Bananas figure heavily into my baking routine. And, while both my sons did celebrate each of their first birthdays with festive, frosting-swathed banana cakes, most of my banana baked goods come in rustic form.
I bake banana bread periodically, usually bulked up with whole wheat flour and oats, oftentimes with a few spoonfuls of yogurt mixed in, sometimes spiced, most often no. They are tweedy loaves that behave nicely on the counter under a dome and take well to doorstopper slices for lunchboxes, too.
These breads suit the day to day, yet now and there is a need for fanfare, even if only faint – say the completion of a school project, or cleaned bedrooms, or that it's a Tuesday. This cake uses the base recipe of my faithful banana bread, but takes a few lateral moves that change the feeling entirely.
Swapping in sour cream for the leaner yogurt adds richness. Roasting the bananas concentrates their flavour, the toffee-like notes of which get a bump from brown sugar. A rumpled carapace of scrunched walnuts and chocolate tops all.
For that chocolate, I go dark and bar, not chips. Since not stabilized, such chocolate is free to slouch into the gaps between the nuts. By ground coffee, I mean just that, not the powdered form, which doesn't have the flinty edge crushed beans do. That combination of coffee, chocolate, and walnut is one for the ages, and the lulling sweetness of banana provides the ideal foundation.
I am fond of this cake when it's quite tall and proud, so use a high-sided cake pan to achieve the effect (a Charlotte mold would also be fitting). If you don't have a similar pan, the batter can be baked in a Pullman pan, or 9x2-inch round, adjusting the baking times as needed.
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Roasted Banana Cake
Softened butter and flour for greasing the pan
4 ripe bananas
1 cup walnut pieces
½ cup old-fashioned (large flake) rolled oats
½ cup full-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons finely ground coffee
1¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (1 cup) butter, soft
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
A few tablespoons raw sugar (optional)
Preheat an oven to 350F.
Butter a 8x3-inch cake pan, then dust with flour, tapping out excess. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then place the 4 bananas, whole and unpeeled, on top. Bake until the skin is deeply blackened on both sides, but not split, 20 to 30 minutes. Flip once during baking and add the walnuts to the tray for the last 10 minutes of roasting (if the bananas release a lot of liquid, give the nuts their own tray or use a small skillet).
While the bananas are roasting, stir the oats, sour cream and vanilla together in a medium bowl. Set aside to soften.
Once the bananas are roasted let stand until cool enough to handle. Slit the skins and release the fruit into the bowl with the oats. With a fork or back of a spoon, mash the banana, and fold into the softened oats. Keep to the side with the walnuts on the tray while you make the cake batter.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, coffee, baking soda and salt.
Attach the beater to a stand mixer. Cream the butter and sugar together on medium high until lightened in colour and fluffed, about 5 minutes. Periodically scrape down the bowl and beater as you mix. Turn the speed down to medium, and add the eggs, one at a time and beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl and beater before adding the second egg. If the mixture looks curdled, it may be that the egg was too cold; increase the speed to medium-high and beat until smooth.
With the mixer on stir, spoon in half the dry ingredients. Once almost incorporated, scrape in the banana mixture. Let the machine run until the bananas are mostly mixed in, then follow with the rest of the dry ingredients. Remove the bowl, scrape the beater, and give the batter a few stirs by hand, making sure to get to the bottom of the bowl.
Tip the batter into the prepared pan. Crush the walnuts lightly in your hands, and sprinkle on top. Strew the chocolate over next, and raw sugar, if using. Bake in the hot oven until well risen, and a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean (chocolate doesn’t count), around 70 minutes.
Cool completely in its pan, set on a baking rack. The cake can be stored under a dome at room temperature for up to 2 days. It freezes beautifully.
Makes an 8-inch cake.