Banana Cake with Penuche Frosting

By • December 13, 2012 • 97 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.
Jump to Comments (97)

Comments (97) Questions (2)

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13 days 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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22 days ago Kattey

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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about 1 month 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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about 1 month 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?

Pict1821

about 1 month 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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about 1 month 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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3 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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4 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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4 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!

Pict1821

4 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!

Stringio

4 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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4 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!

Pict1821

4 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?

L1020855

5 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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7 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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7 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

7 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

7 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

7 months ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

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

Pict1821

7 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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8 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

8 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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8 months ago Sharmin

Thanks Lindsay-Jean, for the quick reply!

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8 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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7 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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8 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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8 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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8 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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8 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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8 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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8 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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8 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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8 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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8 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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8 months ago JunieB

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

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8 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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8 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.