I shall join all the other bakers on the internet to proclaim that this Banana Cake Recipe is the BEST one ever! Yes, it has to be, since I have tried many of the other “best recipes” on the internet and found them wanting. So after many months of trials and 40+ banana cakes later, here is my version of the BEST banana cake ever!
So why did I take so long? Well, the truth of the matter is that I am not a trained baker, so I do not hold to any particular way of doing things. So, I was willing to experiment and go against convention to see what happens to my cake. I must say that I have learnt a lot in the last few months!
First of all, let me clarify that this is the Asian style banana cake and not an American style banana bread. It is the light and fluffy old-school banana cake that you can find in many of the traditional confectioneries in Singapore. The American style banana bread is denser and often has chopped walnuts and spices in it. The batter for this cake is very light, so it won’t be able to hold the nuts and they will all sink to the bottom.
Unfortunately, I haven’t come across what I would consider the perfect Banana cake. I tried the one from Hiap Joo Bakery which is widely considered to be the best around, but I found it to be a bit too light and not substantial enough. I also tried a Japanese banana cake which I picked up from Ion Orchard and found that it was too dense and lacked banana flavour. The perfect Banana Cake, it seems, only exists in my head, but this one is coming close.
The ingredients in a banana cake are pretty standard. It is the proportions and the sequence in which they are incorporated to the batter which is important. I have experimented with more flour vs less flour, cake flour vs plain flour, more sugar vs less sugar, brown sugar vs white sugar, more bananas vs less bananas, different types of bananas, bananas in different stages of ripeness, more eggs vs less eggs…… you get the picture.
I also experimented with the best way to combine the ingredients together, whether it is to cream the butter and sugar first or beat the eggs first or butter and flour first etc etc. It wasn’t good enough to come up with a method that works, it has to be the easiest as well. I was also concerned about how the cake looks after baking and how the slices would present themselves on the plate. So, I had to experiment with different baking pans and different oven temperatures.
Now you see why I took so long to get that balance of texture, flavour, appearance and technique I was looking for!
Is it perfect? Well, I can’t say it is perfect, yet. I feel the banana flavour can still be more intense and the cake could be moister, but I think at this stage, the recipe is good enough to share with all of you. I will share more tips on what I have learnt on my baking journey below. It is my hope that you bake a successful banana cake on the first go. Just follow my recipe exactly as I have written right down to the size of the cake pan.
Once you have baked your first successful cake based on my recipe, then go and do whatever modification you like. But, whatever you plan to do, I think I have probably already tried it. But, if you managed to make a banana cake that is even more “banananer”, I would love to hear about it!
1. Mix cake flour, castor sugar and baking powder in bowl
2. Cut butter into cubes and add to the flour. Allow butter to soften 3. Mash all the ingredients in Gp B and set aside
4. Whip egg whites still smooth and foamy
5. Add yolks and whip till homogenous
6. Add condensed milk and whip till homogenous
7. Add Gp B (mashed bananas) and whip till homogenous
8. Beat the butter and flour until the flour is all incorporated into the butter and most of the butter pea-sized or smaller
9. Add the 1/3 egg mixture into the flour and beat slowly until smooth.
10 Repeat with the rest of the egg mixture 1/3 at a time
11. Add batter into a lightly oiled 9×4 inch non-stick loaf pan
12. Smooth the top and bake at 160°C for 50mins
(At the end of baking time, the top should be brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean. The baking temperature and times will depend on your oven.
To add banana on top of the cake, thinly slice the banana and leave in the freezer to firm up. Place the banana on top of the cake once the top starts to brown, around 20mins into the baking time
The KitchenAid 9-Speed Hand Mixer
For this recipe, I used the KitchenAid 9-Speed hand mixer. I find the wide speed range rather convenient as it allows you to go from crumbling the butter and flour at low speed to mixing and whipping up your egg whites really quickly at high speed. A hand mixer can also be rather convenient when you are using a number of mixing bowls so you can go from bowl to bowl without having to wash the mixing bowl on the stand mixer. You can of course do this recipe by hand but why struggle when you can get some aid around the Kitchen? (pun intended)
KitchenAid Digital Countertop oven
For the baking, I used the KitchenAid Digital Countertop oven. You can of course use an inbuilt oven as well. This countertop oven is rather convenient if you have limited kitchen space as it is built higher so takes less space on the kitchen counter but does a whole lot more than an oven toaster with higher capacity. I have made a thin and crispy Japanese-style pizza and Focaccia Bread with it before.
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Details and tips
We live in a part of the world where there are so many varieties of bananas, so we should have a leg up with it comes to banana cake! All the banana cake recipes from the US make use of the Cavendish banana which you commonly find at the supermarkets. It is ok, but the banana you want for this recipe is either the Pisang Berangan aka Ang Bak Jioh or the Pisang Rajah. I have used Cavendish and kepok as well, but they don’t give the best flavour. The Pisang Berangan is the one used by Hiap Joo Bakery and is recommended by most experts. Rajah is good too but more difficult to buy.
Always use bananas which are super ripe. You can easily buy them from the fruit stall at a bargain price. I like to buy a whole bunch and really let them turn brown and then put them in the freezer. All you need to do is to defrost them in the microwave and then mash them.
I have tried cooking the bananas to try to concentrate the flavour but it doesn’t really do much. I have tried increasing the amount of bananas but the extra starch causes the cake to become too dense and not fluffy, more like a kueh than a cake. Another thing I have done is to dehydrate the bananas by putting them on a rack in a 50C oven for 8 hours. They dry up and become like raisins. Very nice for my banana bread but can’t use for banana cake because they all sink to the bottom. In the end, the best way to boost banana flavour is to add a teaspoon of banana essence. It is like baking orange cake and adding orange zest. That one teaspoon of essence makes a big difference to the flavor of the cake. I tried several brands. Bake King is ok and is easily available at the supermarket, but the one prefer to use is from Ailin Bakery Supplies.
Eggs serve as a binding agent in the cake to hold the flour and oil together. My original recipe had 3 eggs and for a long time I was struggling with a cake that was rather dense instead of being fluffy and crumbly. When I finally reduced it to two eggs, the texture improved markedly! In one of my experiments, I used only one egg and the cake turned out really fluffy! But it couldn’t hold together and just like the banana, it split!
I like to whip my eggs to incorporate more air into the batter. The traditional way of doing a reverse creaming method is to just add the eggs whole into the flour and butter.
I experimented with both ways and prefer whipping the eggs first. You can whip whole eggs, but it will take a longer time. Whipping whites first, then adding the yolk cuts down on the whipping time. You want to whip the whites just until you can’t see any more big bubbles, then add the yolks followed by the condensed milk.
Don’t add the condensed milk first or the whites will collapse. (See why I took so many attempts?)
The technique I finally employed for the banana cake is a fusion of egg foaming and reverse creaming technique. It took me a while to experiment with the creaming technique where butter is creamed with sugar first, as well as other methods shown on the web. It’s quite amazing to see how the different sequences in which the same ingredients are put together can result in the different textures of the cake!
There are some recipes that call for vegetable oil or shortening instead of butter. I have tried shortening, margarine, butter flavoured shortening and vegetable oil. Butter is still the best in terms of flavour. It is said that shortening and vegetable oil is better for leavening, but in my experience, the difference is minimal. So I stuck with butter.
The reverse creaming method calls for the butter to be mixed with the flour and sugar before the eggs are added. The butter should be soft but not room temperature. (Room temperature in temperate countries is quite different from Singapore) Best to be at around 17°C, ie still cool but soft enough that you can easily press it flat. You want to mix the flour and butter until you are unable to see any more white in the flour and there are no more big pieces of butter. The butter should still be cool and not have melted.
Sugar gives structure as well as moisture to the cake. The original recipe has more sugar in it but my friends said the cake was too sweet, so I reduced the sugar. I think the current level has struck a balance between sweetness and moisture. I have tried using brown sugar to give the cake more flavor, but I felt the flavour of brown sugar detracted from the banana flavour, so I stuck with just plain castor sugar. I have tried light brown sugar and that one turned out quite nicely!
Baking powder and Baking soda
I was struggling with deflated cakes for a while and finally realised that I had been adding too much baking powder to the batter. The cake on the right has too much baking powder while the one on the left did not have enough leavening. The cake rises because of the baking powder as well as the air trapped in the beaten eggs, so if you don’t incorporate enough air in the batter, you get a kueh instead of a cake! The baking soda is added to the bananas because that is what my mum told me to do. The baking soda also helps in the browning of the cake by increasing its pH level.
For this recipe, I use a 9×4 inch non-stick loaf pan. Even though it is non-stick, I still prefer to spray some butter/oil all over to ensure that it comes out nice. Another thing I like to do is to knock the pan a few times before putting it into the oven so as to allow any air bubbles to rise, resulting in an even crumb structure for my banana cake.
The temperature and duration of baking really depends on your oven. On my built-in oven, I use 150°C for 50mins while on the KitchenAid Digital Countertop Oven, I use 170°C for 50mins.
So, you really need to be familiar with your own oven. 160°C for 50mins should be quite safe and if the cake is not brown enough, you can extend the baking time by another 5-10 mins.
Decorating with Banana Slices
If you are planning to add the banana slices on top, you will need to add them at around the 25 min mark when the top is just slightly golden brown. By that time the top crust is formed and can hold up the banana slices. If you try to put the banana slices on top of the batter at the start, they will just sink to the bottom and so will your heart. Freezing the bananas for a short time will make them easier to handle.
In my attempts to intensify the banana flavour in the cake, I have also tried dehydrating the bananas. I basically half them and place them on a rack and leave them in a 50°C oven until they become chewy and dry. They are nice to eat on their own or used to place on top of the banana cake. I have chopped them up for my banana bread recipe. Unfortunately, they are still too heavy and will sink to the bottom of the cake pan when used for this recipe.
If you have read everything I have written until here, then I am quite confident that you will be baking a successful banana cake on your first go if not the 2nd. Good luck!
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