Oprah’s Favorite Cake: Momofuku Milk Bar’s Banana Layer Cake

I hope you all had an food-filled, family-filled, and love-filled Thanksgiving this past week! Every Thanksgiving my family and I go to our friend’s house and have the most wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, full of turkey, chicken, prime rib, gravy, cranberries, potatoes, veggies, stuffing, and of course dessert. It has always been my job to supply one of the many desserts, and this year I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try to create the most complex dessert I’ve ever made! The success of my Banana Cream Pie lead me to create another Momofuku Milk Bar Dessert, this one much more complicated (but perhaps even more delicious!). This cake, said to be Oprah’s favorite, consists of a moist Banana Cake, creamy Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache, Hazelnut Crunch, fresh Banana Cream, and fluffy Hazelnut Frosting. This cake may be intimidating, but the results are so worth it! Let’s get baking!

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Before we can assemble our beautiful cake, we have to make each individual component. Now there a ton of components to this cake, and it really doesn’t matter the order in which you complete them. Below I’ll give you some tips and tricks on how to successfully complete this cake.

To make the Hazelnut Crunch, you must first make Hazelnut Brittle. You will have some Hazelnut Brittle left over, but I’m sure you can put it to good use!

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After completing the Hazelnut Brittle (pictured above), break it down into pieces small enough to fit in your food processor and pulse the brittle until  the pieces are the size of short-grain rice (pictured below). This brittle is extremely, well, brittle, and we don’t want anyone breaking a tooth!

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Now to make the Hazelnut Crunch, mix 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons of the crushed Hazelnut Brittle with hazelnut paste, confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. I could not find hazelnut paste in any store near where I lived, so I substituted Nutella, which worked perfectly and added a chocolate element (you can never have too much chocolate!)

To learn how to make the banana cream (below), click here. I used 7 drops of food coloring, rather than the recommended 12 drops, lending a gorgeous pale yellow color reminiscent of Laffy Taffy.

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This banana cake is chock-full of banana flavor and is extremely moist. Besides using two very ripe bananas, it also requires a small amount of banana extract. I had no trouble sourcing banana extract, but I’m sure if you can’t find it, it could be left out. This cake is baked in a parchment-lined quarter sheet pan. Additionally, I used vegetable oil instead of grapeseed oil.

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To make the Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache, you must first make Fudge Sauce. I substituted corn syrup for the glucose. This recipe makes about 1/4 cup, leaving you with a tablespoon left over. You only need three tablespoons to make the ganache.

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For the ganache, combine the gianduja chocolate, hazelnut paste, Fudge Sauce, and salt in a bowl and pour over hot heavy cream, the standard for making a ganache. However, since I could not find hazelnut paste or gianduja chocolate in any store near me, I decided to substitute both with Nutella. This worked perfectly and left me with a thick, shiny, and sinfully tasting Nutella Ganache.

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Next up is the hazelnut frosting. This makes a very small amount of frosting, so I would use a hand mixer instead of a stand mixer. Once again, I substituted Nutella for the hazelnut paste, and it worked wonderfully (the Nutella changed this Hazelnut Frosting into Chocolate Hazelnut Frosting – yay, more chocolate)!

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By now the cake should be completely cooled. Peel off the parchment from the bottom of the banana cake and cut three circles out of it. Although the recipe called for using a 6-inch cake ring, I instead used a 6-inch springform pan since no 6-inch cake rings were readily available. Instead of taking the suggested cake ring and pressing it down to cut out the cake, I removed the bottom of the springform pan and used its ring as a template to cut out the cake circles. If you decided to cut the cake with a springform pan like I did, make sure to cut in the inside of the ring (if you cut from the outside, the cake will not fit back into the pan). To cut or stamp the circles out, remove a half circle from the upper right and another half circle from the bottom left. With the remaining cake, cut out two full circles. See the picture below as reference.

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Of course there will be scraps, so feel free to nibble!

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Before you can assemble the cake, you must create a ring to support the cake, either with acetate or another sturdy but pliable substance. I could not find any acetate at any store, but I happened to find some old negative sheets in my house. These sheets worked perfectly, as it was sturdy yet pliable. Momofuku Milk Bar called for lining the cake ring with a small strip of acetate and after the cake was halfway built up, tucking in another sheet. I decided that it would be simpler if I just cut two negative sheets to each be 6 inches tall and tape these two sheets side by side to increase the length. I taped these strips one last time into the shape of a ring 6 inches in diameter and placed this acetate substitute into the springform pan. To me having one tall ring is much easier than having two short rings that have to be tucked into one another. Because of this, I would recommend making a ring out of any sturdy but pliable substance 6 inches in diameter and 6 inches tall. When making the ring, make sure to tape only on the outside of the ring so it doesn’t touch the cake.

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Now it’s time to layer everything! Below are helpful pictures of each layer step by step. Here is the order of assembly:

IMG_2943     Banana Cake + milk

IMG_2949     Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache

IMG_2950     Hazelnut Crunch

IMG_2952     Banana Cream

IMG_2956     Banana Cake + milk

IMG_2958     Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache

IMG_2960     Hazelnut Crunch

IMG_2963     Banana Cream

IMG_2956     Banana Cake

IMG_2966     Hazelnut Frosting

IMG_2968     Hazelnut Crunch + Brittle

Banana Layer Cake

Adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar

Banana Layer Cake

Makes 1 (6-in.) layer cake, 5-6 in. tall; serves 6-8

  • 1 recipe Banana Cake (recipe follows)
  • ¼ c. milk
  • 1 recipe Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache (recipe follows), warmed
  • 1 recipe Hazelnut Crunch (recipe follows)
  • 1 recipe Banana Cream (recipe follows)
  • 1 recipe Hazelnut Frosting (recipe follows)

Special Equipment:

  • 1 (6-in.) cake ring or 1 (6-in.) springform pan
  • 2 strips acetate, each 3 in. wide & 20 in. long (see above for substitutions) 

Save a perfectly ripe banana or leftover hazelnut brittle to ganache this cake in addition to the hazelnut crunch clusters.

  1. Put a piece of parchment or a Silpat on the counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment or Silpat from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring or the ring of a springform pan to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake.
  2. Layer 1, the bottom: Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined w/ clean parchment or a Silpat or use a fully assembled springform pan. Use 1 strip of acetate or another material like negative sleeve pages to line the inside of the cake ring. You can also create a ring six inches high held with tape and place it into the cake ring or springform pan.
  3. Put the cake scraps inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the cake scraps together into a flat even layer.
  4. Dunk a pastry brush in the milk and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of ½ of the milk.
  5. Use the back of a spoon to spread ½ of the ganache in and even layer over the cake
  6. Sprinkle ⅓ of the hazelnut crunch evenly over the ganache. Use the back of your hand to anchor it in place.
  7. Use the back of a spoon to spread ½ of the banana cream as evenly as possible over the crunch.
  8. Layer 2, the middle: W/ your index finger, gently tuck the 2nd strip of acetate btwn the cake ring and  the top ¼ in. of the 1st strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5-6 in. tall – high enough to support the height of the finished cake. If you had previously created a six in. tall ring, this step is not necessary.
  9. Set a cake round on top of the banana cream and repeat the process for layer 1 (of 1 of you 2 cake rounds is uglier than the other, use it here in the middle and save the prettier one for the top).
  10. Layer 3, the top: Nestle the remaining cake round into the banana cream. Cover the top of the cake w/ all the hazelnut frosting. Give it volume and swirls, or do as we do and opt for a perfectly flat top. Garnish the frosting w/ the remaining clusters of hazelnut crunch.
  11. Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hrs to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
  12. At least 3 hrs before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the fridge for a miin. of 3 hrs (wrapped well in plastic, the cake can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
  13. Slice the cake into wedges and serve.

Banana Cake

Makes 1 quarter sheet pan

  • 6 Tbsp butter, at room temp.
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ c. buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil 
  • ½ tsp banana extract
  • 2 rrrrripe bananas*
  • 1⅓ c. flour (whole wheat pastry or white whole wheat work fabulously)
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • Pam or other nonstick cooking spray (optional)

*Just as with the Banana Cream, the riper and browner the banana, the tastier the cake.

  1. Heat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted w/ the paddle attachment and cream together on med.-high for 2-3 min. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg, and mix on med.-high again for 2-3 min. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.
  3. Stream in the buttermilk, oil, and banana extract while the paddle swirls on low speed. Increase the mixer speed to med.-high and paddle for 5-6 min., until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogeneous. You’re basically forcing too much liquid into and already fatter mixture that doesn’t want to make room for it, so if it doesn’t look right after 6 min., keep mixing. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. On very low speed, add the bananas and mix for 45-60 sec. to ensure all the bananas are broken apart.
  5. Still on low speed, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix for 45-60 sec., just until your batter comes together and any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Pam-spray a quarter sheet pan and line with parchment, or just line the pan w/a Silpat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in and even layer in the pan. Give the bottom of your sheet pans tap on the counter top to even out the layer (this cake batter is very forgiving). Bake for 25-30 min. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. at 25 min., gently poke the edge of the cake w/ your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3-5 min. if the cake doesn’t pass these tests.
  7. Take the cake out of the oven and cool or a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don’t worry, it’s not cheating). The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.

Fudge Sauce

Makes ~1/4 c.

  • 1/2 oz 72% choc., chopped
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/16 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp glucose or 1 Tbsp corn syrup 
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream  
  1. Combine the choc., cocoa powder, and salt in a med. bowl.
  2. Combine the glucose/corn syrup, sugar, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir intermittently while bringing to a boil over high heat. The moment it boils, pour it into the bowl holding the chocolate. Let sit for 1 full min.
  3. Slowly, slowly begin to whisk the mixture. Then cont., increasing the vigor of your whisking every 30 sec., until the mixture is glossy and silky-smooth. This will take 2-4 min., depending on your speed and strength. You can use the sauce at this point or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks do not freeze.

Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache

Makes ~⅔ c.

  • ¼ c. heavy cream
  • 2 oz gianduja choc., melted* or 1/4 c. Nutella 
  • ¼ c. hazelnut paste or Nutella
  • 3 Tbsp Fudge Sauce (see above)
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt

*Gianduja is a sweet choc. that contains hazelnut paste. It’s like a soft brick of Nutella – pick it up at a specialty grocery store or online.

  1. Bring the heavy cream to a boil in a m. heavy-bottomed saucepan over med.-high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the melted gianduja/Nutella, hazelnut paste/Nutella, fudge sauce, and salt in a med. bowl.
  3. Pour the cream into the bowl and let sit undisturbed for 1 min. w/ a hand blender or a whisk, slowly mix the contents of the bowl until the mixture is glossy and silky-smooth. This will take 2-4 min., depending on your speed and strength. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks; do not freeze.

Hazelnut Brittle

Makes ~1 3/4 c.

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. hazelnuts
  1. Line a quarter sheet pan w/ a Silpat (parchment will not work here).
  2. Make a dry caramel: Heat the sugar in a sm. heavy-bottomed saucepan over med.-high heat. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, sue a heatproof spatula to move it constantly around the pan -you want it all to melt and caramelize evenly. Cook and stir, cook and stir, until the caramel is a deep, dark amber, 3-5 min.
  3. Once the caramel has reached the target color, remove the pan from the heat and, w/ the heatproof spatula, stir in the nuts. Makes sure the nuts are coated in caramel, then dump the contents of the pan out onto the prepared sheet pan. Spread out as thin and evenly as possible. The caramel will set into a hard-to-move-round brittle mass in less than a min., so work quickly. Let the brittle cool completely.
  4. In a zip-top bag break the brittle up into pieces as sm. as possible w/ a meat pounder, heavy rolling pin, or food processor to the size of short-grain rice (you don’t want anyone to chip a tooth on it!). Eat or cook w/ it at will. Store your brittle in an airtight container, and try to use it up w/in a month.

Hazelnut Crunch

Makes ~1 c.

  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp hazelnut paste or Nutella
  • 1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp Hazelnut Brittle (see above)
  • 1 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ + ⅛ tsp kosher salt
  1. Combine the hazelnut paste/Nutella, brittle, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted w/ the paddle attachment, and paddle on med.-low speed for ~1 min., until homogeneous. The crunch can be stored in an airtight container at room temp. for 5 days or in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Banana Cream

Makes ~1½ c.

  • ~1 rrrrrripe bananas
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1½ egg yolks
  • 1 gelatin sheet*
  • 1½ Tbsp butter
  • 7-12 drops yellow food coloring
  • ¼ c. + 2 Tbsp heavy cream
  • ½ c. confectioners’ sugar

*Powdered gelatin can be substituted for the sheet gelatin: use ½ tsp.

  1. Combine the bananas, cream, and milk in a blender and puree until totally smooth.
  2. Add the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and yolks and continue to blend until homogenous. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan. Clean the blender canister.
  3. Bloom the gelatin.
  4. Whisk the contents of the pan and heat over med.-low heat. As the banana mixture heats up, it will thicken. Bring to a boil and then continue to whisk vigorously for 2 minutes to fully cook out the starch. The mixture will resemble thick glue, bordering on cement, w/ a color to match.
  5. Dump the contents of the pan into the blender. Add the bloomed gelatin and the butter and blend until the mixture is smooth and even. Color the mixture w/ yellow food coloring until it is a bright cartoon-banana yellow or the color of your choice. 
  6. Transfer the banana mixture to a heat safe container, and put in the fridge for 30-60 min. – as long as it takes to cool completely.
  7. Using a whisk or a mixer w/ the whisk attachment, whip the cream and confectioners’ sugar to med.-soft peaks. (When you pull the whisk away from the whipped cream, the mounds of cream hold their shape softly.) Add the cold banana mixture to the whipped cream and slowly whisk until evenly colored and homogenous. Stored in an airtight container, banana cream keeps fresh for up to 5 days in the fridge.

Hazelnut Frosting

Makes ~⅓ c.

  • 2 Tbsp butter, at room temp.
  • ¼ c. hazelnut paste or Nutella
  • 2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
  • ⅛ tsp kosher salt
  1. Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted w/ the paddle attachment and paddle on med.-high speed until it is completely smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl w/ a spatula. This is a sm. amount of ingredients so use a hand mixer or take on the task by hand in a med. bowl.
  2. Add the hazelnut paste/Nutella, confectioners’ sugar, and salt and mix on high speed until the frosting is fluffy and has no lumps in it, 3-4 min. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 sec., just to be sure everything is nice and smooth. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month. Bring to room temp. before using.

 

 

 

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