There's a story in my family about the first time my mother made my father banana cake. They had been married for a few years, but this was the first time she had whipped out this moist, multi-layered cake. My father took a few bites in silence, then looked up at my mom, wide-eyed. "Have you always known how to make this?"
This banana cake I give to you today isn't quite the same one my mom makes, but I always think of that story when I make it. A good banana cake is dense and moist, but not heavy. It gives pleasure in every bite.
This particular cake takes those qualities over the top. In fact, it is probably the moistest cake I have ever made. Homemade caramel sauce is swirled throughout this cake, so it walks the edge between a cake and an old-fashioned English pudding, absolutely silky with banana and gooey streaks of caramel that create strata of even moister cake layered with that burnt, brown sugary richness.
In the past, I've made this in two 9-inch cake pans. But lately I've been making it in three, which is a bit safer and easier (those two would always be full to overflowing!). It's perfectly fine served on its own, with no topping other than a light dusting of confectioner's sugar, but if you want to take this really over the top, make people's eyes go wide, serve it as I do here, with caramel-flavored buttercream between the layers and extra caramel sauce drizzled over top.
I served this cake to my dad at his 60th birthday party this week, knowing it was close to his favorite cake. Sliced up it generously fed all 10 of us, with plenty left to send home as sweet leftovers.
Caramel Banana Cake
2 cups cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Warm the cream in a small saucepan over low to medium heat. Don't let it boil; just keep it warm.
Stir the sugar and water together in a large, heavy, high-sided pan over high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then stop stirring and allow it to boil until it reaches a deep amber color. This will take anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes, depending on your pan and your stove. You will see pale yellow streaks, then darker ones appear in the center of the bubbling sugar. When you see these, swirl the pan carefully by the handles and be attentive. At the very first sign of smoke from your caramel, turn off the heat. By now it should be very dark amber. (You are looking for a dark caramel here, because you will be adding cream, so don't flinch and take it off the heat when it's still just pale gold!)
Immediately pour in the cream. Use a long-handled whisk to whisk it vigorously. Be very careful — the caramel is going to steam and bubble up violently! Add the butter and salt and whisk smooth. Return to medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until slightly reduced.
Let cool then pour into a jar and refrigerate. This will keep in the fridge for at least two weeks.
Banana Caramel Cake
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for an hour
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas, from about 4 to 5 medium bananas (1 1/2 pounds)
1 1/2 cups caramel sauce (recipe above)
Heat oven to 325°F. Grease three 9-inch cake pans.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer) cream the butter with the white and brown sugars until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat one by one until silky and lightened.
In a separate bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda and salt. Whisk the milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas in a separate measuring cup and add to the eggs and butter, alternating with the flour. Beat until smooth.
Pour batter into the prepared pans. (Use this tip for dividing the batter evenly between cake pans.) Pour 1/2 cup caramel sauce into each pan, and swirl with a knife.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until the centers are set and a knife comes out clean. Cool pans on a rack and run a thin knife between the cake and sides of the pan before trying to release.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup caramel sauce (recipe above)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer) cream the butter with the caramel sauce, vanilla, and salt until smooth and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar and beat for 3 to 5 minutes until very smooth and lightened.
To assemble the cake:
Wait until the cake layers are completely cool. Position the bottom layer of the cake on a plate or cake stand. Spread a thin layer of buttercream on the bottom layer. Repeat, and spread a swirled layer of buttercream on top. Drizze the whole cake with caramel sauce and top with sliced bananas, if desired.
Recipe and post updated from original published August 7, 2007
(Images: Faith Durand)