I always think I’m going to eat bananas, and pick up a half dozen from the grocery store each time I go. Clearly I never learn: every time, I end up with overripe, brown bananas staring me in the face and mocking my inability to consume them fast enough. If we were in a race, my eating vs. their ripening, they’d win every time.
Except when I think of a delicious recipe to put them in. Then I win. Take that, bananas! And somehow, it seems much easier to eat banana cake than bananas…
This cake is good. Really good. As in, you take a bite and you think, “Yeah, that’s yummy” and then the second bite is, “Wow, this is pretty good” and then the rest is gobbled up with mouth-full exclamations of, “Could a banana cake really taste this good? Do I even like bananas?! Who cares, this is delicious!” (This evolution was determined scientifically, through careful observation of my own opinions and the compliments that others gave as their eating progressed.) It started as a honeybun cake recipe that I changed up quite a bit, adding vanilla extract, baking soda, flour, and bananas and baking in round cake pans so I could make a proper cake with layers and lots of frosting. The result is a not-quite-dense-but-definitely-not-airy cake laced with small chunks of banana and ribbons of cinnamon and brown sugar, topped with my newest favorite cream cheese frosting (it holds its shape really well and has tons of sugar, but still tastes like cream cheese).
Cake inspiration: Michelle’s Honeybun Cake on AllRecipes
Frosting (minus the pecans): Cream Cheese Butter Pecan Frosting on MyRecipes
As you can see by the writing, quals are finally over! The grad students all survived (a bit brain-dead by the end, but they made it) and now get to wait one anxious month to find out if they passed. Now, what to make when that time rolls around? Decisions, decisions…
CINNAMON-SWIRLED BANANA CAKE
1 box yellow cake mix
1 (8oz) carton sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup flour
3 ripe bananas, peeled & mashed
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (32oz) package powdered sugar (or 2-16oz packages)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans well (bottom and sides). Cut parchment or wax paper in a circle to fit the bottom of the cake pan, place on top of the greased bottom, and grease the paper.
2. In a bowl, whisk/stir together the cake mix, baking soda, and flour until well-mixed. Using an electric hand mixer, beat in eggs, sour cream, vegetable oil, water, and vanilla extract to make a smooth batter. Beat in mashed bananas for ~30 seconds (there will still be some lumps). In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour 1/4 of the cake batter into one prepared cake pan and 1/4 of the cake batter into the other pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the batters (divide between the two pans). Pour the remaining batter over the cinnamon mixture (divide between the two pans), and gently swirl the batter ~15 times with a butter knife.
3. Put both cake pans in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the cake pans for ~20 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack (place your (clean) hand on top of the cake, flip the pan over, lift the pan off, remove the parchment/wax paper, place a cooling rack on top of the cake where the paper just was, and gently flip the whole thing back over and set the cooling rack down).
4. Place the cakes in the freezer for 15-30 minutes (depends on how much time you have) to make them easier to frost later. While they firm up, make the frosting. Beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar gradually, stopping when you like the consistency/flavor of the frosting (I always add the full 32 ounces).
5. Prepare your cake plate by placing small strips of wax paper in a circle about the size of your cake (this will catch the frosting spills and keep your plate looking pretty).
6. Remove the cakes from the freezer. Use a serrated knife to level off the rounded tops of each cake (someone really ought to eat these scraps, don’t you think? And there’s a very large bowl of frosting sitting on the counter; no one would notice if some were missing…). Place one of the cake rounds on the wax paper circle (the wax paper should be partially under the cake), with the serrated side facing up. Put a generous amount of frosting on top and smooth it out to an even layer, then put the second cake round on top with the serrated side facing down.
7. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the sides and top of the cake. This is called a “crumb coat” and will effectively seal in all the crumbs, so when we frost “for real” later, it’ll look magnifique! Put the cake in the fridge this time (not the freezer), for 10 minutes.
8. Frost the cake with generous scoops of frosting, spreading it all over the sides and top. Reserve some of the frosting if you wish to add writing and/or decorations. You can tint this frosting with gel food coloring (which won’t change the consistency) or liquid food coloring (which will require the addition of more powdered sugar to counteract the extra liquid). Use a frosting bag and fancy tip or a plastic bag with the end snipped off to pipe anything you want on your cake.
9. Eat. Share. Smile. Repeat.
It’s important to line the bottoms of your pans with parchment/wax paper, because this will make it a LOT easier to remove the cakes later. (Be sure to grease both the bottom of the pan AND the paper.)
When you swirl the batter + cinnamon/brown sugar + batter layers together, use big, cross-pan sweeps.
Stick your (clean) finger against the side of the pan until it’s level with the cake’s average height and turn the pan slowly, so that your finger sweeps the edges clean (check out the previous picture to see what I mean about it being “messy” before).
The wax paper circle, which you will place your cake on, keeps the tray/platter/cake stand/plate clean while you frost. When you’re done, gently remove these strips of wax paper and everyone will think you are a professional cake decorator for keeping the plate so clean. Shh, it’ll be our secret!
Use a serrated knife to cut off the rounded tops of the cakes. Be careful you don’t cut too deep! Some people have methods to keep the cake from rounding up in the center, which means you can skip this leveling step. But I prefer this way, because then you get to taste the cake before you give it to anyone else. (For quality assurance purposes, of course; it’s definitely not that I love rewarding myself with a bowl of cake scraps and leftover frosting…)
First cake goes on bottom down, serrated side up. Big glob of frosting. Second cake goes on serrated side down, bottom side up. Putting the serrated sides on the inside prevents pesky crumbs from jumping into the beautiful frosting outside.
Applying the crumb coat (initial thin layer of frosting) will seal in any rouge crumbs, make it a lot easier to frost later, and dramatically improve the appearance of your final cake. All the cool kids are doing it…
Once you have the crumb coat, you can spread the top (thick!) layer of frosting on with ease. Pat yourself on the back – you just mastered one of the biggest tricks in cake decorating!
Reserve some frosting for decorating (I recommend gel food coloring to achieve vibrant colors while preserving the frosting consistency). To easily place sprinkles, use (clean) tweezers. Magnifique, indeed!!