Now, where was I? Oh yeah – Gram’s Banana Cake. I found this recipe in a Penzey’s spice catalog, and it appealed to me because I’m always looking for unique ways of using common foods – and to me, a banana is a pretty common food. Bananas also have a way of becoming unusable as a fresh fruit rapidly – for my wife, that’s two days past green (Yeah, she of the ‘caulk loving’ fans) – I’m a bit more flexible; as in, if they don’t bend when you pick them up at one end, I’ll still eat ’em fresh. However, even in our ‘Jack Sprat & Wife’ household, bananas still wind up getting pushed into the freezer now and then – and sometimes we just need a good way, or two, to use them in making something delicious (I put special emphasis on the ‘or two’).
Lest I be misunderstood here, I love banana bread! But guys, there’s just so much banana bread one can take – Wait, that’s not exactly what I mean – as a man who dislikes going down the same road twice, what I mean here is that I appreciate the opportunity of tasting something not so familiar, just as long as it’s as delicious as the dish it’s replacing. And this cake, my friends, is at least the equal of banana bread’s deliciousness.
Are you aware of how ubiquitous banana bread is? At least in the Western Hemisphere? I dare you to go anywhere where bananas are commonly eaten and not find that banana bread is equally common. But interestingly, in my travels into Central America, I have also found banana bread to be both popular and available everywhere that bananas are grown. And pretty similar to the U.S. stuff too.
BTW, if I could interrupt myself for a moment, I’m having a thought I’d like to give voice to – I have frequently heard folks speaking about the fact that fruits which are allowed to fully ripen on the vine, or branch, are so much more flavorful and sweet than those picked green, and then later allowed to ripen. I’d certainly agree, if we are speaking of fruits such as pineapple or cantaloupe – but folks, I put this theory to the test once when touring a banana plantation in Guatemala, and I now personally know -at least to my own satisfaction- that there ain’t one bit of difference between a tree ripened banana and one ripened on your kitchen counter – Whatever.
So it was that recently while perusing the Penzey’s catalog, I came on Gram’s Banana Cake – and the first thing that struck me was that it didn’t look like banana bread. Now, of course you know that banana bread is a misnomer – it should be banana cake – the only possible rationale for calling it banana bread, as far as I can see, is that it is most often baked in a bread pan – that, and maybe because banana bread is generically related to the family of ‘quickbreads’, which contains many both sweet and non-sweet members – if you know any other reason, I sure would love to know.
I’m always on the lookout for deserts which are both good and good for you, and this one looked like a candidate. Plus it was a different way to use up some of those frozen bananas – My deserts are always very plain, and sometimes lack character, but I wanted to try this banana cake that actually looked more like a cake than does banana bread. However, I also knew that I’d have to adjust a few ingredients -like sugar- ’cause I just can’t handle all the sugar this recipe calls for – simple as that.
Now, as a baker (and a diabetic too), I have respect for sugar – start playing around with the amounts of sugar in a baked good, and you’ll start seeing some strange results. Sugar affects the structure, the texture, the taste, the color, the crust, the shape, and the rise of many things which get baked – and you adjust at your own risk. Still, I was willing to adjust the sugar here, in the interest of health, and for curiosity’s sake.
But how else does Gram’s Banana Cake differ from a banana bread? Well, it sure is rich! What with all that butter, sour cream and 4 eggs, this alone separates Gram’s cake from a simple banana bread – however, it also differs in the way the cake rises; Gram’s cake rises via baking soda and sour cream – no baking powder.
Should you too wish to try Gram’s Banana Cake, just follow this link and have at it. And if you too -like me- are concerned about too much sugar in this world, here is my adaption to Gram’s recipe – I reduced the sugar to 1 cup, and augmented that by adding a half cup of Splenda – the result of that was plenty sweet enough for me, but than, my taste has been sensitized to sweet over the years, and less is needed. The only other change I made was that I used cake flour instead of AP flour. At the time of my baking, that last change seemed like a no-brainer, but in retrospect, the cake flour may have been the reason why my cake had a finer texture than does the cake on the Penzey’s website – and in fact, my cake’s texture was more like a regular banana bread than the Penzey’s cake – So …
In the world of baking, things are always more alike than they are different – and I’m sure you could find another recipe for banana bread which was similar to Gram’s – but in that same world of baking, experienced bakers know well that success or failure is often measured by a fine balance of ingredients and a tweaking of process. Having said that, let me then admit that the banana cake which I baked was not Gram’s, but a bastard adaption, but it was still delicious. Delicious enough, that it makes me curious as to just how much better Gram’s cake actually is – and Yes, I shall one day soon throw caution to the wind, and bake up Gram’s version – sugar and all.