the best banana bread

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Like most learn-on-the-job bloggers with no formal photographic training, I’m excessively critical of everything I posted in the early days of Laura’s Mess (circa 2012).

Granted, I was working against the odds with a small automatic camera and no formal knowledge of composition, food styling, lighting or photo editing. Most of what you’ll see my first few posts is well-practiced application of the ‘winging it‘ technique, supplemented with tips from my husband Aaron.

Most props were scrounged from the depths of my mother’s kitchen cupboard (with permission of course) and, uh, never returned (sorry mum).

I’ve come a long way since then.

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Not to say that I’m an expert or anything; heck no, I’m still essentially an amateur who now owns a better camera (and who, with much trial and error, is much better at composition and lighting). I’ve attended a couple of blogging conferences and amassed a sizable collection of vintage knives, bowls and platters, most of which still don’t get used on this blog (what was I saying about food styling again?).

I guess I’ve figured out what I like. The kind of shots that speak to my personal sense of style, my food ethos and (most importantly) my stomach.  I love natural light, blemishes, timber and well-loved crockery. Speckled eggs, dark rye and glossy fat aubergines. Food as the star that speaks for itself – with minimal props and clutter.

Beautiful simplicity.

still

I don’t always get it right. More often than not, there’s something I dislike about my photographs. I never hold ‘shoots’ with stylized food; each and every morsel that you see on this blog goes into my mouth or someone else’s.  I have so much to learn.

But in saying that, I’m happier with my work these days. I do better justice to the stunning food that graces our table each day. Like this banana bread, for instance. I first posted it in 2012 after a long battle with sunlight and our automatic camera. The photographs are quite horrid, but I’ve left them there as a monument to the early days.

There was slow improvement, evidence found here and here. Let’s hope that next year’s hindsight will be similarly pleasing.

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The recipe below is for traditional banana bread, marked as ‘recipe one’ in my original blog post. It’s richly moist, fragrant and studded with plump walnuts and raisins.

For today’s loaf, I made one further modification from the original recipe: I substituted three quarters of the stated brown sugar for Billington’s natural molasses sugar. The latter provided a rich caramel flavour and a dense crumb that beautifully complimented the ripe banana and warm cinnamon. I’d recommend the switch, particularly if you have some hidden in your pantry (like I did).

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Serve this bread thickly sliced with a dollop of mascarpone, a handful of toasted coconut shavings and/or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It’s also wonderful toasted, adorned with butter and consumed with a mug of strong Builder’s tea (aka happiness).

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The Best Banana Bread

Loosely adapted from Marks & Spencer’s Good Home Baking cookbook (1983)

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g soft unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175g brown sugar (or 135g molasses sugar and 40g brown sugar)
  • 50g raisins
  • 75g halved walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar and crumbled walnuts, optional (for decoration)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your flour and butter in a bowl, then rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

rubin

mix

Stir in your sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Mix your mashed bananas with the vanilla extract and milk, then add to your mixture. Mix well.

Turn the mixture into your prepared, lined tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon (I usually bang my tin on the bench a couple of times to expel any air bubbles).

unbaked

Sprinkle with demerara sugar or more walnuts if desired. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes back with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool in the tin for neater slices, or dig straight in with keen smiles and a butter knife. I understand if you choose the latter.

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double chocolate banana bread

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I’ve recently been in a rather lamentable blogging slump. The kind of slump that results in persistent lack of motivation to create, write and photograph, other than a quick snap via Instagram (I must both thank and berate Sam, Jemima and Matt for convincing me to join that bewitching time-waster. I think I’m in love).

Not that I haven’t cooked anything in the interim. I’ve been cooking daily, but more for nourishment than blogging purposes. We’ve eaten warming kale and chickpea stew in a spiced coconut broth, spelt-crusted quiche filled with walnut pesto, bitter greens and Meredith Dairy goats cheese, cumin roasted carrots with crushed toasted pepitas and a fragrant orange syrup cake with dollops of thick Greek yoghurt. Everything was delicious, but no notes were taken. No photographs were snapped. It was just one of those weeks.

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sugarsyrup sugarsyrup2

Now, I know for a fact that I’m not alone in the ‘slump experience’. I’ve read similar posts from blogging friends (particularly those with day jobs like myself) who have echoed the same sentiment. But shared experience doesn’t lessen my personal frustration, particularly when speaking of diminished enthusiasm and productivity. Let’s just hope the cloud passes soon.

bananasend sunskin

Now, back to today’s post for double chocolate banana bread. I’ll say from the outset that the recipe isn’t mine, it was the result of three ripe bananas and a visit to Deb’s beautiful blog, Smitten Kitchen.

After playing around with the idea of ‘healthying up’ the recipe with coconut oil, cacao powder, agave and different wheat-free flours, I decided to bake it almost exactly as-is: with pure butter, granulated sugar, white all-purpose flour and Dutch-process cocoa.

floursugarmix

The result is a beautifully rich, moist and intensely chocolatey loaf that serves beautifully as a dessert (a la mode, with ice cream) or an indulgent afternoon tea (toasted and spread with smooth, rich peanut butter or Mayver’s tahini honey spread. You can thank me later).

In the true sense of a word it’s more of a ‘cake’ than a healthy ‘banana bread’… but you know what? On this dreary, grey, demotivated day, I don’t care. A cup of tea and cake was the therapy I needed.

Some days, you just need cake.

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Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Barely adapted from this recipe by Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

  • 3 large, ripe bananas (equivalent to just over 1 cup of mashed banana)
  • 115g organic butter, melted
  • 145g dark molasses sugar (substitute any other brown sugar)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 125g (1 cup) plain flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa (don’t substitute unprocessed cocoa here, it will give you a different result)
  • 170g (about 1 cup) chopped 70% cocoa dark chocolate (use chocolate chips if you have them)

Heat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 9×5-inch loaf pan, then set it aside.

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Mash the bananas, then place into a large bowl. Whisk in the melted butter, brown sugar (as my molasses sugar was very lumpy, I sieved it first and added a little water to make a paste), egg and vanilla extract.

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Sift over the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder, then stir to combine. Add in the chocolate and mix well.

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Pour the mixture into your prepared pan.

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Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it onto a cooling rack.

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Serve warm or at room temperature (or preferably, toasted and spread with peanut butter or Mayver’s tahini honey spread. Yes, I’ve said it twice now. Need further convincing? See below).

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This banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator, wrapped in foil or plastic wrap. It also freezes well for up to 2 months (make sure that you wrap it well to prevent freezer burn).

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coconut, banana and lime cake with lime syrup and candied carambola

cakesideazIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be well acquainted with the fact that I’m regularly ‘gifted’ with fresh garden produce by friends, family and acquaintances. Most of the time I view this phenomenon as a huge blessing; for example, I haven’t had to buy fresh limes for over three months.

However, last week’s bounty included four fresh carambola (star fruit), alongside six limes and a whole hand of overripe bananas (the latter were from an overly neglected fruit bowl). Being the headstrong, waste-hating cook that I am, I was determined to use the lot before heading to Margaret River for the weekend.

dropstar2So, early on Saturday morning, I awoke with one task in mind: to create a one-pan, palatable cake incorporating all of the above. As Aaron and I were planning to visit his family on the way to Margaret River, I decided to bake an organic, coconut-based cake for their predominantly healthy taste buds. Below, you’ll find the pleasing end result.

cocbanmontThis cake is dense, fragrant and lime-drenched, gently sweet with coconut sugar and soft, mild banana. I’ve used both coconut and plain flour for a super-moist interior, gently offset by the sweet, tropical candied carambola.

As the cake was topped, dusted and packed for transportation within 30 minutes of leaving the oven, I had little time to take beautiful photographs. It was served immediately in its warm, delicate form, with syrup still dripping from the knife.

Rest assured, there will definitely be a ‘version two’ of this tropical beauty. When that occasion arises, I will take some interior ‘slice’ shots and upload them for your perusal. Until then, please accept my apology… your imagination will have to suffice.

cakesideCoconut, Banana and Lime Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
  • 1 cup coconut flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut sugar (substitute brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup (270mL) coconut cream
  • 3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup (180g) Nuttelex (substitute Earth Balance or unsalted butter), melted
  • 2 limes, zest and juice (equivalent to 1/2 cup juice)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a round 22cm springform tin, then set aside.

Combine dry ingredients and lime zest in a large bowl.

floursugarmontIn a separate bowl, combine your mashed banana, butter, coconut cream, lime juice and lightly beaten eggs. Add your wet ingredients to the dry mixture, then mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula until the mixture is smooth and no patches of flour remain.

batterPour into the lined cake tin. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is slightly risen, golden and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Set aside to cool slightly whilst you make the syrup.

zestgrnLime Syrup

Makes about 1/2 cup

  • 1/2 cup white caster sugar
  • zest and juice of 2-3 limes (equivalent to 1/2 cup juice)

Combine sugar and lime juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens (about 5-10 minutes).

limemontRemove from the heat and add in the lime zest. Allow to steep for five minutes.

Whilst the cake is still warm, poke holes all over it with a wooden skewer. Slowly pour over the still-warm lime syrup in an even drizzle, allowing time for the liquid to penetrate.

soaktopSet aside to soak whilst you make your candied carambola (place a plate underneath your tin to catch any escaping syrup; pour it back over the cake as required).

crossec1Candied Carambola*

  • 2 firm carambola (star fruit)
  • 1 cup white caster sugar
  • 1 cup cold water

Wash your carambola, then slice off the ‘stalk end’ (the end that has an indent and a black spot. The other end should be pointy). Run your knife down the edge of each ‘rib’ to remove any discoloured or fibrous skin (see picture below, left). Slice the carambola into 0.5cm even slices, then remove any seeds with the tip of your knife.

sfmontAdd the sugar and water into a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium heat, then simmer gently until all of the sugar dissolves. Add in the sliced carambola, then allow to simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the liquid reduced and the fruit becomes translucent and glossy. Remove from the heat.

sfpotmontLine a large baking tray with greaseproof paper. Using a fork, carefully remove each piece of candied carambola, allowing excess syrup to drip back into the saucepan. Lay each ‘star’ onto the greaseproof paper to dry (this may take a couple of hours; if you’ve just cooked your cake you can place the tray into the still-warm oven [heat turned off] to accelerate the process).

sfcandiedmontWhen your carambola is ready, it should be slightly dry and sticky to the touch. To finish your cake, dust it gently with icing sugar then lay over your carambola ‘stars’ in a circular pattern, from the centre to the outer rim. If desired, add some extra lime zest or mint to serve.sfsimplesyrup

Notes:

  • This cake is beautiful served at room temperature with a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt or double cream.
  • For a vegan version, subtract the eggs and add in two flax eggs (1 egg = 1 tbsp ground flaxseed simmered in 3 tbsp water) or use an egg replacer such as Ener-G gluten-free egg replacer. Bear in mind that your finished cake may not rise as successfully, leading to a denser result.
  • *Keep the remaining carambola syrup for cocktails… I ended up with about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of residual syrup. It has a fresh, slightly sweet melon flavour and would be wonderful with mint, vodka (or gin), soda water and some extra sliced carambola (with a squeeze of lime if desired).
  • This cake can be frozen, wrapped or stored in an airtight container, for up to two months. I’d recommend storing it after soaking, without the candied carambola (the freezing and thawing process will remove some of its chewy texture).

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peanut butter, banana and cacao ‘cheesecake’

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Definition: Cheesecake (from Wikipedia):

‘…a sweet dish consisting primarily of a mixture of soft, fresh cheese (not always cream cheese), eggs, and sugar; often on a crust or base made from crushed cookies or graham crackers, pastry or sponge cake. It may be baked or unbaked. Cheesecake is usually sweetened with sugar and may be flavored or topped with fruit, whipped cream, nuts, fruit sauce and/or chocolate.’

Houston, we have a problem. This cheesecake has no cheese. And, uh… no eggs, no sugar and no cookie base. I guess the obvious conclusion is that it’s not actually a cheesecake. At all.

nibsmontHaving said that, the concept of a raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ definitely isn’t a new one. A quick search via Google reveals over two million variations on the raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ concept. Granted, most of them are from late 2012 to early 2013 (arguably, a period where raw food has burgeoned in popularity) however the Laura-Jane aka The Rawtarian posted a raw cheesecake recipe in February 2011 that has since formed a basis for many adaptations around the blogosphere. Like this one, created last week (by me, the skeptical omnivore) as a going-away-party contribution for my gorgeous friend Kerryn (who has her own vegan blog, Lawn and Tofu Salad; hilarious hand-drawn photo extract from Kerryn’s blog below) who will soon be departing for a six-month trip around Europe.

DBAVtoattractguysI’m kinda jealous, but happy for her at the same time (don’t you hate mixed feelings!); she’ll be doing an organic farmstay, visiting family and friends, tearing up London and attending a Jane Austen Festival in the birthplace of Austen; Bath, Somerset, in South West England. If there’s anyone who was born to dress as Elizabeth Bennet and dance with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, it’s Kerryn. Though, upon reflection she may have fated quite poorly in male-dominated 18th Century (the birth time of Jane Austen). She’s one of the strongest, most opinionated and intelligent women I know; despite being absolutely beautiful, she’s more known for her love of chemistry, superior intellect, vegan diet and sharp wit.

Actually, she and Jane, both with ‘extraordinary endowments of mind’ probably would have become fast friends and started a revolution. But again, I digress… back to the going-away-party (those words don’t really require hyphens but I just felt like putting them there).

coconutoilmontIt was held on a cold Tuesday night in a hearth-warmed kitchen in suburban Perth. With cold hands, we sipped homemade tomato soup from vintage earthenware bowls before devouring spicy bean chilli with organic corn chips, cashew sour cream, cashew cheese and guacamole. I ate and ate. Then ate some more, and washed everything down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. Everything was delicious, but notably cashew-dominant.

After finishing the savouries, we sat around the communal table and contemplated life’s big questions (mostly political issues, with a dash of life and travel). I sipped from a cup of steaming Earl Grey tea with a dash of almond milk and realised that I was very full; not uncomfortably so, but to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to eating a wedge of dessert-style cashew cheese. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’d be aware that I’m quite a fan of vegan food. I make many vegan salads and I love using flax eggs, chia seeds and nutritional yeast. However, despite the fact that my diet has been about 80% plant-based for over a year, the idea of cashew cheese, cashew sour cream and raw dessert was entirely new to me. And, perhaps by bad design, I consumed all three in one night.

cakemont2So, the main event (aka the central theme of this post): at about 9.30pm, the vegan cheesecake appeared. It looked beautiful; glossy, rich, thick and dark against the ripe red strawberries. The scattering of cacao nibs resembled chocolate chips and all mouths at the table (vegan, coeliac, omnivorous and 50% carnivorous) uttered words of absolute praise and expectation. My stomach turned. I dished out small pieces to all guests at the table, making sure to include a few ripe strawberries. To be honest, this cake is exceptionally appealing. The layers of vanilla (speckled with date) and chocolate were distinct and moist in texture, with scattered ribbons of peanut butter and crunchy cacao.

toppings2My first bite was a delicious surprise. This cake is moist, creamy and texturally pleasing; each bite had a crunch of bitter cacao, sweet notes of date and banana, and undertones of rich chocolate. The date and nut base was chewy. I can only describe it as ‘savoury but sweet’ due to the toasty notes of almond and walnut, enrobed with sweet Medjool date and pure cacao. Murmurs of pleasure could be heard around the table, alongside some obvious flavour analysis: ‘I can taste banana… oh, and there’s some date in there’; ‘…yeah, there’s some peanut butter, but I’d call it Banofee Pie’.

For a first attempt at a raw vegan cheesecake, I was quite happy with the feed back. Especially from those in the carnivorous category. But strangely, half-way through my slice, I paused. My spoon hovered over the cake and my brain switched into ‘dislike‘ mode. I was quite confused, and attributed the negativity to ‘cashew overload’. I pushed my plate away.

pbmontThe following evening, I completed a ‘cake post-mortem’ with my husband after a dinner of homemade lamb koftas, flatbread, tzatziki, carrots with pomegranate molasses and amped-up tabouli with lemon oil and goats cheese. He simply commented that the cake ‘tasted good’, but as a ‘cheesecake’, it failed dismally. I scraped the last shiny pomegranate beads off my plate, chewing my last piece of meat thoughtfully. Yes. It made sense, as… well, vegan cheesecake sans cheese is really a nut pie. Delicious, but… well, pointless if you’re an omnivore and you’re hankering after a creamy slice of cheese heaven. After savouring several chunks of smooth, salty and utterly creamy goats cheese, I understood. My brain, my sensory memory and my mouth had been in absolute, unresolvable conflict. It hurt.

So, after that ridiculously long introduction… let me just say that this cake is delicious. If you’re vegan, feel free to call it a ‘cheesecake’ as it’s composition (discounting ingredients) resembles the aforementioned dessert quite well. However, if you’re an omnivore like me, I’d recommend calling it a Nut Pie; this may avoid personal confusion, cheese withdrawal symptoms and painful (unnecessary) brain activity in the middle of the night (for a food obsessive like me). Either way, make this cake. It’s a deliciously healthy addition to any dessert repertoire.

caketopPeanut Butter, Banana and Cacao ‘Cheesecake’ (aka ‘Nut Pie’)

Makes one 20cm cake

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups nuts (I used half almonds and half walnuts) soaked for 1 hour
  • 3/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)

Filling:

  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour
  • 1/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup (substitute any liquid sweetener, e.g. maple syrup or honey)
  • seeds from one vanilla bean (substitute 1 tsp natural vanilla essence)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)
  • water, as required

Extras:

  • 4-6 tbsp organic (no salt or sugar added) peanut butter
  • 5 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1 x 200g punnet of strawberries (optional)
  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced (optional)

To make the crust: Blend the soaked and drained nuts in a food processor until they reach a coarse breadcrumb-like consistency. Add in the chopped dates and cacao. Blend until the mixture starts to stick together.

crustmixPress into a greased (I used coconut oil) and lined 20cm springform tin, ensuring that layer of mixture is even and around 3-5mm thick. Refrigerate whilst you make the filling.

cashewsoakmontTo make the filling: Blend the soaked and drained cashews in a food processor until they reach a fine consistency. Add in the dates, bananas, coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla. Continue to blend until the mixture reaches a creamy, smooth consistency (add a little water to the blender if the mixture gets ‘stuck’  around the blade, or if it appears to be too thick).

bananadateSeparate the mixture into two bowls. Add the cacao powder to one, stirring vigorously until the mixture is smooth and chocolately brown with no dry patches of cacao. You now have two batches of filling to create attractive layers in your cake: 1) vanilla with banana and date, 2) chocolate.

layer1To assemble: Remove your cheesecake base from the fridge. Pour or spoon over the vanilla filling and smooth with the back of a knife. Warm your peanut butter briefly in the microwave until it’s smooth and easy to drizzle. Pour half of the peanut butter onto the vanilla filling, ensuring that it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs.

layer2Now it’s time for layer two: carefully place spoonfuls of your chocolate mixture over the vanilla layer, taking care not to displace the ripples of peanut butter and scattered cacao nibs. Smooth the mixture out until you have an even layer, with no patches of vanilla showing through. Tap your tin softly against the bench top to ensure that no air pockets remain.

layer3Ripple over the remaining peanut butter and sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs (reserve 1 tbsp for serving). If necessary, use a knife or spoon to ensure that the peanut butter is evenly distributed on the final layer of the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, or preferably overnight.

layer4To serve: carefully loosen the sides of your springform tin. Use a large flat-bladed knife or spatula to ease the cake away from the base of the metal tin. Remove all traces of the baking paper and transfer to a serving platter.

Cut half of your strawberries (optional) and scatter some over the top of the cake. Place the rest of the strawberries around the sides of the plate, to be eaten alongside the cake (*I didn’t have an extra banana to spare, but definitely add some fresh slices to the top of the cake if you have one on hand. The fresh fruit compliments the rich chocolate and banana filling perfectly). Top with the remaining 1 tbsp cacao nibs.strawbsWarning: This cake is very (very!) rich, so I’d recommend serving it in small slices with a hot cup of tea (even for those with big appetites; err on the side of caution. You can always have a other slice if you finish the first one with gusto. Don’t say I didn’t warn you).

strawbdateNotes:

  • Use the best quality blender or food processor you have to make this cake. Anything less will either result in blender burnout (adding a ‘burnt’ taste to your mix or breaking your blender altogether… uh, yep that’s me) or a grainy consistency within your filling. Invest in a good blender for the long-term (I have recently ordered the Ninja online, can’t wait til it arrives! Thanks Whit and Sally!)
  • If your mixture seems too firm/viscous and gets stuck in your food processor, feel free to add a little more water or another complimentary liquid (e.g. a little bit of almond or oat milk). If your mixture becomes too loose, it may require a few hours in the freezer to set before serving. Leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.
  • Feel free to substitute different nuts for the base layer of this cake. Great complimentary flavours include macadamias and pecans. I wouldn’t recommend switching the cashews for another nut in the cake filling though; cashews are a reasonably neutral, subtly sweet nut. Other varieties such as almonds and walnuts would likely become overpowering.
  • This cake would work beautifully in individual tart pans or jars for a dinner party. Make sure you grease each pan or jar well with coconut oil (as it would be difficult to line each with baking paper) and sprinkle the sides with raw dessicated coconut to prevent sticking. Take a look at this beautiful vegan chocolate cheesecake from The Bojon Gourmet, served in individual jars. Perfect for an extra-special vegan indulgence.
  • I also considered topping this cake with a drizzle of Coconut Chocolate Butter from Loving Earth, but my jar of butter sadly solidified in this chilly Perth Winter weather. Next time, I am going to blitz the sucker in the microwave briefly, before succumbing to a delicious river of chocolatey, coconutty goodness. I recommend that you do, too.

*Have a wonderful trip Kerryn! Can’t wait to follow your blogging adventures at the organic farmstay!

banana, coconut and rum cake

yumI have come to the realization that I’m a chronic over-purchaser of bananas. Every week, I bring home a bunch of golden, blemish-free beauties from the farmer’s market. I sample one before placing the rest into the fruit bowl; the flesh is creamy, white and gently sweet… perfectly ripe. I then forget that I purchased bananas, perhaps eating one during the course of the week before realizing that the rest have developed more freckles than my own face. They then move into the fridge, to the decelerate the ripening process, until I figure out what to bake with them.

bananamontDuring the course of writing this blog post, I came to a second realization. My husband never eats the bananas from the fruit bowl. I asked him why, curiously, as he definitely likes eating bananas. He answered, “Well, if I don’t eat them I know that they’ll turn into banana bread”. Ah, right. Yep, I am a creature of habit. Both in terms of over-purchasing bananas and then turning the eventual blackened bananas into a sweet quick bread. You can see some of my versions here and here; others not-yet-posted include a cinnamon banana bread with a thick, glossy Nutella ribbon and another with dried sour cherries and dark chocolate chips.

Yes, they’re all delicious and go from mixing bowl to oven in under 20 minutes. But… well, with my latest lot of overripe bananas, I wanted to do something more challenging. Enter the banana, coconut and rum cake with a thick, crunchy coconut and walnut crust.

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The inspiration for this cake came from an archived blog post by Tracey at SugarPunk Desserts (a small one-woman baking business in North Carolina that sadly no longer exists). She in turn found the recipe she used in a book called Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. As per usual, I couldn’t leave the recipe alone… and no, I didn’t quite keep to quantities.

I swapped a portion of the flour for protein-rich, dense and fragrant coconut flour just because I thought the flavour would match beautifully with the bananas, rum and nuts. I also swapped sour cream for organic coconut milk yoghurt from Co Yo (this stuff is amazing… Australian-made, creamy, rich and completely plant-based for you vegans out there!), butter for Nuttelex, reduced the sugar and egg content, and added shredded coconut to the crunchy nut topping. The result? Amazing.

yoghurtjug2I took this cake along to a boozy party at a friend’s house, where it was critiqued as an “…awesomely amped up banana cake. Yeah, it’s a banana cake on steroids!” (the booze might explain the colloquialisms. Possibly. Or not). Version two travelled to my office where slightly more subdued responses were gained, including “Holey moley Laura! So delicious” and  “…this is almost better than your chocolate truffle cake! But, uh… not quite. When are you bringing the truffle cake in again…?”.

cake crumbsSo, I guess we could say the slightly confused consensus is that this cake is good. Not as knock-out spectacular as the praline-topped chocolate truffle cake but amazingly good. Its dense crumb is moist and fragrant from the coconut flour, with sweet banana undertones and the warmth of rum. It’s christened with a rich, buttery rum-spiked glaze that soaks through into the soft cake, contrasting against the crunchy coconut and walnut crust (the original recipe called for pecans. I’ll forgive you if you revert back to Pecanland).

So, next time you have overripe bananas in your fruit bowl or fridge, I’d recommend that you take a little extra time to make this recipe. No, it’s not as simple as banana bread, but it’s a spectacular way to help those poor, neglected fruits die a worthy death. Trust me. You will win friends and conquer kingdoms. Or possibly not, but either way… you won’t care after your first slice.

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Banana Coconut and Rum Cake

Makes one 22cm cake

Topping:

  • 1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and crushed
  • 1/2 cup shredded or flaked coconut, toasted

Cake:

  • 325g Nuttelex (substitute Earth Balance or unsalted butter)
  • 2 cups raw caster sugar
  • 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp dark rum (I used Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, but I’d recommend Clasico)
  • 2 cups (250g) plain flour
  • 1 cup (125g) organic coconut flour (I used Eco organic coconut flour)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup organic coconut milk yoghurt (substitute natural yoghurt or sour cream)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Position a rack to sit as a middle shelf. Grease and line a 22cm springform pan, ensuring that the base is firmly in place. Sprinkle your walnuts and toasted coconut evenly over the base of the pan, then set aside.

tinnutsmontIn a large bowl, beat together the Nuttelex (or butter) and sugars until pale and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in your mashed bananas, yoghurt, coconut flour, vanilla and rum, then mix well. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes so that the coconut flour can soak in the liquid ingredients (read notes, below). My batter was entirely fine, but if your mixture appears too dense or dry, add in an extra mashed banana or a couple of tablespoons of almond milk (or dairy milk).

vanillapourmontSift in your wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Fold together using a rubber spatula until no streaks of flour remain.

Carefully spoon your batter over the walnut and coconut layer in the pan, ensuring that the mixture doesn’t displace the nuts. Tap the pan lightly on the benchtop to even out the mixture and to ensure that the batter adheres to the coconut and walnuts.

sift bowlmontBake your cake for around 60-80 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. During this time, you can make your rum glaze (as follows; keep reading for directions on how to finish your cake).

rumcakemontRum Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup Nuttelex (substitute Earth Balance or unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

Combine the Nuttelex, water and sugars (not the rum) in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low. Allow the mixture to simmer for around 1o minutes, or until reduced and syrupy. Add in the rum, then keep the mixture warm until you’re ready to use it.

sidecakeTo finish your cake:

Whilst still in the tin, use a wooden skewer to gently poke holes all over your cake. Pour over 1/4 cup of the warm rum glaze, and allow to soak into the holes. Leave the cake for 5 minutes before releasing the tin and inverting it onto a serving platter. The base of your cake (with its walnut and coconut crust) should now be the top. Carefully poke a few more holes in the surface of the cake and then slowly spoon over the rest of the glaze, allowing each spoonful to absorb (if the glaze starts to pool on the plate, scoop it up with a spoon or spatula and spread it over the sides of the cake). As the glaze hardens, the walnuts and coconut will form a crunchy, sugary, nutty crust.

cakespoonmont2

Let the cake cool completely before serving, to prevent the interior collapsing (it’s a very moist, dense cake and it firms up upon cooling). It’s delicious served warm (blitz each piece in the microwave for a few seconds) with extra coconut milk yoghurt or ice-cream… or just on its own, for a mid-afternoon kick with a hot cup of tea.

It will stay moist, covered, for about 3 days in the fridge (though the crust will soften slightly). Freeze in an airtight container for up to two months.

creamspoonNotes:

  • Coconut flour is made from the dried, ground coconut meat that’s leftover after virgin coconut oil is extracted. It’s packed with fibre, protein and good fats whilst being gluten-free and wheat-free (perfect for coeliacs or those who are wheat intolerant).
  • I wouldn’t recommend swapping all of the grain-flour content in a recipe with coconut flour, as its baking properties are entirely different. A general rule is to swap 20-30% of the stated flour in a recipe for coconut flour and it’ll work out fine with the existing ingredients.
  • However, several articles on the internet also state that you can successfully substitute the entire flour content of a recipe for coconut flour. Bakers such as Sarah Rae Trover (at The Kitchn) have had success with a ratio of 1 egg for every ounce (30g) of coconut flour. The egg acts as a raising agent for the flour (which, in itself, contains no gluten) whilst the coconut flour will absorb the entire liquid contents of the egg. I’ve never tried this method so I can’t vouch for it, but the science makes sense. Other bloggers with egg sensitivities have had success substituting the eggs for ground chia or flax + water (‘chia eggs’ or ‘flax eggs’).
  • Don’t attempt to use coconut flour for an airy, light cake or cupcake recipe. It works best in recipes that are dense, moist and deliciously indulgent. You can also add a tablespoon or so to smoothies for a thick, subtly sweet protein and fibre boost.
  • After doing a bit of supplementary research for this recipe post, I’ve discovered that a lot of bloggers out there are actually making their own coconut milk yoghurt. As stated above, mine was shop-bought from Co Yo (lucky for me it’s an Australian company which keeps local prices down slightly… it’s delicious) but if you’re interested in making your own, check out these posts from The Mindful Foodie, London Paleo Kitchen and Cultures for Health. Big yay for making our own ‘cultured’ products at home… my next batch will definitely be home-made!

banana, strawberry and coconut bread

strawberries

Those who are regular readers of the Mess would be quite familiar with my occasional (okay, regular) complaints surrounding my lack of a digital SLR camera, tripod, light-box and everything else that’s required to take quality photographs at night. It might therefore come as a surprise to see a low light photograph as the header for this recipe post.

extra

Let me explain. It’s 11.30pm, Friday night. I’m sitting in my living room, watching a candle flicker on the coffee table after catching up with my beautiful friend Elissa (from Ethical is Easy) over a bottle of Taylors white, homemade tapas and salted caramel ice-cream. I’m feeling relaxed, energised in the best way possible. I start putting some leftovers away and all of a sudden, my eyes rest upon the image of a few over-ripe bananas that have been sitting, neglected, in the far corner of my fridge for the past six days. Yes. Let’s bake.

table

You can probably imagine the rest. Out comes my mixing bowl, some leftover ripe strawberries, dry goods and coconut oil. I pull out our trusty camera and some spare batteries to experiment with candlelight photography, sans any of the equipment stated above. Over the next two hours, my ingredients gently fused with the speckled bananas to create a fragrant, brown-sugar-and-coconut-encrusted vision of baked happiness, whilst pictures were snapped, erased, then snapped again.

nightkitchen

Whilst the bread was baking, I sipped on a glass of leftover wine, cleaning the kitchen to the ethereal soundtrack of Emma Louise. The gentle, soaring sounds of her debut album, vs. Head vs. Heart, sweep you into an intricate, thoughtful narrative that is a perfect accompaniment to the inky blackness of the night sky. Now, whilst this is not in any way a full music review, I’d definitely recommend Emma Louise if you like London Grammar or any other band that combines gentle, thoughtful and honest acoustic guitar with elements of electronic syncopation. Check out more polished reviews of the album here and here.

lightsv

Now, back to the baking: this fruity loaf is based on my favourite banana bread recipe, stolen from my mother’s copy of Marks & SpencerGood Home Baking’ by Mary Cadogan (1983). I featured a loose variation of the recipe in one of my very first blog posts, Banana Bread: Two Ways as ‘Recipe 1’. Today’s version swaps raisins and walnuts for fresh strawberries, coconut oil and dessicated coconut. It’s topped with a crunchy, toasted coconut and brown sugar crust which, when cut, unearths a beautifully moist, fragrant interior studded with chunks of intense strawberry.

strawberriesm

This recipe is simple, delicious, and achievable for anyone with a mixing bowl, an oven and a loaf tin (actually, you could even bake it in a round tin if required!). It’s adaptable, even if you’re missing a few ingredients, and forgives many common errors that haunt novice cooks (eg. when to combine wet and dry ingredients, how much to beat an egg, whether to sift the flour etc). As this loaf was consumed in the daytime, there are also some natural daylight shots of the finished bread below… thank goodness! It’s so difficult to make brown look attractive by candlelight.

breadstack

Banana, Strawberry and Coconut Bread

Makes 1 x 1kg loaf

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 90g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp organic, virgin coconut oil
  • 175g soft dark brown sugar
  • 200g washed and quartered ripe strawberries
  • 1/4 cup dessicated coconut + 1 tbsp (for crust)
  • 3 large or 4 medium ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp natural yoghurt (optional, replace with 1 extra tbsp milk if preferred)
  • 2 tbsp milk (dairy, almond, soy etc)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar (for crust)

Grease the bottom of a 1kg (minimum) loaf tin with butter, then line with greaseproof paper. Set aside. Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f).

Place the flour and salt into a bowl. Add in the butter, cut into small pieces, then rub in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sifted brown sugar, dessicated coconut and strawberries.

bowl

Add the vanilla, milk and yoghurt to the mashed bananas with the beaten egg. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, then mix until well combined. Turn your mixture into your lined pan then smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and your 1 tbsp extra coconut.

Place the tin into the preheated oven and bake for 90 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown, risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool in the tin on a wire rack. Serve sliced and buttered if desired, or (my favourite) toasted, spread with mascarpone cheese and topped with toasted almonds.

goneNotes:

  • This loaf tastes amazing with the addition of 100g coarsely chopped white chocolate (reduce your strawberries to 150g). You can also substitute the strawberries for blueberries, raspberries or another berry of your choice.
  • Don’t like coconut? Just omit it, and add in 1/4 cup of rolled oats, nuts of your choice or flaxseeds.
  • If you don’t have any (or don’t like) coconut oil, just increase your butter to 100g.
  • To substitute plain flour with raising agents for self-raising flour, the general ratio per cup of flour is 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Sift together and use as required.

banana bread. two ways

Banana bread is a funny thing. Yes, it’s shaped like a loaf and yes, it contains bananas, but:

  1. being loaf-shaped doesn’t make you bread (take that, Nyan cat!) and;
  2. the addition of fruit doesn’t automatically make something healthy.

Now I’m not going to get on your back and say that you shouldn’t eat banana bread (cake!). I still intend to, both now and in future, and with it’s included fruit and nuts it’s definitely a more nutritious option than chocolate mud cake, pavlova or brownies (which, for the record, I also still eat… alongside occasional bowls of salty hot chips). However, there’s room for healthy food in the equation as well, especially when it contains superfoods that I know are good for the heart, brain and metabolism. One of those foods is chia seeds, a tiny little grain that’s gradually working it’s way into many of my developing recipes. Each little seed is packed with omega 3 & 6, antioxidants, protein and dietary fibre, all of which work with your body to keep you healthy, satisfied and energised. I love both white and black chia seeds, especially in their crunchy raw state, tossed into a muesli slice, a bowl of cereal or thick Greek yoghurt. They’re a little like a milder version of poppy seeds, but just much better for you.

So what’s all this seed business got to do with banana bread? Well, I guess what I’m getting at is that I’ve been experimenting… adding and subtracting, playing around with ingredients and transforming my original recipe into a wheat-free, refined sugar free and nutrient packed loaf of goodness. Instead of butter, milk and sugar, I’ve added chia gel, pureed apple and agave syrup, all of which add moisture and sweetness that you’d never know was good for you.

So, as per the recipe title, here’s banana bread two ways. My traditional recipe is more like a cake, deliciously moist and dense with brown sugar. It’s perfect for those occasions when you want something a little more indulgent that still vaguely falls under the category of ‘better for you’ (than a chocolate brownie, I guess). Recipe two is the healthy option, packed full of ingredients that are great for your heart, brain and waistline. Eat it to your heart’s content, whenever you want, knowing that you are doing your body good. I even eat it for breakfast, warmed, then drizzled with almond butter and honey. So, so good.

Recipe 1: Traditional Banana Bread with Walnuts and Raisins

This recipe is a loose variation of an original from my mum’s old Marks & SpencerGood Home Baking‘ cookbook (1983). It’s richly moist and loaded with raisins, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon. It’s so good that it has become somewhat famous amongst my husband’s friends, who send in their baking ‘requests’ for it whilst suggesting that I set up a stall on the roadside. Ha, yeah. Anyway, try it… you won’t be disappointed.

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g soft unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175g brown sugar
  • 50g raisins
  • 75g halved walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your flour and butter in a bowl, then rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in your sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Mix your mashed bananas with the vanilla extract and milk, then add to your mixture. Mix well.

Turn the mixture into your prepared, lined tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon (I usually bang my tin on the bench a couple of times to expel any air bubbles). Sprinkle with demerara sugar & more cinnamon. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes back with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool in the tin. Serve on it’s own, with butter, or thickly sliced and warmed with vanilla icecream for dessert. My all time favourite is a thick slice, toasted to slight crispness with a generous dollop of mascarpone, a drizzle of warmed honey and a sprinkling of toasted almonds. Yum.

Recipe 2: Wheat-free, refined-sugar-free Chia Banana Bread with Walnuts and Medjool Dates

  • 1 1/4 cups wholemeal spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup whole rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup white chia gel (recipe to follow)
  • 1/4 cup stewed pureed unsweetened apple (peel & chop 2-3 apples, cook in a splash of water until soft, then puree with a stick blender)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 5 medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (sprinkle them with a bit of spelt flour, then toss, to ensure that the pieces remain separated when mixed)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix them well, then make a well in the centre. In a separate bowl, mix together your wet ingredients, ensuring that the chia seeds are evenly distributed. Add your wet ingredients to the dry, then mix well.

Turn your mixture into your prepared, lined tin, and smooth the surface with a spoon. I usually sprinkle over some cinnamon and rolled oats, or perhaps some crumbled walnuts, before tapping the tin on a flat surface to expel any trapped air bubbles. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool in the tin. My favourite way to eat this banana bread is freshly sliced with a glass of milk. It’s a completely guilt free, deliciously filling breakfast or snack that you can prepare on the weekend then eat the whole week through. My favourite serving suggestion is to warm a thick slice, slather it with almond butter, a drizzle of honey and more sliced fresh banana. Delicious.

Making Chia Gel:

Chia gel is basically raw chia seeds soaked in your chosen liquid. The soaking process softens the grain whilst transforming it into a ‘gel’ that can be used as an egg replacer or substitute for butter or milk in many vegan recipes (it contains similar binding qualities to egg whites whilst also adding moisture. Use 1 tbsp of gel for 1 egg). I’ve used pure white chia gel in the recipe above (with water), but you can also flavour your chia gel by soaking the seeds in apple juice, almond milk or for savoury dishes, vegetable stock.

  • Basic ratio: 2 tbsp chia seeds (white or black) to one cup of water.

Just add your chia seeds to the liquid in a jug or bowl. Whisk with a fork to separate the seeds then leave to soak for 10 minutes. Whisk the partially soaked seeds again, separating any clumps of seeds that may have fallen to the bottom. I usually make a big batch and place my covered jug in the fridge overnight for further soaking. Any leftover chia gel will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Notes:

  • Either loaf of banana bread will keep well for 2-3 days unrefrigerated, or up to a week in the fridge. If you want to extend the life of your banana bread you can wrap it well in plastic film after cooling, and freeze it for up to three months.
  • For maximum flavour, use very ripe bananas. Don’t worry if they’re a little mushy, overripe, bruised or blackened – the flavour will mellow to moist banana-scented sweetness when added to the other ingredients.
  • Ripe bananas can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen ahead to be used for banana bread. The skin will turn black, but that doesn’t affect the quality of the fruit when it’s to be used in baked goods. The freezing process will actually intensify the flavour, and whilst the defrosted fruit may seem to have an altered texture this will be undetectable in your finished product.
  • Defrost frozen bananas in the fridge for at least 12 hours prior to mashing them for the recipe as stated.
  • If you can’t wait to make some banana bread but your bananas aren’t ripe enough, don’t worry. As long as they are mashable (e.g. not green) you can still use them and get a good result. I usually add an extra banana and a splash of agave syrup (maybe equivalent to one tsp) to the mix to compensate for slightly less moisture and depth of flavour in the just-ripe bananas.
  • If you have 12-24 hours you can also speed the ripening process of your bananas by placing them in a brown paper bag and closing it tightly. The fruit emits ethylene gas during the ripening process and sealing them in an enclosed space will speed up the process by trapping the gas.
  • Feel free to substitute wholemeal, spelt or gluten-free flours (of equal quantity) in either of the above recipes. Just make sure you add raising agent to the first recipe if you are not using the stated self-raising flour (1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda should do the trick).
  • Play around with fruit, nuts, spices and seeds in both recipes. My standby additions are sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or pepitas, millet seeds (beautifully crunchy and textural… not just for the birds), pecans, chunks (not chips) of dark chocolate, blueberries (frozen are fine, don’t bother defrosting first), dried cranberries and medjool dates (much nicer than regular dried dates). Interchangeable spices are cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg or even some ground cardamom. Just go with the rule that ‘less is more’ until you have tested the spice’s intensity.

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