scary times – caramel pumpkin banana cake

scary times – caramel pumpkin banana cake

When it came to spooky and weird things growing up, ghouls and goblins didn’t scare me much. America did, though, when I first moved away from home.

I came to California for high school, and the only logical arrangement was to be in a boarding school. I had to endure the horrors of the first semester—sharing a room with two roommates (strangers), using a bathroom with the entire floor of students (strangers), and the worst of all, the strange food served in the cafeteria (never heard of a thing called an enchilada).

Everyday, I dreaded walking into the cafeteria to select food-like objects waiting like zombies in chafer pans letting off clouds of steam. The reheated frozen pizzas could have awakened to double as ninja assassin disks, those enchiladas were able to maintain their mushy innards with a Terminator-hard  “cheese” exoskeleton, and the overcooked burgers between two soggy buns resembled something extracted during a werewolf fight.

The only saving grace was the weekend off-campus visits in San Francisco to stay with my brothers. Along with a couple of Chinese friends who also had family in SF, I took the train to the city and immediately rushed to Chinatown to order an obscene amount of food to make up for the week of culinary captivity. The food of Chinatown also made us feel just a little closer to home.  In our state, fresh steamed fish, salt and pepper pork chops, and real vegetables were more than just food.

It was scary then because it was unfamiliar. America was sensory overload with bad food–except for the Chinatown excursions and the weekends with my brothers. Luckily, I adapted to the new environment–and reluctantly to the food simulations—and enjoyed the rest of my high school years.

The appeal of pumpkin eluded for many years, too. It was strange, and I hadn’t grown up eating it. There were no pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving in Hong Kong. There wasn’t even a Thanksgiving.

Now that I have lived in America for a few decades, I have my own collections of fall and Thanksgiving memories. I now embrace pumpkin desserts, especially if you pair them with caramel and bananas.


Caramel Pumpkin Banana Cake


Spiced Pumpkin Cake
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 coconut oil (liquid)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-2/3 cup (11-3/8 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
Caramel Rum Banana Filling
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 cup (3-1/2 ounces) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5-6 barely ripe bananas, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
Pumpkin Cream Frosting

Note: this is enough to frost the cake naked-style (as shown in photos), if you want a traditional frosted cake, double the recipe.

  • 6 tablespoons pumpkin pureé
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon molasses


Spiced Pumpkin Cake

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350℉. Grease and flour two parchment lined 8-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and salt in bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs, coconut oil, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, orange water (if use) and vanilla on medium-high speed until thick and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add pumpkin, and mix until incorporated. Slowly add flour mixture and mix until barely combined, about 1 minute. Divide batter into prepared pans, smooth top with small offset spatula and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

Caramel Rum Banana Filling

1. Cook rum, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until slightly syrupy, spatula leaves 2-second trail when dragged through sauce, about 10 minutes. Remove caramel from heat, set aside and let cool for 20 minutes. Add sliced bananas to warm caramel and stir gently to combine, set aside and cool completely.

Pumpkin Cream Frosting

1. Line a plate with a triple layer of paper towels, with a small offset spatula, spread pumpkin purée on towels into a thin even layer, set aside for 10 minutes. (This is necessary to reduce the moisture content or else the frosting will be runny.)

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted a paddle attachment, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese one piece at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Using a small off-set spatial, scrape pumpkin purée into frosting, add rum and molasses and mix until smooth.


1. Level each cake top with serrated knife and slice cake horizontally into two even layers. Place one layer on cake stand and spread 1/3 of banana filling evenly on top, (it’s OK to spoon some caramel on top) Spread an even layer of frosting over bananas. and place second layer on top. Repeat with reaming filling, frosting and cake layers, finishing with fourth cake layer on top.

2. Spread frosting on top and side of cake. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes before serving.