana was likely to declare cream cheese too "damp" forming so I baked a small loaf of banana & white chocolate cake for her. I adapted my recipe from Bill Granger's but replaced butter with sunflower oil and slashed the amount of sugar by half. The remaining mixture went into my newly acquired paper cups from Doña Clara (see previous post).

The loaf cake came out golden, with an intense fug of gooey banana; it was going to be something different for Diana. This slender Chinese lady has the most amazing pair of hands, they are huge! I find the two and a half hours of deep tissue, acupuncture massage tough to handle; I refer to it as my session in the torture chamber. However, it is no ordinary massage but a treatment to release toxins and tension through pressure along one's meridians, I always feel brilliant, completely detoxed the following day.

The cupcakes turned out well in our gas oven. I have learnt to watch anything baking in that oven like a hawk; it is a great oven for roasting but there is no temperature dial to control the heat, I have to leave the arrow pointing somewhere between max. and min.

After these blonde babies had cooled down, I performed my simple surgery on them with a paring knife - I cut out a cone shaped piece of cake in the middle to create cavity for a tiny dollop of ducle de leche. Then I placed the cones back. To hide the cut, I piped a mound of white chocolate cream cheese icing on top. I had tried different nozzles giving more fancy effects but have since gone back to the plain big one which gives a simple, fat dollop like a soft serve ice cream. I think there is a rustic cuteness to the shape.

I was being kneaded and tortured by Diana while Guillermo met with Valeria. When my session finished, Valeria had long gone but Guillermo came in and told me the cupcakes were the most successful to date!

These Banana Split cupcakes may not be as exotic as my Chocolate Chai Latte ones with Chai Latte cream but I think they captured the essence of the Argentine palate.

Banana & White Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups plain 0000 flour
2 tsp baking powder
120ml sunflower oil
1/2 cup caster sugar
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
150g white chocolate, chopped into small chunks

Preheat oven to 180C. Place paper cups in a 12-hole muffin tin.

Sift flours, baking powder and nutmeg in a large bowl. Mix softened butter and sugar in another bowl, add bananas and eggs. Now add this mixture to the flour mixture and stir well. Fold in the chocolate chunks. Pour the mixture evenly into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 25min.
Move cupcakes to a wire rack to cool.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing

80g white chocolate, melted
320g queso blanco/ cream cheese
a pinch of ground nutmeg
icing sugar

Mix cream cheese with melted white chocolate. Gradually add icing sugar to the mixture until you get the desired piping consistency and sweetness.

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