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Cookbook Favorites, Part One

November 8, 2010

Today is the first part of an ongoing series in which I share my favorite cookbooks with my readers.  Today’s selection qualifies because of its high-quality recipes, gorgeous layout and photos, and charming captions.  It is Birthday Cakes: Recipes and Memories from Celebrated Bakers, written by Kathryn Kleinman and Carolyn Miller, and available to you today at, or, if you’re like me, at your local library.

This is a really special book.  Each recipe features a full-color, full-page photo, a short introduction from the authors, and a blurb from the famous food personality who offers the recipe.  Most of these recipes are taken from cherished childhood memories–of people like Alice Waters, James Beard, Julia Child, Maida Heatter, and Tasha Tudor.

The blurbs from these bakers, chefs, and food celebrities reveal the extent to which our “food consciousness” is created in the first ten years of our lives.  Often, we remember what we eat in our childhood for the rest of our lives, and if we are lucky, we carry those recipes with us for decades forward, recreating a childhood moment with a bit of butter and sugar.

The recipes range from the simple (“Fastest Fudge Cake,” from Alice Medrich, Berkeley chocolatier and author; “Frying Pan Chocolate Cake,” from Georgeanne Brennan, author, teacher and “gastronomy journalist”) to the dauntingly complex (the traditional Swedish recipe for “Princess Cake” from Gayle Ortiz, author of The Village Baker’s Wife.)

I first discovered this book at my library about three years ago.  I made two of the cake recipes for my family and each became an instant classic, in the effortless way that timeless recipes will.  I made them each again the following year.

Today I want to share with you the recipe for Old-Fashioned Banana Spice Cake (pg 74), contributed to the book by professional chef and restaurateur Bradley Ogden.  I made this several times for my mom’s birthday in July, because she loves bananas.

Here’s the cookbook’s introduction to this fabulous cake:

This luxurious cake, made with mashed ripe bananas and filled with creamy custard and sliced bananas, is from celebrated California chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Bradley Ogden.  This was one of his favorite birthday cakes while he was growing up in a family of seven children.  Bradley’s father always helped bake the family birthday cakes, and it was he who first gave Bradley the idea of becoming a chef.

Old-Fashioned Banana Spice Cake

(makes one 8-inch 4-layer cake; serves 10 to 12)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 to 3 bananas)

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups cake flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground allspice

Pinch of ground mace

1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature


3/4  cup milk

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large egg yolks

3 tbsp flour

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp unsalted butter

3/4 tsp heavy cream (optional)

2 bananas, peeled and sliced


1 cup heavy cream

3 tbsp confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and lightly flour the sides and bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans; knock out the excess flour.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl for at least 10 minutes, or until very light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, mashed banana, and vanilla.  SIft the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices together onto a piece of waxed paper.  Stir into the banana mixture alternately with the buttermilk.

Spoon into the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for 10 minutes.  Unmold onto the racks and let cool completely.

While the cake bakes, make the filling: In a small, heavy saucepan, heat the milk until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan.  Meanwhile, bea thte sugar and egg yolks together in a small bowl.  Beat in the flour and salt.  Gradually beat in teh hot milk.

Return to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture beins to thicken and comes to a simmer. Lower the heat to low and continue stirring for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.  Pour into a bowl, cover with a piece of plastic wrap pressed onto the surface of the custard, let cool slightly, and refrigerate.

To assemble the cake: Split each cake layer in half.  If the custard is too thick to spread, thin it with a little cream.  Spread one-third of the filling and arrange one-third of the banana slices evenly on 3 of the layers.  Stack the layers and top with the fourth layer.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

just before serving, make the topping: In a deep bowl, whip the cream until very soft peaks form.  Beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Spread the whipped cream frosting over the top of the cake, allowing some to drip down the sides.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2010 12:15 am

    That’s a book I need to have in my collection!! And you’ve baked a beautiful cake 🙂

  2. November 9, 2010 4:57 am

    Thanks Kimberly–it’s a great book, you should really check it out!

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