Banana Bread

This time last year I was in Australia.

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Whether it was the experience of travelling, or the break from daily stresses, I came back feeling refreshed, and enlived with a new zest for living.

Yesterday, sat with fellow disillusioned companions, we discussed the pros and cons of emigrating Down Under in search of a better life. It’s not a straightforward process, and I don’t think I would find the move easy. Yet at times, the idea of escape is unbelieveably tempting.

There are beauties in the UK that I would certainly miss. Spring is a joyful season in England. It’s vivid, and amazingly cathartic. Everywhere, bluebells, clustered thickly under the dappled light-shade of English woodland. Bright green life springing up.

While I’m here, how about an edible reminder of my Australian adventures? I realise Banana Bread is not Australian per say, but they seem to be big fans of loaf cakes Down Under. In cafes everywhere, slabs of thickly iced banana and carrot loaves behind the counter.

So here’s mine.

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I’m generally not a fan of icing, so this cake remains resolutely uniced. Damp and thickly cut, deeply flavoured and wholesomely delicious.

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Banana Bread

Adapted from Sophie Dahl’s recipe 

  • 75g salted butter, softened
  • 160g light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 4 bananas, mashed into a pulp
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 170g wholemeal plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a loaf tin.

Beat the butter and sugar together til soft, then beat in the egg, vanilla extract, followed by the mashed banana.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder together. Add to the rest of the ingredients, and fold in with a spatula. Spoon into the loaf tin, and smooth the surface. Bake for 40-50 minutes until golden and springy. You might need to cover the top with foil 30 minutes into baking to prevent the top from burning. As with all banana breads, this is either best eaten straight out of the oven, or wrapped up for 1-2 days to let the flavour develop. Yummy 🙂

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The Perfect Dark Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake, universally loved around the world. With so many recipes, which one honestly comes closest to perfection?

Firstly, I had to choose sides. Chocolate cakes fall into two distinct camps. The first – fluffy spongy cakes that are perfect for layering, icing and Birthday parties. Popular, pretty, actually pretty good – but not what I wanted to go for.

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I’m referring to the second category. The dense and the dark; the tortes and rich slivers of 70% cocoa, requiring minimal adornment. They’re given seductive names in restaurants, they never lose their place on dessert menus, and I simply wanted to try more.

The recipes all startlingly similar, relies on the heady combination of butter and melted chocolate , with whisked egg whites for airiness. Some add ground almonds, others just a touch of flour. I’ve made and loved Sophie Dahl’s recipe, but was curious to try out some others to find out just how different the results could be. I tested in total five popular recipes, to see how they differed and which one (would I be able to decide?) would be closest to perfection? Most of these recipes are designed to serve at least 8 people, so I halved the ingredients to bake the cakes in a 15cm tin. It worked very well, so if you are baking for smaller numbers I can happily recommend this.

  1. Sophie Dahl’s Flourless Chocolate Cake
  2. Chocolate and Zucchini’s Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cake
  3. David Lebowitz’s Chocolate Cocoa Nib Cake
  4. River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis

Sophie Dahl’s recipe is one that I have made a few times, and I have always been happy with the results. The cake is very, very rich, but delightfully satisfying. The method is very failsafe, and although a food processor or blender is needed, there’s no lengthy use of hundreds of mixing bowls. A deep crater forms in this cake, which forms a great receptacle for cream and fresh fruit, and there is a textural contrast between crisp exterior, and melting, almost mousse-like interior.

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David Lebowitz’s recipe was actually adapted from one he found scribbled inside the men’s toilets inside an upmarket Parisian restaurant. You can read the full story here.

This cake doesn’t sink as much as Sophie Dahl’s. The combination of less sugar, and a shorter baking time means you don’t get the development of that very crisp crust, but I quite like it this way, and the cocoa nibs provide textural contrast.

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Although this recipe requires 3 bowls, it was remarkably quick and simple. With an electric whisk, you can easily whip this up within an hour. I enjoyed it very much, but I think Sophie Dahl’s cake won this particular contest by a narrow margin.

Next up is this recipe from popular French blog Chocolate and Zucchini. The results are very, very good. It is adapted from another popular recipe by Trish Deseine, but Clotilde Dusoulier has reduced the sugar, and cut out one egg. The method was even easier – no electric appliances needed – and the whole thing could be made in 1 pan, which is always a bonus.

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The cake was utterly delicious – unctuously dark and rich, with Clotilde’s genius addition of a sprinkle of salt flakes on top. At first I was sceptical, but the way the salt dissolves against your tongue produces a magnificent burst of chocolatey flavour that I think would be impossible to replicate any other way.

The fourth and final recipe I tried was the most infamous chocolate cake of them all. River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis is notorious for its difficulty, and I approached it with considerable apprehension. I opted to use the recipe for the Easy Small Nemesis, which still seemed pretty complex  – making syrup, whisking eggs for what felt like hours, and boiling the kettle three times for the deep water-bath that the cake luxuriates in as it bakes. I had a bit of an issue with the water-bath, and my cake tin not being watertight, but all was well in the end. The finished result was full-blown chocolate intensity. It doesn’t get richer than this.

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There were a lot of other chocolate cake recipes I wanted to try, but for the sake of my wallet, waistline, and sanity, didn’t get round to baking. In particular I omitted flourless recipes incorporating ground almonds, such as Elizabeth David’s Chocolate Cake, but I have no doubt they are just as good.

So best cake out of them all? I would have to stay that Chocolate and Zucchini’s Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cake is a resounding winner. It’s a combination of two very good things – easy to make, and absolutely flipping delicious. The Chocolate Nemesis is impressive stuff, but oh so complicated. The others? Still delicious but ousted!

Spring Flowers, and Rescued Flapjacks

Running is tough on the ground at the moment. The UK’s been getting a lot of rain, and so its pretty slippery going. I just have to be thankful I’m not planning on training for a marathon anymore, as that route is most certainly submerged underwater.

Anyway, instead of going outdoors and engaging in a lot of exercise, I had a beautifully relaxing Saturday. The house has been brightened up with a beautiful big bunch of fragrant white flowers (I shamefully still don’t know what kind of flowers they are).

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I’ve also got a newly made batch of puff pastry chilling in the fridge, and flapjacks cooling on the kitchen counter.

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These flapjacks started out as a Sophie Dahl flapjack recipe which didn’t quite work out for me, as they ended up being a little drier and crumblier than I’d like. However, I found the coconut a fabulous addition, so broke down the crumbly mixture, and remade it up into this batch, which turned out much more to everybody’s liking.

Reading-wise, I’m working my way through The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket. It’s rather beautifully written, and encourages you to take one step back, and really truly appreciate all the good simple pleasures of life. Flapjacks are most certainly encouraged!

On another note, I’ve finally signed up to Bloglovin’ and so if you want to follow me on there, just click the Bloglovin’ button on the right and it’ll take you right there. 🙂

“That Little Black” Chocolate Cake

Apologies for readers of this blog, yesterday I accidentally published an unfinished post for next week. If you haven’t seen it already, then expect something something nice, and full of spice!

Meanwhile, here’s another cake to tide you over. Here is the baking equivalent of fashion’s Little Black Dress.

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The LBC (Little Black Cake) is the perfect dinner party dessert. It needs to be both decadent and delicious, certain to please the crowd, and easy to whip up on the day with minimal fuss.

My LBC is Sophie Dahl’s gorgeous flourless chocolate cake*

It’s not the only flourless chocolate cake out there, but it’s certainly a good ‘un. One of these days I will also get round to making Ottolenghi’s version, which has similar ratios of ingredients, but utilises a completely different method to create a multi-textured marvel.

Sophie Dahl’s cake is pretty straightforward. Apart from a food processor, you don’t need much in the way of fancy gadgetry. The cake itself does a fair amount of oven gymnastics, ballooning up and then sinking gracefully down again on cooling.

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The crater that forms is the perfect receptacle for a generous filling of créme fraîche and fruit.  I found that the top got slightly burnt due to the length of time the cake needed in the oven, although it doesn’t hinder the rich chocolate flavour at all. You can try covering the cake with foil 30 minutes into baking to prevent this from happening.

Flavourwise, it’s pure chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Yet the texture is so light and moussey, it stops the cake getting too rich or cloying, so you could definitely fit in a piece after dinner.

Maybe even two.

* This cake is also known by the affectionate epithet of Cowpat Cake in the family. You can see why.

Peanut Butter Fudge

Yummy and easy, and oh so lovely. Sophie Dahl may be an ex-model, but she isn’t just all about looks. Don’t use caster sugar if you haven’t got dark brown because it does make a big difference to the taste.

Peanut Butter Fudge (slightly adapted from BBC Food)

  • 125g butter
  • 500g dark brown sugar
  • 120ml milk
  • 250g crunchy peanut butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • handful salted peanuts

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar and milk. Boil for 2-3 minutes, without stirring. Take the pan off the heat, and stir in the peanut butter and peanuts. Put the icing sugar in a large bowl, and pour the hot peanut mixture on top, and beat together until smooth. Pour into a 20cm  square baking tray, and set aside to cool slightly, then chill in the fridge until completely cold. Cut into squares.

And just for fun, while you’re munching away….