Banana Cake with Penuche Frosting

By • December 13, 2012 109 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.
The Editors

Makes one 2-layer cake

Banana Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 bananas, crushed
  • 1/2 cup sour milk
  • 1 2/3 cups 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.

Topics: Cake

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Comments (109) Questions (2)

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29 days ago Julie

I used a combo of unbleached ap flour and spelt flour, only used 1 cup of sugar, but added a handful of chopped dark chocolate and I used an equal amount of plain nonfat yogurt instead of the sour milk. I made the cake in a bundt pan and also only used half the frosting recipe, just frosting the top. I also squeezed a half a lemon into the frosting, which both cut the sweetness a bit and lightened up the consistency. Turned out beautiful and delicious!

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about 1 month ago Maria

Very interesting recipe, I think.I will try to make it.Thanks

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about 1 month ago karen

I made this today - the cake was awesome but the frosting ...way too sweet for me and I love sweets - so I made a whipped cream frosting with some of the penuche added.

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3 months ago CHeeb

Zanzinger,a teaspoon of white or cider vinegar in whole milk will sour it for this recipe. I also think your idea of buttermilk would work as a fine substitute. I have even gone as far as using sour cream to replace sour milk.

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13 days ago MarZig

Thank you I was hoping someone had a tip for sour milk :)

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3 months ago Zanzinger

What do I need to do to sour milk? Would buttermilk be a substitute?

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3 months ago Cathy

This is our family favourite too! My mother has been making it for years, and I possibly got the recipe from her mother...

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5 months ago Celestyyne

This cake is delicious! Came across it searching for a usage for the sour milk I discovered lurking in the fridge.
I used wWheat pastry flour (had on hand) and following other comments reduced the sugar in the frosting significantly. This however, resulting in a frosting that tasted like sweet butter - way too much "butter" for an 1/8 inch frosting layer.
I did not follow the recipe's frosting as spelled out, but based on other comments and my results, I'll likely try to top it otherwise next time around.

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6 months ago Kelly k

Could you make this as a sheet cake? Would I double it?

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6 months ago Marilyn Pahl

I remember a candy called Mexican Sweet Potato Penuche (candy). The cake was what I expected, sweet seeing the word penuche and out of this world with bananas. It's a keeper around here.

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8 months ago sweetE

I had no idea this is what the frosting was named! It has been used on my mother in law's "The Cake" (midnight velvet) since my husband can remember! We love love love it! Thank you for putting a name to such deliciousness.

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8 months ago Kat

Banana bread is my weakness and being an Aussie means it's a cafe staple fr breakfasts and on-the-go eating. It's also delicious. I tested this recipe alongside a few other classics (I'm talking 6-8 loaves, and I can tell you I did not want another slice for a long time....well, maybe not that long) to try and determine the best. I tweaked this one slightly- I made one as close to the original and then one with less sugar, no nuts and plain flour (because we have no 'pastry flour' down under I made up a version with cornflour/ plain flour) and both adaptions were delicious. Actually, these were notably different from The Kitchn's version/ Bon App's version/ Flour's/ Julia's 'secret' banana bread etc. It's kind of lighter in a sense. One note, the icing was just way too sweet. But I'm not really an icing person, and everyone else sampling it equally found it cloyingly rich and sweet. But hey, sometimes you need that kind of sugar boost. I would recommend this recipe.

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9 months ago Patty

I used cake flour, whole eggs, and added pecans to the batter. Not sure what sour milk was, so I used buttermilk. The cake was delicious, although a bit sweet, so next time I'll cut the sugar down to 1 cup. One of the best cakes I've ever eaten. Thank you Lindsay-Jean!

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9 months ago SeaBear

Great recipe - definitely a keeper. I would like to know if there are any tips on lightening up the frosting consistency. I followed the directions exactly, and even paused to chill for 10 mins before final beating, but the frosting remained stiff - almost fudge-like. Is there any way to make this with more of a fluffy, buttercream consistency?

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9 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

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

Hi SeaBear, you don't want to let the frosting cool down too much before adding in the powdered sugar, but once the cake is frosted it does indeed set up and become a firm frosting.

Amanda Hesser made this cake and frosted it with the chocolate frosting from her Dump-It Cake recipe (https://food52.com/recipes...), perhaps that might be a better option for you? Or maybe this dulce de leche frosting (https://food52.com/recipes...)?

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9 months ago SeaBear

Thanks, Lindsey. I think you solved it -- I did let the frosting cool completely before adding the sugar. I'll try when lukewarm next time. It really is delicious! It was a big hit as a birthday cake - both my picky fiancé and my octogenarian parents loved it. I also thank you force dulce de leche frosting link -- will definitely try it too.

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10 months ago jamie munal

I made this cake day before yesterday... I'm a lazy cook so I made a couple of changes and I couldn't screw this recipe up. I used AP flour because I too didn't have any pastry flour and my cake flour was "buggy". I like vanilla so I added a ts of vanilla to the batter (to be honest I don't think it added anything to the cake) I did add a pinch of salt to the frosting... I like the idea of Debby to just add the whole eggs. And I also like the idea of cutting 1/2 cup of sugar out of the cake. I will say I know better but I used ripe bananas instead of overly ripe bananas which I'll use next time. As for the frosting... (did I say I am a lazy cook?) I made it and just poured it over the cake and then spread it out with knife. Alot went onto the plate but I liked the way it soft hardened and because of it being not too thick it didn't make the cake overly sweet. Cause of my liking to tinker I'm going to top the icing next time with a light touch of specialty salt. (I'm a sucker for salted caramel). I hope I'm not insulting Lindsey-Jean Hard with my and our tinkering.... It's a good recipe and easy to make on a week night.

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11 months 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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11 months 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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11 months 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!

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12 months 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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12 months 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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12 months 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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12 months 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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about 1 year 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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about 1 year 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.