Banana Cake with Penuche Frosting

December 13, 2012


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
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 40 min

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)

Directions

Banana Cake

  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. 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.

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Reviews (147) Questions (3)

147 Reviews

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?<br /><br /> 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. <br /><br />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! <br /><br />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. <br /><br />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?
 
sara March 3, 2017
I have made this a few times and love the cake - I too thought the frosting is too sweet, so I have to play with that. Has anyone made it into cupcakes? Is there any reason that wouldn't work? Any timing tips? I need to make them tomorrow, thanks in advance!!
 
petaltown March 3, 2017
I've made cupcakes with it twice now, once with gluten-free flour. They were a big hit. Approx. 15 min. baking time. Still looking for the right frosting/icing. The cake is so sweet and moist already, it doesn't need a big gob of frosting. I tried the penuche glaze (w/o powdered sugar); one person said the cupcakes looked unappetizing, but loved the flavor.
 
sara March 3, 2017
What do you think about cream cheese frosting? I am making them for kids and I think that might be tasty. Thanks for the timing on the cupcakes!!
 
LINDA G. October 28, 2016
This cake looks wonderfully light and Fluffy☆☆ I was just wondering if I could use egg replacer in place of the eggs for this recipe?? I would love to try this for my family at Thanksgiving brunch, if I can't do it with egg replacer I will finish a great looking cake for my family as the recipe is listed♡♡♡ thank you so much appreciate your time☆☆
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. October 28, 2016
I've never tried, so I can't say for sure, but it is a pretty amenable recipe. Report back if you try it!
 
petaltown October 28, 2016
I haven't used egg replacer. I have done some cooking using flax seed meal + water as an egg substitute (but not in this recipe). This cake is so good, it's worth trying! I've made it twice now. I prefer a penuche glaze- without the powdered sugar- instead of the frosting; a bit less sweet and more caramel flavor.
 
Babuji P. September 12, 2016
I've made this twice now, very good consistency and flavor. I made a few changes to suit my tastes the second time around by adding 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the batter, butter milk in place of sour milk. Then, for the frosting, I finished it with a hefty pinch of Maldon salt to give it some contrast. It was a hit, and a new favorite.
 
Min September 4, 2016
This is amazing!! Definitely one of the best cake that I ever had! I will keep making it forever!!
 
petaltown August 31, 2016
I baked this last night. The cake is exquisite. So moist and not heavy like banana bread. It doesn't need frosting, it's that good, but I love penuche. I found out at the last minute I was out of powdered sugar. Without it, the penuche is a glaze instead and delicious as is. In place of sour milk, I used half yogurt half milk. Don't use over-ripe bananas. Fully ripe ones, just slightly soft and speckled or striped with a little black on the peel.
 
Caroline B. August 22, 2016
I made this cake after work. So tired I forgot the baking soda. It was still so delicious I ate 2 pieces. It's a winner!
 
FoodieFlirt July 25, 2016
I just made this cake over the weekend for a Baby Shower. I made the cake, not the Penuche Frosting. It is the best banana cake recipe I've come across. The recipe is perfect as-is. No modifications needed whatsoever. The crumb and flavor were really stand-out. I paired the banana cake with a caramel buttercream. The flavor combo is stellar. Everyone at the shower swooned over the cake. Needlesstosay, there was no cake left by the end of the shower.
 
Trishington July 6, 2016
Fab-u-lous in every way!! While this cake deserves to be in the "Special Occasion" section of the Food52 Baking cookbook, it's actually so easy, delicious and quick to make that it's a perfect all-occasion cake. My cake pans are 9" so this time around I baked a single layer in a bundt pan for about 40 minutes. And my husband, who is an aficionado of all things Penuche (aka sucre a la creme), gives a huge stamp of approval to this delicious frosting. It tastes EXACTLY like the fudge his mom used to make when he was a kid.
 
Kate V. June 30, 2016
This is a delicious and moist cake. Some changed: I baked one layer for about 40 minutes, because I can't be bothered layering or cooking two small cakes in my small oven. To make the icing look the the photo, whip the hell out of it- I did about 8 minutes on full tilt. It swirls beautiful with the tip of a butter knife.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. June 30, 2016
Thanks for sharing, I can't wait to try whipping the frosting the next time I make it!
 
Jeffrey B. May 2, 2016
Make this cake. Cake was very good. Frosting not so much. Will try a different frosting next time.
 
dkhi April 14, 2016
I just made this cake and followed the recipe, except used 1-1/2 cups of sifted powdered sugar for the frosting (based on some comments that it was too sweet). Frosting consistency was fine, but I had barely enough to cover the cake, so no thick swirls as pictured. <br /><br />Could 1/4 to 1/2 cup less of powdered sugar makes that much of a difference? It's in the refrigerator now to harden so I can smoothen the top and sides with a warm spatula before serving in few hours.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 17, 2016
Since the frosting is very sweet, it's designed to make just enough for a thin layer, a thick layer would be too much! (You can see my photo in the second spot if you flip through the slideshow.) <br /><br />I'm not positive, but it's possible extra frosting was used on the cake for the sake of the photo, or that the stylist is more skilled than I am at making frosting swoops and swirls with a small amount.
 
JBF O. February 23, 2016
I just made this and it was so good. I didn't have pastry flour so i used unbleached flour and sifted 3 times. I measured once I was done sifting for an accurate amount of flour. I also used (2) 8x4 parchment lined loaf pans and baked for 35 minutes. Once done I sprinkled with powdered sugar. It came out fluffy like a cake!
 
Suzanne January 4, 2016
I just made these earlier and they are so good. I had stocked up on baking supplies for the holidays and had a new bag of pastry flour! Yay! The only thing I added was a little brown sugar in place of less white sugar because I like the flavor it gives to baked goods. I experimented using miniature bundt pans and paper bund form cake pan for the first time and turned out perfect. I didn't make the frosting but doesn't need any at all. You can sift powdered sugar on the tops to make it look pretty. I will be making this cake from now on instead of banana bread !