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On sharing and sugar, with a lot of banana cake

Like so many others who love the warmth of the stove, I once thought that I wanted to be a chef. One of my half-brothers had gone to cooking school, so it seemed only natural. Never mind the fact that said half-brother does the least amount of cooking of anyone in our family; chefdom was clearly in my blood. To test my reasoning, I took an internship one summer at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, the city’s oldest, most well-known vegetarian restaurant and the birthplace of several celebrated cookbooks. I knew next to nothing about restaurant kitchens, much less that I would be told to “fire” this or that, slice onions as “thin as an angel’s eyelash,” or distinguish among three different types of Champagne vinegar. Suffice it to say that though I was only there two days a week for a month or two, I learned more than I’d ever expected—namely, that a commercial kitchen wasn’t for me. I found that I missed the very thing that had drawn me to the stove in the first place: the human element of cooking and eating, the direct link between preparing food and sharing it, face to face, with people I care about. It didn’t feel right to plate a dish and watch it disappear into the faceless unknown with a waiter whose name I couldn’t remember. Forget this back-of-the-house business; I wanted my house, where the dining room and the kitchen were one.

That said, however, I did come away from Greens with one promising discovery: a mysterious thing called pastry arts. My favorite task at Greens had been plating desserts, from individual ginger crunch cakes with seasonal fruit to homemade ice creams, and I began to wonder if life as a pastry chef wouldn’t suit me pretty well. It somehow seemed gentler, more touchy-feely, and, well, sweeter—that is, until I realized that it would entail a bit more hardcore complexity than I’d bargained for. My dessert aesthetic was rustic comfort, not chocolate spray guns and sugar sculptures. Though spun-sugar cages are very pretty, I’d probably have to be locked up in one before I’d enjoy making them. What’s more, there was the specter of repetition: I worried that making the same items over and over, day in and day out, would destroy any sense of adventure or enjoyment I had. So with no small amount of disappointment, I left my chef plans, pastry and otherwise, for someone with more bravery and stamina, and instead here I am, writing my way around the kitchen.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when last week I found myself going downright pastry-artsy on banana cakes. Talk about repetition: I baked three of the things—each a slight variation on the other—within the span of four days. The frenzy was sparked by a dinner party Friday night, to which I’d brought an impromptu, seemingly simple creation: a single-layer banana cake with a chocolate ganache glaze. Though delicious, it was dense and a bit rubbery, more bread than cake. I was outraged. I had gorgeous photos of the thing,

but it was an inferior specimen; I wasn't happy to share it with anyone, much less with you, discerning reader.

So I put aside my usual evening plans—watching old episodes of Sex and the City and sobbing whenever something perfect happens; you see, my nights generally are not too saucy—and instead I baked banana cakes until I got one right. I’m no pastry chef, but I tweaked and tasted, from all-purpose to cake flour, buttermilk to sour cream, baking powder to soda, recipe to recipe. At one point, I even contemplated getting a chocolate spray gun for further ammunition. And when, with much rejoicing, I finally found the ultimate cake, I quite nearly made a spun-sugar cage to crown my humble masterpiece. I almost reconsidered cooking school. But instead, I decided to cut to the chase and just hurry up and start sharing.

Sour Cream-Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking

This cake is remarkably moist and banana-y, but unlike banana breads, it has a light, fine crumb. Dusted with powdered sugar, it might well be the ultimate in comfort food, but the dark chocolate ganache lends a bit of sophistication.

For the cake:
2 cups sifted cake flour
¾ cup plus 2 Tbs sugar (I used fine-grained unrefined cane sugar, which worked fine)
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 large ripe bananas (about 225 grams, peeled)
½ cup sour cream (not low- or non-fat)
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
10 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the ganache:
¾ cup heavy cream
8 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate (I used El Rey 58%), finely chopped
1 Tbs rum

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with cooking spray, line the base with a round of parchment paper, and spray the parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a food processor, purée the banana and sour cream until completely smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla, and process briefly to combine. The puréed mixture will be light yellow and quite loose.

Add the softened butter and about ½ of the puréed mixture to the dry ingredients in the bowl. Beat to combine on low speed; then increase the speed and beat for about 90 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and add the rest of the purée, beating to combine well. The batter will be light tan in color and should be smooth and creamy.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and dry. Remove the cake from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and then remove the other rim of the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, and carefully remove the base of the pan and the parchment paper. Allow the cake to cool completely.

When it is cool, begin the ganache. Put the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a near boil in small saucepan. When it is steaming well, remove it from the heat, and pour it over the chocolate in the bowl. Stir or whisk until most of the chocolate is melted; then cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir or whisk gently until the mixture is completely smooth. Stir in the rum. Let the ganache stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the cooled cake and its wire rack onto a rimmed baking sheet, and slowly pour the ganache over the cake, using an icing spatula or long, flat knife to spread and smooth it across the top and down the sides. [Scrape excess ganache off of the baking sheet for reusing, if you like. You will likely only need to use about 1/3 of the ganache for one cake; the rest will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or frozen for up to 3 months. Soften or melt before using.] Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for at least a half hour before serving.


Blogger Zarah Maria said...

I'm always a little reluctant commenting on your posts Molly - I feel like I'm going to ruin your beautiful prose! But I'm gonna do it anyways!:-p

I so know what you're saying re. the kitchen - I worked front-of-house for 3 years, and believe you me, there's NO WAY I'd trade that for three years back of house... I admire the people that can do it, and do it well, day in and day out...

And you know, the prospect of being stuck in a sugar cage doesn't sound too bad to me - at least you could eat your way out!

11:28 PM, April 12, 2005  
Anonymous mary g said...

I've made the old Joy of Cooking banana cake several times and thought it was pretty good--I'll have to compare it to yours for possible improvements. (It was the first cake I ever made for anyone's birthday, and the fact that it came out well made me a confirmed bake-from-scratch cake maker.)

6:34 AM, April 13, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

I realized I could never work in a high-powered restaurant after I read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Courdain, which of course, is the exact reaction the bastard wanted me to have. Annoying.

But, I think you can find the rare well-regarded restaurant that does emphasize the human aspect of things. The vegetarian restaurant I waitressed at in London was like that. I never heard anyone bragging about their knife skills, I feasted on fresh rolls all through my shift, and was inspired by food everyday. I'll never forget the first staff dinner with celeriac and blue cheese mashed potatoes.

It's good you're not a restaurant chef, though, Molly. You wouldn't have time to blog and I'd never have gotten this banana cake recipe, which sounds divine.

8:39 AM, April 13, 2005  
Anonymous Moss and Stone said...

I am in love with your photography,
and as per usual, your dialogue is as rich and satisfying as your recipes.
I too have seen the horrors that restaurant can wreak on people who love to cook. I'm glad that at least one other has resisted the temptation and still cooks because its great.

Take over the world Molly, one stomach at a time

4:55 PM, April 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Zarah Maria, shhhh! What is this nonsense about "ruining" my prose? NONsense of the highest degree! So thank you for overcoming your reluctance and commenting, m'dear. I'll let you know if I get brave enough to try for a human-sized (or any size, for that matter) sugar cage--you can fly over and take a bite.

Mary G, this is pretty interesting. The recipe I've posted here, with a slight variation and my own wording, is Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cordon Rose Banana Cake. I don't have the old Joy of Cooking, but I just looked up the banana cake recipe in the new Joy, just for kicks, and I see that it is almost identical to RLB's! I haven't tried the Joy recipe before, so I hadn't noticed the incredible similarity. Very innnteresting. I wonder who is borrowing from who? Oh, and for the record, I credited Joy here because I used its ganache method...

And Amy, yes, Bourdain is an abrasive one. Pretty clever, though, no? As for your waitressing experience, it sounds dreamy, especially those mashers. Greens was actually a very nice place to work--I didn't mean to make it sound otherwise--but I just didn't like the realities of a restaurant kitchen. I'll stick to my own, at home. It'll be better for all of us.

5:09 PM, April 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Moss and Stone, thank you and thank you and thank you!

5:14 PM, April 13, 2005  
Blogger McAuliflower said...

Wonderful timely comments on the differences between chef-ing and cooking... I'm just re-reading the Making of a Chef and had finished Soul of a Chef not too long ago. These books make it difficult to not day dream about transplating oneself into a culinary program, yet the perceived stress of it all makes me think twice :)
Now, Greens is a nice place to visit... Mmmmm

7:06 PM, April 13, 2005  
Blogger Kathy said...

This is like the third time at least you have posted on a topic of immediate interest to me. (the man/meat post/link, though sweet and romantic, is not an example of the type of coincidence I'm talking about... .)

10:42 PM, April 13, 2005  
Blogger Susanne said...

can't wait to try the recipe! i give you credit for actually interning at a restaurant--the closest i've come to realizing my baking dreams (very vague dreams) is taking baking classes, that didn't scare me off but the early hours did! :)

1:11 AM, April 14, 2005  
Blogger cindym said...

good lord. those are some of the most divine cake photos i've ever seen. i almost feel dirty looking at them.

3:56 PM, April 14, 2005  
Blogger megwoo said...

molly, your pictures are beautiful. i never knew ganache could be so sexy...

4:31 PM, April 14, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

McAuliflower, I think I may have read The Making of a Chef, but I can't remember. It sounds so familiar. I'll have to check my bookshelf...

Kathy, let's see if I can pull it off a fourth time...

Susanne, baking classes sound like so much fun! My half-sister just took a class on making chocolates, and I'm SO jealous.

And cindym and mw, thank you for the compliments! I actually hadn't even noticed anything sexy going on, although now that I think about it...

4:53 PM, April 14, 2005  
Anonymous Lauren said...

Ms. Molly, you are absolutely wonderful. I love everything about your site. Cheers!

7:31 AM, April 15, 2005  
Blogger Linda said...

Could there be a more perfect cake photo anywhere? Gorgeous photography and this sounds absolutely delicious. You're always fun to read too.

7:18 PM, April 16, 2005  
Blogger apples4me said...

What camera are you using?

4:18 AM, April 17, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Awww, Lauren, thank you!

And Linda, thank you too. It's always nice to meet another food blogger.

And lightspeech, I use a Sony CyberShot DSC-W1. It has a lot of useful bells and whistles while still being a compact point-and-shoot. The body looks like this, but in black.

8:15 AM, April 17, 2005  
Blogger juliette said...

I am going to try to make this today, have 2 small sprinform pans so it may be a double decker, wish me luck!

I have that same camera, LOVE IT, use it daily.

Thanks for writing Molly, I enjoy your site very much.

8:33 AM, April 17, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, juliette! And please do report back on your cake-making experience...

12:54 PM, April 17, 2005  
Blogger Xtian said...


I just tried this recipe with ever-so-slight modification, as a bundt cake -and it rocks! Yum.

I've baked professionally and won accolades for my banana cakes but this is different from others I've made. It's like a perfect chocolate chip cookie and a nice gentle banana cake rolled into one (ok, I incorporated the chocolate -both dark and white INTO the batter).

I can't imagine your nights could be dull.

Ballard, eh?

I'm moving to Ballard next week from PDX. Really. And I can hardly wait.

BTW, this is my first time ever responding to anyone's blog. That's how happy this cake made me!

Thank you. I owe you one.


10:41 PM, February 22, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

So glad you liked it, Xtian! I love the thought of adding chocolate to the batter - mmm mmm.

Best of luck with your move! Ballard is terrific.

10:15 AM, February 23, 2007  
Blogger Heather said...

I finally made this last night and it was INCREDIBLE! The cake was so delicate, while maintaining a wonderful banana flavor and the ganache truly brought it to another level. Thank you!

6:54 AM, October 06, 2008  
Blogger selena said...

Lovely cake. I was too lazy to make chocolate ganache, but it's great alone or with a swipe of nutella.

8:27 PM, November 29, 2008  
Anonymous Stef said...

Holy Crap! This cake is SOOOOO AWESOME!!! Thanks for the recipe, I was out of sour cream so I used buttermilk. Love.it.

7:49 PM, January 31, 2009  
Blogger rachel said...

Having just decided to scrap my initial plans for a friend's birthday cake (I have to pull it off in the middle of exams), I'm hoping that this will suit my needs - the recipe seems simple enough to put together fairly quickly, with great results.

I just have one question - do you think that it would suffer terribly if I used all-purpose flour instead of cake flour? I imagine the crumb might not be as delicate, but I'm wondering if it would be all that detrimental.

11:21 AM, April 19, 2009  
Blogger Molly said...

Rachel, I'm sorry for not having replied to this yesterday. I hope it's not too late! Anyway, yes, you can substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour, but you need to tweak the amount a little bit. The basic rule of thumb is that 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons is equivalent to 1 cup of cake flour.

9:41 AM, April 21, 2009  
Blogger rachel said...

Thanks very much, Molly. The cake was a huge success - just perfect! I left the ganache off though; after I tasted it, I was worried that it would be too bitter for the birthday girl (she's not a huge fan of dark chocolate). But the good news is that it is now stashed in my freezer... ;)

3:17 PM, April 24, 2009  
Blogger Kali Vermes said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:51 AM, September 03, 2009  
Blogger Molly said...

Kali, this cake is best on the day that it's made, but it would be just fine, too, if you made it the day before. It wouldn't get soggy. If anything, it would dry out a tiny bit. Hope this helps!

10:15 AM, September 03, 2009  
Blogger Kali Vermes said...

Thank you for your quick response !
Here's one last question, can I use the cake recipe for a layered cake and use icing for the middle and topping instead of the chocolate coating ?

10:39 AM, September 03, 2009  
Blogger Julie said...

YUM! I made this cake yesterday, after deciding that my standard chocolate banana cake was a bit too dry. I added 4oz (125 g) of mini chocolate chips. I was a bit afraid of the method - different from most cakes, where you first cream the sugar and butter etc, but it turned out really well, and is very moist. I made it in a loaf pan, as I wanted to carve out a car for our son's birthday, so it took a lot longer to cook, and the edges got quite brown in the process. But the edges (eaten today because they're carved off!) taste great and are not dry! :) Thanks for sharing this recipe!

5:36 PM, September 03, 2009  
Blogger BR said...

This is a very similar recipe to an Emeril Banana Bread one I just used a few days ago. I HATE bananas and only eat them because they're good for me...so I'm always looking for less healthy ways to actually enjoy them! I also add chocolate chips to mine; as do I add them to my banana pancakes. It makes for a sinfully happy mouth party. Yum!

5:09 PM, December 23, 2009  
Blogger Hoa Nguyen said...

I tried this recipe today and it turned out delicious. My cake pan was a little smaller than what you indicated, so I used leftover dough into some muffin molds. Both the cake and the muffins smell heavenly. Oh, I also substituted the sour cream with some yoghurt. Can't wait to smother them in the ganache in a few minutes. Thanks for the recipe!

12:01 PM, January 18, 2010  
Anonymous Jen/YVR said...

I used to work in a cafe, and the banana cake we made there was hands down one of my favourite desserts ever. Unfortunately, I failed to take the recipe with me when I left. Regrets, I've had a few...

But the main idea of the cake was a not-too-sweet banana cake with dark or bittersweet chocolate chips folded into the batter, and then split into layers to make a layer cake. In between the layers, rather than dark chocolate choclate ganache, it had a thin layer of white chocolate ganache. And then covering the whole thing was some magical white chocolate ganache whipped cream. The whipped cream element helped to prevent it from becoming too sweet and cloying. While not being a huge white chocolate fan, somehow it just works brilliantly with the banana, reminding me slightly of the banana milkshakes my mom used to make for my dad and I once in a blue moon, if we were very, very good.

It was best the next day, when some of the flavours had had a chance to meld and soften. It was like a banana-flavoured cloud with chocolate chips thrown in for good measure.

I believe I'll have to snag your recipe, Molly, and start experimenting.

11:56 AM, February 04, 2010  
Blogger the lil engine that could said...

I made this recipe for my husband's 30th birthday and it was absolutely delicious. It was so moist and the ganache glaze was the perfect accompaniment. I accidentally baked it in my 10" springform pan and was worried that would have a negative effect on the outcome but my worries were misplaced. Thank you for sharing what will certainly become a staple in my baking repertoire!

6:07 PM, November 29, 2010  
Anonymous Lizzie Fowler said...

Getting ready to mix up this banana cake in my kitchen right now - I have no experience outside my kitchen, my husband the chef does not enjoy baking but will offer his sage advice when I embark. I've been a confirmed bake from scratch cake maker since the first year he and I were together and he boasted that my buttermilk German chocolate homemade icing cake was better than his German godmother's, hoping mine turns out as well as yours, I'm doubling the recipe to make it a layer cake thus doubling the ganache - let's see how this goes!

4:34 PM, April 09, 2011  
Anonymous Lizzie Fowler said...

Mixed up the banana cake Saturday night and it was HUGE success, the cake and ganache balance each other perfectly, I doubled the recipe (my God that was a lot of butter) and made a two layer cake, if I could upload a picture here I would, because it was gloriously beautiful and almost gone in less than two hours (two people actually had dessert before AND after our meal) - I actually woke up to my husband having it for breakfast this morning - so THANK you for this recipe it took a little while with the food processor and all but was well worth the effort!

5:00 PM, April 11, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

I baked this cake with my godson yesterday. We had a ton of fun in the process. I always try to cook or bake something with him. And yesterday was perfect for that, seeing as Seattle shut down due to snow. There are times when he doesn't feel like helping, so I'll subtly ask him to taste test and adjust to perfection.

The ganache was easy to make and turned out perfect. Unfortunately, I used all purpose flour instead of cake flour, which resulted in a dumbed down flavor in the cake. I was pretty sad. But my godson is 10, baked the cake from the beginning to end, and was very proud.

I think it would have turned out great had I understood the difference between cake flour and all purpose flour - and adjusted accordingly as you stated in your later comments.

Tonight I'm hosting a dinner party with my girlfriends and am trying your other banana cake recipe, adapted from Gourmet. I am baking the bananas in their skin before I puree them. I read that this method will result in a lemony flavor, which I think will go well. I'll report back on your other recipe with how it turns out.

Thank you, always, for inspiring me!

11:35 AM, January 20, 2012  
Anonymous Karen, Miami FL said...

Thank you for an excellent looking cake, with chocolate!!! and most of all for putting a weight for the bananas. I grow finger bananas, not nearly as big as in the store, and it is so frustrating to try to use them up in baking when directions only say "two bananas".

11:10 AM, February 07, 2013  
Anonymous Gayi said...

Hi, Im not a expert baker, but this sounds so delicious that i'm thinking of baking this for my son's birthday. As far as the ingredients go, how many gms is a cup measure. What sort of cup are you using? I really require an answer as soon as possible so thanks in advance.

2:43 PM, February 08, 2013  

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