Banana Nut Cake with Caramel Frosting

My mom's famous Banana Cake, so light and tender and bursting with banana goodness. It's an old-fashioned recipe with natural banana sweetness, easy to make and flexible, too. Make it from scratch in one bowl with every-day common ingredients. Stir in walnuts (or not). Then bake it all in a square pan for a simple snacking cake ~or~ a round cake pan for a special-occasion cake ~or~ a quarter-sheet pan for rustic bars. Frost it with a light drizzle of Caramel Icing (or not). Best of all, bakers, you've just got to try this new technique for "ripening" bananas without waiting days and days for them for the skins to form spots and turn brown!

Banana Nut Cake ♥ Simple enough for everyday, special enough for occasions.

Homemade Old-Fashioned Banana Cake "Plain" But Perfectly Packed with Banana Flavor. Just a Hint of Nutmeg. Gorgeous Caramel Icing, No Cream Cheese! Family-Tested for More Than Sixty Years! Just As Delicious Walnuts or No Walnuts, Frosting or No Frosting. Flexible Baking Options. Stays Fresh & Moist for Days. Budget Friendly. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Potluck & Party Friendly.

The Boy, He Wanted Banana Cake for His Birthday

Panic! How in the world would I fulfill the birthday cake request from my favorite eight-year-old? (Reminder to Self: twas Blake! These kids do grow up!) He wanted banana cake, more particularly, thank you very much, "banana cake with vanilla ice cream". Yes, the boy exhibited much promise as a child-prodigy foodie.

Trouble was, I had no ripe bananas and it takes a good week or ten days for bananas to ripen properly, that's until the bananas are almost black. Even the usual “ripen bananas in a paper bag on the counter” trick wasn’t going to produce ripe bananas in 18 hours.

That famous mother of invention, Necessity, stepped up to the cake plate and sure enough, I figured out a great way to make banana cake (and likely, banana bread and banana cookies too, say) with unripe and still yellow-skinned bananas.

Banana Nut Cake ♥ Simple enough for everyday, special enough for occasions.

But First, a Reminder About Baking with Bananas

Recipes often remind bakers to use "ripe" or "very ripe" bananas when baking with banana. But really, what is a "ripe" banana? And how do we tell?

Bananas announce the ripeness of their fruit by the color of their skins.

  • If a banana has green skin, is it ripe enough for baking? No.
  • If a banana has pretty yellow skin, is it ripe enough for baking? No.
  • If a banana has a few small brown spots, is it ripe enough for baking? No.
  • If a banana skin is almost completely brown, is it ripe enough for baking? Maybe.
  • If a banana skin has turned completely black, is it ready for baking? Yes!

Admittedly, I take banana ripening to an extreme but the truth is, I swear by black-skinned bananas. The fruit inside changes as much as the outer skins, turning from firm to soft, from starchy to syrupy, from pale to caramel. Best of all, the banana flavor is amped up, way up.

Curious? Here are all the details, Ripe Bananas for Baking: How Ripe Should Bananas Be?

How to "Ripen" Bananas in a Skillet

But back to the quick way to "ripen" bananas, by cooking them.

I started with my mother’s famous banana cake recipe, the one she made for my dad’s newspaper staff when it was her turn to provide treats for the Wednesday afternoon coffeebreak after the weekly paper was put to bed.

Then I sautéed the bananas in a skillet with the cake's allotment of butter until the bananas turned soft, hoping-hoping that the cooking process would heighten their natural sweetness.

Sure enough, sautéeing the bananas to "ripen" them worked like a charm!

That cake was one of the best I’ve ever made. The eight-year-old and his birthday buddy, the cake baker (me!) and the rest of the family were all happy cake eaters.

Banana Nut Cake ♥ Simple enough for everyday, special enough for occasions.

Round Cakes for Celebrations, Square Cakes and Bars for Every Day

My mom's banana cake is a favorite around here, a staple (but still special) treat to whip up on a moment's notice.

That day, I baked the birthday cake in a round cake pan. Round is somehow more festive, yes, more appropriate for a celebration?

Mostly, though, I just throw the cake batter into an 8x8 or a 9x9 square pan and call it a day. You can also bake it sheetcake thin, just use a quarter sheetpan, I love this quarter sheet pan with lid (affiliate link). Feeding a small crowd? Double the recipe for a 9x13.

Isn't it a baker's dream to have so much flexibility?

What's In Banana Cake? Pantry Ingredients!

In all my recipes and most well-written recipes, every ingredient serves a purpose. Each one matters. Each one contributes to the overall dish. It's not that an ingredient can't be substituted by something else but when choosing the substitute, it's important to understand why the original ingredient was present in the first place.

  • Banana Flavor! 3 very ripe bananas or 3 unripe bananas + (optional) banana extract
  • All the Usual Wet Ingredients butter + brown sugar + 2 eggs + milk
  • All the Usual Dry Ingredients flour + baking powder + baking soda + salt
  • Spices & Flavorings nutmeg + vanilla
  • Add-Ins (optional) English walnuts or black walnuts
  • Caramel Frosting (optional) butter + brown sugar + milk + vanilla + powdered sugar

Ingredient Notes & Substitutions

  • BANANAS Hmm. If you're making banana cake, don't you need bananas? Of course! But for this recipe, I think you might have decent if creative substitutes. The aim is for something that's sweet and moist but not wet, so maybe cooked sweet potato? cooked butternut squash? even a Homemade Kabocha Squash "Pumpkin" Purée?
  • BUTTER I always bake with salted butter but if you prefer unsalted butter, no problem, just double the salt. I would think that coconut oil would work here too, but haven't tried it.
  • EGGS Some people have luck mixing ground flax and water to match the baking properties from eggs. However, I don't have experience with so-called flax eggs, just google it for more advice ...
  • BROWN SUGAR I always bake with dark brown sugar, that extra oomph of molasses is nice. But if you only have light brown sugar, no problem, use what you have. No brown sugar at all? Use 1 cup white sugar plus a tablespoon of molasses.
  • MILK I bake with whole milk but this cake would adapt easily to low-fat milks, even skim milk and buttermilk. Since it only calls for 1/4 cup milk, I think that plant-based "milks" like almond milk, oat milk, etc. would work fine too.
  • FLOUR I make this cake with all-purpose flour, a good brand like either General Mills or Pillsbury. It also does well with the slightly higher protein in King Arthur's all-purpose flour. This cake is pretty flexible, I think it would work fine with up to a third (by weight) of whole-wheat flour or white whole-wheat flour. I also think it would do fine with a measure-for-measure gluten-free flour.
  • BAKING POWDER Out of baking powder? It happens. I have good luck making my own baking powder substitute. The formula is 1 teaspoon baking powder = 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar + 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. So for this recipe, which calls for 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, use 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and 3/8 teaspoon baking soda to substitute for baking powder plus the 1 teaspoon baking soda already called for.
  • BAKING SODA Out of baking soda? That's harder because baking soda has greater leavening strength than baking powder. The formula is 1 teaspoon baking soda = 3 teaspoons baking powder. For this recipe, that would mean using a full 4-1/2 teaspoons of baking soda. That's a lot and might well result in a tinny, artificial taste. If it were me, I'd run out for baking soda or pick a recipe which calls only for baking powder.
  • SALT I use table salt for baking. A fine sea salt is a good substitute.
  • NUTMEG is a natural match with all things banana (think Banana Cream Pudding, right?) but in this cake, I'm partial to cardamom as a substitute. Would cinnamon also work? Sure. Or a Pumpkin Pie Spice blend? Of course. Choose what sounds good to you!
  • FLAVORING No vanilla? Use bourbon or apple juice, a clear liquid with a flavor to match up with banana. No banana extract? No stress. There's tons of natural banana flavor in this cake, you know, from actual very ripe bananas.
  • NUTS We love walnuts in this cake but pecans would work well too. No nuts? No problem, just skip them entirely. In fact, often times I just want pure banana flavor and soft texture in the cake itself. If so, I'd skip the nuts in the cake but might sprinkle then the top with a few nuts. Then again, skipping the nuts entirely is no problem.
A bunch of yellow bananas hanging on a banana stand linked to recipes calling for bananas ♥

How to Make Banana Cake

The detailed recipe is written in traditional recipe form below but here are the highlights in five easy steps. This cake does call for an unusual mixing technique. But I promise, it's been working out 100% perfectly for more than 60 years! You can do this!

  • IF BANANAS ARE RIPE: Cream the butter until light and fluffy with an electric mixer.
  • IF BANANAS ARE UNRIPE: Sauté the butter and banana until the butter turns brown and the banana turns golden. Let cool, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  • FOR BOTH, with an electric mixer, mix in all the dry ingredients just until combined.
  • BEAT FOR A FULL FOUR MINUTES Set the timer! Add the wet ingredients (including, if using ripe bananas, the mashed banana) and beat on low for 2 full minutes. Add the eggs and beat on low for another full 2 minutes.
  • STIR IN the (optional) nuts by hand.
  • BAKE Transfer the cake batter to the prepared baking pan and bake in a 350F/180C oven, the timing depends on the cake pan being used.
  • FROST (OPTIONAL) Let the cake cool on a rack until completely cool, then frost with Caramel Icing.

For Best Results

For my weekly column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I interviewed chefs and translated their restaurant recipes for home kitchens. The most illuminating question? "How can a home cook ensure the same results?" So now I ask that question of myself, too, for my own recipes. Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

Ripe Bananas are so full of flavor! Even if you need to wait a few days for the bananas to continue to ripen, it's worth it. "Black bananas" are extra good, see Ripe Bananas for Baking: How Ripe Should Bananas Be?

You'll Like My Mom's Famous Banana Nut Cake If ...

  • ... you've gotten just a teensy-weensy bit tired of banana bread
  • ... you want to bake something a step up from banana bread, more "dessert" and "cake" than "snack"
  • ... you love a simple, straight forward cake that's a real crowd pleaser
  • ... you're not into nuts in cake, just leave them out

Bookmark! PIN! Share!

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If my mom's old-fashioned cake inspires you, please do save and share! I'd be honored ...

Banana Nut Cake with Caramel Frosting ♥, my mom's famous recipe, a great special-occasion cake yet simple enough to make often. Plus, a new banana technique: no more waiting for bananas to ripen! Recipe, tips, nutrition & WW points included.


Hands-on time: 40 minutes
Time to table: 2 hours
Makes one 9- or 10-inch round cake or an 8x8 or 9x9 square cake (quite thick) or an 8x11 sheetcake (quite thin). Double the ingredients for a 9x13.
  • 3 large bananas (250g-300g actual fruit)
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons/114g) salted butter

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 250g
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt (yes, even when using salted butter, double if using unsalted butter)
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

  • 1 cup (200g) brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon banana extract (see TIPS) or 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional (see TIPS)

PREP Heat the oven to 350F/175C, the rack should be in the center position. Prepare the baking pan(s) with baking spray. If you're going to lift the whole cake out of the pan (vs cutting slices right in the pan), it helps to cut parchment to line the bottom or the pan. Alternatively, form a parchment "sling" that covers the bottom and overhangs two sides. Be sure to spray the parchment too.

IF BANANAS ARE RIPE: Mash the banana and set aside. Cream the butter until light and fluffy in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer.

IF BANANAS ARE UNRIPE: Quarter the bananas lengthwise, then cut crosswise in small pieces. Sauté the butter and banana in a skillet on the stove on medium heat, stirring often, until the butter turns brown and the banana turns golden. Let cool a bit, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.

FOR BOTH With an electric mixer, mix in all the Dry Ingredients just until combined.

MIX FOR TWO MINUTES Add the Wet Ingredients except the eggs. If you're using ripe bananas, add the mashed banana too. Beat on low for 2 full minutes.

MIX FOR ANOTHER TWO MINUTES Add the eggs and beat on low for another full 2 minutes.

ADD IN the (optional) nuts by hand, distributing evenly. Transfer the cake batter to the prepared pan.

BAKE, the actual time depends on your pan choice, bake for these times or until the edges are golden and a knife slipped into the center comes out clean.

  • for an 8x8 or 9x9 square pan, bake for 30 – 40 minutes
  • for a round cake pan, bake for 30 – 40 minutes
  • for a 9x13 pan, bake for 30 – 40 minutes
  • for an 8x11x1 quarter sheet-pan, bake for 20 – 25 minutes

DECIDE ON ICING See Caramel Frosting below.

SKIPPING THE FROSTING? Let the cake rest at room temperature to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it. That said, it's extra lovely warm: but it'll still be warm after 15 minutes!


  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon banana extract or vanilla
  • Powdered sugar, pressed through a fine strainer if lumpy

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and let bubble for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the milk (it will sizzle!), stir to incorporate and cook another minute. Remove from the heat, stir in the banana extract or vanilla. A tablespoon or two at a time, stir in the powdered sugar until the frosting reaches the desired consistency, either quite thin or slightly thicker, depending on what you're trying to achieve.

FOR A THIN GLAZE OF CARAMEL FROSTING, START WITH A CAKE HOT FROM THE OVEN Here, you'll want a quite-thin frosting so will use less powdered sugar. To apply it, poke holes in the still-hot cake and gently spoon the icing over the top, letting it soak into the poke holes, an offset spatula or flat knife makes it easy to spread the frosting across the entire surface. If you like, sprinkle with a few more chopped walnuts.

FOR A DISTINCT & DRAMATIC DRIZZLE OF CARAMEL FROSTING, START WITH A COOLED CAKE Here, you'll want a thicker frosting, so will use more powdered sugar. While the frosting is still warm, spoon it into a small freezer bag. Press the frosting toward one corner, press out the excess air, then seal the bag. Snip the corner with a scissors, start small for a thin drizzle, snip a little more for a thicker drizzle. If you like, sprinkle the frosting with a few more chopped walnuts.

ALANNA’s TIPS Yes, aside from the butter-banana sautée step for unripe bananas, this cake really does indeed have an unusual mixing process. But don’t worry, it all comes together just fine. It really does work! For an extra boost in banana flavor, I like to use a banana extract. My favorite source ( no longer sells it but this banana extract (affiliate link) from OliveNation has good reviews on Amazon, FYI, I haven't yet tried it. In Mom’s day, we slathered the cake with a thick caramel icing, so sweet that the mere memory makes my teeth hurt. Nowadays, a drizzle seems plenty, saving quite a few calories too. This means the Caramel Frosting above is "half" the amount we once used so for a thicker frosting, if you want more frosting, just double the ingredients to Mom-era frosting. Substitute we love black walnuts but more common English walnuts work well though I do recommend toasting them to bring out their flavor. Or if you're not into nuts, or are out of nuts, this cake definitely stands on its own, no nuts required.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See .
NUTRITION INFORMATION With 9 servings, per serving, cake and frosting: 364 Calories; 17g Tot Fat; 9g Sat Fat; 81mg Cholesterol; 543mg Sodium; 49g Carb; 2g Fiber; 42g Sugar; 4g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 8 & PointsPlus 10 & SmartPoints 18 & Freestyle 18 & myWW green 18 & blue 18 & purple 18 & future WW points
Adapted from my mother’s long-time recipe for banana cake which she herself adapted from a 1961 issue of Better Homes & Gardens

Ripe Banaaaaaaaanas!

~ banana recipes ~
Triple-Banana Oat Pancakes ♥, just wholesome oats, banana and egg. Taste and texture just like ordinary pancakes!

Shhh Banana Bread ♥, healthy low-fat banana bread, just 1 tablespoon oil and whole wheat flour. Weight Watchers Friendly!

Banana Cream Pudding ♥, one recipe for pie, pudding, parfaits and pavlova.

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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.