I've always been pretty indifferent to bananas. I don't love the texture and the weird strings on the sides of the peel kind of freak me out. Plus, they make my mouth itch. Also, if you've ever seen a banana tree in winter, it'll do a pretty good job of convincing you never to eat a banana again. The trees get soggy, waterlogged, and brown, and the whole things just crumple like a paper bag in the rain. It's always freaked me out a little, and since they're a pretty easy fruit to avoid, I just kind of forget they exist most of the time.
Somehow, though, I've always adored banana bread. Not just any banana bread, but my mom's banana bread. My mom is a pretty good cook, and her pound cake is second to none, but it's her banana bread that I still dream about on sleepy mornings when I just want to linger over a cup of coffee with a warm slice of cinnamon-y bread. I don't know where my mom got her recipe, and last time I asked her for it she didn't remember where it was, but it's the best banana bread I've ever tasted. When I was growing up, there was always a bunch of black bananas stored in the door of our freezer, where my mom would keep them after they got too freckly to eat-- the perfect state for banana bread.
So when I found this recipe for banana cake (with carmel icing!) in the box, I had high hopes. The recipe is handwritten by Eleanor, so it stands to reason it would be good-- I mean, my mom had to get her excellent banana bread genes from somewhere, right? But I couldn't possibly have fathomed how good it would be. Now before you go thinking I've lost my marbles by choosing banana cake over chocolate cake-- hear me out.
This banana cake, unfrosted, would be an excellent (if decadent) breakfast, topped with a dollop of yogurt and some sliced strawberries. But frosted with a thin layer of carmel icing, it's perfection as a dessert. The bananas make it incredibly moist without being or heavy, and because it's topped with a boiled icing instead of the usual buttercream, it's almost more like a cake donut than it's like a cake.
It's a versatile dessert that would be just as great for a wintry dinner party as it is for a summertime barbecue, and the carmel icing (which, by the way, has the texture of donut frosting) is easy to make and the perfect complement to the warm, slightly tropical banana flavour of the cake. Icing not your thing? You could leave it out and serve the cake warm with a melty scoop of chocolate ice cream on it for that perfect Bluth Banana flavour, and no one would be sad at all.
Even Judson (who, somehow, hates cake) loved this one-- and his co-workers all but licked the platter when I sent half of it to work with him. (I had to get it out of the house or I was going to eat the entire thing in one sitting, and although I would have thoroughly enjoyed myself in doing so, I figured it was better to share the wealth. Those are, after all, the same coworkers who have put up with 4 of my dumb cheesecakes at this point. It's definitely better to keep them in good graces.)
I wish I could explain to you how good this cake will make your kitchen smell, but since I can't bottle that smell for you, you should really just make this cake yourself. Tonight. For dinner.
5 spoons out of five. This cake is the best cake, and nothing I could say about it will do it accurate justice. Go make one for yourself and you'll see.
Banana Cake with Carmel Icing
Preheat oven to 176C/350F.
Cream sugar and shortening.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add mashed bananas and vanilla.
Sift dry ingredients together and add alternately with sour milk and crushed pecans.
Pour into 2 small round cake pans, or one 8-inch round pan and bake for 20-30 minutes (for two small pans) or 30-45 minutes (for one large).
Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir until mixture starts to boil.
Allow to boil 1-1 ½ minutes, stirring constantly.
Let cool and beat thoroughly until fluffy and light.
Frost cake after cool and eat cake with relish.
1 ½ c sugar
1 c shortening or Stork
1 c bananas, mashed well and very ripe
2 1/3 c flour, sifted
½ tsp salt
1 tsp soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
¼ c sour milk (buttermilk would probably work, or fake your own by adding 1 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar to a ¼ cup measure and then filling the rest with milk)
½ c pecans, broken
1 c brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp shortening or Stork
¼ c milk