Banana cake is a type of cake that uses bananas as the main component, along with the usual cake ingredients. It’s versatile enough to be made as a layered cake, muffins, or cupcakes. Banana cakes made by steaming them are common in Asian cuisines including China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Banana bread, which was introduced to the Philippines by American colonizers, goes by the name “banana cake.”
Bananas are the main component in banana cake, alongside the usual cake staples of flour, sugar, eggs, butter, margarine, oil, and baking soda. Bananas can be included in the cake mixture by being mashed or puréed in a food processor or electric mixer; sliced bananas can be used as a garnish. If you have any bananas that are getting too brown or ripe, you can use them to make a delicious banana cake. Some people find the combination of banana and chocolate appealing, thus chocolate may be included as a component. The cake’s topping and decoration may also consist of nuts like walnuts and macadamias.
The icing or glaze used in the cake’s creation may contain alcoholic beverages like bourbon.
To make a steamed banana cake, you can use a food steamer instead of a conventional oven. A moist texture is possible in a banana cake. It can be baked in layers, and the batter can be used to make banana muffins or cupcakes. It has both vegetarian and meat versions. White sandwich bread isn’t even close to being the most popular type of bread recipe sought after on the internet. It’s not whole wheat, it’s not a baguette, it doesn’t require any kneading, and it doesn’t even have yeast. In fact, (cue the music) banana bread is the most requested bread recipe in the United States.
Bananas are not native to North America and were scarce in the United States throughout the 1800s. To convey a fruit that ripened (and spoiled) so rapidly presented a conundrum that ship commanders struggled to solve.
It wasn’t until the development of refrigerating technologies at the turn of the twentieth century that bananas became a common morning food in homes across the United States. Bananas were frequently utilized as a garnish on top of cake or pudding rather than as a key element.
In the 1930s, however, two factors came together to make the banana a household name.
To begin, the Great Depression, which started with the 1929 stock market crash and continued throughout much of the 1930s, rendered every bit of food costly. Even a “rotten” banana wouldn’t get thrown out in most homes.
Second, companies like Royal and others started producing their baking powder and baking soda on a large scale, making these chemical leaveners broadly available across the country for the first time.
Banana “quick bread” recipes proliferated because of the widespread availability of baking powder and the widespread need to utilize overripe bananas (as opposed to yeast bread).
Banana bread recipes, which call for mashed bananas rather than sliced bananas for decoration, began popping up in cookbooks across the board in the early 1930s, including those published by Better Homes and Gardens, Pillsbury Flour, the United Fruit Company (the largest importer of bananas), and others.
The 23rd of February is celebrated as National Banana Bread Day, so I thought I’d learn more about its background. I baked banana bread recipes spanning nine decades of American history, from one published in a cookbook in the 1930s to the most recent version of King Arthur Flour’s Banana Bread available on their website today.
The question is, what did I learn on this enticing adventure? Bananas, sweetness, a chemical leavener, fat, and flour are the only consistent ingredients in any banana bread recipe through the years. Beyond that, though, they can vary widely, from including a dash of wheat bran or a grating of orange peel to including a sprinkling of sesame seeds or a dollop of apricot jam.
In addition, the Depression-era frugality of the 1930s and the counterculture of the back-to-the-land 1960s are reflected in the recipes.
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It was the 1930s, the decade of the Great Depression.
The recipe for the banana-nut bread in “My New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book,” published in 1930, calls for a full cup of wheat bran, a cheap bulk filler, which contributes to the bread’s slightly coarse texture.
The loaf is lower in fat and sugar than most current recipes and also smaller, reflecting the financial challenges faced by many families; yet, the banana flavor is rather distinct, unlike that of several of its descendants.
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World War II, the 1940s
The fine-textured and excellent — but plain — Banana Bread from the 1946 edition of “The Joy of Cooking” is a tribute to wartime rationing: the recipe uses a single egg, no spices, and sour milk or buttermilk (both cheaper and easier to come by than fresh whole milk). Its purpose, like that of most food of the day, was to satisfy hunger rather than inspire creativity.
Baby Boomers Were Born in the ’50s
The 1950s were a prosperous decade for the United States. Soldiers who used the G.I. Bill to go to college generally got married, found stable employment, and had large families.
In 1956, “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book” was published as an homage to the convenience of cooking and baking for the growing number of stay-at-home mothers. Banana-Nut Loaf is a huge, fluffy bread that can easily feed a large number of people. It’s low in fat, sugar, and bananas and has no spices at all. Very simple. What about tasty, though? In a word, no.
A return to rural life in the 1960s and 1970s
The mid-’60s saw the beginning of the Beatles’ popularity and the end of Pat Boone’s. Many baby boomers “went back to the land,” or joined communes as a form of protest against the Vietnam War. Like the new generation coming into their own, the banana bread at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, which was formed in 1972 as a “collectively owned and worker-managed business,” is a radical departure from traditional recipes.
This recipe from “The Moosewood Cookbook” calls for a variety of fragrant spices and extracts, including vanilla, almond, citrus, nutmeg, and coffee, and even includes the addition of sesame seeds to the loaf pan before the batter is poured in. The finished product is a dark (thanks to brown sugar), dense, moist, and very tasty flat-topped loaf. Though it probably won’t place first in a beauty contest, this banana bread is a firm favorite of mine.
Discreetly different tastes of the 1980s
Pesto, quiche, sushi, and tiramisu all became household favorites throughout the ’80s, and this decade will be known for the widespread adoption of “upscale ethnic” and daring cuisines. When baby boomers hit their thirties, they were ready to throw parties, and everyone had a copy of the 1982 cookbook “The Silver Palate” (“Delicious recipes, menu, advice, tales from Manhattan’s famed gourmet food shop”) on their shelf.
Banana Bread from Silver Palate is quite dull compared to the rest of the cookbook. It’s a standard (albeit rich; it uses a full stick of butter) version of a recipe that’s become an American baking staple, and it’s made with 50% whole wheat flour.
Trendy foodies of the ’90s
Do you still use sun-dried tomatoes? Are truffles on the table? As the 20th century concluded, many Americans found solace in the kitchen, viewing cooking as a form of self-expression. And throughout the decade, we showcased both traditional and cutting-edge recipes in our King Arthur Flour “Baking Sheet” print weekly, the forerunner of our present online recipe site.
The Banana Bread with Nutmeg and Cinnamon from the September/October 1997 “Baking Sheet” is a huge loaf with well-balanced flavors and a good, moist texture. One reader even used it as her wedding cake, it’s that decadent.
Do you want to take a look at the recipe? There’s a recipe for it in our King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.
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A sane perspective on the years 2000-2010
We can refer to the last 17 years as “The Diet Decade.” It all started in 2003 with the Atkins and South Beach diets, and now we’re into everything from the Paleo to the raw to the gluten-free. We have a strong desire to improve our diets but have no intention of giving up eating for pleasure.
Our current online Banana Bread recipe dials back on the ’90s version in some respects (smaller size, fewer nuts), but dials up the banana, brown sugar, honey, and jam content for increased moistness and flavor. The amount of sugar that can be cut out of the recipe without affecting the taste is also provided as a helpful hint. Banana bread with less sugar? Why, yes, please!
Banana bread recipes from Better Homes and Gardens in 1930, the Joy of Cooking in 1946, and Betty Crocker in 1956 span three decades.
Two of these recipes in particular have caught my eye. The Moosewood loaf has hints of coffee, brown sugar, and vanilla, to name just a few of its flavorings. Like I said before, it’s not exactly aesthetically pleasing, but it’s rich, moist, and savory, making it great for thinly slicing and serving with a dollop of cream cheese.
The Banana Bread recipe that is featured on our site is another favorite of mine (and pictured at the top of this post). It pairs well with coffee or a slice of buttered toast and is made with brown sugar, honey, vanilla, a pinch of spice, and heaps of bananas. French toast can be eaten either plain or stuffed with various fillings. So that the banana taste can come through, I cut back on the sugar (as recommended in the “tips” section at the end of the recipe). It’s a bonus that cutting back on sugar also means cutting back on calories.