Monkey cake: Banana cake with chocolate ganache and peanut butter frosting

Chocolate banana peanut butter monkey cake
When a PhD student defends their thesis, it’s a really big deal. Actually, it’s huge. It takes anywhere from four to seven years to get to that day. Yes, often in Chemistry, it takes seven solid years of work to finally get to that one day. Defense day is full of fear and excitement, not only for the student defending, but also for those that attend. So much hard work, sweat, and tears go into the years before the big finale. It is truly a moment to celebrate.
Me after my defense, shoes off, with a crown and necklace of popcorn and helium-filled balloons.

Photo courtesy of an anonymous, sugar-addicted chemist

My defense date was over a year ago, March 8th, 2010. I was seriously afraid to defend my thesis, scared to make a fool of myself in front of my friends and family when I was supposed to be demonstrating that I was an expert. To be honest, I cried before the defense, out of sheer panic. I also cried after the defense, from the immense sense of relief because this huge, difficult part of my life was finally over. I cried when my panel of judges, one by one, took my hand to shake it in congratulations and when they gave me the title of doctor. We celebrated with boat-loads of popcorn that one of my best friends, E, spent three days lovingly popping, just for me. There was popcorn everywhere. It was epic.
How to assemble a monkey cake from banana cake
Genius idea: Cut out a parchment round from a bigger sheet of parchment paper, then use the scraps of paper to protect the cake board when icing and decorating!
Friday, I attended E’s defense. E is a very hard worker, and she gave every one of her projects her undivided attention over the years, working most nights and week-ends. I was so happy to have the opportunity to witness such an important event in her life, and be there to support her. For the post-defense celebration, we celebrated with fruity cocktails, and I happily contributed a monkey cake for this momentous occasion. She loves monkeys. That’s her thing. How could I resist the chance to make her a monkey cake?
How to decorate a monkey cake with chocolate and peanut butter frosting

What you need to make a monkey cake

Components of a monkey cake

Obviously, since I was making a monkey cake, the two 9-inch cake layers had to be banana-flavored (tweaked from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, page 157). I used chocolate ganache (Alton Brown) and peanut butter frosting (Bon Appétit, January 2003) between the layers. The ears were made by baking two cupcakes-worth of the banana cake batter in a muffin tin. So to make a monkey cake, you will need two 9-inch layers of cake, preferably banana cake, plus two banana cupcakes, chocolate frosting, and peanut butter frosting. You will also need cake board, parchment paper, offset spatula for frosting, a serrated knife for levelling the layers of cake, and a piping bag with a round tip for any fine decorating.

How to make a monkey cake

Once you’ve stacked your banana layers with frosting, you can then cover the entire cake with chocolate ganache, and then apply the monkey face with peanut butter frosting. Add the eyes, nose, and mouth with chocolate ganache frosting. This is where you . may want to use a piping bag. For the ears, cover the cupcakes entirely with chocolate frosting, then add peanut butter frosting to the tops to give more shape to the ears (see photos). Stick the ears on either side of the monkey face.

The combination of banana, peanut butter, and chocolate was a huge hit with everyone, especially our friend-turned-doctor. The cake layers are firm but moist, and with just enough banana flavor that is not overpowering. To cut down on the sweetness of the decorated cake and to make it more “adult-friendly,” I opted to use an unsweetened, lightly salted natural peanut butter to make the peanut butter frosting, and semi-sweet chocolate for the chocolate ganache.

E’s three-day popcorn popping spree made my defense party unforgettable. I hope that my little monkey cake contribution made her big day a little more special too. If you aren’t in the mood for a monkey cake and rather something a little simpler, try this banana snacking cake with chocolate frosting.


Monkey cake: Banana cake with chocolate ganache and peanut butter frosting

Here's how to make and decorate a monkey cake. Start with layers of banana cake (for the face) and two cupcpakes (for the ears), then frost with chocolate and peanut butter frosting and decorate to look like a monkey face.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 50 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings 24
Calories 491kcal
Author Janice


Banana Cake Layers

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour plus more for pans
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter 1 1/2 sticks, room temperature
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana
  • 1/4 cup yoghurt 2.5% fat
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs room temperature

Chocolate ganache frosting

  • 16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chopped fine
  • 16 ounces whipping cream (35 % fat) 2 cups, ie 500 mL

Peanut butter frosting

  • 1.5 cups creamy peanut butter I used natural, organic peanut butter, but this means the frosting will separate if left too long at room temperature, so beware!
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1 stick, room temperature
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp spiced or dark rum
  • Enough skim milk to obtain a spreadable consistency


To make the cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans by greasing, lining the bottom of each with parchment, and then greasing and flouring them, tapping out the excess flour. Set them aside for later, saving the parchment scraps for when you decorate. Do the same to two cups of a 6-muffin pan, but don’t line the bottom of the cups with parchment. Set the prepared muffin pan aside for later.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the mashed banana, yoghurt, and vanilla. Set aside the banana mixture for later.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium-low for a few minutes, until it is light. Scraped down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, as needed.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing on medium-low between each addition, and scraping down the bowl as needed.
  • Add one-third the dry ingredients, mix well and scrape down the bowl, and then half the banana mixture. Repeat this again with half the remaining dry ingredients, and the rest of the banana mixture. Finish by adding the last of the dry ingredients, and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure every ingredient is evenly incorporated.
  • Divide half the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Scoop out about 1/3 cup from each cake pan, and transfer to each of the muffin pans. Fill the empty muffin cups half way with water.
  • Bake the cakes for about 25 minutes (though the original recipe says 30–35 minutes). Check the cakes to make sure they are done by poking through the center with a skewer or cake tester. The skewer should come out clean.
  • Transfer the cake pans to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache frosting

  • Heat the heavy cream in a quart-sized, microwavable container and microwave for 3 to 4 minutes on high, or until it just begins to simmer; be careful not to allow cream to boil over.
  • Place the chocolate in a medium, heat-proof bowl. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes (don’t rush this step), then slowly stir with a spatula. As you stir, the lumpy mixture will slowly blend together and become a thin, chocolate syrup.
  • Let the syrup set at room temperature for a few hours, then transfer it to the fridge for another hour or so. When the ganache has a thick pudding-like consistency, transfer it to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip it into frosting. Use right away, before it hardens any more.

To make the peanut butter frosting

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the peanut butter, butter, rum, and the powdered sugar until mixture is smooth.
  • Add milk by teaspoonfuls until the desired, spreadable consistency is reached.

To assemble

  • Line a 12-inch cake board with the saved parchment scraps.
  • Trim the top off of one of the baked cake rounds so that it is flat and even. Peel the parchment lining off the bottom, and place it in the center of the board.
  • Frost the top of this layer with a thin layer of both the ganache and peanut butter frostings.
  • Peel the parchment lining off the bottom of the second cake round, and place it on top of the first. Do not trim this cake round. Frost the entire cake with ganache frosting.
  • To fix the ears to the cake rounds, frost the bottom with ganache, and skewer them to the cake with toothpicks. Place them at opposite sides of the round. Frost the ears with ganache.
  • With peanut butter frosting, fill in the ears, and paint on the monkey face. For the lines of the mouth, eyes, and nose, use a piping bag with a round tip and the ganache.
  • Refrigerate the cake until you are ready to serve. To cut through the ganache layer, you may want to use a knife dipped in warm water.
Tried this recipe?Mention @kitchenhealssoul or tag #kitchenhealssoul!


Calories: 491kcal

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23 Responses to Monkey cake: Banana cake with chocolate ganache and peanut butter frosting

  1. Anonymous August 1, 2011 at 3:10 PM #

    This cake was absolutely DELICIOUS and looked AMAZING!!

  2. Torviewtoronto August 1, 2011 at 6:54 PM #

    cake looks soft and delicious

  3. Steph August 1, 2011 at 3:52 PM #

    This is so CUTE!!!

  4. Emily @ Life on Food August 1, 2011 at 11:03 PM #

    So super cute! Love it!

  5. Tina August 1, 2011 at 8:33 PM #

    Great idea making this lighthearted looking monkey cake in follow up to the serious thesis defense! I am sure that it was delicious-chocolate and bananas were made for each other. Yum!

  6. Sarah August 2, 2011 at 12:40 AM #

    Darling cake! Looks like a perfect way to celebrate! I can’t even imagine having to defend a thesis!

  7. Kels August 2, 2011 at 12:43 AM #

    This cake is adorable! I also love love love banana cake. Congratulations to both you and your friend E for your accomplishments!

  8. Valerie August 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM #

    haha i loooove that cake! Looks really cute and delicious, it’s really well done!

  9. Erin August 2, 2011 at 1:24 AM #

    The cake is super cute! What a great way to celebrate after the defense. I am sure it was much appreciated!

  10. Ann August 2, 2011 at 1:40 AM #

    The cake looks amazing and sounds delicious! What a good friend you are and what a good friend you have! Congratulations to both of you!

  11. The Daily Dish August 2, 2011 at 5:37 PM #

    You are such a wonderful friend! What a beautiful cake and seriously – what a tribute to friendship. I am bookmarking this one for my daughter’s next brithday. Brilliant! PS: Congrats to your friend (and to you!)

  12. Arnie August 2, 2011 at 5:45 PM #

    What a totally awesome cake. Thank you for posting it.
    I intend to make it for my husband and his 2 work colleagues, because they always refer to each other as chimps 🙂
    I know it will go down a storm 😀

  13. Lisa August 2, 2011 at 8:14 PM #

    Not only are the flavors pheomenal, but this cake is just too cute for words. I can’t wait until one of my nephew’s next B-Day..I have to make it!

  14. Veronica Gantley August 2, 2011 at 7:18 PM #

    Absolutely adorable! Thanks for sharing.

  15. briarrose August 2, 2011 at 11:03 PM #

    Adorable! Fantastic job on this cake.

  16. Juanita August 8, 2011 at 4:14 PM #

    That’s awesome – the cake and the PhD! Well done to both of you 🙂

  17. designjr April 26, 2012 at 4:18 PM #

    Love this cheeky monkey cake! Congrats on the phds – I’m seeing some similarities with posts on our blog

  18. Mable Hartmann September 17, 2013 at 6:14 AM #

    I totally agree with you that defending the thesis can really be a big deal. And having successfully defended it can be a big plus! Writing thesis is just one part of the whole journey people have to endure. But good thing is that you successfully defended yours!

  19. Samantha March 29, 2016 at 12:36 AM #

    Made the monkey cake for my son’s second birthday (avoided spiced rum) and it came out well. I am completely new to frosting but tried it from your recipe just for my son.
    Many thanks for the recipe! 🙂


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