the best banana bread

baked1

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.

nanas

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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mash2

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).

sugar

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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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.

bread

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.

mash

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.

flourcocoacocoa mix

Pour the mixture into your prepared pan.

loafprebake

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.

loaf

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).

bite bite2

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).

tahinibananas

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