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
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 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?

A Taste of Sunshine: Coconut, Lime and Malibu Drizzle Cake

Note from: 12th July 2014

I’ve changed this recipe, since moving to Cambodia.   Being surrounded by coconuts and limes, I’ve made this cake a few times but found that the cake was still quite dry, even when drenched in lime syrup.  So, I’ve been testing out some new ideas and this morning I finally nailed it.  I’ve replaced lime rum with Malibu – a coconut rum.  It’s much more accessible and adds to the coconut.  I also soaked the desiccated coconut in lime juice and Malibu for 30 minutes to pump up the moisture levels in the cake and cut out the coconut milk.  

I still love the story of how I came up with this cake, especially now that I’m living in Cambodia.  So, I’ve kept it.  I’ve italicised and crossed out where I’ve made the changes to the recipe, however, in case you’re interested in the journey that this recipe has been on.  When I baked it this morning, I made a plain lime drizzle cake to taste test the difference the coconut adds to the flavour of the cake.  And it certainly does add a mellow note to the cake.  So, here’s the much improved, moist ‘taste of sunshine, drizzle cake’.   

coconut and lime drizzle cake
It has been really cold outside – freezing in fact. In Aberdeen, I experienced a very rare Christmas of it reaching -15°C. I think that I was the only one who was delighted that it was so cold and guaranteed a white christmas. I didn’t quite appreciate that the cold snap just hadn’t snapped for 5 weeks in Aberdeen and they were tired of being cooped up by the snow.

I find that when it is that cold it’s hard to remember how it could ever be warm enough, that you don’t need mittens for a start… or a coat… or thermals (did I go too far with the thermals bit? is that just me?). Does the UK really have a t-shirt and flip flops season? But now that temperatures are above freezing. Well, it feels positively balmy. ‘Let’s put on those bikinis and do some sunbathing’. Okay – so maybe it’s not quite reached that temperature yet.

So, this recipe is dedicated to all of you who would like to be reminded of some sunshine. A taste of hope that seasons do come and change.

How apt. As I write, I realise that on the two occasions that I have baked this cake, they were to celebrate significant milestones in my sister’s life.

Milestone #2. (Nope, this isn’t a typo, I’m milestoning this chronologically)

Back in November, my mum came to visit me en route to my sister’s graduation. Quite a considerable detour since my sister, Ee-Reh, lives in Huddersfield! Bless her – my mum told me later that her main intent on visiting me was to unpack whatever boxes remained from my various moves over the summer. Instead, it was really nice to show her that her eldest daughter had finally seen the light about unpacking everything and was trying to keep her flat tidy.

The following morning, whilst my mum acted on an urge to do my ironing (I love her!), I wanted a taste of sunshine. So, I baked a cake for my mum to take as my sister’s graduation present.

Unfortunately the graduation ceremony was called off due to the severe weather conditions.

Milestone #1.

I first made this cake for my sister’s wedding in September, along with Ee-Reh’s request for my lemon drizzle and dark chocolate cake. My sister had asked several of her guests to contribute cakes. These two were my favourites. The Carrot Cake is decorated with a picture of the swing in the garden where my sister had the wedding ceremony. Then this Bumble Bee Cake, with flying bees. Aren’t they fantastic?

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Ee-Reh and OlaEe-Reh in the tree
And, yes. That’s my sister up in the tree. On the morning of her wedding. Hanging up the decorations. She’s incredible!

I’ve been wanting to experiment with lime, coconut and chilli since I visited Cambodia in March. Ahhhh… those flavours bring back memories. Cocktails of freshly squeezed limes + sugar syrup + soda water, refreshing chicken and lemongrass soup, steamed spring rolls and deep-fried beetles – what fun! I really enjoyed Cambodian cooking. But it was the sunshine… the sunshine that I desperately wanted to taste.

Honestly, honestly, honestly. The first lime  and coconut drizzle cake, the one that I took to my sister’s wedding, was dry. Even with the lime drizzle moistening it up. I now have a theory that dessicated coconut sucks up the moisture in a cake: this also happened when I made kentish cake, another cake recipe that asks for dessicated coconut. Hmmm… so, in true Han-Na style, I did some googling for other coconut cake recipes to give me some ideas on how to liven up this recipe and discovered the addition of coconut milk and rum in cakes. Rum, hey? A real taste of sunshine then 🙂 And thank you to my blessed colleague for lending me her lime rum. In this much improved version, I’ve omitted the coconut milk completely.

Ingredients for a Taste of Sunshine: Coconut, Lime and Malibu Drizzle Cake

  • 125g/4.5oz unsalted butter
  • 75g/2.5oz caster sugar
  • grated zest of two limes – or one depending on how much limey zestiness you’d like.
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 100g/4oz  150g/6oz self-raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 50g/2oz dessicated coconut
  • 125ml/4floz coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp lime coconut rum or normal white rum (optional)  I use Malibu.
  • juice of 2 limes

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin.

2. Measure out the desiccated coconut in small bowl.  Add in the lime juice and the rum.

3. Put the butter and the sugar together in a bowl and whisk them together with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. Alternatively, if like me, you don’t have an electric whisk and the butter isn’t softening quickly enough (even when you have left it out on the side to soften) then cheat by zapping the butter in the microwave – see top tip.

Top Tip: I don’t have an electric whisk and I’m not always so organised to leave the butter out on the side to soften. As you can guess, this results in the butter being too firm to hand whisk with ease. So, I cut the butter into small size chunks (about 3 cm cubes) and zap them in the microwave for just under a minute (the time will vary depending on the power of your microwave) in order to ease the whisking process. I try and do it so that the butter hasn’t melted, just softened. In all honesty, I normally end up with a not-entirely-but-pretty-much-melted butter consistency. I guess that it affects the chemistry of the baking in some way but the cakes turn out fine.

4. Add the lime zest and eggs and keep whisking so that the mixture is combined well. I almost forgot to add in the eggs at this stage. The addition of the coconut milk makes it quite a runny mixture so it was easy to forget. I remembered just at the end of the mixing, so I don’t think that the order of adding the eggs at the end affected the baking chemistry too much. But I’m going to say – add them in at this stage, so that you don’t forget.

5. Thoroughly mix in the flour, baking powder and desiccated coconut. Mix in the desiccated coconut with the lime juice and rum.

6. Mix in the lime rum and the coconut milk.  Thoroughly mix in the flour and baking powder.  The mixture will be rather gloopy now.

coconutandlimemixturegloopycake
 

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake tester/knife comes out clean.

7. As the cake is baking in the oven, now prepare the sunshine lime drizzle. Oh, I can almost hear the waves crashing on the beach as I write this up. Where is that bikini?

I normally use golden caster sugar for drizzle. However, this time I tried using icing sugar because i didn’t want the snowy sugary crust on top. No reminders of the snow please! And it worked well. I try to reduce the amount of sugar that I use in recipes so remember to add a bit more sugar if you prefer it sweeter.

Ingredients for Sunshine Lime Drizzle

  • 35g icing sugar (you can substitute it with golden caster sugar if you want)
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1.5 tbsp lime rum (more if you want to)

8. Mix the lime juice, icing sugar and lime rum. Don’t worry about the lime pulp, I think that the pulp adds personality to the cake when you pour it on.

9. When the cake is baked, make some holes in the cake to ease the journey of the drizzle through the cake. My weapon of choice is a metal chopstick. A cocktail stick will do the job just fine and is easier to source. Pour the drizzle on while the cake is still hot. I find it helpful to use a teaspoon towards the end to make sure that every inch of cake has been covered with drizzle. Ta Da.

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The verdict? It’s a simple cake to make. I made a double batch and gave the second one away to some of my friends who travelled to Cambodia with me. My sister commented, “the cake was very yummy. All who ate it said so. Jennie especially liked how moist it was. I thought, for a lime-lover, it could have been more zesty. However, equally, this could put off those who do not appreciate the lovely greeny limey goodness.”