Serves a Crowd

Banana Cake with Penuche Frosting

December 13, 2012
20 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
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

Test Kitchen Notes

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

  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Makes one 2-layer cake
Ingredients
  • 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)
  • Penuche Frosting
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar (up to 2 cups)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Banana Cake
  2. Heat the oven to 350° F.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, and fold into the batter.
  6. 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.
  1. Penuche Frosting
  2. In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Add the milk, raise the heat, and cook until the mixture boils. Remove from heat, and let it cool until the mixture is lukewarm.
  4. Gradually stir in the powdered sugar, beating until smooth.
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166 Reviews

Hannah S. January 5, 2021
This was DELISHIOUS! I added cinnamon and ginger just to spice it up, and holy cow was it good. The frosting is amazing, I think next time I may stop before adding the powdered sugar to the icing because it would be delicious with the caramel sauce. I had to make this as a bundt cake because I lost 1 of 2 round pans, upped the bake time to 50 minutes, and it was perfect. Also, my house smells AMAZING!
 
TidalEdge December 31, 2020
Great light cake. As I had buttermilk on hand I used it for the “sour milk” and for the “milk” in the frosting. It added a subtle but welcome tang to the frosting. Both will be permanent substitutions when I bake this again.
 
Therese April 9, 2020
Just fantastic! I had all the ingredients so what else do you make on Holy Thursday during a pandemic? Thanks for such a great recipe that everyone enjoyed.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 10, 2020
Oh that's wonderful to hear, thanks for taking the time to share.
 
Rachel W. March 5, 2020
This cake is wonderful. I made it with Bob's Red Mill's Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour. Wonderfully easy to make as my own birthday cake, and it'll definitely be in my permanent baking rotation. The icing is unforgettable.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. March 6, 2020
So happy to hear this and glad it worked well for you with the flour substitution!
 
laura February 3, 2020
I did not feel this cake deserved such high ratings. The frosting is terrific, and it seems a better fit with a spice cake. This was too bland. Maybe nuts would have helped. Will not make again but will save the frosting recipe.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. February 3, 2020
Sorry to hear this one wasn't for you, but appreciate you giving it a shot!
 
barikessler November 2, 2019
This cake rocks. I've probably made it 12 times in the past few years since I first found the recipe. The frosting is decadent. And the cake moist and cake-y. I'm gonna go make it again right now.
 
Raphaelle C. October 14, 2019
I made this as directed except using Bob’s Gluten Free cup 4 cup pastry flour, and three 5” cake pans instead of two 8” pans. I also added 1/2 tsp ground cardamom because cardamom and banana pairs well. I also choose the add 1/2 cup nuts (walnuts) option. The results were delicious; however it took almost 1 hour to cook completely through, and for me it is already cloyingly sweet. The penuche would make it inedible. Instead I’ll opt to serve it with unsweetened whipped cream to offset. Next time I would reduce the sugar by 1/2 if I were to add the frosting and add an extra egg to keep it light and cake-like.
 
petaltown July 28, 2019
This is our family celebration cake, on 7 occasions now. It's been a layer cake, a tube pan cake and cupcakes. I love it with the penuche (as a glaze without the powdered sugar) or as frosting. I've made variations with cream cheese frosting, with a hidden cream cheese center, with chocolate chips, and with streusel topping instead of any frosting! Next time I want to try a chocolate ganache icing, or maybe whipped cream. The cake itself is fail-proof, with pastry flour, or regular flour sifted, or with gluten-free flour. It is very sweet. I recommend making with bananas that are fully ripe but not over-ripe.
 
Amber May 14, 2019
I made this cake for a party, I did 4 layers and it was a huge hit! I made it exactly as written. Folded in the egg whites and made the frosting as well. It was a huge hit and so so delicious, I will definitely be making this again!
 
Ceege February 20, 2019
I have been baking since I was 8 years old. Back then we always made cakes from scratch, so I have quite a few years experience. Believe me when I tell you that. you DO NOT want to put flour in the icing for this cake. Penuche is meant to be sweet. I would only suggest you not add flour but simply eat a smaller piece of cake.
 
Joelle B. February 18, 2019
A lovely masculine birthday cake for a workmate. The frosting on the cake dries quickly, you must work fast! There's not quite enough frosting to make the lovely swirls in the photo. I would probably times the recipe by 1.5 for the frosting. I considered adding some flour to the frosting, to offset some of the sweetness. But I thought it might be Pasty. I wonder if anyone's tried a portion of flour?
 
JBF O. February 19, 2019
When did cakes become genered? It’s delicious that’s all the counts!
 
Änneken January 21, 2019
This turned out very well...I LOVE the crumb and flavor of the cake. I only had whole wheat pastry flour and APP at home so I used half WW pastry flour and half APP + cornstarch (aka cake flour). Really, the pastry flour made all the difference here. I find it makes the cake taste and feel so luxurious, airy and soft. I also love the frosting, but it is WAY to sweet. I'd probably cut down on the sugar in the cake and, as others have suggested, replace sugar with some butter in the frosting.
 
dogtoothedviolet January 5, 2019
Is this not from Food That Really Schmecks?
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. January 5, 2019
It's been in my family for 4 generations, so it predates Edna Staebler's Food that Really Schmecks, but it's certainly similar to her banana bread recipe!
 
sunnycooksandhow November 12, 2018
I made this cake pretty much as-is last week. I used small frozen bananas which had lost some mass in the freezer so to be on the safe side, I used three bananas. Could someone provide a weight or volume measure for the bananas?

The cake turned out delicious. Don't skip the almonds, they make things ever better! I did whip the egg whites but not perfectly as I whipped them using my hand blender whisk attachment to save washing up the KitchenAid bowl twice. This cake is very very moist and actually quite sweet. I didn't make the penuche frosting as it didn't appeal to me at all. I instead turned this into a 6*2 layer cake (with some leftover batter I baked separately for snacking) with french buttercream (eggnog spices + rum). It was all manner of fantastic.

Could someone let me know if they have had any luck reducing the sugar in the recipe and/or adding cocoa or chocolate pieces in the batter? I'm curious!

Bottom line: 10/10 would make again. This is a very easy and unfussy recipe, the absence of fancy ingredients and the ability to use frozen bananas makes it all the more appealing. Thank you!
 
rebecca June 22, 2018
Sour milk?
 
petaltown June 22, 2018
Just add a splash of lemon juice to your measuring cup then fill to the 1/2 cup mark with milk. Instant sour milk! I do it all the time. You can use it as a substitute for buttermilk too.
 
rebecca June 22, 2018
Great, thanks!
 
sunnycooksandhow February 14, 2018
This looks beautiful. I have a question about the egg whites - I only have one mixing bowl for my stand mixer and am a bit worried about the time it will take to transfer the batter, whip the whites and add them into the batter. Will the leavening effect of the baking soda/baking powder wear out in that time?
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. February 20, 2018
You can skip whipping the whites! I've even been lazy and not separated the eggs, and it has turned out just fine, albeit with a bit denser crumb.
 
Stephanie February 6, 2018
I made this over the weekend at work as a special (I’m a baker). It went over really well. I loved the way it turned out and loved the frosting too, with a very thin layer. However, for an experiment I’m going to whip the cooled icing with plenty butter next time to ease up on the sugar.

I made the cake with the nuts and next time will sprinkle additional ones on top. I agree with the commenters, that salted nuts and salted butter make for a nice modification.
 
Beth A. August 15, 2017
I made this on Saturday. Kept the powdered sugar to 1 1/2C, used Dark Brown Sugar and KerryGold salted. Let it cool then beat it into submission. The icing was then this ridiculous Salted Caramel Ganache that you could eat by the spoonful. Terrific recipe for bananas that are almost to the banana bread stage of ripe...
 
Sue B. May 14, 2017
I made the cake for Mother's Day, my mom who is 90 was raised with her mother's love of penuche, I decided to pay homage to her mother. We all reaped the benefit to that decision. The cake was loved by everyone. I could see how the frosting would be more of a glaze & decided to add more sugar to make it thicker like the photo. I think topping it with toasted chopped nuts or the maldon salt is the best way to tone down the sweetness. Its really a great banana cake!
 
Cathy March 31, 2017
Would cake flour work as well as pastry flour?
 
JOYCE G. January 23, 2019
I think it would work just fine.