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Unfriendly Skies and a Banana Cardamom Cake

November 18, 2011

Damn, I forgot to order the Thanksgiving turkeys.

Will those brown spotted bananas turn to mush while I’m away?

Crud, Meghan’s wedding RSVP is sitting on the counter.

Those were the thoughts parading through my mind in the moments before the Airbus A320 dropped in the sky. And in a flash my thoughts switched from when I land, to if I land.

“Flight attendants please be seated. Flight attendants take your seats immediately.” The captain’s urgent demands fell like sharp pellets from the speaker over my head. As if on cue, the plane dropped again; the tail where I sat clutching the arm rests, twisted and groaned. A flight attendant, wobbling down the aisle in my direction, dropped to her stomach and clutched on to the metal frames connecting the seats to the floor.

I’m no stranger to turbulence in the air. In more than a million miles of air travel I’ve experienced wind shear on take off out of Harrisburg; a touch-and-go landing at Chicago’s O’Hare; an emergency landing in Toledo, Ohio during a snowstorm; and a lightning strike somewhere over Columbus, Ohio. But this was worse than anything I’d ever experienced.

My petty thoughts immediately yielded to the nephew I was on my way to meet for the first time, to the way Greg had hugged me goodbye earlier that morning. The flight attendant was now on her knees slowly crawling towards the back of the plane as it continued to buck, drop, and twist. Unable to thwart a panic attack, the young woman next to me sputtered loudly with each inhalation. Two rows up in 35D a grey-haired woman was praying to a God I’d not called on in years. The ever darkening sky fueled my fear–this would get worse before it would get better. I closed my eyes and tried to distract myself with a song. Garth Brooks’s Friends in Low Places was first up. The plane dropped again, while my adrenaline surged even higher. 35D’s prayers got louder.

I’ve got friends in low places.

I desperately scanned my mental playlist for something less honky-tonk, and a bit more hopeful. The flight attendant finally made it to her seat behind mine. “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she muttered as her seatbelt clicked into place. This. Anything like this. That was exactly what I didn’t need to hear. I wanted to know that she’d experienced–and lived through–worse, much, much worse.

Where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away.

I was singing out loud, but I hadn’t noticed until the second verse. Would this really be my swan song? The gasping woman next to me reached for her air sickness bag. I closed my eyes and was overcome by an inexplicable craving for my mom’s banana cake. I was back in her warm, cluttered kitchen with the sweet smell of bananas hanging in the air. The first time she let me make the frosting, I was spellbound watching the butter brown. A stolen taste of the amber goodness confirmed the miraculous transformation as if I could taste the alchemy. Why had I been waiting for a special occasion to make that cake?

This, the worst flight of my life ended with cheers and raucous clapping and a near perfect landing in Cleveland. Shivering in the cold sweat that covered my body, my shaking hand reached for my phone. I needed to hear Greg’s voice. As the phone buzzed to life, I was overcome with gratitude for the pilot and for the vivid memory of my mom’s cake–both had delivered me to safety. Alas, it wasn’t our time. And I had a cake to bake.

Banana Cardamom Cake with Browned Butter Frosting

My mom’s version was a simple sheet cake made in a 10×15-inch jelly roll pan. The ingredient amounts are the same regardless of which version you make.



    2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (My mom made hers with all-purpose flour.)
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 cup granulated sugar
    2 large eggs
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 cup Greek yogurt (I used Fage Total 0%)
    2 cups mashed bananas (about 5 medium bananas)
    1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped, plus more for garnishing the cake


    3/4 cup unsalted butter
    3 cups powdered sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    4-6 tablespoons milk or cream (I used cream. Life is short.)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter the bottom and sides of 2-8″ cake pans. Line with waxed or parchment paper. Butter and flour the papered pans.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cardamom.
  4. Cream the butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugars. Beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs and vanilla, then the yogurt, and finally the mashed bananas.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones. Mix on low until just blended. Stir in the toasted walnuts by hand.
  6. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
  7. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert on to wire racks to completely cool.
  8. To make frosting, heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until amber brown, about 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of cream. Gradually beat in enough additional cream for a smooth, spreadable consistency.
  9. Frost cooled cakes and garnish with whole, toasted walnuts.
22 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2011 9:27 am

    That cake looks amazing. I will definitely be making this in the future. Hopefully it comes out as beautifully as the one in the pic.

    • November 18, 2011 4:44 pm

      Thanks Tia! It’s an easy cake. I’m sure yours will be absolutely beautiful.

  2. November 18, 2011 10:18 am

    Shame you had to experience such a flight…on the positive though, your write up of it was just gripping. I couldn’t pull myself away once I started in – you really conveyed the feel of the experience. And turned it into cake to boot!

    • November 18, 2011 4:42 pm

      Josie–thank you for stopping by. It’s so nice to know when someone connects with something I write.

  3. November 18, 2011 12:24 pm

    Ahhh, barf! I’ve had a similar experience on a flight home for the holidays last year. Maybe it was slightly less harrowing, but not by much. I was adamant about not flying after that… until our necessary return trip after the visit was over. Fortunately, all went smoothly. Unfortunately, there was no cake to be had afterward. Next time, there will most certainly be cake.



    • November 18, 2011 4:32 pm

      Heather–you’ll be whipping up cakes very soon in your amazing new kitchen. Congratulations! What a big year for you. Enjoy the ride.

  4. November 19, 2011 2:03 pm

    so we almost lost u and the turkey?

    glad u made it safe.

  5. Flannery permalink
    November 20, 2011 7:29 pm

    This cake looks divine–Must.Make.Now!!!!

  6. Katie McGowan permalink
    November 22, 2011 9:21 am

    Bobbi, you have done it again! This cake is spectacular.

  7. November 25, 2011 4:07 pm

    I am definitely going to try this one. Looks delicious.

  8. December 4, 2011 8:27 pm

    Yikes scary flight! So glad it turned out ok. It’s amazing what thought flash into your mind during these times.
    I have never heard of browning butter for a frosting before. I can’t wait to try it.

    • December 8, 2011 3:08 pm

      Saltandserenity, I’ve wondered about the crazy things my mind conjures up countless times since that flight. Strange indeed. The browned butter frosting is addictive. It works on lots of baked treats…cookies, carrot cake.

  9. December 6, 2011 11:44 pm

    i’ll take the cake and let you keep the hairy flight…yikes! i have a freezer full of over-ripe bananas and this looks just the treat. i found you through tastespotting 🙂

    • December 8, 2011 3:04 pm

      Welcome Christy! I’m happy you found me. I hope you enjoy the cake.

  10. December 9, 2011 8:13 pm

    I made this and let me say.. it was the most delicious banana cake i’ve ever made!! FANTASTIC!
    I did think the icing recipe was a bit weird because it was so buttery, I ended up straining out the extra liquid butter, but in the end it turned out absolutely fabulous 🙂

  11. December 29, 2011 11:43 pm

    This was SO GOOD! I made it tonight, and it’s incredible. I changed a couple of things to suit my preference (decreased white sugar to 1/2 cup), and instead of the white frosting (which sounds great, by the way), I went with an easy chocolate ganache since I was craving a banana/chocolate combination. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing your recipe!

  12. caloricandcrazy permalink
    January 7, 2012 10:50 am

    that cake looks delicious!


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