Banana Cake with Penuche Frosting

By • December 13, 2012 • 90 Comments

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Author Notes:
The correct name of this frosting as it has been known in my family for at least 4 generations is panocha frosting. Panocha is a spelling variant of penuche that was once popular in Hawaii, and was localized from penuche to panocha. Panocha is also a type of cane sugar and a type of fudge-like candy.

I think of this as my grandmother's recipe, but it's actually her mother's or her mother-in-law's...either way, it was a special cake that she would make for my father's birthday, as it's his favorite cake (and mine too). It's a simple seeming cake (no vanilla?! not a spice to be found?!), but it's like your favorite banana bread, only lighter and fluffier, and the frosting truly makes this cake.

If you're into presentation, you'll want to follow my grandmother's lead and double this recipe, a four-layer cake is much more impressive. I never add the nuts, and I've had no problem substituting all-purpose flour. I've even been lazy and not separated the eggs, and it has turned out just fine, albeit with a bit denser crumb.
Lindsay-Jean Hard

Food52 Review: WHO: Lindsay-Jean Hard is a contributing writer and editor at Food52!
WHAT: The lightest, purest banana cake you'll ever meet, dressed up in a caramelly frosting.
HOW: Make a simple cake -- mix your wet ingredients and dry ingredients, bake in two layers -- then frost.
WHY WE LOVE IT: We've had great banana breads before -- but never banana cake. This has a light, airy crumb, one that lends itself well to a layer cake. But the real star here is the frosting; its brown sugar-milkiness shines through, a perfect complement to the banana. We're now adopting this into our own family canon, too.
A&M

Makes one 2-layer cake

Banana Cake

  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 bananas, crushed
  • 1/2 cup sour milk
  • 1 2/3 cup pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
  1. Heat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar, then one at a time, mix in the egg yolks, bananas, and sour milk, stirring after each addition until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients (and the nuts if using) to the wet ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, and fold into the batter.
  5. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans, divide the batter evenly between the pans, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.

Penuche Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 to 2 cups powdered sugar
  1. In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Add the milk, raise the heat, and cook until the mixture boils. Remove from heat, and let it cool until the mixture is lukewarm.
  3. Gradually stir in the powdered sugar, beating until smooth.
Jump to Comments (90)

Comments (90) Questions (2)

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12 days ago Debby

I made this cake yesterday. It is an exceptionally good recipe! I will admit I changed a few things like using part cake flour and part unbleached AP flour because I didn't have pastry flour, added a third small banana, real buttermilk and added the eggs whole. I've tested recipes both ways with whole eggs and whipping the whites and folding them in and prefer just dumping the whole egg in for a moister cake. I doubled the frosting. Holy smokes, that frosting is incredible! I think the key to it is letting it come to room temp before trying to whip it to frosting consistency. I also put it in the fridge when it was just about the right consistency and when I took it out after about 10 minutes and beat it for a few seconds more, it was perfect. I've never been a big fan of banana bread or cake but this is outstanding! Oh yes, I cut 1/2 cup of sugar out of the cake since a few had posted how sweet the frosting was and I'm very glad I did. Thank you! This is definitely a keeper :-)

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21 days ago AlainaMK

I made this on a whim for my banana-loving husband's birthday dinner last night, and it was out of this world. I made all of his typical favorite foods for dinner, and he said the cake was by far the best. I made my own pastry flour by subbing 2 tablespoons of corn starch to a scant cup of AP flour, and it worked well. I was a bit skeptical re: the frosting, but it was SO GOOD. I think the key to getting it to a fluffy/frosting-like consistency is beating it with an electric mixer for a few minutes after adding all of the powdered sugar (which does need to be added gradually per the directions). Anyways, this cake was lights out. Can't wait to eat leftovers tonight!

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15 days ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I'm so happy to hear it was a hit, thanks for sharing!

Stringio

about 1 month ago Katelin Moomau

I made this cake with AP flour, lactose free milk I soured with vinegar and it turned out really well. My husband said he thought it was maybe too sweet, but I loved it. I have wondered if you could use zucchini instead of banana. Looks similar to a zucchini cake recipe.

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about 1 month ago Sophia Seawell

Is it possible to do this without baking soda? I'm in Europe and they don't seem to have it in the grocery stores :( Thanks!

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about 1 month ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I remember ages ago David Lebovitz had a post on finding American baking ingredients in Paris, and suggested asking for baking soda in pharmacies...so maybe that would be worth a shot where you are too?

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about 1 month ago CHeeb

This cake looks very moist-how does the Food 52 crowd think the icing would hold up if frozen? I bake for storing in our parish freezer for homebound and bereavement ministries. Is this a good freezing icing-the cake surely looks promising ?

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4 months ago Lynn

Other than the obvious definition of what sour milk is, how do you recommend we sour it? add 1/2 T. of white distilled vinegar to 1/2 c. of milk? or is 1/2 c. buttermilk an acceptable substitute?

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4 months ago Sharmin

When I tried the recipe, I just added a splash or so of lemon juice when I started, and let it sit until I was ready for it.

Cookinginactionbybostick

4 months ago nieceboo

Everyone loved it! Made it for Mother's Day. I did decrease the sugar by .5 cups in the batter recipe because of previous comments mentioning that the frosting is quite sweet. Best decision! You must increase the powdered sugar to make it a buttercream frosting-like texture. I also doubled it to make the 4-layer cake. Such a keeper recipe and accommodates modifications gracefully. Love, love, love!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

4 months ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Love this cake -- I made a few changes based on what I had. I couldn't find regular pastry flour but was able to buy whole wheat pastry flour (go figure). I didn't have two 8-inch pans so I used two 9-inch pans; the cakes baked in 20 minutes. And I used the icing from my Chocolate Dump-It Cake (https://food52.com/recipes...), because I thought our kids would like bananas and chocolate together. (They did.) Thanks, LJ, for such a great and obviously flexible recipe!

Tad_and_amanda_in_the_kitchen

4 months ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Also, it stayed nice and moist for a couple of days.

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4 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I like the idea of pairing it with chocolate icing, I might have to force myself to branch out!

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4 months ago Sharmin

Made this cake yesterday, for Mother's Day. OMGoodness! Delicious! I used AP flour, no problem. The frosting, .... For me the frosting turned out more like a maple glaze. (think maple bar donuts). Maybe not enough powdered sugar?? Any thoughts?? The banana flavor and smell is amazing. I will make this cake again, but maybe a different frosting. I am thinking just a powdered sugar/milk glaze.

Pict1821

4 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

Hm, no the frosting should definitely not be like a glaze. If you're sure that the mixture came up to a boil, then I'd agree that the culprit is probably not enough powdered sugar.

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4 months ago Sharmin

Thanks Lindsay-Jean, for the quick reply!

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4 months ago David Lumpkin

My frosting came out too loose, also. I ended up putting the whole box (1 lb) for confectioner's sugar in it. It was still too loose. I put the bowl in the fridge for about 5-10 minutes then beat it by hand again, it was perfect. Next time, I did not use the whole pound of sugar. The fridge helps set the frosting.

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4 months ago Kmmanri

My icing was the same; adding more powdered sugar made it too sweet. I added 4 oz. cream cheese and it cut the sweetness while firming the icing - and it was delicious!

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5 months ago Roberta

Here's an explanation of Pastry Flour: http://daisyflour.com/flours.... By "nonbleached white flour" you probably have a bag of all - purpose flour, which also will work, just be a little "tougher" as in stronger rise and longer fresh time. Better try it with "white" flour first and then try whole wheat as you want to know the consistency of the batter. Whole wheat is denser so it might take a little bit of extra liquid...take little bit seriously!

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5 months ago Ceege

One more question. It states two bananas mashed. I have had bananas that take two people to eat as they are so large. Have also had some that were so small, you needed 3 to eat per person. Any idea how much (cup wise) is needed for this recipe. Again thanks for your help.

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5 months ago tamater sammich

I had the same question, so I 'googled' it, and got 125 grams. Another site said 135 grams. Since I had lots to use up, I used the 135 figure, and weighed them already peeled.

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5 months ago Ceege

I saved this recipe and intend to try it tomorrow. One question Lindsay-Jean Hard.......I have so many different flours in my pantry and hate to run out to buy another (pastry flour). Can I sub non-bleached white flour or whole wheat flour in place of the stated flour? Thanks for your help on this matter.

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5 months ago tamater sammich

Just so ya know, last week I only had a "multigrain" flour; here and there you could even see the odd flax seed in it, and although I'm sure it was denser that if I'd used unbleached white or cake flour, it was so good, that I'll not hesitate using that flour mix again.

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5 months ago GuRLiee

I think June Price may have missed her morning medications, this is an excellent cake and if more instruction is needed for you then don't make this recipe as there are plenty of other more detailed recipes out there written by bakers that take thier meds as prescribed

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5 months ago JunieB

There's no reason to be rude. I didn't say the cake isn't any good and I wasn't really talking to you, I was talking to the person who wrote the recipe. I was merely giving what I believe to be constructive criticism as I think recipes should always be written well for the sake of new cooks and bakers. It's good to offer tips and suggestions when you're writing recipes and if you don't agree that's fine, but it's really none of your business if that's the way I feel.

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5 months ago GuRLiee

To be clear I read the comments to get hints or if there are any useful tips or enhancements to the recipe I am considering making, but when I came across the pompous comments you made it was evident you were not just offering a suggestion you were beating up the writer of this recipe and it what was even more clear was the giant ego behind the statements you were making. Recipes are like artwork they are our creations and some criticism is offensive and goes beyond constructive, I feel this is where you went and it was uncalled for. Why don't you channel your baking expertise and start your own blog you may have a different perspective of your comments when you experience harsh comments for yourself

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5 months ago Regine

June Price, many recipes are not written to your required level of details. This being said though, sour milk is buttermilk. It is easily found in US groceries. Most of the time it is sold as low fat buttermilk. You can also make your own by taking 1 tbsp vinegar and add milk (milk with no adjective in front means whole milk) until it reaches the one cup mark. Adjust based on amount of buttermilk required for in recipe. After a cake is baked, one usually knows to wait until it cools a bit ( maybe 15 to 30 min) before Unmolding it. As for the icing, I myself had plenty. However, as per the picture, I only put a thin layer for the filling.

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5 months ago JunieB

I think you missed my point entirely. I'm a very experienced cook and baker.

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5 months ago JunieB

I think recipes should always be written for novice cooks or bakers and no detail is too minor. A novice baker might NOT know to cool the cake in the pan. I for one cool in the pan for about 10 minutes but then I cool completely on wire racks.

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5 months ago JunieB

I haven't eaten this cake yet, but I just finished making it. One thing I noticed is that there was barely enough icing to cover the cake. Forget the fancy swirls. Was there a double recipe of frosting made for the picture? Did I use too much between the layers? I think the recipe could have been written better, with novice bakers as well as experienced bakers in mind. My feeling is you can never have too much information. Here are the things I noticed while making the cake that could have been better explained:
1. There is nothing explaining what sour milk is or how to make it.
2. No instructions about what to do when the cake comes out of the oven - cool in pan? turn out on a rack? Cool completely?
3. No indication if different types of milk can be used for the icing, or if it should be whole milk, or skim milk.
4. In the instructions for making the frosting it says to cook the butter and sugar two minutes. My experience is that stoves cook differently so you need some indication of what the mixture should look like - cook until the sugar is completely melted? Is there a danger if you cook it too long? What should you see in the pan?
5. Then it says add milk and raise the heat but it doesn't say how much to raise the heat. Is that to medium low? Medium high? High?
6. And what kind of boil are you looking for? Does it need to be a rolling boil?
7. The recipe says to beat the frosting until smooth. Mine was smooth but I found that it started to harden half way through putting the icing on the cake. Is there a correction for that?
8. I also prefer that recipes tell you how much of the frosting to use between the layers. That way you know how much you need for the outside.
9. Finally, these days everyone wants to know about making things ahead, and how to store them if they can be stored. Room temp? Refrigerated? How long will it keep?

I hope I don't sound disrespectful. I certainly don't mean to. But I just think the recipe could have been written more carefully.

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5 months ago Katie Z.

I've now made this cake twice in the past week- it's my new go-to for overripe bananas! Both times I made it with cake flour, since that's what I had. The first time I made it as an 8 inch layer cake, the 2nd as a sheet cake. Both got rave reviews. Moist, caramelly, and full of banana flavor. Thanks for a great recipe, and fun frosting that's easy to make by hand! Definitely staying in the rotation :)

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5 months ago David Lumpkin

I love banana cake but everything I've eaten in the last several years has been miserably dry. This cake is great! So moist and tasty. Just follow the directions; it is easy to make. I've made it twice in the last week. First time I added walnuts to the batter. Great combination of tastes and texture. Second time I used heavy cream in the frosting and put toasted pecans on top. A good variation. I've added this to my book of favorite recipes to pass down to my daughters.

Pict1821

5 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I'm so happy to hear this, thanks for sharing!

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5 months ago tamater sammich

I also added this to my personal favourite recipe cookbook.
Here's another great thing: it's easy to double the recipe, and it freezes well. Because the icing was a bit sticky, I sliced the cake, and put a thin layer of icing in the middle, like a sandwich, so the wrap didn't stick to it. Defrosted, it's not dry at all, and the consistency is perfect. We're eating cake that was frozen for 3 weeks.

Stringio

5 months ago Maggie McGrath

So tasty! I added a teaspoon of nutmeg to the cake and it was fab. I know the premise is it's supposed to be simple, but with the bananas and pecans the nutmeg worked really well.

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5 months ago KelsoKitchen

fragrant & moist but too sweet for my (admittedly sweet averse) taste. Think I can cut back the sugars without compromising the cake or frosting too much? My sweet-tooth wielding daughter will adore it, though.

Pict1821

5 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I think you could cut back on the sugar in the cake, but for the frosting, you might want to just try a different one. Perhaps a cream cheese frosting, as another commenter suggested.

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5 months ago KelsoKitchen

thanks for the suggestion. it does go perfectly with morning coffee. Made waking up to snow this morning bearable.

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5 months ago Lorrainesfav

Wonderful,simple banana cake. After tasting this cake, I decided vanilla and spices only complicate the flavors of banana cake or bread. This cake bakes up light and airy; not a big rise but perfect for cupcakes to frost. I used King Arthur cake flour blend (easy to find in the supermarket) and it worked perfectly. I did rearrange the steps in the recipe a bit. I had everything ready to add to the batter. I first soured the milk with lemon juice and set that aside to curdle (about 20 minutes), then whipped the egg whites and set them aside, then mashed the bananas and set them aside. The recipe then came together very quickly. The batter made 11 jumbo cupcakes so I will figure out how to up the ingredients to make 12. Thanks for a great recipe Lindsay!