Fruit, glorious fruit! My life so far has taken me from Southern California, and its abundance of cheap, fresh fruit, to Tokyo, with its reputation for overly precious, overly expensive fruit, to Taiwan, with fresh fruit once again cheap and plentiful and now … tropical! One of my favorites is fresh papaya, especially with a dash of lime. Truth be told, however, a lot of papaya can be hit or miss. Sometimes it is can be quite soft and sweet, with a delicate but concentrated apricot flavor. Sometimes it can be a bit mushy and smell a bit sour, which affects the taste. But there’s something kind of wonderful about the firm pink flesh (that ought to get some search results to this site!) that always made me wonder if we could use it for baking. Just like the texture and consistency of a banana, could there be a kind of papaya bread? Let’s try it!
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
zest and juice from 2 small limes
2 cups fresh papaya, mashed
1/2 cup milk
1 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons of papaya milk (or 2 tbsp papaya mash, 1 tbsp milk, 1 tsp vanilla)
1. Zest and juice the limes. Set aside, but mix a tablespoon of lime juice with the milk to make some “buttermilk.”
2. Cut the papaya vertically and use a spoon to remove the seeds and any white parts. Continue scooping out the flesh. Use a potato masher to reduce to a pulpy mash. Keep a little bit for the icing but the bulk of it (2 cups) will be for the cake. Now you’re ready to make the cake batter.
1. Sift the dry base ingredients together: Flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt.
2. Melt or soften the butter and blend the sugar into it. Add the eggs, then the vanilla, mashed papaya, lime zest/juice, and “buttermilk.”
3. Fold in the dry base to the wet ingredients gradually, blending until there’s no lumps.
4. Using a 9-inch cake pan (I used a combination of mini-loaf pans and a bundt pan.) Bake at 325F for 1 hour, rotating the pan halfway through. Use a cake tester, of course.
Whisk softened butter, powdered sugar, and papaya milk together. For a nice touch, add a drop of red and/or yellow food coloring to enhance the orangey-pink color. Ice the cake when it’s completely cooled.
Result? The cake is dense and moist, with just a hint of apricoty-papaya flavor. The icing helps to highlight the sweetness of an otherwise mellowy cake, although I admit icing is not my strong suit as I often bake cakes with no frosting at all or simply a dollop of whipped cream.
Verdict? My conclusion is that the papaya does not have a strong enough flavor on its own to really carry the cake as a signature ingredient. In Taiwan, I can easily get papaya-flavored milk at a local tea shop or in a carton at the store, which makes the frosting zing. So I should probably use that in combination with the fresh fruit (instead of my makeshift buttermilk) when I make this again. Perhaps peach yogurt could be used here too. Alternatively, I might try making a syrup reduction by boiling the mashed papaya and a little bit of sugar for about 20-25 minutes (maybe with a touch of rum or grand mariner? apricot brandy?) and add that instead of milk altogether to the wet ingredients, which may affect the density.
It just proves that good cooking is like good science, right? Or is it an art? I can never remember.