The other day my friend Janet told me she’d tried to make the banana-nut cake recipe in my new memoir-with-recipes, How to Cook a Crocodile, but the egg in the ingredients list was missing from the procedure.  How could this be?



My first thought was:  Gremlins!


Before even venturing a verbal response, my mind flew back to high school.  I’d had an after-school job for a small publishing company owned and run by my neighbor Alice.  This was the early sixties, and Alice was a woman ahead of her time.  She’d served as a Navy nurse during WWII, she was single and self-supporting, she owned her own home (a white bungalow across the county road from the house where I grew up in northern New Jersey), she was the editor and publisher of her own company, Nursing Publications, and, perhaps most amazingly to me at that time, she actually wore pantsuits to work.


Alice was also my mentor.  Every month she took me with her to the old-time printer where I watched, wide-eyed, as large, blank sheets of white paper scuttled across rickety rollers, swooped around a drum-like thing and emerged, miraculously, with printed words all over them.  These words would go out to all of Alice’s subscribers in the form of a monthly Readers Digest-size journal, which, despite our best efforts to proofread every sentence, every word, beforehand, sometimes still contained an error or two (or three).


Instead of getting angry at me, her teenage acolyte, (or herself), Alice just stood there by the door to her office holding the finished product, smiling wanly and shaking her head.  “It’s those gremlins again,” she’d say to me.  “They’ll do it every time.”


Despite the gremlins, I knew then that I had found my calling:  putting words onto blank paper and sending them out, like baby Moses down the river in the reed basket, to do some sort of work in the world, imperfections and all.


But getting back to the missing egg…


I didn’t bother Janet with my gremlin explanation.  Instead, I said, “Whoops!  That egg definitely needs to go into that cake!”


Eggs, you see, perform a necessary function in cake baking – they help hold it all together.  Without the egg, where would this banana-nut cake be?


Harold McGee, in his classic tome, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, devotes a whole, fat chapter to the wonders of eggs.   “Eggs,” he says in the intro to that section, “are one of the more versatile foods we have; they take well to a great variety of cooking techniques and combinations with other ingredients.  Aside from their nutritiousness, characteristic flavor, and yolky richness, eggs are valued for two special qualities:  the ability to bind other liquids into a moist, tender solid, and the ability to form a remarkably light, delicate foam….”


The egg in this recipe does the former job, binding with the other wet ingredients to make a moist, tender cake.  Here is the corrected recipe.  For those of you who have the book, please correct the gremlins’ mischief on page 283.


Banana-Nut Gateau


½ cup oil

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

1 cup thinly sliced ripe sweet bananas

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or vanilla or rum)

¼ cup finely chopped nuts (almonds or walnuts)

1-1/2 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons NIDO (or other powdered milk)

1 tablespoon baking powder


Beat oil, sugar, egg and water in a large bowl until thick.  Add bananas and lemon juice to mixture.  Mash well.  Fold in nuts.  Sift together flour, salt, powdered milk, and baking powder.  Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients just until combined; don’t over-beat.  Pour batter into greased baking pan(s) and bake in preheated 350-degree oven about 30 minutes or so, depending on the size of the pan(s).  Makes 6 small cakes if baked in tuna tins.