Palma did me a big favor this week by choosing the Grappa-Soaked Mini Sponge Cakes for our Sunday Slow Bakers challenge. You see, unbeknownst to Palma, I needed to bring a dessert to a dinner party and these fit the bill perfectly. This dinner party is with a group of three other couples who love to cook and eat. We meet once a quarter, rotating the locations so that we each host once a year. The host makes the main course and the other couples bring a dish. (You can read about when it was my turn to host here.) This time it was my turn to bring a dessert. Oh, and there is always a theme. This time the theme was exotic.
Now, Grappa-Soaked Mini Sponge Cakes are fairly exotic, but for my purposes I ended up making a few substitutions, a few additions and luckily everything turned out well. My apologies to Gina DePalma for tinkering with her lovely recipe, but sometimes you're just forced to experiment.
To start off, I didn't have the mini bundt cake pans that the recipe called for. I probably should have just bought a couple on Amazon, but I waited until the last minute thinking that my local Williams-Sonoma would carry them. When I finally got into the store to check, they didn't have any. I ended up picking up a mini shortcake pan at World Market. I liked the idea of the indented top that you could fill with fruit, so I figured it was a practical enough substitution.
The next hitch in the plan was that I didn't have any grappa in the house. So they didn't end up grappa soaked either. I did have a bottle of a delicious pistachio liqueur that I used to soak them with, and in the cake batter I used a vanilla rum. The batter came together easily and since I only had one pan of six shortcakes, I baked a couple batches. If I were to do these on a regular basis, I would definitely invest in another pan. But the baking of these cakes is pretty straightforward and that left me with plenty of energy to agonize over what to serve with them.
Sponge cake by itself is a bit boring. Even boozing it up doesn't seem to make it dessert on it's own. It may be fine perhaps to eat a piece with your caffe latte in the morning (which is actually what I did with one of my leftover cakes this morning—delicious!), but for a dinner party, I think a bigger effort needed to be made.
Since the theme of my dessert needed to be exotic, I went the tropical fruit route. I bought some passion fruit, a cherimoya and some tropical guavas at our farmers market. I also picked up a few mangos from the grocery store. When I cut up the fruit and mixed it together, I found that I didn't like the taste of the tropical guavas, so I ended up leaving them out. I also raided my herb bed for some nasturtium flowers which I used for garnish and I even mixed in a bunch of the petals into the fruit for added color.
Then, since fruit and cake didn't seem to be enough, I made banana ice cream. I used a recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert and added some spices to it to jazz it up a bit. The recipe couldn't be simpler: mash up 4 or 5 ripe bananas, add about 3 tablespoons of sugar, a cup of heavy cream and season with a little salt, freshly ground all spice and cinnamon. You don't need to make a custard or make it the night before, just chill the the mixture for an hour or so and freeze in your ice cream maker. How easy is that? And it's really delicious, super creamy and full of banana flavor.
So, there you have it: my Pistachio-Soaked Mini Shortbread-Shaped Sponge Cakes with Tropical Fruit and Banana Ice Cream. Thanks again to Palma for picking a recipe that worked so well with what I needed this weekend. I know she had no idea that I needed a recipe for an exotic dessert (unless among her other talents she is gifted in ESP!). But that does seem to be the beauty of this baking group. We have picked a really good variety of recipes, and I just keep looking forward to each week's challenge.
P.S. I have to say that some of the other slow bakers adapted the recipe beautifully to all sorts of pan shapes and sizes, including my personal favorite Jerry's easter egg cakes!