Quick Sidetrack: Banana Cake

I had a sudden request to provide a birthday cake for a party for a banana-loving 2-year-old. How do you say no to that? This recipe is virtually identical to my mother’s banana bread, just re-engineered a bit to make it more “cake”-like. I took away one of the three bananas (since bananas are dense) and a third of the flour. I also changed to a layer cake mixing method since a tight, uniform crumb is one of the defining features of cake. The formula now goes like this:

2 overripe bananas (for a total of 1 – 1 1/2 cups mashed banana)
1 1/2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs at room temperature
7.25 ounces (1 2/3 cups) cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter

Make sure your bananas are at least this ripe so they’re soft and sweet enough to incorporate easily. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

You’re going to need to purée them instead of just mashing them with a fork so you don’t end up with large, uneven chunks in the cake (a uniform crumb not only makes the cake more appealing to look at and to chew, it makes the layer stronger). Put the bananas and buttermilk in the bowl of a food process and process them until they’re smooth.

Add the eggs and vanilla and process again briefly until the mixture is even.

Now sift the cake flour into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle.

Add the remaining dry ingredients and stir them together. Add the soft butter and beat on low until it’s fully incorporated into the flour mixture.

Add about a third of the banana mixture and beat the batter on medium-high for about a minute and a half to blend and activate gluten (yes, you want some of that in this instance since it’ll give this rich cake the strength it needs to stand up!).

Scrape the bowl down…don’t forget to scrape the bottom!

Now add the remaining banana mixture in thirds, beating about 15 seconds between each addition.

Scrape, scrape, scrape!

Pour the batter out into a prepared pan.

Smooth it out…

Bake the cake 30-40 minutes until the top springs back when tapped lightly. I was rushing around the kitchen yesterday tapped way too hard (I was fooled by the extra browning you get with banana…it looked done but it wasn’t). I was rewarded with a slight handprint in the top of my layer.

No problem. I shaved the very top crust away with a bread knife to even it out a tad. By the time I poured some warm ganache over it you couldn’t tell.

Sorry I can’t show you what a slice looks like, but it wasn’t my cake!

The reaction from the birthday boy: yummm……

27 thoughts on “Quick Sidetrack: Banana Cake”

    1. In theory yes, Ellen! The trouble is that most pumpkin tea breads use oil as a fat. That won’t work as well with a cake since it’s going to want to settle in the bottom. I wonder…that’ll be a good challenge for later in the season!

      Thanks for a great question. have a happy Thanksgiving!

      – Joe

      1. What about coconut oil? It’s kind of an “in” thing right now. I was thinking of using it in my next batch of pumpkin or banana bread.

        1. Instead of vegetable oil in a pumpkin cake you mean? Wow, I’ll have to noodle that one. I’ve never used coconut oil in a cake before. Very interesting idea…hm….

          – Joe

          1. I’ve made the coconut oil sub in a quick bread because I ran out of vegetable oil. Taste is amazing, but texture/browning are a little off. It will work, but it’s not ideal. Maybe if you played with the amounts a bit?

          2. You’ve gone and made me curious now, V. I’ll have to look into it. Where do you buy yours?

            – Joe

          3. I got some coconut oil at Kroger, but I’ve only used it once to pop popcorn. I hear it makes things like banana breads moist and has a bit of a preservative effect on them. But I don’t know if it’s true or not. I can’t detect a hint of coconut in it. Maybe an “extra virgin” type would have some residual coconut flavor if that’s what someone was looking for.

          4. For pumpkin bread I can say that I can’t tell a difference when using coconut oil. A little more to do with melting the coconut oil so you can mix it, but not that big of a deal.

  1. This looks good. I love Banana most things. I have overripe bananas at home, i don’t have buttermilk though. How much in cup measurement is your stick of butter again please?


    1. 1 stick of butter = 1/2 c. = 4 ounces 🙂

      And if you don’t have buttermilk in this case plain yogurt or sour cream will work also.

      1. Well done, Tonia! I didn’t get there fast enough.

        Thanks for the assist!

        – Joe

  2. Nice work! This is something I have never thought of doing. it looks like you have pulled it off very well.

    I found that if the banana is not ripe enough 20 minutes in a 325 oven sweetens them up just right, it also works to firm up a banana thats already turned. Don’t peal them until they have cooled.

    1. That’s a great tip, Frankly, thanks very much for it. This turned out better than I thought it would, very even and light with a nice banana flavor. I wish I could have swiped a piece to bring home and photograph, but just try taking the last piece of cake out of the hands of a 2-year-old. Not easy.

      Let me know what you think if you try it!

      – Joe

  3. JP, loved the action shots of the buttermilk falling into the processor, and the vanilla splooshing into the mix…as always, the visual difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little (wait for it) [i] extra[/i]!

    How you can hold that camera with your left hand and trigger the shutter with yer toes is a testament to your simian ancestry!

    1. Thanks Dave!

      I’m actually the first member of my family to walk fully upright, so I retain a good bit of that outer extremity control that most everyone outside the family line has lost. I knew it would come in handy one day. All the teasing in grade school was worth it.

      Have a great Thanksgiving!

      – Joe

  4. Not a fan of bananas, but wanted to share my experiment with pumpkin cake.
    A few years ago, by chance, I made pumpkin cupcakes out of pumpkin pie filling.
    I was making the pie and had some remaining filling, to which I added some flour and baked. Yes, they were dense, but cakes for sure. (actually, they’re gone before the pie!)
    Now that I’m thinking about it, it may work better as a quick bread.
    Mm.. Should try that.

  5. Yum, yum, yummie looking. I really don’t like eating banana fruit (it’s a weird phobia of mine, I suppose) but love, love, love banana bread and banana cake. Yours looks as good as my Mom and Nana’s does! I once made lots of banana bread/cake that was devoured by the family until my wife found out that it was made with “rotten” bananas.

    1. Rotten indeed! I won’t tell Mrs. Pastry that. She lived in the Dominican Republic for two years, where “black” bananas and plantains are delicacies. It’s that way in much of the Caribbean, Central and South America. It’s simply the point when the most sugars develop. I guess bananas are like aged beef: one man’s rot is another’s prime!

      But thanks very much indeed. Definitely try this one day soon. I think you’ll be pleased.

      – Joe

  6. Another banana phobe here, I can’t even stand the smell of them! Mashing them would be pure torture for me. However NZers more commonly make banana cake than banana bread. It is usually iced with chocolate icing, and often served with candles for a child’s birthday party. The recipe most commonly used comes from the NZ cooking “bible” the Edmonds Cookbook (I swear every NZ cook has at least one copy of this book!) http://www.firstsearch.co.nz/banana-cake.html

    1. Who knew there were so many people out there with banana issues? Well that’s OK, Annemarie, I won’t hold it against you. I’ve heard of that book and am interested to acquire a copy one of these days. It sounds very much like our Joy of Cooking, which just about everybody has here in the States.

      Cheers and thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

    1. Ah yes, Susan. How silly of me for not specifying that. I used a 9″ round cake layer pan. An 8″ square would also work well.

      – Joe

  7. Excellent. Even without the frosting, you can’t find fault with this recipe. It even passed the “bundt pan test” and came out flawless, with beautiful texture. I have a fan oven, so I reduced the temp to 130C and baked it for an extra 25 minutes.

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