Serious Heat: Favorite Sweet + Heat Dessert: Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake Recipe

Serious Heat: Favorite Sweet + Heat Dessert: Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake Recipe

[Photograph: Bill Milne]

Don't be under the misconception that all spiciness is required to shoot your taste buds into oblivion. Some of the best sweet treats add just a touch of heat into the mix. They incorporate a hint of flavor, like chocolate and cinnamon heightened with chile powder in a sultry Mexican hot chocolate. Here are a few of my personal favorite "sweet plus heat" combinations for desserts.

  • Caramel + Chipotle
  • Dark Chocolate + Ancho Chile Powder
  • Tamarind + Sambal Oelek
  • Strawberries + Black Peppercorns
  • White Chocolate + Wasabi
  • Tropical Fruit + Jalapenos
  • Limes + Habanero Chiles

And in honor of both the Super Bowl win of the Saints and Mardi Gras next week, here's a recipe that has made it straight into my "must-have" file, a slightly spicy spin of the French Quarter classic made into a cake: the Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake. The caramel is slightly enhanced by chile powder and black pepper in a gooey banana topping on top of a moist banana cake.

What's your favorite spicy way to enhance a dessert?

Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake

Yield: 1 cake Zest Factor: Mild

Be sure to use ripe bananas for this cake, or the banana slices will become hard after the cake cools.

Recipe by A.J. Fox for Chile Pepper magazine.


  • For the topping
  • 4 ripe bananas
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Juice of 1/2 orange
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • For the cake
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 large bananas)


  1. 1.

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Make the topping: Slice bananas into 1-inch thick rounds, toss them with lemon juice, and set aside.

  2. 2.

    In a wide saucepan, melt the butter, sugar and spices together until thickened, bubbling and dark.

  3. 3.

    Remove the pan from the heat, and carefully add dark rum and orange juice—it will bubble up. Return the pan to the stove, and whisk the mixture thoroughly, then pour it into a 10-inch round cake pan.

  4. 4.

    Carefully arrange the banana slices on top of the caramel, and then sprinkle pecans on top of the bananas. Set aside.

  5. 5.

    Make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices, and set aside.

  6. 6.

    Using a mixer, cream butter, zest, and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl before adding the second egg. Also add the dark rum, vanilla extract, and mashed bananas.

  7. 7.

    Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mix until just combined—batter will look curdled—and pour into cake pan. Smooth batter with a spatula, making sure batter evenly reaches all sides of the pan.

  8. 8.

    Bake at 350°F for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Invert onto serving platter while still warm, and serve while still warm or at room temperature.