Recipe and Tutorial: Banana Cake with Penuche Frosting

This cake is super-delicious and so incredibly moist! I don’t usually like banana-flavoured anything, but this cake is virtually the sole exception, probably because it uses actual bananas and not that horrific artificial banana flavouring. *bleaugh* 

That chemical banana garbage should be thrown into the sea, but that would be cruel to marine life.

When I was whining working my way through business school, *coughcough* years ago, my stress level was so high, the best psychic relief I found was to cook and bake for hours in my shared kitchen (instead of doing my classwork…ahem). 

Bwaa haa haa…

My roommate and my boyfriend of the time both benefited enormously from the cornucopia of baked goods that I produced; in fact, so much so that their waistlines increased alarmingly over a short period of time. I’m guessing my stress level got a little out of hand at one point when my roommate had to *beg* me to stop baking, as he lacked the willpower to stay away from my delicious treats! 

I’m guessing that using them both as recipe guinea pigs when I was trying something out for the first time contributed to their obesity concerns, especially since my only request for payment was in feedback.  At least I have some great notations in my cookbooks for what worked and what didn’t, and I still use them to this day.

Back then, I was a newbie baker and being a full-time student meant that I didn’t have much money; I needed simple and inexpensive yet delicious recipes. I hated using box mixes for anything I could make from scratch (and I still do), so natural ingredients were an absolute imperative. Perusing my small but growing collection of cookbooks, I ended up leaning quite heavily on the works of Edna Staebler, a Kitchener/Waterloo food economist and travel writer. Ms. Staebler wrote a series of recipe books based primarily on the food-ways of her family and her local Mennonite friends and neighbours; her writing style was so folksy and warm, her cookbooks were more like novels that just happened to have lots of recipes in them. Needless to say, I was quite captivated!

This banana cake recipe is simple, yet not your usual same-old, same-old. I tend to make it without the nuts, but it’s delicious either way.  It can also be made vegan/dairy free by substituting butter for vegan block margarine, and the buttermilk can be subbed with coconut, almond, or rice milk. The penuche (brown sugar) frosting (recipe below) cannot be made vegan, sadly, but it’s so delicious that if you can consume dairy I’d totally recommend it; in fact, cook it for a tad longer, and you will make brown sugar fudge! (omgsoyummy…)

While this cake is delicious on its own as a snackin’ cake, if you want it to be fancier for company or a family event, make this cake in two 8″ rounds, split and fill the layers with sliced fresh bananas and sweetened whipped cream, and top with penuche frosting poured over the top and drizzled over the sides; decorate with whole walnuts or pecans as desired.

Banana Cake

Adapted from Food that Really Schmecks, by Edna Staebler 
Yield: 1 12″x9″ layer, or two 8″ rounds, or 24 standard cupcakes 
Note: all ingredients are presumed to be room temperature
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ cup buttermilk*
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, then grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 12″x9″x2″ pan.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy; thoroughly beat in the eggs.   
  3. Sift together the dry ingredients and stir them in alternately with the milk, mashed bananas and nuts (if using).  
  4. Pour into prepared baking pan.  Bake until centre of cake tests done, approx. 40 to 45 minutes (if making 2-8″ round layers, bake for 20-25 minutes; cupcakes take approx 15-18 minutes to bake). Rotate pans at least once during baking.
  5. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 15 minutes; turn out onto rack and cool completely before cutting into squares.

Penuche Frosting

  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup butter
  • ½ tsp salt
Stir all ingredients over low heat, and then bring rapidly to a full boil, stirring constantly.  Boil to 220 degreesF, or exactly 1 minute from full boil.  Remove from heat, and beat until lukewarm, no longer glossy, and of the right consistency to spread[2].

[1] Instead of buttermilk, you can use the same quantity of soured milk or slightly thinned yogurt (vanilla, peach, or any flavour that goes well with bananas)

[2] If the icing is not thick enough, you can boil it again, adding 2 tbsp of cornstarch or flour to thicken.

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