Melt in your mouth, subtly sweet and supremely soft. This Japanese style sponge cake is flavoured with banana, topped with buttery pecans and is unlike any other sponge cake you've ever made or tasted!
Have you ever watched those Youtube videos of the impossibly soft-looking, springy and almost jiggly sponge cakes they make in Eastern Asia? Well I have. A lot. They are sometimes called cotton sponge cakes which are named so due to their, you guessed it, cottony soft texture.
A couple of years ago, I decided to stop torturing myself with this addictive cake porn and give it a try. After a couple of failed attempts and school-girl errors (which I'll outline for you later so you don't end up strolling down that same heartbreaking route!) I finally produced the most amazingly soft, moist and springy cake I'd ever cut into or shoved in my mouth.
It was like nothing else I'd ever baked and, to begin with, I couldn't decide how I actually felt about it; the texture and flavour is really nothing like the cakes we typically make in the West, which tend to be very sweet, and have more substance to the crumb. Conversely, this cake is so soft it's almost like eating slightly squidy air, and is only very subtly sweet as it's traditionally not served with any frosting , but just a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
After eating almost half the cake on my own, I decided I REALLY did like it and made it several times subsequently.
Fast-forward to the here and now, and my boyfriend has inadvertently purchased 12 bananas in our online food shop which are now turning spotty and black *palm to forehead*, hence the resulting Moist & Tender Orange Banana Bread recipe in my previous post. Unfortunately that amazing cake only requires 3 bananas, so I needed to come up with something else to squeeze them into before they headed for the bin. And hence this cake was born!
This banana, cotton-style sponge is just as amazingly soft as the original cotton cake, but slightly more moist, and beautifully flavoured with banana and crunchy toasted pecans. Whats more, is that it’s pretty easy to make and can be in the oven in just 10-15 minutes! But first, there are a couple of differences to how we make this sponge that differ from a regular sponge!
Firstly, the batter is made using the Tang Mian method, or cooked dough method, which involves beginning the process by mixing the flour directly into warm oil or melted butter. By doing this we are coating the flour with fat which slows then gluten development that typically takes place when the liquids are added. Ultimately, this process makes for a softer crumb.
The final cake batter is cooked at a very low temperature in a hot water bath in the oven for 70-80 minutes. The hot
water bath provides moisture and prevents the cake from drying out, as well as ensuring the cake bakes evenly.
Really, this cake is it's pretty simple once you know the how’s and why’s, and is made with such simple ingredients that you are bound to have at home in your cupboard!
Pastry or Cake Flour - Finely milled flour with a low protein content is important to achieve the soft, cottony and light texture. You can also use 00 flour, with a protein content of under 10g per 100g flour, which I have used in the past for these cakes
Flavourless Oil - Canola/rapeseed, sunflower or vegetable oil. This is the fat used in the cake along with the egg yolks and helps to keep the cake from drying out
Pureed Banana - This is sort of the star of the show; it wouldn't be a banana cake without them! In this recipe we blend them to a smooth puree in a blender or food processor. This enables them to be incorporated into the batter evenly without any lumps.
Eggs - These are the key to the cake's structure and fluffiness! As there is no baking soda or powder in this recipe, we rely solely on the eggs for leavening. The egg yolks provide fat and moisture, and the whites provide structure. The whites are are whipped to a meringue and folded into the batter just before baking.
Caster Sugar - As this is a very subtly sweet cake, we only use a small amount in this recipe. The natural sugars in the banana also add to the sweetness of the cake.
Vanilla Extract & Salt - For flavour
Pecans - Roughly chopped and scattered on top of the cake prior to baking. Feel free to replace with walnuts or even chocolate chips!
The Water Bath - This involved placing the cake tin and a larger pan of hot water during baking. If you are using a detachable spring-form pan, I highly recommend wrapping this tightly with tin foil! This was my first mistake! Spring-form pans are renowned for leakage so unless you want a very soggy cake, don't forget to wrap it up first! If you have a standard cake pan that does not detach, then go right ahead and use that instead. When filling the tray, be sure to use boiling water from the kettle and fill the pan until it reaches about 2-3cm up the sides of your cake tin.
Measure Your Banana! - don’t be tempted to guesstimate the amount of banana for this recipe. As I learnt the hard way, too much banana will cause this cake to be way too wet. You need 260g for this recipe which is roughly 2 and 2/3 large bananas,but as each banana varies in weight, it’s important to measure! Equally, do not be tempted to add any liquid to this recipe!
Cool Your Cake in the Oven - This may seem counterintuitive intuitive but it really helps towards the final product. After baking, remove the tin from the water bath and carefully drop the pan from around an 8cm height into the counter. This will help avoid shrinkage as the cake cools. Let the cake cool in the pan for around 10-15 minutes before removing it and placing upside down onto a sheet of parchment to rest for a further 10 minutes. Now return the cake back to the oven right-side-up, the oven should be OFF, and allow the cake to dry out in the remaining heat for up to 20 minutes. This cake has a high proportion of liquid, creating lots of steam which, as the cake cools turns into water which can make the cake a bit wet. This drying out process will allow some of that water to be drawn out of the sponge. Alternatively you can leave the cake to cool upside down on a wire rack for a couple of hours to dry out naturally.
Other Banana Recipes You May Like:
Super Soft Banana Cake - Japanese Style
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 70-80 minutes
260g Bananas pureed in a blender/processor
110g Pastry/Cake/Low protein 00 flour (9-10%)
80g Flavourless oil
90g Egg yolk (approximately 5 large UK eggs or 6 USA large eggs)
90g White caster sugar (divided 30g & 60g)
185g Egg whites flavourless oil (canola, vegetable, sunflower)
1/4 tsp Salt
1tsp Vanilla extract
50g Chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 135C and grease and line an 8 inch round cake pan and loaf pan. If using a spring-form pan, wrap with tin foil as suggested above, and have a deep square pan prepared for your water bath.
Make the batter: Heat oil in a microwave for 30 seconds and set aside for couple of minutes to cool slightly. Using a manual hand whisk, gently whisk the warm oil into the flour in a large bowl into a thin paste with no lumps. Whisk in the pureed banana until just combines. Add the egg yolks and 30g of the sugar, salt and vanilla and whisk gently until fully incorporated. Set aside.
Make the Meringue: Using an electric whisk or stand mixer, beat egg whites in a separate bowl on a high speed just until soft peaks begin to form. Do not over whisk your egg whites before adding the sugar or you will break up the proteins causing the cake to delate in the oven. Reduce speed to medium and slowly whisk in remaining sugar in four stages. Once all sugar has been added, increase speed back to high and whisk until stiff and glossy peaks form. The meringue should stick firmly to the whisk when lifted from the bowl.
Combine the Batter: Mix 1/3 of the meringue mixture into the banana batter and gently fold. Add the remaining meringue to the batter and fold gently, until incorporated. Over mixing will deflate the meringue so fold until just combined. The resulting batter should be very light and airy. Pour into your prepared cake pan and tap the pan gently on the counter to release any large air bubbles. Run a knife through the batter to disperse any remaining bubbles. Sprinkle chopped pecans over the top of the batter.
Bake: Place the pan in the larger tray and fill tray with boiling water until it reaches 2-3cm up the sides of the cake pan. Place on the bottom shelf of your oven and bake for 70-80 minutes. As some ovens vary in temperature, be sure to check the doneness of the cake before removing from the oven by inserting a skewer into the centre of the cake and ensuring it comes out clean with only a couple of crumbs. If any batter remains on the skewer, continue to bake for 5 minutes at a time until fully cooked through.
Cool & Serve: Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping upside-down out of the pan and leaving the cake to cool on a wire rack upside down for a further 10 minutes. Either return cake to your oven on a piece of parchment and allow cake to dry out in the remaining heat for a further 20 minutes right-side up, or continue to cool on the wire rack for up to 2 hours to naturally dry out the remaining steam and moisture from the sponge. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. This cake can keep at room temperature for up to three days in a loosely covered container or cake cover, and is best served completely cooled