hawaiian banana cake with panocha frosting

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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.

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