Sometimes you really just need to eat a slice or two before sharing cake with your guests. Tell them it’s a Pac-Man cake and stare down anyone who
Sometimes you really just need to eat a slice or two before sharing cake with your guests. Tell them it's a Pac-Man cake and stare down anyone who says otherwise. (Mel Barber — mbarber@yorkdispatch.com)

I have a mental block — a psychological hurdle I know I ought to get over.

See, here's the thing: Sour cream doughnuts. Sour cream cake. Sour cream in any sweet dessert-type thing.

I can't control my instinctive shudder at the very idea. Sour cream? How could you. It belongs on tacos, not in cakes.

And yet, I will inevitably eat the doughnuts and cakes and cookies. And I will love them. So long as no one tells me they have sour cream in them.

It's a great system, unless you're the baker in the house. Could I blindfold myself? Have my husband add the sour cream and pretend I don't know it's there?

Nope. I just have to face up to my distaste, which is what I did in making this banana sour cream layer cake. Because the shudder-inducing knowledge that there is something so sour in something so sweet is worth it for the incredibly moist, dense cake I get to eat.

There's an art to layer cakes, and I'll readily admit I haven't perfected it yet. But I rely on what Alton Brown taught me on an episode of "Good Eats" devoted to the coconut layer cake. (You can watch the episode on YouTube if you're willing to pay.) To wit:

If you're slicing each layer in a round cake to make four layers, use a cookie sheet as a guide for the serrated knife to keep your layers level.

Use only a little frosting between each layer, and dump the rest in a heap on the top. It'll slide down the sides as you smooth it out, and a few slow turns with the spatula will even out those sides.

There's no easy way to get the topping pressed to the side of the cake. Either spin and fling, or turn and press, but either way, put down some parchment first to catch the mess.

This recipe is tweaked from one I cut out of something years ago and stuffed in the "I'll make this someday" file. Purists can start with their favorite white cake recipe; I went for a box mix.

The mashed banana and sour cream throughout the cake and the cream cheese frosting between the layers make banana sour cream cake a dense, moist dessert.
The mashed banana and sour cream throughout the cake and the cream cheese frosting between the layers make banana sour cream cake a dense, moist dessert. (Mel Barber — mbarber@yorkdispatch.com)

Banana Sour Cream Cake

For the cake:

1 box white cake mix (2-layer size)

1/4 cup oil

3 eggs

1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 or 4)

1 cup sour cream

For the frosting:

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened

16 ounces powdered sugar

For the topping:

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and flour (or parchment paper rounds).

Beat all of the cake ingredients together in a mixing bowl until completely combined, scraping the sides as necessary. Divide batter evenly into the pans.

Bake about 29 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cake bakes and cools, make the frosting. Beat the cream cheese and butter until thoroughly blended. Add the powdered sugar slowly and beat until it has disappeared. (Add more or less sugar depending on how sweet you like your frosting.)

Remove the cakes from the pans. If making a four-layer cake, cut each cake in half by setting the cake on a cookie sheet with sides (a jelly roll pan) and running a serrated knife through the cake, level with the edge of the pan. Otherwise, place one cake top-side facing down on a sheet of parchment paper. Add a thin layer of frosting on top, just enough to cover the crumbs. Top with the second layer (right-side up).

The finished banana sour cream cake is covered in finely chopped walnuts.
The finished banana sour cream cake is covered in finely chopped walnuts. (Mel Barber — mbarber@yorkdispatch.com)

Frost the cake by pouring all of the remaining frosting in the center of the top. Using a spatula, sweep in a continuous circular motion, pushing frosting out toward the edges. It will slide down the sides. Once the top is level, run the spatula around the sides to smooth out the overflow and cover any bare spots.

Top the cake with the chopped walnuts, sprinkling on the top and pressing into the sides by hand.

Use the parchment to transfer the cake to a serving plate, cutting the excess paper off if desired.

Keep the cake refrigerated.