hawaiian banana cake with panocha frosting

It’s Easter. We should eat healthy, right? And so we did. To celebrate the end of Lent, we did eat healthy. Depends on how you define healthy; as a fitting end to the sacrifices we made during Lent, like giving up desserts, well, yes, it was healthy. We had ham with 5 spice cherry sauce; garlicky pak boong (morning glory) stir-fried with Chinese sausage; sugar snap peas with red onions and shiitake mushrooms; citrus-roasted asparagus; and broccoli-grape salad. Except for the pak boong, I made this for Easter dinner last year in New York. But all good things must end with something sweet. And that’s this banana cake.

I found the recipe on Food 52. It originally comes from Hawaii; it is a family recipe of Lindsay-Jean Hard. Apparently, in Hawaii a penuche (pronounced pen-OO-chay) frosting is pronounced “panocha.”  A penuche/panocha frosting basically consists of  three cups of sugar. It’s terribly sweet. However, I liked the recipe because that idea of a recipe handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter is just so awww-inspiring. I wish I had that. What’s more intriguing–other than the fact that I’ve made two consecutive banana recipe posts–is that this banana cake uses the same techniques as a chiffon cake–folding in whipped egg whites. The result is a crumb that is moist and tender. I’ve made some adjustments to Lindsay’s recipe because another thing about family recipes is that they are so familiar to us that we tend to leave out key instructions in the method.

Hawaiian Banana Cake with Penuche/Panocha Frosting

Prep time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 35 minutes
Cooling time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Makes one cake that can be split into two halves and frosted

2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (338g) superfine sugar
2 large eggs, separated when cold
1/2 cup sour milk (1/2 tablespoon white vinegar in a measuring cup topped to 1/2 cup level with milk)
1 2/3 cup pastry flour (160g)–according to Lindsay, you can substitute all purpose
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Preheat the oven 350˚F or 185˚C. Butter and flour one 8-inch spring form pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease and flour it. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. One at a time, add the egg yolks, bananas, and sour milk, mixing after each addition.

In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture all at once to the butter mixture. Stir until some white streaks remain.

In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped whites into the butter-banana mixture. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 25-35 minutes or until the center springs back when pressed slightly. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove the sides and allow the cake to cool thoroughly. Remove the bottom. I did it by inserting a pancake turner between the bottom and the cake. Remove the paper. When it is cool, split the cake horizontally into 2 equal halves then frost with penuche frosting.

Penuche/Panocha Frosting

Prep time: 5-10 minutes (includes whipping)
Cooking time: 7 minutes
Cooling time: 1 hour plus

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 3/4 to 2 cups powdered confectioner’s sugar

I had a lot of problems getting this frosting to set. It’s so hot here–it’s the middle of the Thai summer and the air throbs with the heat. After the 2 cups of powdered sugar failed to make the frosting fluffy, I decided to put the bowl in the fridge to firm up for an hour. By then it had turned into the consistency of almost-set fudge. But a few minutes in the heat of the kitchen softened it enough to whip again. I recommend chilling the mixing bowl and beaters while you boil the frosting.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and cook, two minutes, stirring constantly. Then add the milk. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture boils, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool until lukewarm, about 1 hour. Though the recipe didn’t say, I guessed the next step is to whip the mixture with the powdered sugar.

Take the chilled bowl and beaters out of the fridge or freezer where you had been keeping them. Scrape the sugar mixture into the bowl and whip on high speed, gradually adding the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time, until light and fluffy and smooth. Incorporating more air into the cooled frosting will use less sugar, is my theory.

Makes enough frosting for one two-layer cake.

Variation: try doubling the cake and frosting recipes to make a four-layer cake.

freezer banana cream pie

DSC03307We went to Xinn Tien Di, a Chinese restaurant that specializes in dim sum in the Gaysorn Shopping Center. Gaysorn was so wanting for customers–all those Western luxury brands, and not a single customer in sight. The street protests have started to put a deep dent in the flow of tourism.

At Xinn Tien Di, the lunchtime crowd had just filled up all the tables by the time we sat down. We ordered six dimsum dishes–little dumplings filled with shrimp, pork, and fish– and, to top up our appetites, a plate of fish in black bean sauce with noodles.  In the picture at left is sticky rice, mushrooms, and shrimp wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. The taste was delicate: the slightly earthy taste of the shiitake mushrooms, the freshness of the shrimp, and the smooth stickiness of the rice that captured the seasonings so they didn’t all steam away. The cost was surprisingly reasonable: Baht 1050 for two people.

We were still quite full after dimsum–it wasn’t heavy so much as it was satisfying, and the memory lingered all afternoon in our stomachs. We were ready for a light supper by 7 p.m. and dessert. I made this banana cream pie last night because it takes 12 hours to chill and harden. The only baking required is to make the pie shell. Just before serving I sliced up a large banana into slivers, dipped each sliver into fresh lime juice to preserve the color, and placed them on top of the pie. I ate the few leftover slivers–bananas and lime juice definitely are a match. I sprinkled demerara sugar on top of the bananas on the pie. You can brulée the top of the sugared banana slices if you have a kitchen torch, which I do not. I should get one–I’ve always wanted to set my food on fire.

freezer banana cream pie
freezer banana cream pie

Freezer Banana Cream Pie (adapted from Yahoo! Shine Food)

For the pie shell:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, optional

Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F or 185˚C.

Pulse all ingredients in food processor to evenly distribute the butter and salt, if using. Transfer to one 9” pie plate and press the crumbs on the bottom and sides. Bake for 12 minutes. Set aside to cool on a wire rack until cooled completely.

For the filling:

2 ripe bananas (approximately 1 cup)
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped until stiff peaks form

In a large bowl, mash 2 ripe bananas with the back of a fork. Add condensed milk, salt, and vanilla. Combine one-third of the whipped cream mixture into the banana mixture. This lightens the banana mixture so you don’t over-mix it when adding the whipped cream. Add whipped cream to the banana mixture and gently fold with a silicone spatula. To fold, cut the mixture in the middle of the bowl and push the banana-cream mixture towards the side. Flip and do a quarter turn of the bowl. Continue folding and turning the bowl until the mixtures are combined. Pour into cooled pie shell. Freeze for 12 hours.

For the topping:

1-2 bananas
2 tablespoons demerara sugar

When ready to serve, thinly slice 1-2 bananas and layer on top of the pie. Sprinkle with sugar. The original directions say you can brulée the top. If you wish to do this, use superfine sugar instead of the demerara, because it is the sugar that melts and browns in brulée. Alternatively, you can brown the bananas in a little butter on the stove top. Slice and serve.

guisada: a latin-thai pork stew

DSC03215I haven’t cooked in six weeks!

But I’ve been indulging my inner gourmande. I have been discovering and savoring new flavors in and around Salaya where I now work. So far, my favorite place is Vietnam Hut; their specialty is pizza on a cracker. The cracker is made of rice that puffs up wonderfully light and crispy in hot oil. The cracker is then overlaid with a rice pancake, thin slivers of meat sausage, herbs, lots of crisp slivers of fried garlic, and sprinkled with vinegar dressing.  That’s the Vietnamese version of pizza. It’s crunchy, salty, tangy, sour– I just love blended cuisines!

Now that I am off for the Songkran or Thai New Year holiday, I intend to cook as much as I can.  This first recipe of my vacation is a guisada. It refers to a Portuguese stew that somehow in its translation to Jamaica the gizzada became a shortbread cup filled with a sweet coconut mixture. It went from a stew to a dessert. But I’m not making either traditional guisada or gizzada here. I found this recipe on Skinnytaste and of course, it went through some necessary transformations, not all of it cultural. Much of the changes were dictated by what was available at Tops Supermarket.

First of all, I couldn’t find beef stew so this became a pork stew. I used Chang beer–so that makes it Thai in my estimation! I also added the Chinese celery (คื่นฉ่าย), a piquant herb that’s used to add flavor to Thai soups and salads. I added sweet soy sauce, which is thicker and sweeter than regular soy sauce, and is available only in Asian grocery stores– in New York, that is. I used it to color the sauce and the meat and to add a little sweetness to balance the salty earthy flavors of the herbs and the seasonings.


Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30-45 minutes

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3 stalks scallion, chopped
2 stalks Chinese celery, stripped of leaves and chopped
4 fat cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin trimmed of fat and silver and cut into 2 inch chunks
10 oz small potatoes, halved and then quartered
1/3 cup Chang beer
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

In a large Dutch pot, heat a teaspoon oil. Cook the scallions, celery, garlic and cilantro until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the mixture. Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute. In a large skillet, heat the other teaspoon oil and cook the meat until it is seared on all sides, about 1-2 minutes per side.

Add the seared meat to the vegetables in the Dutch pot. Add the potatoes, beer, water, seasoning salt, paprika, cumin, and soy sauce. Mix well. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook on low heat for about 30 minutes to 45 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.

You can also cook this in a crock pot; it will take 6-8 hours to cook though.

Serve the stew hot with hot cooked rice. To reduce calories even further, serve it with riced cauliflower instead of rice, or my favorite, slices of fresh Jamaican hard dough bread to soak up the gravy.