Caramel Banana Cake

updated Jun 20, 2020
Caramel Sauce

A simple, classic caramel sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Makesabout 3 cups

Prep5 minutes

Cook15 minutes to 25 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

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?”

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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.

Tester’s Note

I leapt at the chance to try out this cake — because banana cake, because caramel, because beautiful layers! This cake may sound sweet, but a good amount of salt and getting a dark caramel (almost burnt) are the keys to cutting through the sweetness. It’s an extremely moist cake that is really easy to slice, especially if it’s chilled. 

This recipe worked beautifully, but it’s now updated with a little more detail on what to look for as you make it. This cake is a labor of love, so I recommend making the caramel in advance (one batch is the perfect amount to have enough for the cake, frosting, and decorating) since it’ll keep for awhile, then making the cake and frosting the day of. 

I only have two cake pans, so I baked the first two layers first, then reused a pan to bake the final layer. The last cake layer came out a bit more bubbly but tasted just fine. To keep the sliced bananas on top from browning, dip them in caramel first and they’ll stay gorgeous-looking for days — just rewarm the caramel ever-so-slightly so that it’s runnier and easier for dipping and drizzling.

Christine, June 2020

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Caramel Sauce

A simple, classic caramel sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes to 25 minutes

Makes about 3 cups

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1 1/2 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    water

  • 2 cups

    heavy cream

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    fine salt, or 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Cut 4 tablespoons unsalted butter into 1/2-inch cubes.

  2. Place 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves, then stop stirring and bring to a boil.

  3. Continue to boil, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until it turns a deep amber color. This will take anywhere from 6 to 15 minutes, depending on your pan and stove. You will see pale yellow streaks, then darker ones appear in the center of the bubbling sugar. When you see these, pick up the pan with the handles and swirl occasionally, and be attentive. At the very first whisp of smoke from the caramel, remove from 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!)

  4. While whisking continuously, immediately but slowly pour in 2 cups heavy cream. Be very careful — the caramel is going to steam and bubble up violently! Add the butter and 1/2 teaspoon fine or 1 teaspoon kosher salt and whisk smooth. Return to medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes to slightly reduce. Let cool completely before using.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The caramel can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 weeks. Let come to room temperature before using, or rewarm to lukewarm if you want a pourable or dippable caramel.

Caramel Banana Cake

The key to this rich, moist banana cake is the homemade caramel sauce that is swirled throughout.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes to 35 minutes

Makes 1 (3-layer) cake

Serves 12 to 16

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks

    (6 ounces) unsalted butter

  • Cooking spray or butter, for greasing the pans

  • 3 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    fine salt, or 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups

    mashed bananas, from 4 to 5 bananas (1 1/2 pounds)

  • 1 1/2 cups

    milk

  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  • 3/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 3/4 cup

    packed light or dark brown sugar

  • 3

    large eggs

  • 2 1/2 cups

    Caramel Sauce (recipe above), divided

  • Caramel Frosting (recipe below), divided

  • 1

    large banana, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Make the cake layers: Place 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl if using an electric hand mixer. Let sit at room temperature until softened, at least 1 hour.

  2. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round cake pans parchment paper, then coat the paper and sides of the pan with cooking spray or butter. (If you only have 2 cake pans, bake in 2 rounds on the middle rack.)

  3. Place 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon fine salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Place 1 1/2 cups mashed banana, 1 1/2 cups milk, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

  4. Add 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 3/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar to the bowl of butter. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until lightened in color and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in 3 large eggs one at a time until silky and lightened in color. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  5. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add half of the banana mixture and beat until just combined, then add half of the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Repeat with the remaining banana mixture, and end with the remaining flour mixture.

  6. Transfer the batter into the prepared pans, a scant 3 cups per pan. (Use this tip for dividing the batter evenly between cake pans.) Spread the batter into an even layer all the way to the edges. Dollop 1/2 cup caramel sauce into each pan, then swirl it into the batter with a knife.

  7. Bake until a tester inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Place the pans on a wire rack and let the cakes cool completely in the pans. (If you are baking in 2 rounds, let one cake layer cool 5 minutes, then remove from the pan. Clean, line, and grease the pan before reusing.)

  8. Assemble the cake: Run a thin knife around each cooled cake. Flip out of the pans and remove the parchment.

  9. Place one cake layer on a serving plate or cake stand. Spread 1/2 cup of the caramel frosting in a thin layer on the cake. Top with the second cake layer and spread with another 1/2 cup of the caramel frosting. Top with the final cake layer and spread the remaining frosting on top in a thicker, swirled layer.

  10. If decorating with banana, cut 1 large banana at a slight angle into 1/4-inch thick slices. Dip each slice in the remaining 1 cup caramel sauce and place around the top of the cake, overlapping the slices slightly (if the caramel is too thick to dip into, rewarm slightly first). Drizzle the whole cake with any remaining caramel sauce or serve on the side.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover cake can be refrigerated up to 3 days. Press a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut sides to keep the cake from drying out.

Caramel Buttercream

A classic, fluffy buttercream flavored with caramel sauce, vanilla, and salt.

Prep time 10 minutes to 12 minutes

Makes about 3 cups

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 stick

    (4 ounces) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup

    Caramel Sauce (recipe above)

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    fine salt, or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups

    powdered sugar

Instructions

  1. Place 1 stick unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit at room temperature until softened. (Alternatively, use a large bowl and electric hand mixer.)

  2. Add 1/2 cup caramel sauce, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon fine salt or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt to the butter. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth and lightened in color, about 2 minutes.

  3. With the mixer on low speed, slowly beat in 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar. Continue beating on medium speed until very smooth and lightened, 3 to 5 minutes more.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)