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My husband Wayne is immeasurably capable with everything in life: a true renaissance man. I mean, this guy cuts his own hair, fixes 99% of things that need rewiring, replumbing, landscaping, reconnecting…you name it. He cleans like no one else. He can repair a golf cart, lay tile, replace wood boards on a deck, perform a vasectomy in under 15 minutes. With all these duties on his more-than-capable shoulders, it has never been my husband’s job to cook.
That being said, I do recall when I was in my 40’s and our kids were all living at home. I travelled with a friend to Bali for an Earthwatch trip, and he managed to take care of the house and three kids and their meals for three weeks! Granted there was a lot of red jello, honey nut cheerios, purchased cinnamon rolls…but still he made pasta, chicken, vegetables, brisket and my kids survived. He just doesn’t love to spend his time cooking.
So, while we were in Belize recently and my husband announced he was making me a banana cake for my birthday I thought “oh yeah, right. YOU haven’t made a cake in about 40 years, and to try this in Belize?” But I played along and smiled, expecting nothing. Keep in mind that baking anything from scratch in Belize is challenging to say the least – impossible almost. Just finding ingredients means driving to perhaps three different markets. I have used my oven here only a handful of times – primarily to keep food warm or to make pizza. That’s it. There is a reason folks and restaurants here make cakes from a mix.
Regardless, we headed to town to run errands and he had the list of ingredients he needed: butter ($6.40 a pound in Belize) cake flour (NO, not available), sugar (granulated Americanized sugar came in 10 lb bags and was horrifically expensive, so he bought raw sugar), flour (you have to buy it in paper bags and even then it might be filled with bugs)…so you can imagine the searching and stops and frustration. I did tell him, professional cook that I am, that one can make cake flour from cornstarch and regular flour.
The ingredients cost over 20 US dollars so we handed over the cash and headed home.
Two days later, at 6 pm, the flurry and preparations began. I was told to mind my own business and so I knit, read and covertly watched the goings on. We didn’t have two 9-inch cake pans so he used a 10-inch and an 8-inch flan or quasi cake pan. Fair enough, he improvised a cooling rack with the grates of our stovetop. The sugar down here wouldn’t go through the holes of the sifter even after he blended the sugar–it was too damp. And cake flour was created the old fashioned way.
I have my original copy of the Joy of Cooking in Belize – it is over 40 years old, stained and tattered from wear…and the last cake he made was a recipe from this book. I must have been 22 or 23 at the time but we both remembered this cake as being light and moist. Out came the book, he read the piece on how to make cakes.
The cakes stuck to the bottom of the pan (he forgot to flour the shmeared butter to coat the pans) but that got patched. Fresh bananas between the layers. Powdered sugar icing and coconut flakes. And he cleaned the incredible mess so that there wasn’t a trace of his antics. At 8 pm we each ate two slices of the cake while it was a little warm and called it dinner. And the next morning I couldn’t wait to come downstairs and slice off a sliver to eat with my coffee.
He has promised to make this again when my kids and their families visit us in Belize. I’m on board with that! And, I am shaking my head as I type this… but, while his cake didn’t look too professional, he knocked it out of the park. I wouldn’t change his method a bit. Nada. Nunca.
Banana Coconut Cake
Adapted from my 1964 antique copy of Joy of Cooking
Serves 10-12 : makes two 9 x 9 inch rounds or or 9 x 15 inch cake pan
- 2 ¼ cups cake flour (sift before measuring)
- ½ tsp aluminum free baking powder
- ½ tsp table salt
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar, sifted
- ½ cup salted butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup very ripe and peeled, then mashed bananas
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¼ cup plain yogurt or buttermilk (we used yogurt-no buttermilk here)
Bring everything to room temperature before starting
Preheat oven with rack in the center to 350 degrees F
Grease and flour the bottoms and sides of your two cake pans or larger rectangular cake pan and set aside. We used butter for this. Personally, next time I would butter the pan, put parchment to fit the bottom, then regrease and flour the top of the parchment so it doesn’t stick.
Sift cake flour. Then resift with baking powder, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
Combine the mashed bananas, vanilla and yogurt and set aside
Using a hand mixer, cream butter for 3 minutes, add eggs one at a time, beating well between eggs.
Add the sifted flour mixture gradually, alternating with the banana mixture in thirds.
Place batter in the two cake pans or one larger pan and place in oven for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of each comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on rack, then remove from pans after five minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the frosting:
Makes approximately one cup
- Slightly less than 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 4 Tbsp soft butter
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- evaporated milk if needed (regular milk would work too)
- 2 ripe bananas, thinly sliced
- 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes, optional
Beat butter with hand mixer and gradually add powdered sugar until creamy. Add salt and vanilla, and continue beating. Add evaporated milk to make a spreadable, not too thick frosting. We added about ¼ cup of milk to ours.
You can frost the cake while it is still warm!! Do this!!
Put the first layer bottom (flat) side up on a large plate. Cover the top with thinly sliced bananas. Dot with about ⅛ cup of frosting to “glue” the layers together.
Put the next layer, flat side on the bottom to cover the first layer. Spread the top and sides of the cake with icing, then sprinkle with coconut if desired.
Slice a nice wedge, pour a glass of milk or a cup of tea and enjoy. Repeat. Cover the cake well and refrigerate if you have leftovers. Have for breakfast, lunch and dinner until it is gone.
Discard all other banana cake recipes you own – this will beat whatever recipe you have hands down. And straight out of the fridge it tastes fantastic!