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Banana Layer Cake with Fudgy Frosting or Tangy Vanilla Frosting

Updated February 23, 2016
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I’ve spent years perfecting the cake: banana layers coated with fudgy, glossy chocolate frosting. It’s a childhood favorite of Chris, my husband, one that he looks forward to every January. In fact, it has established itself as the official Dodge birthday cake, and party guests look forward to it with great anticipation. The layers are rich, moist, full of banana flavor, and sturdy enough for a novice baker to handle easily. The fudgy blender frosting provides an enticing contrast to the banana. For the deepest banana flavor, the peels need to be completely black, so black that you might be tempted to throw the bananas out. Bananas this ripe are the only kind that will give bread, muffins, and cakes the strongest banana flavor. In the spirit of diversity and to satisfy readers who might want an alternative to chocolate, I developed a vanilla frosting for this cake. Mixing sour cream into a traditional butter-confectioners’ sugar frosting refines its overtly sugary nature and adds a subtle tang that balances well against the banana. Much to my surprise, the entire Dodge family (including Chris) liked the Tangy Vanilla Frosting as much as its chocolate counterpart.

Do aheads:

• The cake layers can be prepared through step 3, wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature before frosting.

• The cake can be prepared through step 5, covered, and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

• The frosting can be prepared as directed in step 4, covered, and refrigerated for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before frosting the cake layers.

Toasting nuts: Heat the oven to 350 degrees (180°C) and spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Toast, shaking the pan occasionally to ensure even browning, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned. Depending on the type and quantity of nuts, this takes at least 8 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a plate to cool (they’ll keep browning after you’re removed them from the oven).

To toast nuts on the stovetop, put them in a dry skillet in a single layer and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently to ensure even browning, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned, 8 to 12 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a plate to cool.

A double boiler provides the gentle heat you need when melting chocolate or cooking custards or other egg-based mixtures. These mixtures are more likely to scorch or curdle over the direct heat of a stove burner. You can buy a double boiler, but it’s easy to construct one with a  saucepan and a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely on top of the pan. Fill the saucepan with about 2 inches (5cm) of water and place the bowl on top. Check the water level before positioning the bowl. The water must not touch the bottom of the bowl. Set the pan and bowl over medium-high heat and being the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and proceed as directed.

Though the traditional double-boiler method works well for melting chocolate, I prefer to use the microwave. Judicious use of its power is important. Overmelted chocolate will quickly scorch and become grainy. Start with finely chopped chocolate and use a few short bursts (about 15 seconds apiece) of microwave power, stirring in between, to melt the chocolate.

Cooking Methodbaking

CostInexpensive

Moderate

Total Timeunder 2 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationhalal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, vegetarian

Equipmentelectric mixer

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturechocolatey, fruity, rich, sweet, tangy

Type of Dishcake, dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 2/3 cups (12 ounces/340 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 16 tablespoons (8 ounces/227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ¾ cups (14 ounces/397 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 medium, very, very ripe bananas (about 14 ounces/397 grams total weight, including peels), peeled
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl ounces/117 ml) buttermilk
  • ¾ cup (3 ounces/85 grams) chopped, toasted walnuts, optional (see Notes)
  • 6 ounces (170 grams) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/3 cups (10 ½ ounces/298 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (8 fl ounces/233 ml) evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces/85 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 16 tablespoons (8 ounces/227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups (12 ounces/340 grams) confectioner's sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/3 cup (3 ounces/85 grams) sour cream
  • Toasted shredded unsweetened dried coconut or chopped, toasted walnuts for garnish (optional)

Instructions

To make the cake: Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350 degrees (180°C). Grease and flour the bottom and sides of two 9-by-2-inch (22.75-by-5cm) round cake pans, tapping out the excess flour. (I like to line the bottoms of the pans with parchment rounds to ensure easy and clean removal, but it’s not mandatory for this recipe.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk until well blended. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer (stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or handheld electric mixer) on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until well combined. Add the bananas and vanilla and beat until well blended and only small bits of banana remain. Add the eggs two at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture will look curdled and a bit lumpy. Don’t worry, it will all come together. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until blended. Add the buttermilk and mix just until blended. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix just until blended. Stir in the walnuts, if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.

Bake until the tops are light brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of 1 layer comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to racks and let cool for about 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the sides of each pan to loosen the cake. Invert the layers onto the racks, lift off the pans, and let cool completely.

To make the Fudgy Frosting: While the cake is baking, make the fudgy frosting. Melt the unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave (see Notes). Meanwhile, combine the sugar, evaporated milk, butter, vanilla, and salt in a blender; there’s no need to blend at this point. (For those of us who have small blenders—mine is an ancient Hamilton Beach that Chris used for mixing up margaritas at college—it’s impossible to make a full batch of this frosting. If you’re not confident of the size and ability of your blender, divide the recipe in half and make two batches.) When the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat or the microwave and give it a stir. Scrape the hot melted chocolate into the blender. Cover with the lid and blend on high speed until the mixture darkens and is very thick, about 2 minutes. You’ll also hear the engine working harder then the frosting is sufficiently thick, and it will appear to be barely moving in the blender. It will not be pourable. Scrape the frosting into a clean bowl and set aside at room temperature. When the frosting is cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap until the cake is completely cool and ready to frost.

To make the Tangy Vanilla Frosting: In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer (stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or handheld mixer) on medium-high speed until very smooth and creamy. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt and beat until blended and fluffy. Add the sour cream and, using a rubber spatula, gently stir just until blended. Cover and set aside at room temperature until the layers are completely cool and ready to be frosted.

To frost the cake: Brush away any loose crumbs from the cooled cake layers. Center 1 layer, top side down, on a flat serving plate. To protect the plate from smears during frosting, slide small strips of foil or parchment under the bottom of the cake to cover the plate. Using a metal spatula or the dull edge of a table knife, spread 1 cup of the frosting evenly over the layer. Place the second layer, top side down, on top of the frosting. Be sure the sides are lined up and then press gently on the layer. Apply a very thin layer of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish the top with the coconut or the walnuts, if using. The cake is best served at room temperature.

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The fudgy frosting is the best I have ever tasted! This is now the standard recipe for frosting birthday cakes, etc. at my house. Works well with any recipe and you can store the leftovers for a really long time in the refrigerator.

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