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Ponderosa Cake

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My mother insists she spent her university years cutting class to eat French fries and gravy with a Pepsi in the cafeteria. I find that hard to believe, given how focused she is, but she does have some proof of her devotion to the UBC cafeteria – a wrinkled, grease-stained, hand-written recipe for her favorite cake.

Called a UBC Ponderosa Cake (named after the cafeteria it was first made it, says Google), the cake is less dense than banana bread but with a tighter crumb than a traditional coffee cake. It’s sweet, but not sweet enough to scream dessert . . . though the cake batter is layered with a cinnamon and brown sugar crumble and has a generous helping of chocolate chips. As kids, it was one of the few chocolatey treats we were allowed to have at breakfast, making it a constant favorite.  I imagine it also tastes great paired with a soda while skipping class, but you’d have to ask my mom about that.
Over the years, I’ve tweaked the original recipe, dialing back the amount of sugar, substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream (mostly because I almost always have it on hand), and adding generous dash of fresh nutmeg. I’ve considered using brown butter, but have never actually gotten around to trying it. Honestly, the amount of effort that would take feels wrong for this cake. This isn’t the kind of cake that’s meant to be fussy or complicated. It’s a recipe that can be thrown together whenever you have overripe bananas that need saving or last minute house guests to feed. It’s also forgiving – on more than one occasion I’ve skipped the careful alternating of ingredients and just dumped everything in to the bowl at once. It worked out just fine.

 Makes one 9 x 13 cake

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 ½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups ripe mashed banana (approx. 4)
  • 3 cups all purpose flour (I use the scoop and level method)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated, if you have it)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cups chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9 x 13 pan with a little bit of butter or baking spray.
  2. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixture or with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in vanilla and mashed bananas and mix until smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg.
  5. Alternate adding a little of the flour mixture and a little of the Greek yogurt to the banana mixture, ending with flour.
  6. Spoon half of the batter into your prepared baking pan. Top with half of the cinnamon-brown sugar mixture and ¾ cup of chocolate chips. Carefully smooth the rest of the batter over the chocolate chips and top with remaining cinnamon-brown sugar followed by the remainder of the chocolate chips.
  7. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, and then enjoy! The cake will keep well on the counter for 3 or 4 days.