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October 26, 2012

Understudies in Nigella's Chocolate Banana Bread: Introducing Whiskey and Currants

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I know this is a rather strange title for a recipe: this is another one of my cakes that appeared, as it were, from the magic created when the actors of a recipe are not there, one looks for the understudies and BOOM! the result is far better than the original. I say 'another' because it isn't the first time that I've improvised with ingredients whilst baking. My baking history is chequered with them, for example the courgette and walnut cake when my cupboard lacked most of the ingredients in and the carrot and pinenut cake that was created when I put baking powder in the wrong bowl of herman...

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The smell of this banana cake, that I conjured up, is of Christmas. No wonder as I used sloe whiskey and currants to substitute the called for dark rum and sultanas, respectively.

Have you ever come across - ? No! Have you ever tasted a banana cake that's like a Christmas cake? You'll now start posting recipes in my comments box to tell me of various banana cake recipes that do :) *giggle* I would welcome them.

While I'm asking - do you know what makes a cake into a bread? I don't know. Why is it that most banana cakes call themselves breads? Is it to do with the loaf tin that they are made in?

mixing egg

So... a confession. I made this cake because I was being made to pack up house, again! Do you remember the previous times that I moved flat and I found myself just having to make two lemon and ginger cheesecakesand bramble jelly? My fellow resident tutors and flat movers, David and Lucy, were really worried about the lengths that I went to avoid putting things away. So now, I'm very aware that I bake to distract myself from the pain of packing boxes; there's always good reason. This time, I had a hoard of frozen bananas, 12 as it turned out, that needed to be used up. Well, why not strike a compromise with the chore of packing and this golden (brown) opportunity, and try out quick and easy banana bread recipes.

So, I did with Nigella's and Deb's (from Smitten Kitchen).

According to Nigella (How to be a Domestic Goddess), '[T]his is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it's fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess.'Well that sold it to me... as if I needed any convincing. Nevertheless, there are even easier, equally enticing banana cakes out there. Cue: Smitten Kitchen's Jacked Up Banana Bread. I made her banana bread at the same time that I made Nigella's and it is just a tad easier to make. I'll post that recipe later, because this variation of Nigella's banana bread recipe, with the whiskey and currants, supersedes it in taste, flavour and richness.

banana and chocolate cake ingredients

Ingredients (and a suggestions box of other substitutes for the dried fruit and liquor at the bottom of this post)

  • 100g currants.
  • 75ml sloe whiskey, or any whiskey
  • 150g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 60g chopped walnuts
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Put your chosen dried fruit and liquor into a small saucepan (I measured the currants and whiskey directly in the saucepan for ease) and bring to the boil. Now, remove from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for an hour or so, in order that the currants can plump up as they absorb the most of the liquid. After which, Nigella says, to drain the currants. I decided it was a waste of the sloe whiskey, so I ended up adding it all, currants and whiskey, to the cake mix at the appropriate step. I'm rushing ahead of myself here. While the currants are plumping up, move on with the rest of the recipe.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line a 2lb loaf tin. I only have a 1.5 lb loaf tin and it just about manages it.

banana and flour

3. Measure out the plain flour, cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Now add in the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don't get any lumps of salt, cocoa powder or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

4. Melt the butter. I've used both methods of carefully zapping butter in the microwave (um, careful and zap don't seem to be natural partners but what other word describes what happens in a microwave?) and melting it in a saucepan. Both work. If you are going to zap it in the microwave, choose a large pyrex bowl that is big enough to make the cake mixture in, as it will save on the washing up later.

stirring butter and sugaradding the banana - looks really yummy!

5. Once melted, add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture then add the mashed bananas and beat well.

6. Now add the currants and the remainder of the liquid in the saucepan, along with the walnuts, vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and stir well.

adding the chocolate, nut and fruitadding flour to chocolate banana mixture

7. Add in the flour mix (see 3) but do it a third at time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. Sometimes the cake takes a little bit longer to bake, so don't worry if it needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You'll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and it comes out clean.

adding flour to chocolate banana mixwet banana and chocolate cake mix_1wet chocolate and banana cake mix_2

8. Leave the cake in the loaf tin to cool down completely, before slicing it up to eat. It does smell absolutely heavenly at the point the cake leaves the oven, but the inside of the cake steams up and collapses if you cut into it when it's warm. Trust me. I made that mistake last week at Baking Club when we were far too impatient to wait because we were experimenting with various liquors and naturally wanting to taste the different flavours.

Verdict? Scrum-dili-O-cious. Honestly, this version is truly scrumptious and rich in flavour. I've made a few variations (listed below) but there is something to be said about how the flavours of whiskey, chocolate and banana complement each other and stand their ground against each other in this cake. You know how I said to leave the cake to cool down completely before cutting into it. I discovered that this cake gets better with age. The chocolate, whiskey and banana mature well together if you can bear to leave it a day or two before eating it and you'll have a more complex flavour to savour. Leave the cake in an airtight container for at least a week and it won't dry out... if it lasts that long!

Baking Club came round last Wednesday laden with various liquors. We tried a few out.

  • Banana, Date and Toffee Bread: 100g chopped up dried dates, 75ml of butterscotch schnapps, subsitute half of the soft brown sugar with dark brown sugar. I'd also leave out the 25g of cocoa powder with replace it with plain flour so that the toffee has a chance of coming through.
  • The original Banana and Chocolate Bread: 100g sultanas, 75ml dark rum - this is Nigella's original recipe. Tastes alright but the whiskey and currants one tastes even better. I might try this one out later without the chocolate and compare it to Smitten Kitchen's version.
  • Banana, Apricot and Chocolate Bread: 100g chopped up dried apricots, 75ml apricot brandy. - gave this one away before tasting it.
chocolate banana whiskey currant bread
An alternative to Christmas cake, perhaps?

December 06, 2011

A Carrot, Sultana and Pinenut Cake with a secret – he's Herman!


carrot, sultana, pinenut muffins

This is my favourite Herman cake recipe because it is so flavoursome and moist.

I have never been honoured with so many requests for this recipe from foodies, which confirms my suspicions that this is the BEST variation on Herman cake. So, here it is, by popular demand. (Plus, this medium has the added benefit of being far more convenient than sending the recipe multiple times via text or email to my colleagues and friends who have been asking me for this recipe.)

This cake is a wonderful example of how you can improvise successfully when baking (another example would be the Courgette and Walnut Cake). This time, I made the mistake of putting baking powder in the wrong bowl of mini herman, had run out of apples and was thus forced to improvise an alternative Herman cake, with ingredients I had on hand. Thus, the delicious Carrot, Sultana and Pinenut Cake was born, and proved far tastier than it's apple/pear and cranberry counterpart.

The inspiration for the pinenuts is probably from my love of korean and italian cuisine: it would appear to be a popular ingredient in both countries. Essentially, it is the pinenuts that make this cake what it is, so please don't scrimp and omit them.

Perhaps some of you, who have tended to Herman for a few cycles, have similar sentiments to my own towards Herman. I find it restricting to be tied into baking a Herman cake every 10 or so days. Then the thought of baking the same cake over and over again, kills the joy of baking with such a quirky ingredient. I've spoken to enough of you herman cake bakers to know that you empathise with my need to deviate from the standard apple/cinammon/sultanacake. So, for all of you attentive Herman carers out there, this is a recipe is dedicated to you.

Ingredients

  • one measure of Herman (a cup)
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten (see note below referring to doubling the recipe)
  • 100ml vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 2 large or 3 small grated carrots, which is approx. anything between 150g-200g.
  • 50g pinenuts
  • 50g sultanas

Note: For a double batch, rather than use 4 eggs, I did the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda trick of substituting an egg. Austerity measures are required when baking endless cycles of Hermans.

Method

1. I like to soak the sultanas first by putting them in a small heatproof bowl and covering them with boiling water. If you're super-organised, then do this a few hours beforehand. This will mean that your sultanas are plump and juicy once baked, rather than dry and hard.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin, or line a muffin tin with paper cases. I think that it will make about 18 muffins, depending on how high you fill the cases.

3. Measure out the flour, sugar and spices and make a well in the middle. Add in Herman, the vegetable oil and the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly.

dry ingredients hermanadding hermancarrot cake herman batter

4. Drain the sultanas and add the sultanas to the mixture, along with the grated carrots and pinenuts. Give it a good mix.

herman loaf tinherman muffin tin

5. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. Check at 40 minutes and if the top is browning too quickly, cover it with baking paper or foil. If you are going to make the muffins, then dollop a tablespoon of mixture in each of the cases. This way, there'll be space to put on the optional cream cheese frosting. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. Leave the cake/muffins to cool for 5 minutes and then let it cool completely on a wire rack.

The verdict?

Delicious, served on its own or with a dollop of icecream/greek yoghurt. I've frozen the muffins for another occasion and planning on topping them with a plain cream cheese frosting.

herman familydressing for work

On Sunday morning, I baked a double batch of this and produced a wee family of these cakes. In addition to the loaf tin, the mini muffin tin came out, and I borrowed some normal sized muffin tins from a friend. Later on the Monday, I dressed the loaf for work.

And what happened to Herman?

Well, Herman lives on in my flat: I didn't have the heart to finish him off this weekend. I baked a double quantity of my favourite Herman recipe (the carrot, sultana and pinenut cake) and prepared batter for Herman pancakes before I realised that I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Herman... yet.

p.s I couldn't help but notice that Herman has been featured on the Guardian's Life and Style recently. It's amusing how a yeasty goo mixture has madeit onto a national paper. I give props to Lizzie Enfield for pushing my teenage, red-haired, kitchen inhabitantinto the limelight. At some point I mean to write a blog post, entitled '100 days of Herman' with photos of the various Hermans I've produced, from pancakes to streusel coffee cake (thanks allrecipes), by way of celebration. It would have be retrospective given that the 100 day mark has already passed us by. Watch this space.


November 25, 2011

Herman, the friendship cake.

Let me introduce you to Herman. He's been living in my kitchen for a few months.

herman growing

If that hasn't put you off, then read on.

Herman is a sourdough starter cake, aka Amish Friendship cake. David first described him to me, when one of his colleagues gave him a Herman:

David: "So, I leave him out in a bowl on the side for a few days. I have to talk to him! And feed him with milk, flour and sugar.

Me: "Can't you put him in the fridge? Won't the milk go off? Why do you have to leave him out?"...

A few days later, David told me that he has gotten rid of Herman. Herman was smelly and had been cluttering his worktop.

If I can be frank with you. I'd suggest that David's colleague misjudged him in thinking that David and Herman would pair up well. David is a good cook but a 'meat and 2 veg' kind of guy. So, this type of cake didn't stand much of a chance with him.

Well, a few weeks later, Emily asked me if I'd heard of Herman. She had one growing in her kitchen and reported that the herman cake she'd tried was alright. She was still alive, and proof that eating Herman is somewhat safe, even with the souring milk. So, I asked her if she'd entrust me to look after a mini Herman.

By this time, Herman had taken on a personality of epic proportions in my imagination. Naturally, he was german, with spiky red hair, freckles and (as he smells) adolescent.

I duly took care of my Herman and made it through 2 cycles until I went on holiday. I gave him away and thought that was the last of Herman.

Not so. One of my colleagues presented me with Herman at the end of the summer and, as you know, Herman is thriving in my flat. I think that he's taken to my warm kitchen: he keeps bubbling away. I stir him once or twice a day and cover him with a tea towel so that he doesn't dry out. As I don't want to be forced to make a Herman cake every 10 days, I'm fairly relaxed about his feeding and will delay it a day or so, to draw out the cycle. Admittedly, he does smell of yeast. I'm looking forward to this next cycle as his penultimate one with me because I'd quite like to use that plastic bowl and wooden spoon for something else and reclaim the space he takes up on my worktop.

Herman is a great topic of conversation. He is a bit like marmite: people are either allured or repulsed by him. Nevertheless, everyone likes to eat him. Herman adds a tanginess to the cake and he does taste yummy, even if the texture is on the denser side. Below, I've given you the most common recipe, a cinnamon and apple version, with a wee makeover. However, my favourite is my carrot, pinenut and sultana cake.

There are a number of different Herman stories out there. This is my favourite one, which I have adapted.

Herman is a friendship cake which you cannot buy but can give away. Herman is alive and grows slowly but surely because of a yeasting process. It takes 10 days before you can eat him.

DO NOT put in the fridge as he grows at room temperature. You do not need a lid, just cover the bowl with a tea towel.

DAY 1: Today Herman is given to you. Congratulations, you must have a friend. Pour him into a big bowl so he can grow.

DAY 2: Stir Herman 2 or 3 times each day using a wooden spoon. You can leave the spoon in the bowl.

DAY 3: Stir Herman and talk to him.

DAY 4: Herman is hungry! You must feed him with:

  • 200ml milk
  • 150g plain flour
  • 200g granulated sugar

DAY 5: Stir Herman

DAY 6: Stir Herman. He really appreciates your visits.

DAY 7: Stir Herman

DAY 8: Stir Herman. Are you still talking to him?

DAY 9: Herman is hungry again! Feed him as Day 4.

Having been fed, he now needs to be split into equal little Hermans. Give away 4 of the little Hermans and a copy of these instructions.

DAY 10: Your remaining little Herman is absolutely starving after all that!

(experiment with different Herman cake recipes, such as carrot cake, streusel topped herman cake, apple cake - see below for my adaptations on the most common version)

Herman would now like to go to a hot resort, the oven will do. Preheat it to 170C (which is between 3 and 4 on a gas mark oven). With everything mixed in, pour him into a lined deeped baking tin. Leave him at the resort for about an hour. After all this care, attention and nurturing ... eat him!!!


herman apple cinnamon cake

Ingredients for Herman Apple, Sultana and Cinnamon Cake (makes between 16-25 servings)

  • 1 measure of Herman (a cup)
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 150g sugar (tastier with demerara sugar)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 100g fine chopped nuts or a mix of dried fruit, such as sultanas, cranberries, cherries, apricots...
  • 2 chopped or grated apples - I think that it's tastier when chopped to approx. 1.5cm sized chunks because it tastes like an apple cake
  • 100ml oil

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Line a deep 25cm square baking tin. I like to use my pampered chef square stone because I don't need to bother lining it with baking paper.

Top tip: use a baking tin, it is better than a loaf tin. When I used a loaf or cake tin, the cake took much longer to bake and was a bit heavy. The cake I made in the pampered chef stone (baking tin would do the same) was tastier and lighter. Moreover, it would have taken much less time but I hadn't misread the oven temperature and baked it at 130C! Oooops-a-daisy.

2. You can add all the ingredients and mix it thoroughly.

or, Alternatively, I found it easier to measure out the dry ingredients, then make a small well in the middle and add the oil, eggs and the mini herman and mix thoroughly. Lastly, add the chopped apples and dried fruit or nuts (or both) to the mixture and combine well.

3. With everything mixed in, pour him into a lined deep 25cm baking tin.

4. Now, to make the sugar/butter glaze. I highly recommend this step. It seems a bit weird thing to do and I had some doubts when I was pouring the melted butter over the cake batter. But the glaze really moistens the cake and enrichensthe flavour.

Ingredientsfor the glaze

  • 50g dark muscovado sugar (demerara sugar also works)
  • 50g unsalted butter, melted
  • sprinkle cinnamon on top (optional)
  • pecan or walnut halves to decorate on top

Crumble the sugar evenly over the top of the cake and sprinkle over with cinnamon. Pour the melted butter evenly over the batter. I tipped the sides of my square stone to ensure an even spread. Decorate the top with the pecan or walnut halves. Last time, I used 16 pecans but the portions were rather on the big side, so I'd use 25 next time.


prebaked herman apple cake
glaze topping

5. Now, it's time to send Herman on holiday to a hot resort (namely the oven) for 45-60 minutes. Check on him at half time and if he looks like he is browning too quickly on the top, then cover him loosely with baking paper or foil to prevent him burning. I guess it acts like a sun umbrella, if we're to continue the holiday metaphor. Herman is ready when you test him in the middle with a clean, sharp knife and it comes out clean. Let him cool for at least 10 minutes in the tin before cutting him up into squares.

Enjoy.

herman apple cake

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