By Audrey Vrooman, as told to Alex Mlynek
Former bank executive Audrey Vrooman’s post-retirement passions—cake decorating and quilting—led her to this moist and flavourful banana cake. It’s become her go-to recipe for when a special treat is called for to celebrate family and friends, plus she gets special requests to make it for weddings and showers once or twice a year.
Twelve years ago, I was putting together a cookbook for our quilting guild to sell as a fundraiser. One of the members of our guild at that time, Ruby Sowpel, gave me a banana cake recipe. After reading the directions, it struck me as a very old recipe, so I had to ask Ruby where she got it from. She told me that when she was a young bride—so in the early 1940s—she had been given this recipe by her sister-in-law, who had received it many years before from her mother-in-law. We were able to trace the origin back to about 1900. It was originally handwritten with things like “a handful of butter”—there was no measuring. When I included this recipe in the book, I had to convert all the ingredients from the original instructions into what I guessed they’d be in measuring cups.
I like the original recipe, but I’ve made some changes that I think result in a much lighter, fluffier and longer-lasting cake. Using buttermilk, instead of regular milk or cream, definitely helps lengthen the life of the recipe. I also use a lot more bananas than the original recipe called for—I wouldn’t add any fewer than five.
Ruby’s original banana cake was served with maple fudge frosting, but I don’t care for the kind of firmness that a fudge icing gives (it makes it harder to decorate), so I started experimenting. I really like my recipe for maple cream cheese frosting even better than other versions I’ve seen because it’s less stiff on the cake. The original recipe called for chopped walnuts; personally, I wouldn’t put chopped walnuts in many things, as they go rancid easily. But in the olden days, that was all you could get. We’re quite spoiled. For instance, I remember that when it was winter, you didn’t get certain fruit or vegetables, but now we can get everything we want year-round.
I didn’t grow up in a family where my mother did much cooking or baking; it’s something I came to after I retired. I started to make cakes for my grandsons, and at first, I would make just chocolate and white. When I found this banana cake recipe, I began to play around with it. It reminds me of how when I was a child, my mother used to make banana bread. That would be a really special treat for us.
A bride-to-be asked if I would make her this cake for her wedding. On the night of her wedding, she wrote me an email while traveling between her reception and hotel room to say how awesome the cake was, that there was none left. That was really, really nice.
The truth is I don’t eat much dessert, but I do love to make them. I like the satisfaction of knowing how happy they make other people. This is a delicious, awesome cake, and people are going to get a lot of accolades if they make it.
Banana Cake With Maple Cream Cheese Frosting, courtesy of Audrey Vrooman
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 ¼ hours
Yields: 1 large 9-inch (2.5 L) square cake or 9-inch (1.5 L) round cake, or 12 to 16 servings
5 bananas, peeled
1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
½ cup (125 mL) butter
1½ cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups (500 mL) cake-and-pastry flour
2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
½ tsp (2 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk
1½ tsp (7 mL) vanilla
250 g tub cream cheese
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¼ cup (60 mL) pure maple syrup, medium grade
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 tsp (5 mL) pure maple extract
4 cups (1 L) icing sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) meringue powder
1. In small bowl, mash bananas; add baking soda. Set aside.
2. In separate bowl, cream butter with sugar; whisk in eggs.
3. In third bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add one-third of flour mixture to butter mixture, stirring to combine. Stir in half of the buttermilk. Stir in another third of the flour, the remaining buttermilk and the remaining flour. Stir in banana mixture; stir in vanilla.
4. Scrape into cake pan. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for about 40 minutes. (Option: Slice cake horizontally to make two layers, instead of cake with no layers.)
1. In large bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add maple syrup, vanilla and maple extract; beat until well combined. Beat in icing sugar and meringue powder until smooth.
2. Ice top and sides and cake.
Option for layer cake with banana filling: Cut cake horizontally into 2 layers. Ice cut side of bottom layer (you could use vanilla cream cheese icing between layers with maple cream cheese icing on top and sides of cake. To make vanilla cream cheese frosting, omit maple syrup and maple extract). Lay sliced bananas on top of iced layer. Replace second layer of cake over filling, cut side down. Frost sides and top of cake.
Any leftover cake or icing can be double-wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to three months.
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