Saturday, 3 September 2011
I have Nigella Lawson to thank for this one. Well, her and the local chain of posh supermarkets, which has a habit of bagging up old bananas and selling them off cheap. A kilo or more for 50-60p. Now, I'm not a fan of overripe bananas. Until recently, I didn't even like ripe ones - my preference was for those large, perfect fruits that were still blushed with green. Not unripe - those have a mouth-drying character bordering on the tannic - but not yet fully yellow. I've since moved on to those whose banana aroma is fully developed, but whose flesh is still firm, and not at all mushy. Anyway, I still won't eat these reduced bananas, but they are a wonderful resource for cooking.
The best thing to do is, as soon as you get them home (or, in my case, a day or two later), peel and chop them, lay them out onto trays lined with something non-stick, and freeze them. Then, the next day, split them between freezer bags, and keep them until needed. A handful in a smoothie provides richness, body, and a cool sweetness without the need for ice cubes. They can be softened in the microwave and added to porridge. Best of all, however, they make banana bread - a simple luxury, rich and warming.
The original recipe (or, I should say, the previous iteration, since Nigella explains hers is but a refinement of another recipe) is in How to be a domestic goddess, but the first time I had occasion to make it, I was lacking a couple of ingredients. Now, many banana bread recipes I have seen call for nuts, as hers did (walnuts, to be precise), but I rarely have any in - I do, in fact, like nuts now (as a child I hated them), but they are so expensive, I must reserve them for very special occasions. As it is, I don't see that they add much beyond a crunch in this context. By all means, add some if you have them to hand, but they are not essential.
The other missing ingredient was alcohol. Ms Lawson does so revel in rich food, and she recommends poaching the sultanas in bourbon or rum before incorporating them into the cake, but this is another ingredient I rarely have. I have a little too much love for liquor, so I don't keep it in the house (or perhaps I should say, I buy it, but it never lasts long). I don't see that an alcoholic tang would sit well with the other ingredients, so I'd advise leaving it out, even if your drinks cabinet is fully stocked.
So, my version of this recipe is pared down, simplified, but no less indulgent for it. A word on the name - this is, quite clearly, a cake, not a bread. But 'banana cake' lacks a certain cadence, and besides, it conjures up an image of something with a layer of caramelised, possibly semi-dried, whole fruits - like a pineapple upside-down cake. This is rather different (and often baked in a loaf tin).
Simple banana bread
makes one large loaf
300g bananas (peeled weight), as ripe as you like - even very bruised fruit will do
150g sugar (a golden sugar, as in so many things, adds extra richness)
125g butter, melted
175g plain flour
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
a dash of vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
I've found it really doesn't matter what order you do this in; mash the bananas until mostly puréed (a few lumps are no problem), add the butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and sultanas, and mix together thoroughly. Combine the dry ingredients, then mix with the rest, until you have a batter (make sure no lumps of flour remain). Pour/spoon into a loaf tin, or cake moulds, or even muffin cases; note that the smaller the cakes, the shorter the cooking time, so I'd advise rather than a set length, just keep your eye on them, and test with a skewer when they look done - if the (metal) skewer comes out clean, they are ready. Bake at gas 3/170ºC until done.
You can do this in a food processor - but in that case, reserve the sultanas and stir in at the end (or they'll get pulverised).