Remembering Dee – My Best Banana Nut Cake

Dee's cade iced with caramel frosting and sprinkled with
chopped walnuts & the 2003 article about her cooking skills.
     Today, March 9, is the date of Dee Robinson’s birth. In 2003 she celebrated her 70th birthday at a dinner hosted by her daughter, Joanna Berry. But, according to Joanna, “She always insisted on making her own birthday cake every year!”
     In April of that year I interviewed her for my monthly food column. I was impressed with her enthusiasm for cooking, baking, gardening, family and . . . LIFE in general!
     One of the recipes she provided for the article was for a banana cake. Dee found this recipe in a 1953 Better Homes and Gardens magazine and it was one of her favorites.
     Although I did make her cake recipe exactly as directed, rather than serving it “banana split” style (as specified in the instructions), I iced it with a quick caramel frosting.
    This recipe, along with others that Dee provided, can be found in the second edition (2002-2003) of Home Cooking, Dickinson County Style cookbook, available at the Dickinson County Heritage Center

Scents of food stir up childhood memories, cooking for and feeding someone is one of the sweetest gestures in the world, even watching someone eat can be a delight. Food and love are undeniably connected.
-- quote from 

My Best Banana Nut Cake  Yield:  Two 8” square or 9” round cakes
2/3 cup solid shortening, such as Crisco®
2½ cups cake flour*
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
About 3 sieved bananas (to yield 1¼ cups) -- Dee freezes them and then they slip right of peel when thawed (instead of sieving, I just mashed them)
2/3 cup buttermilk
½ cup or 2 large eggs
2/3 cup chopped nuts (Dee prefers English walnuts)
For the topping: sweetened whipped cream; banana slices and maraschino cherries for garnish, if desired.

1.     Preheat oven to 350°. Line two 8”x8”x2” square or 9”x1”x1/2” round cake pans with parchment or waxed paper. Spray pan with pan release (such as Pam®).
Pan Preparation — Cut parchment paper to fit the inside of  pans for easy removal of cakes after baking.
2.     Place shortening in mixing bowl; stir just to soften.
3.     Sift in dry ingredients; add bananas.
Sifting — I use a fine mesh strainer and push the dry ingredients through with a silicon spatula.
4.     Add half the buttermilk; mix until all flour is dampened. Then beat vigorously 2 minutes. 
5.     Add remaining buttermilk, eggs and beat 2 minutes longer; fold in nuts.
Mixing Batter —  This is a thick batter.
6.     Divide batter among prepared pans.
Dividing Batter — Divide batter between two pans.
It helps to use an offset spatula to level and spread the thick batter.
7.     Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. 
8.     Cool baked cake on rack.
Cooling — Baked cakes cook on wire racks.
Loosening Edges — Kitchen knife is  carefully run around pan's edge to loosen cake
The Flip (step 1) — Place a piece of waxed paper and a cooling rack on top of cooled cake.
The Flip (step 2) —Flip over.
Transfer Complete — Remove cake pan; cake is now resting, bottom side up, on waxed paper.
Finishing: Spread cooled cake with whipped cream and garnish with bananas and cherries, if desired.

*Cake flour is made predominantly of soft wheat with a lower gluten content (all-purpose has about an 11% gluten content while cake flour weighs in at about 6-8%) . Its fine texture and high starch content make it ideal for making tender cakes, cookies, biscuits, and pastries that do not need to stretch and rise much.
Although the results make not be totally the same, this is the recommended interchange if you don’t have cake flour on hand — 1 cup of all purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons plus 2 tbsp cornstarch  as a substitute for cake flour

Quick Caramel Frosting
8 tablespoons (one stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed + 1 tablespoon molasses (or use 1 cup dark brown sugar)
¼ cup whole milk
2 to 2¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.     Place the butter and the brown sugar in a medium-size heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir and cook until the mixture comes to a boil, about 2 minutes.
Heating the ingredients over medium heat.
2.     Add the milk, stir and bring the mixture back to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat.
Milk has been added.
3.     Add 2 cups powdered sugar and vanilla. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mix and beat until frosting becomes smooth and thickens (add the additional ¼ cup powdered sugar if needed).
I used the wire whip for the Kitchen Aid mixer to beat the frosting.
4.     While the frosting is still warm, use a spreader to immediately ice the cake. If the frosting begins to stiffen, dip the spreader into warm water or, add a few drops of warm water to the frosting. 
Preparing Cake for Frosting — Rounded top of the first layer was trimmed off with a serrated knife so that the cake would set flat.
Placing 1st Layer on Cake Plate — First layer has been inverted onto cake plate, cut side down.
Adding the Filling — First layer has been covered with a thick layer of frosting that serves as the cake's filling.
Adding the 2nd Layer — Second layer of cake is centered over first, rounded side up.
Frosting Top & Sides of Cake: Remaining frosting is piled on top and spread over top and sides.

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