February 1, 2011
Comfort food that includes one of your five-a-day, what is not to love?
I always find this time of year a bit of a challenge. Up until January I am alright. Once summer is over, I manage to get through the cold months until then by looking forward to the holidays. I am the most eager Christmas bunny, so I have no problem with letting myself start to plan things from September on. Once the kids have gone back to school in the autumn it is fair game. I barely mind the cold and the light drawing in, because the calendar is moving with steady certainty towards a feast, a holiday, a sparkle-fest. But once the joys of Christmas and New Year are over, and the warmth of next summer is still months away, I start to resent the bleak weather, to feel I have nothing to look forward to. That is the time I need the comfort of baking more than ever. There is nothing like baking a cake to make something celebratory of even an ordinary day.
Add a bit of date-specific baking and then you have got yourself something to really look forward to. It punctuates the remaining grey and indoor months. It puts a little sweetness into life. You can never have too much of that.
Given the excuse of Valentines, for example, I will happily take any recipe I fancy and bake it in a heart shape. Voila! A Valentines present with real heart.
On mother’s day some muffins or a home made loaf earn definite brownie points. Add a bit of cellophane and some ribbon, and it will be such a professional looking present you will have to hammer home the fact you made it yourself.
The banana bread recipe I am giving you here works perfectly for both of those scenarios, and indeed any other you may care to think of. I do most often make it as a loaf, but equally it can be made in whatever shape and size suits the occasion. It is a very flexible and forgiving recipe.
Last issue I gave you iced coffee layer cake, the first cake I made and loved as a child. I do hope you have tried it and loved it too. With this banana bread I move on a step in my own baking life to the first cake whose recipe I feel is mine.
Of course it started with a cookbook. My mother’s old tattered blue and white striped Joy of Cooking, a true foodies bible if ever there was one. This recipe originates with theirs, although it has certainly evolved into something else, and I can’t remember the first time I made it. I suppose some random day when I was avoiding schoolwork and needed the homely sweet and fruity kick that banana bread delivers so perfectly. It is the kind of cake you could eat for breakfast, at teatime or even as pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Then and now it is so good, so easy, and has been made so often over the years, that it has been tweaked, doctored and added to until I think it has reached banana bread perfection. So now, over to you, comfort bake away!
5oz unrefined castor sugar
Grated zest of one lemon
9 ¾ oz all purpose flour
2tsps baking powder
¼ tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
3 large fully ripe bananas
(You could use any combination of dried fruit and nuts. Prunes are particularly good with this. Apricots, raisins and walnuts works brilliantly which is why I think of it as the classic version. But don’t feel tied, have a play. I have even been known to put in chunks of dark chocolate when I was feeling particularly decadent. You don’t need me to tell you that chocolate and prunes together is heaven.)
Preheat the oven to 177C.
Blend the butter with the sugar and lemon zest until creamy.
Beat in the egg.
Sift the flour, baking powder, soda and spices into a separate bowl.
Mash the bananas in a third bowl.
Add the sifted ingredients in about 3 parts to the sugar mixture alternately with the banana pulp. Beat each time until smooth.
Chop the apricots and nuts very roughly. (I think you really want to come across large pieces in the final loaf.) Fold the apricots, nuts and raisins into the cake mixture.
Place in a greased loaf tin. Bake in the oven for about an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Do start to check it at around 45 minutes, you don’t want uncooked mixture, but neither do you want it to be dry.
Or if you are making in muffin sized tins, grease each one well, and they will take about 25 minutes.
This is just glorious eaten still warm from the oven; truly the food equivalent of a hug. But it does keep very well wrapped in foil in the fridge. Lightly grilled by the slice or popped in a warm oven for a moment, with or without a slick of cold butter, it is just as good days later.
This article first appeared in Cakes & Sugarcraft Magazine issue 112.