Before I launch into a story, I have to say right away that this is not one of those posts with one of those humdrum, pecan-infested, dry, boring banana cakes that never taste like banana and that your Aunt Bertie makes and sends to your house in a loaf pan and you are pretty sure that its actually a brick hidden in a cake pan.
This is not your mama's banana cake. Unless your mama is Vietnamese, in which case, it might actually be her cake.
I got this recipe from one of my mothers-in-law (I have two of them, both insanely sweet). While we were visiting David's Dad and his wife Trish in Australia a few weeks ago, Trish gave me this folder with pages of Australian and Vietnamese recipes. John and Trish often vacation in Vietnam and they have become students of Vietnamese cooking and food. They are also fond of sharing their food experiences, John often sends me videos of chefs and TV personalities I don't often get to see here, like Hugh Fearnley and Bill Granger. I bring the videos to the country house, wait until the kids are climbing trees or impaling themselves on garden equipment, pour myself a Sauvignon Blanc and watch these videos eagerly.
They have been so lovely about sending me things that inspire me to cook. They, along with David's mum, are special people and a model for how in-laws should be.
Anyway, I loved this folder of recipes because Trish had pasted together a bunch of dishes she thought would interest me and she was right on the money - Passion Fruit Shortcake, Anzac Biscuits, Pavlova, Raspberry Butter Creams, all God bless her, with an emphasis on sweets.
Some were written out in long-hand, others were copied from magazines and recipe cards. It was such a lovely thoughtful present. And at the top of the first page, was a recipe for Banh Chuoi, Baked Banana Cake. I had my eye on it the minute she gave it to me.
This is what it said at the top of the recipe:
I have not yet met a Vietnamese person who has not said that this cake is their favourite or that their mother makes the best version. Be warned, you won't be able to stop at one piece, so I've made this recipe big enough for seconds...and thirds.
Well, all I can say is thank God, because David and I ate this cake out of the refrigerator for two days until we finished the whole thing. A smaller cake just would not do. And this from a guy who thinks cake might be evil. I dare you just to eat one piece. Dare. You. It's impossible.
For one thing, the cake is banana dense. And it's banana dense mostly because the recipe calls for finger bananas, but of course, I missed that and used regular bananas. It felt like too many bananas during prep, so I reduced the number. But the banana intensity was great - when you bite into a piece, any piece, what you taste isn't cake with a hint of banana flavor, it's rich, satiny, baked, melted, sugared banana mini-slices that feel almost like thick pudding in your mouth.
It is surprising at first. You are expecting cake, but what you get is completely different. But then there is the hint of sweet cake there, muted, but there. And that's what I love most about this dessert, that it is a surprise, which I think makes it the perfect cake for a brunch or garden lunch. It is familiar, plain-looking, unadorned, frosting-less, but it is unusual, and surprising and unpredictable. Something to spur a little conversation among guests.
I also think this is a kid pleaser. Any kid who loves bananas will really love this cake because the cake is, quite simply, a vehicle for baked, sugary bananas. It also is a great cake for people who don't like to bake - it doesn't have all that baking soda, baking powder, fussy measuring nonsense and it has a minimal list of easy-to-get ingredients, which is great for folks with a limited pantry.
You will notice this is not a cake for lightweights. The recipe calls for seven eggs and 2 1/4 sticks of butter. Ha! How can this cake be bad?
Try this as your curtain call after the Pork Belly Bahn Mi (from last post).
Vietnamese Baked Banana Cake
(Adapted from a recipe with an unknown source)
12 finger bananas or 8 regular bananas (fairly ripe and pliable, but not brown)
1/4 cup sugar
1 13 1/2 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
2 1/4 sticks of butter (melted)
1 1/3 cup of flour
Slice the bananas on the diagonal. You can have larger chunks if you prefer big melty bites of banana in your cake, but I did mine in thin slices, which worked well. Slice them into a bowl, add the sugar and move the bananas around until they are well-coated. Cover the bowl and set aside for 30 minutes. Don't refrigerate. Room temp is just fine.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a nice big cake pan with butter.
Beat the eggs. Melt the butter. Add condensed milk and melted butter to the beaten eggs. Add the flour to the mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Then, add the bananas, gently folding them in until they are mixed throughout the batter.
Pour the batter into the greased cake pan and bake for 50 minutes or until the cake is cooked through and turns golden brown.
Take cake out of the oven. Let it cool a bit. Turn it over onto a serving platter and stow it away in the fridge for a bout an hour. Then, it will be ready to serve.
This cake does very well stored in the fridge. We kept it there for its short life and we ate piece after piece of it standing at the fridge door. It was heavenly.