Monday, April 19, 2010

Lessons from a banana cake guru

I've never had much luck with banana cakes. They always seem to come out overcooked on top and gooey in the centre. Yet I still make one whenever I find myself with a couple of dodgy brown bananas. The only recipe I've ever used is the Edmonds one - a recipe that is somewhat notorious for coming out badly. So there was a definite tendency to blame the recipe.

That was until Steve, who sits at the desk next to mine, brought in a home-baked banana cake for his birthday morning-tea shout: the lightest, fluffiest and  most generally delicious banana cake I've ever tried. And what recipe did he use? Edmonds, of course!

There was some discussion about this, and Steve, glancing at the banana cake recipe in my book, said he thought his recipe (in an old-school Edmonds book) was different, so he brought it in to compare. We found that while the recipes don't look the same at first glance, the only real differences are in metric vs imperial measurements.

Determined to produce a decent  banana cake, I quizzed Steve for hints, and decided to bring in my own cake for comparison on Monday.

His first piece of advice was to use high-grade flour, instead of plain flour. This surprised me, as high-grade is generally only used for breadmaking and heavy fruit cakes. But when you think about it, a banana cake is quite a heavy cake..and it has fruit in it. A stretch, but Steve reckoned he'd read it on a flour packet somewhere - and it works for him, so I tried it.

Remembering that Steve had mentioned using his mixer, I dragged mine out as well. I used this to cream the butter and sugar, as well as the rest of the liquidy stuff - eggs, banana and baking soda dissolved in hot milk. I wasn't really impressed with the result, since the paddle kept leaving lumps of unmixed butter on the bottom. I suspect the whisk attachment might have done a better job.  In the end it was all mixed together and ready for the dry ingredients.

In an attempt to get extra air into the mixture, I double-sifted the flour and baking powder. Steve's recipe had specified that these should be "previously mixed" before adding, and while this instruction wasn't in my version, I decided it was worth a try.

Not wanting to over-mix the cake batter, I folded the dry ingredients in carefully using a slotted spoon - a technique gleaned from the "Hints on cake baking" section at the beginning of the chapter. This done, I poured the mixture into a lined tin, and stuck it low in the oven (another Steve tip).

The cooking time given in the recipe is 50 minutes. Steve was quite shocked at this, since he only cooks his for about half that time. The cooking time in the old recipe is 20 minutes, but that's understandable, since in that version, the batter is cooked in two sandwich tins then filled with whipped cream and sliced banana. Two half-sized cakes would naturally take less time to cook.

Not wanting my cake to be underdone, I decided to set the timer for 40 minutes, but by the time 30 were up, the cake was looking worryingly brown on top. I put some baking paper over it and left it for another 5 minutes, but at that point I decided to take it out. The cake passed all the usual tests - top bounces back, skewer comes out clean, coming away from the side of the tin - so I left it to cool and went out to get some groceries.

Coming back an hour or two later, I went to make the icing ... and found I didn't have enough icing sugar. Smart of me not to check that before I went to the supermarket! I put my shoes back on and wandered down to the local Supervalue.

I'd decided to make lemon icing for my cake, firstly to make it slightly different from Steve's one, but also because that would cross off another recipe - I'd already made chocolate icing for my afghans. I personally quite like lemon icing on banana cake - I've never quite understood why people usually use chocolate.

As usual, I made my icing too runny, worrying it wouldn't spread evenly. It spread quite nicely for a start, but once it started dribbling down the sides, I was fighting a losing battle to stop it from oozing all over the plate. In the end I gave up and left the icing to set in a little skirt all the way around the cake.

So this morning I arrived at work bearing cake. Someone else in the office had also randomly brought in baking for no reason, and with both our offerings sitting around, everyone was confusedly wondering whose birthday it was.

Come morning tea time, I cut into the cake, holding my breath - and it looked beautiful! No glugginess in the centre, just smooth fluffy cake. It was generally agreed that my cake, while not quite as good as Steve's, was pretty damn good, though opinions were divided on the lemon icing. It was slightly dry around the edges - I definitely should have taken it out at the 30-minute mark. I think next time I'll set the timer for 25 minutes and then keep an eye on it.

So what made the difference? Which of the many things I did differently worked the magic and produced a decent cake? Was it the high-grade flour? Using the mixer? Was it double-sifting the dry ingredients, and folding them in with a slotted spoon?

Another possibility occurred to me late last night: While my recipe states 2 cups of mashed banana, Steve's merely said 2 bananas. At the time, I figured it amounted to about the same thing, but when I did my bananas, I simply mashed up two without thinking about it. I never measured it, but I don't think my two bananas yielded a full 2 cups - more like 1 1/2. Did my banana cake succeed through accidentally putting in less banana?

I really don't know what made the difference in this cake. What I do know is that in future I will definitely be sticking with the high-grade flour and the shorter cooking time. I'll probably stay with the "two bananas", simply because it's more straightforward than "two cups of of mashed banana". I've also been told that double-sifting is a good idea for any baking you want to keep light and fluffy, so I might make a habit of that too.

 So don't give up on the Edmond's banana cake. It is possible to produce a fantastic cake from this recipe - it just needs a little tweaking.


  1. yummy looking cake Robs, if we weren't watching our food intake at the mo I'd be tempted to make one myself haven't done that for ages.c

  2. I couldnt believe that somebody else has the same probs as me regarding banana cakes!!!! So I thank you for sharing this. So I will definitely use high grade flour next time and sift the flour 2 times and also use a slotted spoon to mix. I am hoping to come back and share the outcome of that here! Wish me luck.

  3. Good luck Sheila! If it still doesn't work out, try the banana loaf instead. It's a more reliabe recipe for those brown bananas lurking in the fruit bowl :)

  4. Hi there, I just found your blog and have been reading through from the beginning :) I'm an expat, and rely heavily on my Edmonds as well ;) I had to comment here because the banana cake is one that is close to my heart! I love it, but always add cinnamon and mixed spice to the bananas when I mash them (just with a fork), and vanilla to the batter. I usually use four bananas, and only normal flour. My edition suggests mixing the BS with hot milk, which I assume activates it faster? I've tried it with hot and cold milk and never really noticed that much of a difference so I don't usually bother! I've never had problems with a gooey middle, but that could be because I never have a middle? I use a ring tin (bundt tin). And I'm a lemon icing fan :) Sorry for the lengthy comment, I'm going to continue on through the archives now! You've given me plenty of cause for giggles along the way so far, you write well! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Hi Sera

    Thanks for reading - and I love getting comments, long-winded or otherwise :) You may have noticed I can be a little long-winded myself!

    A ring tin is a great way to avoid a soggy centre; I wonder why I never thought of trying that with this recipe! Also, great to hear there's another lemon icing fan out there.

    Thanks for reading: I'll forgive you if you don't get through all of it. There's an awful lot here :)

  6. Do you happen to have Steve's version? I had an old Edmonds cookbook with the best banana cake recipe, but over the years and several moves, the cover came off along with the section that had the recipe on it! Mine was in ozs and lbs and tsp, and tablespoon. Mine also did the baking soda/milk thing to counteract the acidity of the mashed bananas. I'd appreciate any and all versions pre-circa 1974.

  7. My recipe has three bananas, which I mash with a fork. I use ordinary flour and haven't had problems but then it's what I'm used to as it's the recipe my Mum always used, so don't know how it compares to what others prefer.

    But the baking soda and hot milk - this is the best part. Whisking the baking soda into the hot milk and watching it froth right up - I don't care if it doesn't improve the cake, it definitely improves the cooking experience. It's like the fun parts of chemistry that we weren't allowed to do because wah wah carcinogenic. :-)


Popular posts this week