Milk in the batter! Milk in the batter! We bake cake! And nothing’s the matter!
Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen is certainly a strange and wonderful (and for some controversial) children’s book, in which Mickey, awakened at night by sounds coming from downstairs, falls in true-to-dream fashion out of bed and pajamas, through walls and floors and into a fantastical kitchen scene, where three Oliver Hardy look-alike cooks are baking the morning cake. Mickey is mistaken for milk and mixed into the batter, only to break free, fly away in his dough-plane, and ultimately save the morning cake by adding the needed milk.
We all love Sendak books in our house, and the weird dreamwork elements of this book never bothered any of us. Not only was In the Night Kitchen a favorite book for all of the kids: it also inspired the name of another weekend breakfast favorite: Morning Cake.
OK, so Morning Cake is really just a variation on banana bread, something that morphed out of a recipe from the old edition of The Moosewood Cookbook. I am not much of a baker to be honest, but there’s something about batter that is so very kid-friendly (and clearly Sendak understood that). Josh is often in a battle with his younger sister Hayleigh (not quite 5 years old) for the wooden mixing spoon whenever we’re working on something that involves butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.
So here is Morning Cake in all its glory:
- 1 stick of butter (very soft)
3/4 Cup brown sugar
1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/3 Cup milk (see note below)
3 black bananas
2 Cups flour
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1-1/2 Teaspoons baking powder
1/4 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the brown sugar into the softened butter until things start getting airy. Add the egg and beat again until creamy. Add the vanilla and the milk. NOTE: in reality, on many mornings milk isn’t in the batter. Get creative. The original Moosewood recipe called for black coffee, and that is a good choice. I have also used orange juice, cranberry juice, green tea–even yerba mate. Next, add three black bananas–I usually have an ample supply in my freezer (the graveyard for all over-ripened bananas). Mix until smooth.
Next, combine the remaining dry ingredients and add to the wet. Then, to quote Sendak, “Stir it! Scrape it!” (And yes, Josh and I do make literary allusions throughout this process as we “Make it! Bake it!”)
Thoroughly butter a glass bread pan–bottom and sides all the way to the top (and make sure you get those corners). Transfer the batter to the bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. The top should crack and crust, and it may look done before it actually is–you will definitely want to probe with a toothpick to make sure it is not gooey in the middle. If your oven runs hot, you might test at 50 minutes, but for me, I am usually leaving the bread in for a few minutes past an hour. If you are concerned about the top getting too brown, you can always give the bread an aluminum foil “tee-pee,” shiny side facing outward, to keep it from getting too dark.
When your bread is done, let it sit out of the oven and in the bread pan for another 10 or 15 minutes, then transfer it to a wire cooling rack for an additional 5 or 10 minutes before slicing and eating.
Do I need to tell you that this bread is best warm?