Shirley Corriher, author of the indispensable BakeWise, likes to fold a little whipped heavy cream into her cake batter right before baking. This technique gives her cakes a suave, velvety texture, and I love doing the same in this banana cake. The layers are rich, but so tender and light that even drenched in dulce de leche and piled high with sliced bananas and mounds of whipped cream, this cake feels fresher and more delicate than a traditionally frosted cake—the perfect choice for people who aren’t as fond of buttercream as I am.
3 cups [420 g] all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
11/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
11/2 cups [345 g] mashed overripe bananas
11/2 cups [300 g] granulated sugar
1 cup [200 g] firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup [110 g] unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup [120 ml] coconut oil, melted, or canola oil
2/3 cup [160 ml] buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup [120 ml] heavy cream
3 cups [720 ml] cold heavy cream
11/2 cups [345 g] plus 21/4 cups [520 g]
dulce de leche, store-bought or DIY
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp dark rum
3 to 4 large barely ripe bananas, sliced 1/2 in [12 mm] thick.
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F [180°C]. Coat three 8-in [20-cm] or 9-in [23-cm] round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, melted butter, melted coconut oil, buttermilk, and vanilla.
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and gently whisk the two together just until smooth. In a medium bowl, beat the heavy cream on medium-low speed with an electric hand mixer until it forms soft peaks. With a flat rubber or silicone spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the batter. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, and smooth the tops.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (for the 8-in [20-cm] pans) or 25 to 30 minutes (for the 9-in [23-cm] pans), until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks, discard the parchment paper, and let cool completely, about 2 hours. (If you are making the layers a day in advance, when cool, wrap well in plastic wrap and store at room temperature overnight.)
To finish the cake:
One hour before serving, in a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade, combine the cold cream and the 11/2 cups [600 ml] dulce de leche with the vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract, and rum (cream whipped in the food processor is denser and less fluffy than cream whipped with an electric mixer). Give the cream and dulce de leche 1 or 2 short pulses, just to combine. Continue to give the cream 1 or 2 pulses at a time until it is no longer liquid and the consistency thickens, with a soft, dense, spreadable texture. Don’t overbeat, or the cream will become grainy.
In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave 21/4 cups [520 g] dulce de leche for about 10 to 15 seconds on high heat, just until it is warm enough to spread easily.
Place one cake layer on a cake plate or pedestal, bottom-side up, and spread evenly with one-third of the warm dulce de leche, allowing any excess to drip down the sides of the cake. Top with about one-third of the sliced bananas, enough to cover the surface of the cake. Spread one-third of the whipped cream over the bananas. Place the second cake layer over the cream bottom-side up, and spread with another one-third of the warm dulce de leche, more sliced bananas, and another one-third of the whipped cream. Top with the final cake layer. Drizzle the final cake layer with just half of the remaining dulce de leche and spoon the last of the whipped cream on top of the cake in big dollops. Top the cream with a few banana slices and drizzle with the remaining dulce de leche. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 1 hour to keep the whipped cream fresh.