Thanks to my boyfriend Netflix, I recently caught up on the latest season of Mad Men. As an aspiring ad (wo)man, and more specifically, copywriter, people say, “So you want to be like Peggy, right?” when I tell them what my dreams are made of. “Kind of,” I tell them. Luckily, it’s no longer the 1960’s and a woman’s desire to become a copywriter isn’t so much of a pipe dream. Still, the Creative department of most ad agencies does resemble the Mad Men gender bias. I was once told that if I really wanted to be a copywriter, I’d better be prepared to have the only ovaries in the room. Well, I’m ready for the challenge, so change my last name to Olson and give me a typewriter.
What does this have to do with banana cake, you ask? Here goes: In the finale of season 6 of Mad Men, Don Draper, everyone’s favorite antihero, presents a pitch to Hershey’s. He starts, “Everyone in this room has their own story to tell. It could be rations in the heat of the battle or at the movies during a first date, but most of them are from childhood.” Now, the only rations I’ve ever faced were parent-imposed and I’m more of a Raisinetts-at-the-movies type of girl, but Don was right about the childhood bit.
My story is about baking with my Grandma, one of my most favorite people in the world. I mean, she really is the greatest. She’s given me everything, and we’re not just talking about extra whipped cream on my pumpkin pie. She is one of the most loving people I know, and as much as her life is busy and stressful, when she picks up the phone to talk to me, everything else disappears.
I was lucky enough to live with this remarkable woman for a few years of my life and we got to spend a lot of time together. The times not spent at the mall giggling over Cinnabons were often spent in the kitchen. Today, she says that I teach her about cooking, but I wouldn’t be the cook I am now without her guidance. She taught me everything from toasting a bagel to making roast beef, but there was one department where I was the boss. Chocolate cake.
On the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa Powder box is a recipe for chocolate cake. It’s easy enough, but so so good. The inside of the cake is always moist, and the top is perfectly sticky, like a thin coat of frosting. I’ll never forget Sunday afternoons spent baking with Hershey’s while Grandma looked on affectionately. (I’ll also never forget the less-than-affectionate pleas to get me to clean up after myself that came after.)
During Don Draper’s pitch, he said, “Hershey’s is the currency of affection.” When I tasted this Chocolate Banana Cake, it brought me back to my Grandma’s kitchen. The top of the cake had that nice sticky texture and the inside was just so rich. It wasn’t Hershey’s or chocolate or banana that I tasted. It was love.
The next day, I called to tell Grandma about a job interview. “Of course it went well,” she said. “How could anybody not love you?” I laughed, “Well you’re my grandma. You have to love me.” “I don’t have to,” she said, “but I do.”
This recipe was originally posted on Smitten Kitchen and has been slightly adapted.
Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)
2 very ripe bananas
½ cup salted butter, melted
¾ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup flour
½ cup cocoa powder
8 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350oF. 2. Mash bananas in a large bowl. Whisk in melted butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. 3. Place baking soda, salt, cinnamon, flour, and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients. 4. Stir together until just combined. 5. Fold in chocolate chunks. 6. Pour into a greased 9X5-inch loaf pan and spread evenly. 7. Bake 55-65 minutes, until a toothpick comes out relatively clean. 8. Serve warm or at room temperature.