So here we are with the first of my baking blog “masterpieces”. This upside-down banana cake with a sublime caramel sauce and toasted pecan topping may not look like anything fancy, but it certainly took most of the afternoon to produce!
Inspired by several years of Jamie Oliver on TV – but more particularly of Nigella Lawson (UK), Leila Lindholm (Sweden) and the Great British Bake off team (Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry) – I decided to add this page to the FOOD page of my magazine. It has been with great admiration that I have observed the skills of the various Bake off contestants, not only in England, but also in Australia, and here in Sweden – aka Hele Sverige Bakar – All of Sweden Bakes!
I never learned much from my erudite mother, who preferred to put her feet up with The Economist for relaxation. Indeed, she told me that she “couldn’t even boil an egg!” when she got married, and that my father had taught her the basics, including how to roast a chicken. He then abdicated from all further involvement with the preparation of food in our home. But he did enjoy my youthful production of Saturday morning cupcakes, the pleasure of which was just as much in the giving as in the making. I clearly recall the times spent applying my mother’s famous “elbow grease” to the beating of butter, sugar and eggs by hand, as she wouldn’t let me near her electric mixer, which was a heavy old beast in those days anyway.
To give my mother credit where it is due, she did attend cooking classes while I was at nursery school. But these did not fire her imagination long-term, and, once learned, she promptly taught all she knew to my beloved nanny Regina Kunene, and handed over the baton – or should I say, the wooden spoon?
When I was older, my mother told me that she had attempted every housewifely skill in the book, from bread-making to jams and preserves, “just to prove to myself that I could do it”, she said. And then retired to her armchair with said Economist for more stimulating intellectual engagement. I do remember the aromatic yeasty mounds rising under dishtowels in the warm backyard, and the clink of her wedding ring against the edge of her glass bowls and rolling pin when she made pastries and cakes. But once she discovered the wretched Adele Davis, and all Adele’s boring “health diet” admonitions, such “refined” substances and creations fled from our lives, to be replaced with wholesome “landmines” made from brown sugar and wholewheat flour, where only the icing was the tasty part. She did have our good health at heart – bless her heart. But having picked from my teeth one too many wholewheat kernels from my Christmas pudding, I turned instead to my mother-in-law’s recipe, filled as it was with such “evils” as white flour and breadcrumbs, and sin-of-all-sins – suet!
I do not share my darling mother’s passion for politics, economics, and all the worthy things she studied at the LSE. Nor do I share her admirable discipline when it comes to sweet things. Some of my happiest hours have been spent attending cooking classes in the homes of various women, both in Johannesburg and here in Stockholm. I particularly enjoyed Sally Williams’s cooking and baking courses at her home when Jess was a baby. That was before she, Sally, turned her business head to manufacturing her famous nougat on an industrial, (including export) scale. And here in Stockholm, Jessica Gripberg’s Swedish cooking and baking classes provided much good culinary and social time in her warm kitchen, while snow fell softly outside.
A morning of some sort of creative “Me time” is always a good idea whilst raising young children – or at any time, for that matter, and this was my creative escape once my second baby was weaned. Crammed into Sally’s wide kitchen with at least twenty other housewives, I learned many basic cooking skills that had been lacking during my upbringing. Some of Sally’s tips and maxims have stayed with me ever since. eg. 1 ounce = 30 grams (well….28,3495 grams, to be exact.)
I found this banana cake recipe via Facebook – the BBC Good Food page. So I owe the creator hereof a sincere vote of THANKS, and credit your work here. It can be served as a cake at tea-time, or as a dessert, with whipped cream, full fat yoghurt or vanilla ice-cream.
Just don’t forget, as I did, to read the ENTIRE recipe first, and ensure that you have all the ingredients. I forgot the cream, and had to go back to my favoured local supermarket, COOP, and buy it. PLUS more syrup, as I had forgotten to check if there was enough in the tin! Lyle’s, the English brand, is best. Not that awful runny “organic” stuff they sell here in Sweden. Lyle’s can be bought at The English Shop on Södermalm in Stockholm.
UPSIDE-DOWN BANANA CAKE with maple-caramel sauce
- 100g softened butter, plus extra for greasing the oven tin or dish
- 8 tbsps maple syrup
- 3 small ripe bananas and 1 very overripe banana
- 200g dark brown sugar
- 4 large eggs I love the expression on the Swedish egg boxes – Frukostägg fron Svenska frigående höns (Berakfast eggs from “free-going” – i.e. free range – hens)!
- 2 tsp vanilla extract/essence
- 200g self-raising flour If you don’t have this in your cupboard, make up your own self-raising flour to this ratio: 1 cup (150 g) flour: 1 ½ -2 tsps baking powder + ¼ tsp salt. Jenny Sharland says make that 250 ml flour to 2 tsps of baking powder, and add a good pinch of salt to the dry ingredients, rather.
- 100g pecans
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon. I favour Robertson’s, or some other South African brand.
- 200g pot full-fat Greek yoghurt, plus extra, or vanilla ice cream, to serve, but only if you use it as a dessert.
For the sauce
- 100g whole pecans
- 100g salted butter, diced
- 100ml double cream
- 100ml maple syrup
- Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line the base with baking parchment. (Essential! Or it will stick to the bottom.) The glass dish I used was too small, causing the batter to nearly overflow, and for the cake to NOT COOK for the time proscribed. It really should have been a SQUARE 20x20cm tin. A round cake could also be made – as per other pictures I have seen.
- For the cake, pour half the syrup (4 tbsps) into the dish, swirling to coat the bottom. Here Sally Williams gave us an excellent tip: coat the measuring spoon with a little cooking oil, and the syrup will flow out of it more easily.
- Peel and halve the 3 ripe bananas lengthways and lay, cut-side down, in the tin. I subsequently saw a picture of another recipe, where the bananas had been SLICED. I think that was more attractive than the long slices.
- Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and overripe banana with an electric beater. (It may be better to mash it first. And it really should be overripe. Mine was still a bit too green.)
- Tip the flour and pecans into a food processor and pulse until finely ground together.
- Stir the flour-and ground-nuts into the butter mixture with the bicarbonate and cinnamon,then stir in the yoghurt.
My mother told me years ago that once the baking powder had been moistened, it was essential to work quickly to prevent the entire batter from flopping. This view has subsequently been disputed by my baking guru friends here in Stockholm – specifically Véronique, a superb artiste in the kitchen. Mais bien sûr, elle est française!
- Carefully spoon the mixture into the tin without dislodging the bananas.
- Bake the cake for 45 mins – 1 hour, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. I found this cake JUST WOULD NOT COOK! I gave it another 15 mins, and then another. Finally I cranked up the temperature to 170˚C, and gave it another 15 mins. Then, at last, it was cooked through. A shallower dish or tin would have been better, I think. I hour 15 mins in a flatter, SQUARE dish would have been better, and possibly at 170 from the start – according to my Cooking Queen expert, Jenny Sharland.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce. Toast the pecans for 1-2 mins in a pan (pot), without oil or anything – just on their own. (Heat the pan first.) Add the remaining ingredients, and cook until the butter has melted. Then bubble for 5 mins until it has thickened a little.
- When the cake is cooked, poke it all over with the skewer – inserting it about halfway into the cake each time. Pour over the remaining maple syrup (4 tbsps) and allow it to soak in for a few mins, then turn the cake out of the tin, upside-down, onto a serving plate.
- Reheat the sauce, and serve with Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream – if used as a dessert. I’m not sure why this cake took so much longer to bake through than the recipe stated. Half an hour longer! Perhaps, as I suggested, my dish was too deep, or my ratio of baking powder-to-flour inaccurate, or the oven too cool. It did help when I raised the temperature slightly from 160˚C to 170˚C.
I would like to try it again, with a larger, ROUND tin, and at a higher temperature. I suspect that my oven here in Stockholm is slightly cooler than was my Johannesburg one. Altitude could also be a factor: here we are at sea level, and Jhb stands at 6 000 feet.
Apart from the white flour, this is a very healthy recipe, with the bananas, nuts, brown sugar, yoghurt and eggs.
And I can vouch that this wholesome cake is absolutely DELICIOUS!!