Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Birthday Banana Cake

Like so many bakers, one of the greatest joys I get from baking is creating something that I can give to another person, offering them a present that comes not only from my heart, but from my hands. Artists and carpenters, potters and knitters, poets and farmers all can relate to this feeling, I'm sure. And while I enjoy picking up presents for my loved ones as I may find them in various shops and markets throughout my travels, what brings me the most happiness is to give a gift of a baked good from my very own kitchen. When I'm in a whimsical mood, I even like to think that my baked presents are doubly fine, since they're so copiously sprinkled with tenderness and affection.

But aside from my secret magic ingredients, whatever they may be, I also like to hand-pick a recipe based on the recipient, as I would any other gift. And since there is a special person in my life who is celebrating a birthday very soon, I wanted to find a dessert that he would especially savor: one that I found just for him. With that in mind, I searched for banana cakes (as it's for a birthday, I simply needed to make a cake of some kind; and since this particular person is so fond of banana bread, I wanted to find a cake with similar properties).
I found the following recipe, and with it I saw a long thread of comments celebrating the cake and the brilliance of the recipe. My experience with the cake was not far off from that of the commentators, but I would offer a possible alteration.

One primary remark about the cake was it's unrivaled moistness; while I won't dispute that, I found that the center of the cake was not so much moist as it was under baked. To avoid ruining the entire thing, I opted to leave the center as it was, and not over bake the perimeter. To remedy this, I think I would simply try a higher baking temperature, and monitor it closely to see what length of time in the oven works best. Other than this slight problem, the cake came out wonderfully. It boasted the perfect amount of banana flavor, and although the same could not be said of the frosting, the cake itself was not too sweet: one of the key elements of a strong banana bread. However, the frosting truly completed the cake, in my opinion.

It was a birthday cake that warranted second and third helpings, abundant praise, and a grateful hug from the birthday boy. With reactions like that, I would certainly try this cake again, experimenting a bit more, but with a general security in its delicious outcome.

Banana Cake

1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed, ripe
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 1/8 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Chopped walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 275°. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.
2. In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in 2 tsp vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.
4. Stir in banana mixture.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place directly into the freezer for 45 minutes.
6. For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add icing sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth. Spread on cooled cake. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over top of the frosting, if desired.