When I was growing up, no one in my home really used to bake. My father used to buy these frozen pies and crumbles that my brother and I would beg for him to warm in the oven for dessert. They were delicious, and (perhaps more importantly) they were simple. I remember the very first time I snuck a leftover sliver of pie from the fridge the next day — a habit that I carry on to this day.
At the time, I conceived of all dessert as something that came from elsewhere, was made by other people. Baking was a task that could only be performed effectively by other people — or perhaps there were baking robots? I knew it wasn’t a pursuit for me.
Flash forward a few years — which included many lessons from patient friends, family members, and at least one employer — to where baking is now one of the great sources of joy in my life. I use it to unwind at the end of a long day or week, and often as a source of distraction and comfort. What’s more, I love being able to create something that is simultaneously beautiful and practical. A cake does more than just look good on the platter — it fills you, too, and I feel that a sweet treat should always mark the end of a sweet occasion.
But on another level, there is something enormously satisfying about being able to see a recipe through from start to finish. I love to cook too, but I find that cooking’s discourse is heavy with narratives of innovation, independence, and individual taste; by contrast, baking always feels like a community effort. Success depends on your ability to trust another’s recipe, or the notes that someone has made in the margin of your cookbook — and if all works well, you pass the recipe on to family members and friends, sharing the wealth. It’s an act of communion.
Things won’t always go the way you expect them to. For a good friend’s birthday last year, I was pressed for time, and iced her cake before it had fully cooled. The result? A full-on cake explosion, with the top layer sliding off the bottom one, and bursting into a dozen pieces — icing oozing all around. And what did we do? We ate the whole thing anyway. In fact, in the spirit of dessert being (pardon my French) a complete shitshow, we held a hands-free cake-eating competition and laughed the whole way through.
If you’ve never made a cake from scratch before, or if you haven’t in a long time, I think this one is well worth a try. The cake crumb is nothing like the dense, chewy loaves of banana bread I also suggest you try sometime; instead, it’s airy and fluffy — enough so to easily justify eating seconds. The caramel buttercream is every bit as decadent as you can imagine, and a wonderful pairing for the lightness of the cake. It’s sweet, but also a little bit dark and smoky tasting from the caramel sauce. It won’t be factory-perfect like a dessert that comes ready in a box; if anything, it will be even more delicious — and every last crumb will be devoured, I promise.
Banana cake with caramel buttercream frosting
For the cake:
- 3 overripe bananas, mashed
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or 1 cup thick, plain yoghurt, thinned with 1/2 cup milk)
For the frosting:
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup caramel sauce (store-bought works fine, but if you want to make your own, feel free to check out Faith Durand’s instructions!)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups powdered/icing sugar
For the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease (or line with parchment) two 9-inch round cake pans and set to the side.
Place one of the layers on a serving plate or stand. Dollop with roughly 1/3 of the frosting, and spread evenly over the cake layer. Top with the second layer of cake. Place another massive dollop of the frosting on top, and spread out evenly. Take a large spoon and heat it in a glass of hot water. Remove the spoon, quickly wipe off any excess water, then use the back of the spoon to create swoops and swirls in the frosting, re-heating the spoon as necessary.
Best eaten the day it was made, though there is a distinct pleasure in slicing a cool sliver from the fridge the next morning for breakfast.
Until next time.