Tonight’s dinner is soup from the freezer and rice and leftovers, so low-intensity, and I have this pile of bananas with which I would usually make pancakes on Saturday, but they can’t wait until the weekend as the fruit flies are circling, so banana bread is on the cards. I don’t have any recipient or destination in mind, and the freezer is groaning, so I’m not sure what will happen to it. Probably distributed around the fam, since my colleagues are still working on my last cake.
This recipe is from the first memorable baking book I ever bought, and which changed my life – or at least made me into the cake-obsessed woman I am today, trying to fill your life with baking. So I think it’s fitting to get one of these in early. Seems right to pay tribute to Nigella. She is often ridiculed for her slightly embarrassing, affectedly sultry and very stilted TV persona, but that doesn’t detract from her intuition for great cooking, and I think she’s fabulous. I'm sure she was compelled by producers to be so contrived.
Needless to say I have all her books. I even dressed up as her for a fancy dress party, once. Not many people got it, but I must say I felt right about it. I felt at home as Nigella. Anyway, How to be a Domestic Goddess is the icon of my cookery book collection, even though the title has always made me a little uncomfortable (it was the image on the cover that sold it). I am very attached to it. My husband offered to buy me a new copy, as mine is ragged and many pages are stuck together with batter, but I couldn’t have that. This was an inspired impulse purchase in Tesco’s in Oban in when I was about 20! It’s a piece of my history and I do not want it replaced. When I found a signed copy in Hatchard’s a few years ago I gave it to my sister rather than keep it.
I am mostly faithful to this recipe except for the skipping of the long soaking of the fruit, and the addition of chocolate (which Nigella does actually suggest in a footnote, although in a different form) which I think takes this cake from smashing to exceptional. You can use chocolate chips but I actually grate up a bar and mix it into the batter, so the chocolate melts into it as it cooks. Genius.
Two more things I love about this cake: first, you just cannot mess it up, and second it freezes very well. Also, it can be made without the Kitchenaid, so less washing up. I must add that this cake can also be made with gluten-free flour, but it's not as good, and there are many good GF banana loaves out there. I will share my favourite at some point.
I recommend these loaf cases – I get them in the pound shop, and they save a lot of hassle cutting up bits of greaseproof paper and making a clumsy collage on the insides of the tin. I do have one of those silicone loaf things, but I avoid using it. I find it a bit icky, cooking plastic, so I always prefer to use a tin.
2-3 medium and ideally very ripe bananas (about 300g peeled), mashed
75ml dark rum/whisky/brandy
50-100g walnuts, depending on nuttiness desired, chopped (optional but I think preferable)
175g plain flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
125g unsalted butter
150g Granulated sugar
50-100g dark chocolate, grated, or chips if you don't want the mess
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a loaf 2lb loaf tin with a case or grease and line with greaseproof paper.
2. Put the alcohol and sultanas into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Leave to bubble for a few minutes and then cover and leave to infuse. I usually leave them only ten minutes while I prepare the rest of the ingredients, but Nigella recommends an hour.
3. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarb.
4. Then melt the butter in the microwave or slowly on the hob (easier to clean a pan than a microwave full of splattered butter) and add in the sugar, and beat until combined.
5. Then, beat in the eggs, and add the mashed bananas, vanilla, walnuts, drained sultanas, and the grated chocolate.
5. Fold in the flour mixture and combine well.
6. Pour into the tin and bake for about an hour, until, well, it looks cooked. And a skewer comes out clean-ish.
Full disclosure: I accidentally put an extra egg into mine (in the tradition of messing up recipes when you really need them to work). It was still nice, but difficult to slice, so here's a picture of what it looks inside like when I don't mess it up. Go forth and bake!