banana upside down cake

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life is a paradox, they say. how true, it resonates. we live in times where we have all possible means to connect and communicate and yet we’re disconnected in thoughts and words and deeds. religion is used more for destruction than salvation. and that makes us wonder, is God man-made or is man the handiwork of God? we talk more but say little of substance. or we never say what we really mean, but really mean what we never say. and then sometimes by not saying we risk more than otherwise saying. we do more but live less. nothing lasts forever and yet some things are eternal. we’re told it’s now or never and yet there are comebacks and fairly tale endings. and that change is inevitable and yet it is constant. we have to lose what we have to know what we had and yet we never did think we’d lose what we had when we had it. our cure for pain is sometimes revenge, the root of it. we’re happy and then we’re sad for we fear we cannot be happy for long. we fear what we long for. the pursuit of happiness is what makes us sad. and if life is truly outside, why has man spent time trying to perfect the indoors? so what is life then, if not a paradox? 

so not particularly feeling  quite myself, i resorted to baking. with a few bananas lying on my kitchen countertop about to reach their prime, i decided to go with an upside down cake. thankfully, it turned out to be perfect, unlike my state of mind. i chose a David Lebovitz’ recipe, whose book “the sweet life in Paris” i’ve read with undivided attention and complete rapture. it was my first ever chef book read and one that was followed by many chef-culinary memoirs. here’s an interview with David Lebovitz, who i think is witty and writes with unfazed candidness.

ingredients

for the banana topping

55g butter, unsalted
110g packed dark brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 tablespoon rum
3-4 medium bananas

for the cake

175g all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
115g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
150g granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (125ml) whole or lowfat milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


instructions

1. to make the topping, heat the 55g of butter, brown sugar, and seeds from the vanilla bean, in a 10-inch (25cm) cast iron skillet on the stovetop. stir until the butter and sugar are liquified and start to bubble. remove from heat and stir in the rum. add the split vanilla bean to the skillet.
2. peel the bananas and slice them in half lengthwise, into thirds, and arrange them over the brown sugar topping in the skillet. preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
3. to make the cake, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon, in a small bowl and set aside.
4. in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a medium bowl using a sturdy spatula, beat the butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy. add the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer between the additions and scraping down the sides.
5. on slow speed, mix in half of the dry ingredients, then the milk and vanilla, then the rest of the dry ingredients, mixing only until they’re just incorporated. do not overmix. scrape the batter over the bananas in the skillet and bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake feels done when you press it in the center. a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.
6. remove the cake from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. run a knife around the outside of the cake to help it release from the pan, and turn it out onto a serving platter or cooling rack, wearing oven mitts and taking care to avoid drips from hot caramel. any caramel bits that may have stuck in the pan can be spooned back over the warm cake.

i used a 9 inch bake pan instead of a skillet. i placed the banana slices in the pan and poured the caramel all over before topping it with the batter. and i made the batter entirely by hand using precisely one bowl and one whisk and i must say, it still made a beautifully moist cake. you don’t always need fancy equipment, it’s all about putting what you have to use in the best possible way.


i must say the cake when released from the pan upside down was quite a treat to the eyes, pity i did not take a picture. you can check out the finished cake on David Lebovitz’ site, mine looked just as pretty as his. it tasted yum and is best served the day it’s made, preferably warm, but can also be served at room temperature, like i did. a real moist cake with a delicious tight crumb and the goodness of caramelized bananas. now that’s no paradox. thank God for the simple pleasures.

 

 update 29 Jan 2017

i made a version of an apple upside down cake using the same recipe except for substituting light brown sugar for dark for the caramel. and it goes without saying, lots of cinnamon. 


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banana quick bread

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the humble banana is my favorite of fruits. instant energizer coupled with instant gratification. and as a child, this was only corroborated in watching of both sportsmen and women snack on a banana between their games in a tennis match. bananas wouldn’t really last that long enough for them to be consumed in cooked form, but if and when they did, which was such a shame, my mum would make something of them, such as these simple breakfast pancakes from whole wheat flour, fresh grated coconut, mashed bananas, milk and sugar. or tea-time banana fritters (ripe plantains, sliced and dunked in a batter made from flour, water and sugar, pan-fried, think caramelized fried plantains, an absolute caribbean delicacy). or fried dumplings from a batter of rice flour, coconut milk, mashed bananas, jaggery or palm sugar with a hint of cardamom, for dessert. yes, i was spoilt for choice.

i do occasionally indulge in banana fritters and pancakes, but what really makes me happy is banana quick bread. “bread” ‘coz it’s baked in a loaf pan and “quick” ‘coz that’s just implied. sometimes i buy a bunch of bananas and resist eating them until they’re all freckled and brown just so they could be turned into banana bread. and well, it isn’t always a long wait. especially during the summers, when they can ripen really fast.

did you know?

eating a banana can cheer you up! bananas are the only fruit that contain amino acid tryptophan plus vitamin B6, which together help the body produce serotonin – a natural chemical that acts like a stress buster.

my basic banana bread recipe is a no-brainer, 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, half a cup butter or oil, 2 large eggs, a tsp of baking soda and of course, the key ingredient, mashed bananas, 3 large ones, or more!

over the years i’ve tweaked the proportions for that extra moistness and flavour. but no matter what you do, you can’t really go wrong with this. ‘coz it’s that simple. and if you still do, then you’re just acting on purpose! there’s no creaming of butter and sugar required here, just mixing of dry and wet ingredients separately and then folding the dry into the wet. that’s about it.

this recipe makes a size smaller than the traditional loaf, but it’s one i’ve used so many times, it’d be so wrong if i did not make a mention. i also had these sold at a bake sale once and they were all gone in no time. “i don’t like banana bread”, said no one ever!

this time around i had bananas that had gone so ripe, they were almost a golden nectar when peeled. it was then that i knew, the moistest banana bread ever, was waiting to be baked! i used Dominique Ansel’s banana bread recipe and the result was a buttery banana-loaded moist cake with a crust that alone was instagrammable.


ingredients
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups or 240g flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
3 large, overripe bananas, mashed
195g, unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing

instructions
start off by preheating the oven to 180 deg celsius. grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan. in a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. in a separate, larger bowl, beat the eggs together and add the mashed banana, sugar and melted butter. fold in the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. pour the batter into the greased loaf pan and bake until golden brown, or until a long toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. this took about an hour and 10 minutes. once done, take the loaf pan out of the oven and leave it on a rack to cool for 5 or 10 min. unmould the cake from the pan and continue to leave on the rack to cool completely before slicing. this was baked late evening and left overnight on my kitchen counter wrapped in foil to be sliced the morning after. it works for all cakes! every time!


you could easily substitute butter for oil, here are some recipes that have been tried and tested with oil.

banana bread from foodnetwork.com
banana bread from my catholic kitchen
Julia’s best banana bread from Bon Appetit

despite oil altering the taste a tad bit while still retaining moisture, i do believe it to be a healthier option if you happen to be a rabid baker. but unlike me, where i have only so many days such as these when i put on my apron and bake, i guess, butter is my only consolation. so i would stick to butter. ‘coz if there’s no butter/fat, no dairy and no sugar, it’s no good, throw it out! no prizes for guessing who said that.

so next time when you’re in a dilemma over not knowing whether to freeze overripe bananas and blitz them the day after for a breakfast smoothie or throw them away, hold your horses and bake this banana bread. chances are, you may never look at overripe bananas, the same way, again.