Banana bread

Over-ripe bananas can be a real pain to use up. Even though there are countless ways to use them it always seems that at the perfect point for which you should be using them, you don’t feel like it, letting them turn from a perfect brown skin to black to utterly mouldy. I have let the banana down all too many times recently and I do love a good banana cake so decided to try Skye Gyngell’s recipe for banana bread from her new book How I cook. This book has been added to my list of best cookbooks of all time. The collection of recipes are so honest and homely and the choices of what has been included in the book seem to have been made with insight and a lot of love for quality and elegant home cooking. So of course when I found out Skye was doing a book signing in Richmond I was there in a flash. She was so nice, genuine, unpretentious and clearly had tonnes of class. These qualities are very much present in her recipes and I think, this one in particular. How could you make something that is usually delicious even more delicious I ask? well, you have to try this banana bread and you will see what I mean. It is perfect, not too sweet, not too heavy and dense and not too light and airy.  The book suggests serving this with apricot butter which really intrigues me, I think I will have to try that next time. The recipe calls for ripe bananas with a few spots but I think the browner the better—the more bruised and brown they are, the more flavour you will have. I used some that were on the verge of going black and this turned out divine.

Although I didn’t manage to get a very good picture that kind of doesn’t do the banana bread justice, I think this is the best thing I have baked all year.

Banana bread

125g unsalted butter, softened

250g plain flour

4 ripe bananas, peeled

a few drops of lemon juice

200g golden caster sugar

100g light muscovado sugar

2 organic free-range eggs

1/2 teaspoon good-quality vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

125ml whole milk

75g light muscovado sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Butter and flour a loaf tin, and line the base with baking paper. Mash the bananas with the lemon juice in a bowl. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl till pale and creamy. Then beat in the eggs and incorporate the mashed bananas and vanilla.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon together into the mix. Carefully combine and then add the milk. Spoon the mix into the loaf tin and spread the muscovado sugar on top. Bake for 45 minutes or until done.

Let it cool (if you can resist) and once cool enough to cut, top with slices of cold butter.

Recipe adapted from How I cook (Murdoch).


Orange polenta cake

I think I have been feasting on a few too many cakes recently. Once autumn hits it makes me feel like making more desserts, more cakes and pies. I first came across orange polenta cake years ago when I was living in Wellington on one of our regular visits to Nikau gallery cafe. Nikau is an excellent place to enjoy a good Sunday morning brunch—I am a huge fan of the kedgeree and am thinking that the £900 ticket back to visit New Zealand will be worth every cent for the taste of that kedgeree once again. They always had such beautiful displays of cakes and all sorts of delights. I remember thinking that it seemed odd to put polenta in a cake having only come across it in a savoury context, but it also makes appearances in all sorts of delicious desserts. Polenta can be used for so many things in the kitchen and to list a few: cornbread (yum!), in crumble on top of fruit, in shortbread making it all the more crisp and golden in colour, and also as a great friend of mine taught me that if sprinkled on your tray before baking a pizza the polenta granules prevents the pizza from sticking also giving the base a moreish and crispy feel.

This is yet another recipe from Ottolenghi. I fear this blog will become a Ottolenghi ‘shrine’ but I have just got my hands on an exciting new cookbook filled with absolutely amazing recipes I am excited to read about and try soon. The recipe calls for making caramel, this is never as hard but just requires attention in order to prevent any burning—burnt caramel can ruin any good dessert!

Orange polenta cake

50g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

200g unsalted butter

200g caster sugar

3 organic free-range eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons orange blossom water

240g ground almonds

120g quick-cook polenta (like polenta valsugana)

Caramel topping

90g caster sugar

2 tablespoons water

20g unsalted butter, diced

2 oranges, plus an extra one


4 tablespoons orange marmalade

1 tablespoons water

1. Grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the bottom and sides with baking paper. The cake may leak, so make sure that if using a loose-based tin you cut the paper large enough so that it goes up the side of the tin.

2. Make the caramel: add the sugar for the caramel into a saucepan with the water. Heat on a low-medium heat and slowly bring the sugar to the boil. As it bubbles away, keep an eye out for any crystals that form on the side of the saucepan. Occasionally brush the side of the pan with water to avoid these crystals from forming. After a few minutes the caramel should darken, once golden in colour, add the butter carefully. Stir and pour the caramel into the lined tin and tilt the tin in order to spread the caramel.

3. Grate the zest of the oranges, but don’t grate the white part of the skin as this is quite bitter. Set the zest aside and peel, core and slice the orange. Cut each orange horizontally into roughly six slices (slices should be about 1cm thick). Lay the orange slices on top of the caramel in the tin.

4. Preheat the oven to 170C.

5. To make the cake batter, sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Set this aside.

6. Cream the butter and sugar together lightly, gradually add the eggs whilst beating on a low speed. Add the orange zest and orange blossom water, ground almonds, polenta and sifted dry ingredients. As soon as it is all mixed in, stop to prevent overmixing.

7. Pour the mix into the tin and place in the oven to bake for 40-45 mins. When a skewer comes out clean (or close to) it is done.

8. As the cake cools, make the glaze. Boil marmalade and water together and put through a sieve, brush whilst hot on to the top of the cake.

Recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (Ebury Press).