I know what you are thinking. You're thinking, does the world really need another recipe for banana bread (cake)? No, it does not. That is you answering, too. I know.
I know because those were my thoughts, too, when I first pulled the baking tin from the oven. Oh, sure, it smelled tantalizing and delicious. Oh, sure, it was all caramelized and softly pocked with melting chocolate. The crumb was soft and yielding. I didn't share it with anyone. But still, it was banana bread (cake). You know? Just a few months ago, wasn't I proclaiming that I had found my banana bread for the ages? Yes. And then I bought myself Nigel Slater's next Kitchen Diaries II, found this and was gone, hook, line and sinker.
It's silly, really, that I alighted on this recipe, when there are so many other ones in this handsome, inspiring new book, with more interesting ingredients and flavors to fall over. But, people, this cake (bread, WHATEVER) was so good that I, I repeat, didn't share it with anybody. That never happens. Never ever. It was so good.
What sets it apart from other banana breads is the huge amount of brown sugar in the batter. It entirely replaces the usual white sugar and adds not only to the appealing dampness of the final product, but it also gives the banana bread a depth of caramel flavor and a warmth that I wasn't expecting. It's not overpowering - molasses doesn't waft up from the crumb - but it's more nuanced and delicious. Also, you don't purée the bananas - you mash them with a fork, leaving little lumps and bumps in the batter that give each finished slice tenderness and cozy banana flavor.
The original recipe asks for four to five ripe bananas, to yield a whopping 400 grams of mashed banana, but I only had three bananas and the recipe was perfection. So it's forgiving, is what I guess I'm saying.
The loaf kept for a good long while, at least a week, though I kept it longer, even snuck it to France in the carry-on and ate a big slice of it on the airplane when we flew down on Christmas Eve. By the time a week has gone by, the meltiness of the chocolate is of course long gone, but what you get instead are these nice little chewy surprises of chocolate while the cake melts away around them.
I can't wait to get cooking from the rest of the book, which is truly stunning and wonderfully hefty and begging to be curled up in bed with. I just the love the concept so much, getting to accompany Slater as he journals his way through a year of cooking. It's so... satisfying somehow. I love how he thinks dinner can be as grand as a huge roast or as simple as rice and herbs forked together. His taste is always so spot-on. There is so much here to be inspired by:
Celery root salad with sour cream and mustard, threaded with orange zest, or a "little brown stew" of dried mushrooms and chewy spelt grains or beet fritters to be topped with shining shreds of smoked salmon.
Best of all, I like how Slater's emotional life lurks just below the surface. You're never quite let in all the way, but what's going on plays just at the edges of the meals he describes. It's the best kind of cookbook, for me at least.
A note on the measurements: I usually post the recipes here in United States measures. Every once in a while, I post them in metric, because the particular recipe I've used was in metric. The fact that I don't do the conversions each time never fails to irk at least one of you, darling readers, but please understand that I simply don't have the time. If you like to cook, I highly recommend that you stock your kitchen arsenal with both a little digital scale (I've used one similar to this, purchased at Zabar's for less than $40, for over ten years now) and a set of measuring cups and spoons and a liquid measure (together, these will set you back less than $20) and then you can cook and bake whatever your heart desires without having to do any mathematics or being bogged down with annoyance.
And now I'm off to hunt for, wait for it, salt cod in this fair city of mine. More on that next week!
Nigel Slater's Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake
Makes 1 loaf cake
From The Kitchen Diaries II
250 grams all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
125 grams softened butter
235 grams muscovado or dark brown sugar
3 to 4 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
100 grams dark chocolate
1. Heat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper. Sift the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar one at a time until fully incorporated.
3. Peel the bananas and mash them with a fork in a small bowl. When you are done, the bananas should still be slightly lumpy and not entirely puréed. Stir the vanilla extract into the bananas.
4. Chop the chocolate finely and and fold it, along with the bananas, into the butter and sugar mixture. Gently mix the flour and baking powder into the banana batter.
5. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake in the oven for 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cake is browned and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Remove the cake from the oven and let sit on a rack for 15 minutes. Then, using the parchment paper as a sling, remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on the rack. When the cake has fully cooled, peel off the paper and use a serrated knife to slice.