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Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf

This is the first time I have ever made banana bread. I know, I know – saying so is like admitting you’ve never melted Scotbloc to make rice krispie cakes, licked cake batter off your elbows or baked Tom and Jerry strawberry cakes from a packet. It’s one of these fundamental starter recipes, like scones or pancakes, walking hand in hand with blackened bananas to create something new from something old. It’s like wasteless baking. Good for the soul.

But it’s no surprise that I don’t have surplus bananas lingering on the windowsill, slowly speckling from muddy brown to black in the sunlight. I’m not a massive fan of the fruit as it is – I’ll rather blend it frozen into a mango smoothie or bake it on hot coals for a smoky, apple sauce texture. But I somehow had a hankering for a loaf cake last week, so I dutifully smacked around a couple of bananas and left them to age for two weeks. I’ve heard this makes the flavour of the cake more intense and judging from the result, I would say that method has its merits.

over ripe bananas for banana bread

I researched a few recipes before I came across this one on the BBC Good Food site, but I wanted to cram in as much flavour as possible – anything sunshiny that will distract from this miserable month of January.  I decided it needed some extra texture, and so added my favourite lemon and poppy seed combination for a little crunch and a citrusy zing. At the last minute, I threw in a handful of blueberries in impulse and I am glad I did – they burst into pools of colour and give the cake a lovely spring-like flavour.

I love the way this loaf slices; each thick, doorstop slice is speckled with poppy seeds and you can see little golden flecks of lemon here and there, spread throughout the loaf. A jammy burst of blueberry punctuates the slice, adding a sweet stickiness with each bite. I had planned to add a lemon glaze, but I greedily hacked into it with a bread knife and immediately decided there was nothing else required. It might seem simplistic, but some of the best bakes are. I still have fond memories of those strawberry fairy cakes after all.

Slice of Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf

 

Adapted slightly from BBC Good Food

 

You Will Need

140g unsalted butter, softened

140g caster sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

140g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 very ripe bananas, mashed

1 tbsp poppy seeds

Zest of 1 lemon, plus ½ to ¾ juice to taste

80g blueberries

 

A couple of things to point out – I followed the original recipe’s specifications for a 2 lb loaf tin and was returned with slightly flatter banana bread although it did take a shorter time to bake. If you prefer the look of a taller cake, go for a 1 lb and bake for a little longer – you might want to add a tin foil hat to the top to stop it browning too much.

banana bread ingredients

Preheat an oven to 180oc/160oc fan and grease and line a 2 lb loaf tin with baking parchment. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and a third of the flour and beat again. Add the remaining flour and baking powder and beat again to a thick batter. Add the mashed banana, poppy seeds and lemon zest and juice and beat together. Fold in the blueberries then pour the mix into the tin, levelling with a spatula. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the tin from the oven and cool for 10 minutes then lift out of the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into slices and serve with coffee.

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf and Black Coffee

Coffee and Walnut Healthy No Bake Brownies

I would consider myself a fairly traditional baker. I suppose I had to be really, because I started this blog in my student days when my kitchen kit comprised of a cheap mixer, a scratched plastic bowl and an old fashioned set of spring scales. It was a kitchen of bare essentials, the real tool being my hands. Butter would be rubbed through my fingers for crumbles and pastries; I employed the two-fold whisking technique to ensure my arms didn’t stiffen. Everything was sight and sound and making do and I quite like that about baking. Just how you yourself make the recipe without the need for gadgets to help you along the way. Honest baking.

It therefore seems sacrilege that I have become ever so slightly obsessed with my food processor. I had entertained the idea of buying one for a while, but things like ASOS dresses and H&M jumpers always seemed to take precedent. And besides, I liked making pastry by hand and bashing digestives with a rolling pin. But I was gifted a second hand one and I approached it with trepidation. I was like a caveman when I finally managed to switch it on, jumping about three feet in the air when it whirred into action, chopped and cutting and pulsing so precisely in seconds I wondered how I would ever live without one.

Coffee and Walnut Healthy No Bake Brownies

And so, it seems like a betrayal of my hands that I bring you a wholly food processor recipe today. But I have to admit, it’s too damn good to ignore. After all the excesses of the festive period, it finally feels good to be eating well again and these healthy brownies are no exception. They are gluten, dairy and sugar free, the only sweetness coming from a healthy portion of finely chopped Mejool dates and a smidge of cocoa powder. Essentially a traybake, two types of nuts are pulsed in a machine, mixed with a teaspoon of fresh coffee and cocoa then whirred with dates to create a fudgy, sweet brownie without an egg, block of butter or pound of brown sugar in sight. I’d probably call them an alternative to cereal bars, like a health food that shouldn’t be healthy and so far I have resisted two birthday cakes in the office in favour of two of these sweet brownie thins. This is like baking magic.

A couple of things to point out – for aesthetic purposes I pressed my brownie mix into a 7 by 7 tray but it does yield rather thin brownies. Personally I like the size, but if you would prefer them thicker, you can double the recipe or press into a smaller tin such as an 18cm sandwich tin. The original recipe also extols the virtues of raw products, but I couldn’t find any cacao powder or almonds that hadn’t been blanched. I doubt it makes much of a difference but if this falls in line with your diet then go for it, I’d love to hear the results.

I do feel like I have betrayed my natural instincts to get my hands dirty with this recipe, but I am quietly excited as to how this new gadget will change my baking routine. But I can’t see myself giving up making pastry by hand. I like interspersing the traditional with the contemporary.

 Recipe slightly adapted from The Minimalist Baker

You Will Need

90g whole almonds (not blanched if possible)

80g walnuts

20g cocoa powder (or cacao if you can find it), plus extra for dusting

1 tsp freshly ground coffee or espresso powder

200g Medjool dates, pitted

No Bake Ingredients

Tip the almonds and 40g of the walnuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the cocoa powder and coffee and pulse again until crumb-like. Pour the nut mixture into a bowl and set aside.

Finely Ground Coffee

Place the pitted dates into the bowl of the food processor and whizz until paste-like. Remove and place in a separate bowl then re-add the nut mixture to the food processor. With the processor running, add clumps of the dates through the chute until you have a soft dough. Squeeze the mixture in your hand – if it clumps together its ready. If not, add a couple more dates or a splash of water and process again.

Raw Brownie Mix

Prepare the tray you wish to use by lining with baking parchment – I used a 7 x 7 square tin but for thicker brownies use a loaf or sandwich tin. Tip the brownie mix into the tin and add the remaining walnuts. Stir with your hands to combine then press down the mixture evenly with your knuckles. Place the tin in the fridge to allow the brownies to harden for at least two hours then remove and cut into squares or wedges. Dust with cocoa powder and serve. These brownies will last for about a week and a half in an airtight container in the fridge.

Coffee and Walnut Healthy No Bake Brownies