Sunday, May 11, 2008

Going Bananas Over Bananas

Our evil eyes stare coldly at the almost-ripened bananas on the kitchen counter. We don't fancy almost-ripened ones when it comes to making banana bread or even banana cake, thus, we dump them into the refrigerator to further ripen the bunch of bananas that we have. Fully overripe; that's what we love to have our hands on. The darker and the browner the bananas are, the better the cake turned out to be. Cakes or breads baked using awfully dark brown (the best one were all blacks) and mushy bananas appear to be more good-looking, in terms of more refined banana strands can be seen, which we find it beautiful.

One do still wonder be it banana bread OR banana cake, both were almost the same. Almost, what say you? We can't even differentiate what's the difference and the unlikeliness between these two bakes; the refreshingly sexy and fancy banana cake and its handsome cum down to earth twin brother; the banana bread. Now, that's one shallow and ambiguous comparison to date. Simply, banana bread which is baked in a loaf pan, is in the middle of a bread and a cake texture with a low intensity of pure banana flavor. On the other hand, the banana cake is more to the crumbly side, most of the cakes were pretty-looking and sweet, which kids would love. We love to have both as they were great accompaniments to a hot cuppa.

As for the past week, we rendered into dozens of Cavendish bananas to enjoy the very well-defined banana week. Packed with extra calories and a few extra pounds, we wouldn't mind either since we were then crazy over bananas - especially caramelized bananas and banana milk shakes.

We were thinking, since it was a balmy banana week, participating NQN's Banana Bread Bakeoff Event will be fun and definitely motivating. It can keep track of where all the black bananas have gone to, while sparing us extra reasons to bake more banana breads and even cakes. After the banana week were all over, our bleary red eyes paid off as we were about to post three adapted recipes, hailing from various sources; banana bread with caramelized walnuts and caramel icing from Ma, up-side down banana cake from Women's Weekly, and last but not least, a loaf of simple yet refreshing banana and coconut bread adapted from a local cookbook; which is Delicious Cakes by Amy Heng.

The outcome was a blast-off. We totally had fallen for Ma's not too sweet caramelized walnuts and the moist banana cake itself, and also the upside-down banana cake. As for Ma's banana cake, we were very lucky to stumble upon her very own piece of cookbook - full of comprehensive written notes and recipes that were meant to be the family's favorite. As the bread was moist, soft in texture and pleasant-tasting, it was a definite keeper. As for the not-too-sweet caramel icing, it blended well with the bread as it was a softer icing. The caramelized walnut lends a big help of crunchiness to the entire bread. The banana bread can go with or without the icing and caramelized walnuts, but be sure to take a sip of a just-brewed hot cuppa for the extra umphh.

Ma's B
anana Bread with Caramelized Walnuts and Caramel Icing

For the banana bread:
  • 125g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
  • 2 cups of mashed overripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup fresh milk (mix with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar and set aside for 10 minutes)
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
  • pinch of salt
1. Prepare all the ingredients at room temperature. Preheat oven at 175"C or 350"F.
2. Grease and lined parchment paper into a loaf pan; 9x5 inches.
3. In a medium bowl with electric mixer of a whisk attachment, beat butter and sugar for about 3 minutes till light and creamy. While the mixer is still creaming the butter mixture, gradually add in the eggs and continue mixing to avoid curdling.
Add in the mashed bananas and mix till incorporated.
4. In another small bowl, mix sifted flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. This will be the flour mixture.
5. Fold in the half of the flour mixture into the batter, followed by half of the milk, until combined. Scrape the bowl. Fold in the remaining flour mixture and the remaining milk into the batter. Fold until the batter is smooth.
6. Pour mixture into prepared pan and bring into the preheated oven. Bake for about 30 minutes where the surface of the bread will be golden brown or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the bread.
7. Cool bread in tin for about 5 minutes before turning it onto a wire rack. While cooling, proceed to the icing and caramelized walnuts, which is optional. (recipe below)

For the caramelized walnuts:
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1. Combine the sugar and water in a medium, heavy based saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and let the mixture come to boil. Boil for 10 minutes, occasionally swirling the liquid around the saucepan. When the caramel mixture has turned dark brown, remove from the heat.
2. Quickly mix in the walnuts into the caramel and toss the walnuts until coated evenly. Spoon the caramelized walnuts onto the surface of the cooled banana bread.

For the caramel icing:
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
1. Combine the sugar and whipping cream in a medium, heavy based saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and let the mixture come to boil. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture had turned golden brown. The mixture will be soft and slightly thick. Remove from heat and stir the icing continuously until warm to touch.
2. Pour the icing onto the bread. Allow to cool.

Caramel and now what? The other banana baked goods winner was the upside-down TOFFEE banana cake from Women's Weekly. Toffee is sure to made us all go happy, as we are caramel and toffee fanatics. With slices of bananas and soft toffee as toppings, it was indeed sinful. Not very rich but still, sinfully tasty.

The cake was not as sweet as we have expected and our helpers convinced us that this upside-down cake is better than any upside-down cake that we have approached. It was very light and fluffy. Slices of bananas were laid onto the surface to enhance the distinctive banana flavor. After the cake was left for days, the top becomes pudding-like texture. So, gobble down everything as it is best eaten on the day it was baked. In this cake, vegetable oil was used instead of cubes of unsalted butter.

Upside-Down Toffee Banana Cake (adapted from Women's Weekly; Best Food Desserts)
  • 1 cup (220g) caster sugar
  • 1 cup (250ml) water
  • 2 medium bananas (400g), sliced thinly
  • 2/3 cup (160ml) vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup (165g) brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup (100g) plain flour
  • 1/3 cup (50g) self-raising flour
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice (we substituted with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon powder)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup overripe mashed bananas
1. Preheat oven to 180"C. Grease deep 22cm round cake pan; line base with baking paper.
2. Stir caster sugar and the water in a medium saucepan over heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves; bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered, without stirring, about 10 minutes or until caramel in color. Pour toffee into prepared pan; top with sliced bananas.
3. Combine eggs, oil, brown sugar and extract in a medium bowl. Stir in sifted dry ingredients, then mashed bananas; pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake, uncovered, in preheated oven about 40 minutes. Turn onto wire rack, peel off baking paper; turn cake top-side up. Serve cake warm or at room temperature with thick cream, if desired.

The last banana baked good was the Banana and Coconut Bread, for the ones who like it plain. The bread was not as moist as Ma's Banana Bread. This might be the pure banana bread; drier, less crumbs and denser; a basic recipe from Amy Heng's Delicious Cakes. It was plain and we would like to stress on the importance for a hot cuppa to go along with this bread. Besides, this bread itself calls for corn oil, banana essence and ovalette or emulsifier; a thick light orange gel.

However, alterations were made by adding 1/2 cup of dessicated coconut and 1 cup of 1/2 inch cubed bananas. Cubed bananas were incurred to moisten the bread as we prefer moister ones. Besides, these chunky cubed bananas made good surprises in a loaf. Omit the cubed bananas if you prefer having a simple yet light banana bread. The original recipe do also call for evaporated milk, which lends a pleasant aroma to the bread. We also stick to the original recipe by not substituting the ripe bananas with the overripe ones. It will yield 2 loaves of banana bread though.

Banana and Coconut Bread (adapted from the original recipe of Amy Heng's Banana Bread)
  • 5 eggs
  • 15g ovalette or emulsifier
  • 230g caster sugar
  • 170ml corn oil
  • 230g cake flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon double-action baking powder, sifted
  • 250g ripen bananas, mashed
  • 60g evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon banana essence
  • 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
  • 1 cup of 1/2 inch cubed bananas
1. Line and grease two 9 inches rectangular pans.
2. Preheat oven at 180"C.
3. In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, ovalette and sugar at a high speed until light and fluffy.
4. Gradually beat in the oil, flour and baking powder at low speed until just incorporated.
5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in mashed bananas, evaporated milk, baking soda and banana essence. Mix until combined.
6. Fold dessicated coconut and cubed bananas with a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour into two prepared pans. Bake for 55-60 minutes
or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the bread. Cool cake on wire rack before turning onto serving tray.

Happy baking and Happy Ma's Day!