Banana cake with chocolate chips, spiced and tender – this is truly a CAKE. None of that banana ‘bread’ nonsense!
Is banana cake a bread?
I really don’t know why banana cakes keep being called ‘bread’. Is it the loaf tin? It can’t be since all the pound cakes baked in such are never called pound breads.
Is it because of an association with tea bread? But tea bread is yeasty and has nothing to do with bananas. My money will be on the loaf thing probably, but it’s still all a highly suspicious naming affair.
Seriously now, it is mainly a/ an American thing, and b/ it does come from the shape of the loaf tin.
Bread vs. cake conundrum
With regards to a/, linguistically, it is fascinating. We forget that American English has retained a lot of archaic form and content, having seceded from the flow of English language evolution aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Obviously, it evolved along its own path but some things got frozen in time more than we realise.
In the UK we are quite clear on the bread-cake distinction: bread is savoury and can be sliced into sandwiches, while cake is sweet and eaten for dessert.
Historically, however, everything baked was ‘bread’, while ‘cake’ was used in opposition to ‘loaf’, not bread. A large bread was a loaf and a small one – a cake, whatever flavour it came in.
Some try to draw the line in yeast: bread dough is risen with yeast and needs to proof before it’s baked while cake isn’t.
I wish it were so simple: so what about chemical leavenings, introduced as late as late 19th century? And what about strudels, doughnuts, and the array of Christmas bakes like panettone and stollen that we definitely do not slice for sandwiches? Mind boggles.
But it’s mainly the American posse we owe the banana and pumpkin breads which, if pressed, they try to narrow-define as quick breads. It’s historically sound since everything was ‘bread’ once, and these days it’s the shape of the tin that makes them prefer the olden name.
I call a cake a cake
I think it’s all mud in the water, big time. Why not go for the simple sweet vs. savoury distinction, regardless of what it’s baked in or leavened with? And don’t you dare pelt me with either brioches or torta pasqualinas!
I’ll stick to my guns and to defy the bready trend I bake this banana CAKE in a round CAKE tin. It’s a CAKE tin through and through. It has a detachable bottom and you butter it or line with parchment. None of those are in operation when baking bread.
I also throw copious amounts of chocolate into it, just to be safe. Pain au chocolat aside, you hardly encounter chocolate chips in your daily loaf. I don’t ice or frost it, but only because it is reliably sweet as it is.
How to make this banana CAKE?
There are many things going on in this cake, all combining to a very soft, spicy, rich-tasting but light-textured outcome.
The combination of butter and olive oil gives it tender crumb. Spices make the house fragrant when the cake is in the oven, and the combination of sugars (amount cut down by me) makes it moist and rich.
Plus, it’s what I call a bucket cake: plonk everything into a bucket (bowl) and mix, no electric equipment necessary.
The chocolate in the original recipe is bittersweet (what we call dark) and it may well be better suited in the cake. But as it is my act of defiance and an attempt to persuade everyone that a cake is a cake is a cake, I make it milk. Full works, full sweetness – nobody can put this baby in the corner and call it bread.
There – I hope that will fix it. It’s completely delicious by the way, and it comes from Jim Lahey’s The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook via NY Times Cooking. And guess what – the authors call it CAKE.
More banana cake recipes
And this is my version of what everyone calls banana bread, baked in a loaf tin. With raisins and cinnamon, it’s even better lightly toasted!
Fudgy white chocolate banana blondie, with homemade Brazil nut toffee chunks.
Banana scones made from just one overripe banana make excellent breakfast. Especially delightful toasted and buttered.
More super easy cake recipes
Spiced brown apple cake with cocoa, probably the easiest apple cake recipe of the 'mix and bake' kind. It's fragrant with cinnamon and cloves, dark brown with cocoa and dotted with pale chunks of apples.
Raisin cake, made with boiled raisins and spiced with cinnamon. And it’s truly a cake made of raisins, rather than with just a few added to the batter.
Orange and walnut loaf cake with cinnamon and fresh ginger, that’s a wonderful combination of flavours. And it’s made in a saucepan.