Tuesday, September 8, 2015

This Cake Calls Itself "The World's Best"

Today: Is this cake really the "World's Best"? There's only one way to find out.

When you call something "the best," you instantly undermine your credibility.
Because if we've learned anything these past couple of weeks, it's that claiming to find "the best" of anything—be it a black-and-white cookie, an ice cream truck treat, or a bagel to cream cheese ratio—is like getting a tattoo of a bullseye on your forehead. No matter what stance you take, you're fated to be wrong—and people won't hesitate to tell you that. You might as well admit defeat and adopt a liberal arts-style argument in which you "complicate" the definition of "best" rather than choose a clear winner.

But even though our rational selves understand that "the best" is subjective—and, in the world of the internet, overused clickbait—we fall for it anyway. We can't help but bite. What is the best thing to put on toast? What is the best salad to make this spring? Where can I find the best burger in New York City? Maybe it's the fact that our time on earth is limited, as are our resources, that makes us seek out the absolute best experiences. If the number of times I eat pizza is finite, why waste one of those precious moments on a limp, lukewarm slice?

So when I came across "The World's Best Cake" (supposedly named Norway's national cake in 2002) on the website of Sweet Paul Magazine, I couldn't help but try it. I had been attracted to other cake recipes in Sweet Paul in the past—Salted Almond Praline Cake! Polenta Cake Soaked in Lemon Honey Syrup! Cardamom Fried Cakes!—but none of them had this audacity. What was this recipe that inspired so much passion in Sweet Paul's Paul Lowe—not to mention in the entire nation of Norway—that he felt compelled to take such a risk as making the lofty, doomed claim that this cake is "verdens beste"?

The recipe, it turns out, is pretty clever. You top a large pan full of cake batter with meringue and then bake everything together, all at once. After just thirty minutes, the meringue is puffy and golden and the cake is ready to come out. Let it cool, then slice it down the middle so that you have two rectangular pieces. Stack the two sections, adding a soft, whipped cream blanket in between. The cake chills for one hour, after which the multiple layers of dense, buttery pound cake, airy meringue, and melty whipped cream have coalesced.

Follow these instructions and you'll get an impressive, towering dessert without having to worry about burning a meringue, shaving down layers of cake to make even lines, applying a crumb coat, or dirtying more than two bowls. Because not even "the best" is good enough for me (yes, I'll bring this up with my therapist later), I added sliced banana, toasted coconut, and ground cinnamon and cardamom for even more flavors and textures. Paul suggests adding sliced fresh strawberries, but I like the creamy, soft banana; the coconut and spices add mental interest to the purely physical pleasure of eating a large slice of cake.

So is it the world's best? I can't say it is, but I also can't say it isn't. It's up to you to decide that for yourself.

"World's Best Cake" with Banana & Coconut

Slightly adapted from Sweet Paul Magazine

Serves 8 to 10

10 1/2 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups sugar, divided
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
5 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 to 1/2 cups coconut flakes (I like the large flakes, but you can use smaller flakes, too)
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1 to 2 bananas, sliced


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