Last week, I blogged about a new banana bread recipe I tried, which got me thinking … do Brits eat banana bread? Did it originate in America? And is this one our American culinary contributions that Brits have embraced like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
After doing a little research, I found a Guardian article that answered all of my questions and more. It did, in fact, originate stateside.
“Banana bread as we know it doesn’t appear in cookbooks until the 1930s. Food history website foodtimeline.org suggests that although it’s sometimes attributed to thrifty housewives looking to use up overripe fruit, all evidence points to the fact it was developed by banana companies to promote their wares – indeed ‘in the 1950s banana bread was actively promoted in nationally syndicated television cooking shows.’ Jane Grigson writes in her Fruit Book that it appeared in [the U.K.] after the war, when West Indian bananas returned to the shops – presumably once everyone had gorged themselves on the fruit in its natural state, they began to seek other ways to make the most of it.
Also it’s interesting to note that British recipes for banana bread usually includes baking powder, instead of baking soda (the recipe I tried last week was very American and included baking soda), which usually lends to a lighter, fluffier cake.
This week, I had an excess of slightly over ripe bananas and the desire to do some baking. What to do?
That same day, Ally from A Girl and Her Fork blogged about a recipe for banana bread that she had tried and loved. Simple ingredients, straightforward instructions. Bingo! I was sold. I made it the very next day.
The banana bread was legendary. Super moist, lots of depth of flavor, crispy on the edges, just delicious! If you’re in search for a go-to easy banana bread recipe, here’s the one!
Julia’s Best Banana Bread (Bon Appetit, March 2013)
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Coat a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar, bananas, and oil in a large bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and stir just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.
3. Bake until a knife inserted into the center of bread comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let bread cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around inside of pan to release the bread. Turn out onto rack and let cool completely.
Her version is very simple, particularly since all of the ingredients go straight into the food processor and are blitzed.
The “coffee” ingredient she recommends is instant espresso powder, which I didn’t even know existed, but was easy to find in our nearest grocery store.
After exactly 25 minutes, they were ready.
I waited 10 minutes as instructed before moving the cakes to the cooling racks. The cakes just eased out of the pans, as if on cue. It was amazing.
The frosting was also very simple to make (powdered sugar, butter and instant espresso powder in a little bit of boiling water) but was easily the best buttercream frosting recipe I’ve ever made. I was exceedingly proud of how pretty this cake turned out – just look!
I’ll definitely make it again in non-birthday circumstances. I can easily see this turning into my go-to cake to bake! Note: if you’re making the cake for kids, you can always tone down the caffeine quotient by replacing the 4 teaspoons of instant espresso powder with 2 teaspoons of instant coffee granules. (Or you can just serve it first thing in the morning and call it breakfast).
COFFEE AND WALNUT LAYER CAKE
For the sponge
1/2 cup walnuts (pieces)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (soft (plus some for greasing))
1 1/3 cups plain flour
4 teaspoon(s) instant espresso powder
2.5 teaspoon(s) baking powder
½ teaspoon(s) baking soda
4 medium egg(s)
2 tablespoon(s) milk
For the buttercream frosting
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (softened)
2.5 teaspoon(s) instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
approximately 10 walnut halves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the 2 8-inch round cake pans and line the base of each with parchment paper.
Put the walnut pieces and sugar into a food processor and blitz to a fine nutty powder.
Add the 2 sticks of butter, flour, 4 teaspoons espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda and eggs and process to a smooth batter.
Add the milk, pouring it down the funnel with the motor still running, or just pulsing, to loosen the cake mixture: it should be a soft, dropping consistency, so add more milk if you need to. (If you are making this by hand, bash the nuts to a rubbly powder with a rolling pin and mix with the dry ingredients; then cream the butter and sugar together, and beat in some dry ingredients and eggs alternately and, finally, the milk.)
Divide the mixture between the 2 cake pans and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sponge has risen and feels springy to the touch.
Cool the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, before turning them out onto the rack and peeling off the parchment paper.
When the sponges are cool, you can make the buttercream.
To make the frosting:
Pulse the powdered sugar in the food processor until it is lump free, then add the butter and process to make a smooth icing.
Dissolve the instant espresso powder in 1 tablespoon boiling water and add it while still hot to the processor, pulsing to blend into the buttercream.
If you are doing this by hand, sieve the icing sugar and beat it into the butter with a wooden spoon. Then beat in the hot coffee liquid.
Place 1 sponge upside down on your cake stand or serving plate.
Spread with about half the icing; then place on it the second sponge, right side up (i.e. so the 2 flat sides of the sponges meet in the middle) and cover the top with the remaining icing in a ramshackle swirly pattern.
This cake is all about old-fashioned, rustic charm, so don’t worry unduly: however the frosting goes on is fine. similarly, don’t fret about some buttercream oozing out around the middle: that’s what makes it look so inviting.
Gently press the walnut halves into the top of the icing all around the edge of the circle about 1/2 inch apart.
Cuts into 8 generous slices.
First things first, a very happy birthday to my lovely husband (who hates to be blogged about so will refrain from saying any more here).
Well, except one thing. The cake.
I find it so challenging each year to move seamlessly from Halloween to his birthday. No matter how much I prep ahead of time, there’s always the issue of the cake (which I simply cannot bake, after a long night of trick-or-treating and merriment making!).
Here’s the goal:
It’s his favorite cake in the whole world. So very British that I just can’t buy it off the shelf. It’s nothing like American coffee cake, all streuseled and cinnamon-specked. Pillsbury has no idea WTH this cake is and neither do any of our local bakeries and so I usually go with his second favorite cake in America: A fruit basket cake (a buttermilk cake filled with fresh strawberries and bananas in whipped cream). No less delicious, I might add.
But this year, oh this year. I’m going to attempt the coffee and walnut cake. Yes, it will be late. But I hope it will be worth the wait!
If it is, I’ll post the recipe I used – I’m debating between BBC and Delia Smith right now. If it’s not, well, let’s never discuss this matter again (and will bribe a baker friend next year, perhaps, willing to make a cake on Halloween night).
There’s always been something tremendously daunting to me about the prospect of making scones. Maybe it has something to do with all of that butter being crumbled or cut into really small pieces. I say, life is too short to do any of that. Maybe it has something to do with cutting out triangle shapes of dough. (Way more complicated than circles, right?)
I don’t know. I can’t put a finger on it. But after a co-worker brought in some fresh baked scones, still warm and slathered with butter, I became a believer. I decided to throw caution to the wind and try to make a batch at home.
What I’ve discovered is that a cream scone recipe is infinitely easier – no butter to mix in! – and the results are light, flaky, fluffy gorgeousness. My go-to recipe comes courtesy of Epicurious.
With the challenge of Britain’s National Baking Week set before me, this weekend I did the unthinkable: I baked.
And baked and baked and baked.
I’ll admit I was a bit rusty. I warmed up by baking brownies Saturday morning, which might have been considered cheating. I used Trader Joe’s Ready to Bake Brownies, which has to be the most user-friendly brownie mix on the market. It dulls the intelligence. Anyone capable of opening a packet, pouring contents into a greased brownie pan and sliding it into a pre-heated oven can do it. The results are fantastic, but where is the sense of accomplishment?
On Sunday, I made a two-layer yellow cake using a recipe I found online last week (yes, I’ve baked two weekends in a row. This might be a personal record) and then after I put the cake pans into the oven, I realized with dismay that I had promised my son I was going to make cupcakes, not a cake!
He was very brave about it and told me it was okay. We could make cupcakes another day. Which made me feel even worse and so, there began the third baking project of the weekend – cupcakes, using the same winning yellow cake recipe. In the making of this batch, I ran out of granulated sugar and was not going to make my second trip to the grocery store so I subbed the rest of the measurement with brown sugar. It ended up working out very well – moist, delicious and not too sweet. Sense of accomplishment? Oh yes!
With the lack of granulated sugar in the house, I couldn’t make the homemade chocolate frosting I had planned and I didn’t have enough butter to do a traditional buttercream so I cracked open a can of Betty Crocker cream cheese frosting and called it a day. Or rather, a weekend.
Mark my words. Never get in the way of a Brit and their mixer (or whisk, cake pan or pastry bag).
Brits take their baking very seriously. While the US only has one Martha Stewart, the UK has hundreds of them, dotted in towns and villages across the country. On any given weekend, they’re churning out fairy cakes and scones for village fetes and school bake sales like they’re going out of style. And those who aren’t baking (and even those who are) are watching baking shows. Almost 4 million viewers watched The Great British Bake-Off this month. Who knew that many Brits would find fondant icing and puff pastry so riveting?
This week marks National Baking Week in the UK – a national campaign to get the uninitiated back into the kitchen to enjoy the national pastime. In that spirit, I will be baking tomorrow and will report back next week.
National Baking Week runs through Sunday so it’s not too late to join in the fun. Have a lovely weekend (in or out of the kitchen)!