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Not every recipe has to be complicated, and this one is quite simple. I wasn’t going for banana bread when I worked on this. The internet has enough banana breads, and I honestly had something else in mind. I wanted a tangier cake, if that’s possible, with chunks of banana.
I opted for a buttermilk cake base, with a little whole wheat pastry flour mixed in for good measure. I mixed the chopped banana into the batter just before baking to make sure this would be a buttermilk cake with banana and not a buttermilk banana bread. They are not the same thing. And because of my love of cardamom and my previous experience with this banana bread recipe, clearly cardamom and banana are magical when combined. So I added some freshly ground green cardamom for its floral notes. The recipe comes together like any other cake by the creaming method, and the glaze was a quick mix of icing sugar, melted butter, buttermilk, and a splash of vanilla. Glazes are easy enough yet, I honestly find it quite difficult to get the texture just right. I lack practice. I’ll get it right one day! Until then, this post is about the cake and not the glaze. Feel free to send me your glaze tips and tricks!
The thing that surprised me about this cake is that I was certain that the banana chunks wouldn’t discolour inside the cake as it baked. And there really was some thought behind that assumption. The first reason was that I peeled and chopped the banana right before working in the dry ingredients into the batter. I worked quickly to minimize the time the banana chunks were exposed to the air. The second reason that I thought the bananas would not brown is because I assumed the batter would be somewhat acidic (with a lower than neutral pH) because of the unbalanced buttermilk in the recipe. If you look at my list of ingredients (compared to most other buttermilk cake recipes), I didn’t provide any sodium bicarbonate to balance out the acidity of the buttermilk. That was done on purpose. I didn’t want any ingredients to mess with that acidity and I thought that given the unbalanced acid in this recipe, that acid would prevent (or slow) the browning process of the bananas enough that once the chunks eventually felt the heat of the oven, that those pesky browning enzymes (polyphenol oxidase) would denature and no longer cause browning. Does that make sense? Basically, I was banking on the combination of an acidic environment and the heat of the oven to prevent the browning of the fruit.
Apparently I was wrong. The banana chunks greyed a little around the edges. Conclusion: I really need to get a pH meter or even some pH paper to verify the pHs as I go. Or maybe I need to work more on my banana browning theory (or rather my banana greying theory in this case). Remember blueberries turn green with changes in pH.
On the bright side, I wasn’t wrong about everything. I omitted the baking soda that most buttermilk cake recipes tend to include because I felt like it was unnecessary. This cake is made with baking powder, so it has that perfect combination of bicarbonate and an acid. This cake also gets its lift from the rising power of eggs. As predicted, my little loaf cake rose beautifully in the oven, up and out of the pan, so my theory, that the extra bicarbonate in most buttermilk cake recipes isn’t really necessary, was correct. At least I seem to have gotten that much right, and so I rewarded myself with cake.
- I baked this loaf cake at 325ºF, and not the usual 350ºF, because I was using a Baker’s Secret pan (available from Amazon), which has a darker finish. Remember darker pans are very good at browning cake edges, and even burning them, so if you are baking with a pan that has a dark finish, remember to lower your oven temperature by 25ºF. On the other hand, if you are baking this recipe in a light, aluminum pan, you can go ahead and bake it at 350ºF.
- Another thing to keep in mind: my pan is an 8×4″ loaf pan, medium size, not the typical 9×5″ pan we bake our loaves in usually. If you are using a 9×5 pan, your cake might bake faster. I suspect that it might be done after an hour. Best check it earlier rather than later!
- Got extra buttermilk after baking this cake? You might as well try my buttermilk pancake recipe to use it up!
Banana & cardamom buttermilk cake recipe
Banana & cardamom buttermilk cake
- 125 grams all-purpose flour 1 cup
- 63 grams whole wheat pastry flour 1/2 cup
- 1/2 tsp fine kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
- 115 grams unsalted butter 1/2 cup, room temperature
- 200 grams granulated sugar 1 cup
- 2 large eggs whisked together
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 medium banana this is equivalent to a heaping cup, ~150 grams, banana chunks, peeled and chopped into chunks
- 1/2 cup buttermilk 125 mL
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF if using a dark pan (350ºF if using a lighter loaf pan). Grease, flour, and line the bottom of a medium (8x4") loaf pan. I like the pan from Baker's Secret (available from Amazon).
- Sift together the flours, salt, and baking powder into a medium bowl, then whisk in the freshly ground cardamom.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the sugar for 3 minutes then, with the mixer on low, gradually add the whisked egg, a little at a time, then the vanilla. Scrape down the bowl and beat for another 3 minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine the banana chunks with 2 scoops of the dry mixture, and stir to coat the fruit.
- With the mixer on low, add a third of the flour and mix until almost combined, followed by half the buttermilk. Mix until just combined. Add another third of flour, and then the last of the buttermilk. Take the bowl off the mixer and then add the last bit of flour, mixing it in with a spatula by hand. Before the last of the flour has disappeared, stir in the flour-coated banana chunks.
- Transfer the cake batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the top and tapping the pan on the counter several times to try and remove air pockets.
- Bake for about 80 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Let cool 15 minutes before unmolding on a wire rack to cool completely.
Janice Lawandi is chemist-turned-baker, working as a recipe developer in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and cooking at l’Académie Culinaire. She has a BSc in Biochemistry from Concordia University and a PhD in Chemistry from McGill University. Visit janicelawandi.com to see my portfolio.