It’s 2022, and banana bread is so lockdown 2020. But platanos upside down cake? That will never get old.
As someone who always keeps yellow platanos, or plantains, handy on my kitchen counter or in my freezer, I’m always looking for new ways to make use of them. And though making them into platonos en tantacion (pretty much the Latin American version of bananas foster) is never a bad idea, I recently began thinking of ways to transform my trusty platanos into something more magical. I pondered banana desserts that I could give a Hispanic kick to. Plátano cream pudding crossed my mind (and I’ll probably make that too), but what’s more breathtaking than an upside down cake to show off what a platano can do?
Although they look alike, there are some key differences between bananas and plantains. The latter are a starchy banana variety commonly used throughout Latin America. They’re usually larger and tougher than bananas, with a much thicker skin. They may be green, yellow, or very dark brown. Green plantains are used for savory preparations, while the yellow ones find their way into sweeter dishes. When ripe, plantains have a dry texture, whereas ripe bananas are smooth and creamy. And while ripe bananas are eaten raw, plantains are not — they need heat and fat (and lots of it) to be palatable and help break down their starches. When they’re cooked, they’re sweet like a banana but don’t taste like one — instead, they have a vegetal flavor. That means that neither plantains nor this plantain upside down cake have that banana flavor we’re so used to in the United States, where “banana” usually refers to soft, sweet dessert bananas, namely those from the Cavendish family.
To develop this recipe, I pored over a ton of classic banana upside down cake recipes and also recalled my favorites. One thing I knew for sure was that my cake would contain sour cream, since some of the best banana upside down cakes I’ve ever had used sour cream or buttermilk. That’s no accident: the acidity in both ingredients brings a pleasant tang to the cake and helps to tenderize the gluten in the flour, which gives the cake a softer texture and more body.
For this cake, look for the yellowest plantains you can find. Spots like a leopard are good. And if you can’t find fresh ones, try the freezer section, where plantains are sometimes sold peeled and frozen.
Instead of frosting, the plantains themselves are used to decorate the cake. Sliced in half-lengthwise and dripping in caramel, they’re simple yet stunning. So the next time you come across a plantain and wonder how to use it, well, now you know — go and bake a cake.
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake
For the caramel topping:
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup (100 grams) brown sugar
1 pinch kosher salt
2-3 large ripe yellow plantains or 6 small plantains
For the cake:
1⅓ cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup unsalted butter (softened)
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup sour cream or yogurt
Flaky sea salt for garnishing