Thursday, 19 July 2012

Totally Bananas!

So, what do you do with yours? Over-ripe bananas, that is. A lot of mothers suffer from "over-ripe bananas" ... even the less fussy kids tend to turn their nose up at bananas that are beginning to blacken, let alone that poor, sorry example that you occasionally discover hidden at the bottom of the bowl that you accidentally put the fresh bunch on top of off...
So, there you go. A banana that's beginning to blacken. Most mothers are looking at them saying, "it's only a black mark, it won't do you any harm, eat it up!" while secretly thinking, "it's really on the turn, it has that sweet-ish rotting smell, I really don't fancy it that much myself" and then turning to the poor long-suffering dustbin that is your children's father and going, "look, Daddy doesn't mind it!" and forcing the poor man to eat it. (Or is that just my house?!)

Luckily though, black, over-ripe bananas are the perfect think to cook with. The blacker the banana, the more banana-y the banana bread or muffins. I've often used ones that were far blacker than those in the picture.

As my Facebook friends know, I have a penchant for banana bread. I love it. There's even a long-running "joke" amongst a group of my Rollercoaster (Irish parenting website where "The DinnerLadies" met) and Facebook buddies, to do with a horse and the empty plot behind our house - it's long and really not that funny, unless you were part of it, in which case it's side-splittingly hilarious.
Actually, banana bread is the first thing I ever baked. I remember buying Nigella Lawson's book, "How to be a Domestic Goddess" way back in 2000, shortly after it was published. I was beginning to get interested in cakes and baking, but I had never tried to do any baking myself. I spend ages reading it, before I finally plucked up the courage to go for it. I picked the banana bread recipe, solely due to the introduction - 
"This 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."
On a more serious note, she also adds; " if you're thinking about giving this cake to children, don't worry, the alcohol doesn't pervade; you just end up with stickily, aromatically swollen fruit."

So, here's Nigella's recipe. It's GORGEOUS, the nicest banana bread I've ever had, really, even if I do say so myself.
A quick word on butter - I used to be very precious about using unsalted butter, to the point that if I couldn't get it, I wouldn't bake. Then I copped myself on, and decided to stop denying myself just because I couldn't find unsalted butter! (It was quite hard to find, back then.) So I usually use regular butter, but if so, I leave the salt out of the recipe.

Banana Bread

Banana bread - and roses from the garden
  • 100g sultanas
  • 75ml buorbon or dark rum (I've always used rum)
  • 175g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (breadsoda)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted 
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 small, very ripe bananas (about 300g weighed without the skin), mashed
  • 60g chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin, buttered and floured or with a paper insert

  1. Put the sultanas and rum or bourbon in a smallish saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and leave for an hour if you can, or until the sultanas have absorbed most of the liquid, then drain.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170ºC / gas mark 3 and get started on the rest.
  3. Put the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a medium-sized bowl ad, using your hands or a wodden spoon, combine well.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Then with your wooden spoon, stir in the walnuts, drained sultanas and vanilla extract.
  5. Now add the flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. Scrape into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 - 1¼ hours. When it's ready, n inserted toothpick should come out cleanish. 
  6. Leave in the tin on a rack to cool, and eat thickly or thinly sliced, as you prefer.
    Makes 8-10 slices
Just a note here, I've recently experimented with making a healthier version of this. You can subsitute the butter with "Benecol Buttery", as I've mentioned before (I think) this stuff is totally vile on your bread, but you really, really cannot taste the difference once baked, and believe me, I can tell fake butter at 50 paces! You can also exchange the sugar for 8 tablespoons of Splenda. However, Splenda is a little tricky to use, so when I do that I seperate the eggs, blend the Splenda and melted  butter (or benecol) and sugar, as normal. Then add the egg yolks and beat in, then the bananas, nuts, sultanas and vanilla extract and finally fold in the whipped egg whites. Now add the flour as per original recipe and pop into the tin and bake as normal. It's a fair bit of a palava, but not so much of a faff that it's not worth it, and when you're trying to watch the calories / pounds it's great to have a sweet treat for after dinner that you needn't feel too guilty about; the picture here shows the Splenda version. The only issue is that it doesn't last as well, so you need to make sure to keep in an airtight /  tupperware container, then you're fine.

As I've been baking this for 12 years now, I have actually (finally!) started to tire of it, so when looking after a friend's little chap and my own smallest girl one morning recently, I came across this recipe while flicking through her cookbooks (being somewhat less enthralled with "Dora the Explorer" than the children were!). It's from Rachel Allen's "Favourite Food at Home". These are AMAZE-BALLS! Don't be fooled by the fact that there is banana and porridge oats in the recipe, these are sinful. They smell so, so good when they come out of the oven that I scoffed two - the next day, the scales were SO mean, I was shocked! I guess, volume wise, they're just that much more than a slice of banana bread... So these are very much treat-time. But so worth it! Although I guess you could do these with Splenda and Benecol too, I haven't tried yet though. (PS, this recipe wasn't in metric, sorry about that.)

Banana and Peanut Butter Muffins

  • 10oz plain flour
  • 2oz rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  • ½ cup (4oz, approx) crunchy peanut butter
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup (8 fl oz) milk
  • Preheat the oven to 190ºC, and line a muffin tin with muffin papers
  1. Mix the flour, oats and baking powder in a bowl and leave to one side
  2. Whisk the eggs and add the sugar, bananas, peanut butter and melted butter
  3. Stir to mix, then add the milk and stir to combine
  4. Add the dry ingredients and fold in gently; do not overmix (always important, with all muffin recipes)
  5. Spoon into the paper cases in the tin, then bake for 18 - 24 minutes, or until the tops spring back when gently touched (actually the best way to test most cakes, I find)
  6. Leave to cool in the tin for 1 minute, before turning onto a wire rack to cool fully
Raspberry & White Choc Muffins
Banana & Peanut Butter Muffins

And lastly, here's a totally different muffin recipe, but also very delicious. Raspberry and white chocolate - what's not to like? Personally, (and I can't believe I'm saying this, this is not typical for me!) I think the banana muffins above are far nicer, but it's certainly worth trying both, purely in the interest of comparison and research, of course! This recipe is via my good friends Genevieve Murphy and Kate Barry, who published this on their fantastic Trinkets website, which supplies natural cotton tampons via mail order  ... Still waiting for them to launch in Ireland!

Raspberry and White Chocolate Muffins

  • 300g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 150g golden caster sugar (I tend to use regular, as never have golden in, and it's SO much more expensive)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 225ml milk
  • 50g butter
  • approx 100g raspberries
  • approx 110g white chocolate, chopped into reasonably large pieces (I find the white choc chips in the packet a bit small, so I tend to use my kitchen scissors to chop a bar up; tedious, but worth it)
  • Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6, and line a muffin tin with muffin papers
  1. Half the raspberries and chop the chocolate into large chunks
  2. Sift the flour (I never bother!) and baking powder into a large bowl, then stir in the sugar
  3. Melt the butter
  4. In a separate bowl, crack the egg and whisk in the vanilla extract, milk and melted butter
  5. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients
  6. Fold in the raspberries and white chocolate - it's best to use a metal spoon for this, to avoid most damage to the raspberries - being careful not to be too rough, as the fruit will be easily damaged
  7. Cook for approx 30 mins or until the muffins are risen and firm
  8. Eat warm (but beware of hot chocolate pieces!) or leave to cool on a wire rack
Sarah xx

PS - another idea for fruit that is about to turn is home made smoothies - we had some this morning and after a glass or two of vino too much last night, they were particularly gorgeous! I wouldn't use very black bananas, but certainly I'd have used the lesser spotted example from the photo above. Essentials - 2 bananas and the juice of an orange (or a good slug of OJ from the carton) and some ice (ice blocks, the mini-DinnerLadies call them!). Then add whatever you have, today we had a pear, 2 nectarines and a punnet of blueberries. Some strawberries or raspberries are great too, to make it a little tart - I didn't have any as I used them all up in lemon posset last night, so a squeeze of lemon juice had to suffice. Fantastic, and really offsets the guilt of that sausage sandwich! (Actually I virtuously had a poached egg, but that's because I know about the lemon posset event to come this evening!) S xx

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