Banana Cake with Chocolate Icing

Last week, my nephew turned two. And before I left Edmonton – headed first for Newfoundland, and then for my current home base in North Carolina –  we celebrated. We opened presents, went to the park, chased magpies and, of course, ate cake. 

Compared to my efforts on Max’s first birthday, this year was a little more modest. But, based on the look of undiminished excitement on his little face as we relit the candles atop the cake and let him blow them out for a second time (he’s celebrating two years, after all), I’ll be bold and posit that he was happy with just a cake, instead of cakes. 

In keeping with (an admittedly one-year only) tradition, it was a mini three-layer banana creation, wrapped up in chocolate. On first read, it may sound a little complicated, what with all those layers of a non-traditional size. But because you can cut them from a single 9x13-inch cake, it comes together surprisingly quickly (and, my favourite bit, it asks that you grease only one pan).

But, as you may well ask, why bother with such tiny layers in the first place? When I made my first tiny cake last year, the thinking was pragmatic: If Max was going to smash the thing anyway, as every baby should have the right to do, better keep it small. But there’s now another part to it: A three-layer cake simply feels more ceremonious, and in going small, it’s more manageable to bake (no need to scale recipes or invest in extra pans) and it won’t linger in your fridge days after the party’s over. 

Now enough with the details. It’s time for, as Max would say, CAAAAAAAAAAKE

5-inch Banana Cake with Chocolate Icing
Serves 4-6
Adapted from this recipe and this recipe 

Cake Ingredients 
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I swapped in 1 cup of whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup mashed ripe bananas 

Icing Ingredients
2 1/2 cups icing (confectioner’s or powdered) sugar
6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
4-6 tbsp milk 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 

Cake Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9x13-inch glass baking pan. (My 9x13-inch pan was nowhere to be found, so I used a slightly smaller pan and a muffin tin.)

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy (an electric or hand mixer works bester for this). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the vanilla.

3. In another medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. 

4. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until mostly incorporated. Add in the buttermilk and banana, and stir gently just until the mixture is smooth. 

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a knife/toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out with a few crumbs, but without gooey batter. Set aside on a wire rack to cool.

Icing Instructions

1. In a medium bowl, sift together the icing sugar and cocoa powder.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter until it’s smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add in the sugar-cocoa mix, alternating with the milk. After the final addition, add in the vanilla, and beat until the icing is totally smooth.

3. If the icing is too dry, beat in more milk, one teaspoon at a time. If the icing is too wet, beat in cocoa or sugar (depending on whether you want it to be more chocolate or more sweet) one tablespoon at a time. 

To Assemble

1. Once the cake is cool, cut it into three, approximately 5-inch rounds (a thin-rimmed glass bowl works well here). If the tops of your rounds aren’t flat, gently slice the rounded tops off with a serrated knife, and set them aside with the rest of the scraps. 

2. Line the edges of your cake plate with strips of parchment or wax paper. Place one round in the centre of your plate so that it overlaps the edges of the paper.

3. Spread 1/4 cup of icing evenly over the first round. Stack another round on top of the icing, and spread another 1/4 cup of icing evenly over that second layer. Stack the final round on top, and spread a very thin layer of icing over it. 

4. Next, spread a very thin layer of icing around the sides of your cake. This ‘crumb coat’, as it’s called, will fix the crumbs of the cake in place and keep them from invading the next, final layer of icing.

5. Let the crumb coat dry a little, then ice the sides and top of your cake the remaining icing (as much or as little as you want). Extra icing can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for a few months (or eaten with your cake scraps!). 

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