What a Difference a Recipe Makes

Last week’s Banana Cake was a disaster. This week’s was sublime. The difference? It was all in the recipe. I felt determined to make a good Banana Cake. After reviewing many recipes in my vintage cookbooks, I decided to use The Joy of Cooking, by Irma Bombauer from the 1943 WWII edition.

I can’t remember where I got this very battered and well-used book. The history of The Joy of Cooking (read the whole history in this blog)  is fascinating. Irma Bombauer, with no professional training, cobbled together her favorite recipes that she self-published and then sold from her apartment in St. Louis. This was 1931 and incidentally one year after her husband’s suicide. In 1936 she found a publisher and produced an expanded edition and the book’s popularity with average homemakers was assured.

My edition is the 1943 war-time edition. New to this version was information about using pressure cookers, cooking with herbs, and of course a section on how to cook with the new rationing system. Many newly fashionable dishes were added like Beef Stroganoff and guacamole. Plus she added witty comments to many of the recipes.

For instance, for Banana Cake she writes “I wish I might comment on all the cakes in this book. Please try this one if you like bananas and make the comments yourself.” Well, here are my comments Irma. Superb! While the recipe is somewhat time consuming the result is worth it. Here’s the recipe:

Banana Cake

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 c. cake flour (by the way, this is important to use cake flour to get a light, fluffy texture)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. lightly mashed bananas
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 c. sour or buttermilk

Cream the butter and gradually add the sugar

Blend until light and creamy

Beat in eggs one at a time

Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt

Mash the bananas – enough to make 1 cup

Add vanilla and milk to the bananas. (I didn’t have buttermilk or a lemon to make sour milk. So I added 2 tbs. powdered buttermilk to the flour mixture and 1/4 c. water to the banana mixture. A good work around)

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 parts alternately with thirds of the banana mixture.

Beat the batter after each addition until smooth

Bake the cake in two greased 9″ layer pans in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes     

While the cakes were cooling on a wire rack I made a Seven Minute Icing.

Seven Minute Icing (enough to frost between the layers and on top rather than the whole cake which in my opinion would be too sweet).

Note: This icing is made using egg whites which I doubt really cook during making this recipe. Many icings from pre-1970 call for uncooked egg whites. I take a chance and also use eggs I buy from the farmer’s market.

  • 1 unbeaten egg white
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbs. cold water
  • 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

Place these ingredients over rapidly boiling water in a double boiler

Beat them constantly with a hand held mixer for seven minutes

Remove from the heat and beat in 1 tsp. vanilla

Continue beating until icing is right consistency for spreading

Make sure you don’t start this too early. If you leave the icing to cool it will harden and not be spreadable on the cake

Once icing is made put the first layer of cake on my cake dish and frosted the top

Put sliced bananas on top of the frosting

Place second layer on top of the bottom layer

Ice the top and add sliced bananas around edge for decoration

Voila you have a beautiful cake!

Dan and I both thoroughly enjoyed this cake that has the consistency  and taste of banana bread but thanks to the cake flour is lighter. Within one week I went from cooking disaster to success! Hope you’ll want to try this cake yourself.




That Sinking Feeling – Cake Disasters

I really wanted my next post to be about something yummy, but that won’t be for this post. I’ve been wanting to try making a banana cake for some time now. Banana cake was a very popular cake that has since gone out of favor. Today, you use your bananas to make banana bread. But open up pretty much any pre-1970s cookbook and you will find one if not more recipes for banana cake.

Sadly, I seemed to have picked the wrong version from the wrong cookbook! I chose The Service Cook Book by Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen, 1933. The book was published “exclusively” for F.W. Woolworth Co. So who was Ida Bailey Allen? It seems she was the Martha Stewart of her day, gaining even more fame than Fanny Farmer.

She launched her cooking career with a cookbook in 1917 and in 1924 as the food editor for the Sunday New York American. Thanks to newspaper, radio,  television and published cookbooks (over 50!) she quickly became the woman all housewives turned to for recipes and household hints.

Her radio career began in 1928 when she hosted a daytime cooking show which expanded to two hours the following year. An astute marketer, she not only hosted the show, but she produced and sold her own advertising. Rather than have one company sponsor the whole show which was the norm, Mrs. Allen sold spot advertising thereby increasing the show’s profits. When this program ended in 1932, she went on to host a syndicated cooking show on the Columbia Broadcasting Network. With the advent of television, she became the first female food host on her show Mrs. Allen and the Chef.

She was also a prolific food writer and editor for magazines and newspapers like The Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle and Parade.

So Mrs. Allen – where did we go wrong here with this recipe for Banana Cake? Most of the recipes I have read for Banana Cake are plain white cakes baked in two layers. A banana filling divides the bottom from the top layer. Then the whole case is iced and decorated with sliced bananas.

Mrs. Allen’s cake sounded like this, but the end result was quite different. Here’s the recipe and what I think went wrong:

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 tbs. melted shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. orange extract
  • 1 1/2 c. cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. milk

Beat the sugar, melted shortening, egg and flavoring together

Add the milk

Sift the dry ingredients and combine with the wet mixture

Transfer to two greased cake pans (Wait – here’s a problem. No WAY would this amount of cake batter be enough for two cake pans. So I opted for one)

Bake in a 375 degree oven for between 25-30 minutes

That sinking feeling

Once I took the cake out of the oven I had that sinking feeling as I watched the center of the cake deflate. And truthfully the whole cake didn’t rise very well.

Was it me? Mrs. Allen? Were flour and butter too expensive for the typical Woolworth’s customer in the 1930s and so she scrimped? Even her recipe for banana frosting didn’t come out right. It was runny and overly sweet.

To compare, I got out the 1943 version of Joy of Cooking. Let’s compare ingredients side by side:

Allen                                     Joy

1 c.                                        1 1/2 c. sugar
3 tbs melted butter           1 1/2 c. softened butter
1 egg                                     2 eggs
1/2 c. milk                          1 c. mashed bananas with 1/4 c. sour milk
1 1/2 c.                                 2 1/2 c. cake flour
1 1/2                                     1/2 tsp. baking power
none                                     3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp.                                1/2 tsp. salt

And the oven temperature also differ. 375 for Allen vs. 350 for Joy.

Its obvious that the Joy of Cooking version with more egg, butter, and especially flour would make two 9″ layers. And I think the lower temperature would allow the cake to cook through properly.

And as for the sinking cake? After some reading on the internet, I think it was a combination of too much leavening and too high heat for the oven. I think.

Next weekend I will try again using the Joy of Cooking recipe. I’m sure this could be very tasty cake. Oh, and Dan and I did eat a piece or two before dumping the cake in the trash.


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