Ahh, the Banana Cake. The banana cake recipe became not only a favourite baked good at Paradise Valley, but the story of how it came to be has been shared in business meetings, keynote speeches, and advisory sessions over the past 10 years. There are two parts to the story.
Prior to moving to Medicine Hat, our family owned a cabin near Sundre, Alberta. It was an easy 90 minute drive from our home in Calgary, but it was worlds away in terms of stress, responsibilities, and chores. Just a half hour out of the city we could feel ourselves decompress, and briefcases full of laptops and business problems were often forgotten in the back seat for the weekend.
By taking the “scenic route” to Sundre, we drove through a tiny community named Bergen, which aside from ranches and acreages, had as its claim to fame a small general store and gas station. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t even know who owned the store during that period of time, and we never really bought much aside from the beef jerky and banana cake, both of which were made in-house. It never really started out as a mission, as we had no excuse to be hungry just an hour from our house. It started as an occasional treat for my husband and I, but once our kids became old enough to share, it became a “must do” on the drive.
In early 2008 (January 5th to be exact), when we were negotiating the Paradise Valley purchase and selling our cabin, I sent an email to the store and explained our situation. I still have her reply with the recipe attached.
The second part of this story actually began in Maui. We were on the Island back in the late 90’s, and drove the Kahekili Highway around the Northwest point of the island, from Kapalua and Napili, through Honokohau and Waihee. You will notice on the map below, that this is a “do not drive” zone for rental cars. I’m sure we didn’t get that memo! But I do recall rounding the corner on a very narrow road on the edge of a cliff, and coming face to face with a VW Van heading the opposite direction! Luckily we had the inside lane.
So here we are on this back road, and just as the road becomes a bit wider and “slightly” straight, you drive through Old Kahakuloa Village. Bright green signs dot the road telling you that you are soon approaching Julia’s Best Banana Bread on the Planet. ON THE PLANET!!! How could we not stop? Not to mention that by this time my nerves were just a tiny bit frazzled from the drive and it was going to be either Banana Bread or Mai Tai’s! (that is another story altogether).
Now this experience was made special because it was unexpected. We were not told about Julia’s, we had not googled it or done any research – which if you do now, will give you many recommendations, reviews and photos! And while it was delicious and certainly a welcome snack that afternoon, I can’t honestly say that it is the best on the planet – I still love Mom’s recipe myself! But by making the claim that this was the absolute best, it was a non-starter from a pure business marketing sense. Being that we are business leaders at heart, our conversation turned to how even on the back roads of this tropical paradise, identifying your niche and really understanding what you are best at, always leads to success. What one thing do you do better than anyone else??
And how does this all lead to the Banana Cake recipe? Well……………… flip forward to 2008, when we became the proud owners of Paradise Valley Golf Course and what would eventually become the Clubhouse Restaurant. We wanted to have something on the menu that was “the best”. We thought about signature cocktails and sandwiches, we had the Chocolate Bread Pudding, the Paradise Club, and the Creekside Burger. But we wanted something just a little different. Thus the Banana Cake.
To be fair it gradually fell off the regular menu primarily because I always insisted on making it myself, and simply could not always find the time. I have kept the recipe secret all these years, with respect for the Bergen Store owners, but also because I realized that the recipe would not turn out exactly the same each time someone new attempted it – even with amazing chefs in our own kitchen. It’s not difficult, and to be completely honest, we all know it’s really all about the coconut icing. But by keeping it my own, it became a consistent product that was appreciated as being special.
And now, after that long introduction, I share it with you! I hope you enjoy it as much as we have. And I apologize for the long wait!
Bergen / Paradise Valley Banana Cake
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (1 tsp vinegar + 1 cup milk)
2 cups mashed ripened bananas (approx. 4)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Completely line a 22 x 16” baking sheet (restaurant size) with parchment paper.
- In mixmaster, cream butter and add the next five dry ingredients. Mix well.
- Add milk and mix until all dry ingredients are slightly dampened.
- Add bananas & eggs, mix well.
- Bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the centre of the cake.
- Meanwhile, make the icing on the stovetop: melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in brown sugar and whipping cream to blend, and when thoroughly combined, remove from heat and add coconut.
Cool cake a few minutes before spreading with the icing. Move the rack to second from top and set broiler on high. Broil for about 2 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary to get even coverage. Icing will be bubbly and just golden brown.