Cornflake-crusted Stuffed French Toast

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Well, hi guys, it’s been a while. With everything seeming to happen at the same time, it feels almost strange to be typing on this platform again about things closest to my heart (aka sugar, spice and all things nice).

Above all, and most importantly, let there be french toast. The one food I will gladly eat every day three times a day. The one thing I love so much that I have a whole section in my recipe page dedicated to it.

There have been pockets of time in the past few weeks which have granted me access to memories only of the sweetest kind. I’ve tried making all sorts of fancy french toast get-ups, usually never with any regret (hello bagel french toast and black sesame french toast), although I have to say this childish cornflake-crusted banana-stuffed one is  not only a weekend winner, but a fanciful play on all things childhood-sweet. It’s any golden childhood memory on a plate– swinging through falling leaves on a swing, drinking hot chocolate by a fire.

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I understand that french toast isn’t considered french toast unless made with real, proper egg, so perhaps me going plant-based (it’s been over a year now) has put, on a subconscious level, the idea of good weekend french toast aside. But coming across multiple mouth-watering french toasts on Instagram and elsewhere on the www has made me determined to recreate a vegan version that’s just as good, and possibly better, than what most of us may find out there in the cafe-sphere. So if you’re quite the purist, go ahead and use real or vegan egg. But perhaps just once, try this combination of mashed banana, cinnamon and milk, which saturates your soft bread to the most ideal degree, resulting in french toast that’s neither too soggy nor rubbery. Oh, rubbery is the worst, isn’t it?

As human beings we require simple sustenance. But sometimes the simplest matters turn out to be the most delicious, and the smallest twist using something as ubiquitous and childish as cornflakes makes all the difference. Making a most delicious french toast right in your own kitchen is truly the most rewarding thing. Not much fuss, no wallet-burning, and a 100% goodness guarantee. So you can make this, and get back to whatever you’re doing the rest of the day, all the while knowing you’ve done something terribly good for yourself.

Quote of the day: ‘We are human beings, not human doings’

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Cornflake-crusted Cinnamon Banana French Toast (serves 1)

Ingredients

2 slices vegan brioche/ any soft bread of your choice

2 bananas, one mashed, and one sliced thickly at a slight angle.

60ml (1/4 cup) almond milk

1 tsp ground cinnamon

handful of cornflakes

3 tbsp brown sugar

vegan butter for caramelising

handful of frozen berries (optional)

icing sugar (optional, for decoration)

Directions

Place the cornflakes in a bowl and use your (clean, hopefully) hands to crush them into chunks. Pour the cornflakes into a shallow dish. Don’t worry if you are left with quite a few larger chunks– this will only give more texture to your french toast. In another bowl, use a fork to briefly mix together your french toast batter– the mashed banana, almond milk and cinnamon. Don’t worry about little chunks of banana in there. Add a pat of vegan butter or oil to a medium nonstick pan to start making the caramelised banana.

Once the pan is hot, add a little more vegan butter to the pan, together with the brown sugar. Add the sliced banana to the hot pan and let it caramelise for a minute. Once the side facing down is a nice caramelised golden colour, use a spatula to flip the banana slices and cook the other side. Once the bananas are nicely soft and caramelised, set them aside in a bowl while you make the french toast. Leave the pan on medium heat.

Dip both sides of one of the bread slices into the mashed banana mixture, then dip one side into the crushed cornflakes. Repeat for the other bread slice. Place the cornflake-side of one bread slice onto the hot pan to cook, add the caramelised bananas on the side facing up. Add the handful of berries if you wish– I think it adds a lovely tang to cut through all that sweet chimerical flavour. Then close your french toast sandwich with the other slice of bread. Once the side facing down has been cooking for a minute or so, use your spatula to check if that side is golden-crisp and cooked. If it is, flip the sandwich over and cook the second side.

Once finished, cut your french toast sandwich on the diagonal, then top with any leftover caramelised banana you have, and a sprinkling of icing sugar. Serve with more berries and a splosh of yoghurt. HELLO Saturday.

Goreng Pisang on Toast

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There are too many things, upon my arrival in the homeland, this special little red dot, that I was much too eager to get into again (jet lag came, stole all my energy and enthusiasm. But now that that’s gone, each day seems a refreshing beam of light, a hopeful promise). But yes. Café hopping, family and friends aside, it’s all about food. Old flavours, fun memories, revisited. That’s what I missed. There’s always something to be aware of, to be curious and excited about. Right now I’m deeply appreciating, here in Singapore, access to good food at much cheaper prices, and the cool and quirky Asian/pan-Asian delights one can find anywhere, in the basement of any big mall (my favourite is the Takashimaya one, for the record).

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A recent tea party I had with my dear friend Charlie at an Airbnb café– how cool are these? They specially made vegan chocolate avocado mousse for me, and the accompanying chai tea was sublime. 
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My favourite place for good sourdough– The Bakery by Woodlands Sourdough at Bukit Timah. Thick almond butter and honey on thick, crusty toast. The sort of thing I actually will pay for once in a while, it’s that good.

It’s a time to revisit, guiltlessly, all the sweet flavours I missed. Black sesame, durian, matcha galore. Endless. Gorgeous! One of my favourite food thingys that I used to have on a regular basis, aside from durian puffs and dark chocolate taiyakis, was goring pisang (fried banana). My grandmother still occasionally buys them from the hawker centre, and are too, too perfect with a cold dollop of vanilla bean ice cream, or just on their own as they are.

It feels downright weird to be back. With no dissertation to complete, I am officially a graduate (ok not entirely, the graduation is in October, but still). Now, there’s a space in my head, one that need not necessarily be filled all the time. A space to feel, to think, to scroll through all the emotions that have been mashed together for too long in the days leading up to some exam, or assignment, or thesis. Because sometimes scrolling through emotions means putting rationality on the back-burner. This feels so free. This feels like a good, long, abdominal breath. And true enough, it is important to take time, intentionally, to do this daily, or at least weekly. But it’s also good to get away from it all entirely, take a break even from blogging, as I did the past two weeks. Routine, a good one, is a conscientious way of re-organizing one’s priorities. But sometimes a little break from routine allows for reflection on the meaning of the routine itself, instead of being on autopilot all the time. It’s sort of like atoms in a certain structure. The bits that make up the structure may be strong and sturdy, but breaking away and re-organizing them in a smarter and more efficient manner may leave you with a structure even stronger than before).

Now let’s go bananas. It’s all about the right banana and the right batter. The two must complement each other– too ripe a banana will leave you with mushy bits of nothing, while the batter should comprise ice-cold water, rice flour and corn starch for the perfect degree of crispiness. Then everything is fried, and I don’t think you can go wrong by either shallow or deep-frying, because it’s still a fried banana, and you can’t go wrong with that, can you?

Traditionally, these golden beauties are eaten with ice cream or with a custard, but that Monday I decided to bung it on some toast layered with fresh, thick coconut yoghurt, peanut butter and jam, and my taste buds were on absolute fire. The combination of the creamy yoghurt, tangy and sweet with peanut butter and jam, cradled the crisp, wispy outer layer of goring pisang batter. You think about it, and the whole thing seems or sounds a little silly. I mean, fried anything can’t really go wrong. Or just leave the poor banana alone, for goodness sake. Why coat it, why ruin it? But that’s the fun of experimentation, is it not? I’ll breathe down the back of the traditionalist for as long as I can, challenging the norm. If we can fry bananas, or mars bars, or friggin’ tea bags, then why not put them on something and call it a meal? Like your usual pb&j toast. The coconut yoghurt really is just for fun. The whole thing is just fun and delicious, so let’s just leave it at that.

 

Ingredients

2-3 ripe (but not too ripe!) bananas, sliced in half (along the breadth, not down the long centre)

40g plain flour

2 tbsp each of rice flour and cornflour

¼ tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

5 tbsp ice-cold water

vegetable oil for deep frying, of which a tablespoon you will mix into the batter

*optional accompaniments: bread slices (use whatever bread you like but whole-wheat or sourdough is preferable), coconut/soy yoghurt, peanut butter, jam

 

Directions

Mix all batter ingredients (everything listed above except for the bananas) in a shallow bowl. The batter should be smooth, without any lumps. This can be done by adding the water slowly, in thirds, and whisking well in between. The batter should not be all that thick– if it is, add a little more water to thin it out.

Add your cut bananas to the batter and coat them well with the help of a fork or spoon. Meanwhile, heat 1.5-2 inches of vegetable oil in a wok/frying pan. Add enough so that the bananas will be just covered. You can also save some oil by using less oil and turning the bananas halfway through. Once the oil temperature has reached 180C (320F), and you can do this with any candy thermometer, add the coated bananas and fry until they are visibly golden-yellow. 2-3 bananas are perfect for this recipe because too many will make the temperature of the oil drop a little. Once visibly golden and crispy, take the bananas out with a pair of tongs and place them on a paper towel to drain the excess oil. Be careful this whole time, the oil may spit and hurt you. These are best eaten immediately or at least the same day they are made. For this twist, toast your bread slices, then add a tablespoon each of coconut yoghurt, peanut butter, and finally the jam. I like strawberry jam, but that bit’s up to you. Then cut your fried bananas in half lengthwise, then put them on the piece (or pieces) of toast. Take a bite. Savour that. Love that.

Banana Coconut Mini Cakes

B800FD1A-BAE0-4A7F-BCCB-B5CC5DC7A546The hardest part of self-actualisation is that of  discerning what to accept and what to reject– of the world and of  ourselves– as we build the architecture of our character and stake out our stance in relation to our aims and obstacles’– Camus

Recently I’ve been thinking about habits. Today’s mantra shall be this: kicking old habits is just as important as incorporating new, good ones. We all have our good and bad habits, but sometimes the balance just isn’t there. I, for one, may see a scatter of crumbs late at night on the kitchen floor but oh god, it’s late, and I can do it tomorrow morning. It’s not the most serious crime, but little things do add up to be a lot. Doing things like making my bed and preparing my clothes the night before does wonders for saving time, space and maintaining cleanliness throughout the week, day by day. That’s the miracle of habits. Little actions that change routine that change you for the better. Currently working on bettering myself, to be better around others, too. It’s hard, but worth it, I feel. We are capable. And keep being grateful.

So here’s what I wrote last week in my diary about this cake: “Banana coconut cake with miso frosting! So moist and cute and tender. Might have to change the frosting a tad but I’m happy-dappy for now. There’s a flow to it, it’s enticing and dreamy and moody. Happy-dappy”.

Well firstly, wow I sound quite silly whenever I write about how excited I am about some new experiment in my personal diary. Did I really write ‘happy-dappy’ twice? Secondly, wow this cake is good. Like, really darn good, and I can’t wait for you to experience this banana-ful love all over again, from my kitchen and oven to yours.

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Simple, really. You start off traditionally, mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately. Once everything is incorporated, and you pop the thing in the oven and make the frosting. Everything is cooled, then the frosting begins.

I didn’t mean to put miso in there (as is the case for so many random ingredients in my other bakes), but this is what gives the lift, the interest. Banana and miso?? Yes, it works. Please try it. Ingredients of the earth. All from nature. What is so wonderful about baking from home is that you know exactly what you’re putting in it, be it a simple or more complex bake. No chemicals, pesticides or what have you. Flour, sugar, plants… plants! It’s so wonderful, don’t you think.

I was listening to the podcast ‘On Being’ the other night (highly recommend, by the way), and there’s one part which talks about how there’s a link between being in awe of nature and altruism. Just witnessing the greatness of this universe perhaps makes us feel more like we should help one another along in society, keep us afloat in the raging seas, the beautiful yet turbulent grandeur of Mother Earth.

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Banana Coconut Mini Cakes with Miso coconut frosting (makes 4 mini cakes or 1 large 8 or 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

1 and a half bananas, mashed

45g dark/light brown sugar

30g white/coconut sugar

30ml (25g) vegetable oil

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste, or sub with vanilla extract

60ml plant milk of choice (I like using oat or rice milk

145g (little more than a cup) plain flour, or use half spelt/whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

30g desiccated coconut

 

For the frosting:

130g butter

5g miso paste

150g icing sugar

handful of desiccated coconut

 

For the layering (optional):

a sliced banana

more desiccated coconut, the amount here is up to you

 

Directions

Grease an 8 or 9-inch springform pan and preheat your oven to 180C. In a large bowl, mix together the banana, sugars, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla paste/extract. In a separate, medium bowl, briefly whisk together the dry ingredients– flour, salt, coconut and leavening agents. Tip this into the wet mix and stir everything together until all is just about incorporated. Bake this in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted comes out clean.

While the cake bakes, make the frosting by beating the butter and miso together with an electric whisk, then slowly add the icing sugar until you get a smooth and thick frosting with bits of miso strewn throughout. Add the coconut and mix briefly. Place the frosting in the fridge until ready to use.

Once the cake is totally cool, or about a half hour later, use the lip of a glass cup to stamp out circles in the cake. You will get about 4 circles, so two mini cakes. Once the cakes are stamped out, add a dollop of frosting onto one cake, then add a few banana coins and a sprinkling of desiccated coconut on top. Place the second layer on top, then frost the top and add more desiccated coconut to decorate. Alternatively, you can leave the cake as is and frost it right there and then, or just frost the 4 circles individually without layering them, to get 4 separate open-faced cakes. These cakes will last 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge. If you’re just making the cake by itself, you can store it at room temperature for the same amount of time and in the same way.

Banana Bread Oatmeal and Little Lessons

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Having just finished Buddha Brain by Rick Hanson, it’s come to my attention how disengaged and out of focus we tend to be in our stimulated environments, especially in fast-paced cities such as London. Somehow we are always trying to do more in less and less time, and this has potentially devastating lifelong consequences. It’s blind attention. Some days we go through the motions and feel rewarded or successful upon ticking off multiple checkboxes. But life isn’t a checklist, and isn’t supposed to be. How crazy are we to think we can be both productive and happy going about life in this robotic, stress-fuelled way?

This audiobook sort of links to the one I’m reading now– Whole, by one of my idols T. Colin Campbell. All this stress increases risk of certain diseases and accelerates ageing. Food of all things is so underrated in its effects on our mental and physical health, as well as the way we behave towards and learn from others. How could we use food to help us live better lives?

There are a few strategies about both food and lifestyle that I have included in the past few years, each starting at different points in my life, but all practiced towards the same degree. For example, I have done yoga and meditation for 2 years now, but only started mindful eating a few months ago. Naturally I am a rather indecisive person (4-5 delicious Gail’s vegan muffins or a manicure kit? Help??), but these techniques put the minute decisions into the broader context of life better, helping me achieve a better, more logical state of mind.

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The most incredible vegan sorbets and ice cream (coconut, deep and rich dark chocolate, raspberry and lemon basil) at Ballabeni in Munich!

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  • Make eating a meditation. Eat slowly, and savour every mealtime. Put your fork down between each bite, don’t have blazing screens on for at least 2 out of 3 of your meals, talk to a friend or loved one. Think about where each ingredient on your plate came from. This process clears your head, refreshes the mind. You know you are putting good things into your body. The pictures above are from my recent trip to Munich to see my boyfriend and his family. Every morning welcomed me with fresh bread and jam. Each bite was more alluring than the last, a chunk of fresh hope and energy for the day’s next few steps. Even if it’s a slice of cake, remember where that cake came from, each sweet mouthful airing your body with life and energy. It may not be the slow sustained energy you get from your daily bowl of oatmeal, but it’s food to savour and enjoy all the same, and by practicing mindfulness, you’ll get used to treating your body better, and crave cake a few times a week, not twice a day. And on that note…
  • Include some source of protein and fat at at least 2 of your meals. This way, you are satiated and don’t mindlessly snack on sugary foods throughout the day (I have had enough experience with this, ugh). I bake once a week and indulge in whatever experiment that day holds, but my diet is primarily a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) one, and I testify to moderation as salvation  Having had a turbulent relationship with food in the past, particularly my early and mid-teens, WFPB has healed me from the inside-out. Nothing else is more satisfying, refreshing and nurturing. Best part? You can be incredibly creative with any WFPB food! Flax in your baking, carrots in your cake, rich cocoa in your hot chocolate… go mad.
  • Immerse yourself in nature once in a while, and move your body. This is especially important if you live in an urban area like London. In Munich, the forest and her sharp air was particularly surreal despite the stroll’s brevity.  Sometimes, there is nothing more beautiful or necessary. Exercise is equally as important to keep the mind fresh and strong.

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So here is a little breakfast bowl that I made last week. It’s not your traditional bowl of oatmeal, but it’s just as wholesome and only a tad more fancy. It’s the perfect way to start a mindful day. This was further jazzed up with a matcha bar bite I bought at a café, but that;s optional. The focus here is the natural sweetness of the banana and the thick, almost rich flavour it lends to the oatmeal. Watery business begone. Back to basics, the best way.

Banana bread oatmeal (serves 1)

Ingredients

45-50g (about a half cup) oats (I use a mix of porridge and whole rolled oats for texture)

1 banana, half of it mashed, the other half chopped into coins

120ml (half a cup) each of plant milk of choice (I use almond and oat), and water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

some crumbled banana bread

2 tsp each of almond butter and maple syrup

Directions

In a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, mix the oats, salt, mashed banana, milk, water and cinnamon together. If you’re using a saucepan, bring the mix to a boil, then lower the heat a little and stir until you get a thick and only slightly gloopy consistency. If you’re using a microwave, microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Take it out in between (after 1.5 minutes) just to stir it and make sure nothing bubbles over, because that may happen if your microwave is especially strong.

In a pan heated on medium heat, lightly oil the base and place your banana coins in the pan. after 30 seconds on medium heat, flip over to check if they’re nice and brown. Heat them a little longer if they’re not. Flip and caramelise the other sides. Place the banana coins on your hot bowl of oatmeal, top with the crumbled banana bread, almond butter, maple syrup, and if you want, a splash more plant milk. The cold milk seeping into the thick and gooey, hot oatmeal is divine.

One Bowl Banana Coconut Mini Bundts

 

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Sitting here at midnight, only thinking about the transience of so much. Day by day, shadows work their way around my feet. Before I’ve even come to terms with fact that term time is almost up, people in other unis have started summer, champagne bottles are being popped. Hyperactivity everywhere.

With all the frantic house-hunting and exam stress (and worrying over the efficacy of actual study technique), there’s comfort in the close strong bonds you know you always have with loved ones, and the smell of something warm and sugary rising in the oven. I knew I had to use my one precious, scratched mini bundt pan at some point before the end of first term. I hauled all my stuff from Singapore for a reason, right? Yeah, it’s been a while, but mea culpa.

Before I move on, a few things that’ve caught my eye this week. I do feel more inclined to share what I read regularly on this platform, which is pretty much everything nutrition/science-related:

Fascinating

Darya keeps linking the best, most informative and relevant articles

‘good science writing is not just about about turning over conventional wisdom about complex things.’ So much yes.

Love this man. A great retelling

And now.

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The fluffiest, softest mini cakes you will ever make, stuffed with mashed banana, topped with a coconut milk icing.

Now with blogging comes honesty. I’m not kidding when I add the ‘you will ever make’ bit, because they really truly are.  I just can’t kid when it comes to this sort of thing. Despite its ease and speed, this recipe has yielded the softest cake texture I have attempted by far. Stuff of cloudy dreams. I hate overhyping something, but the excitement is all too real right now. THE absolute best bit?

It’s all made in one bowl, just a bit of mixing, no elbow grease or sweat or fiddling whatsoever. No worrying about whether you have to ‘make time’, because you will have the time.

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These little cakes really are quite special. Perhaps it’s the irresistible fluff factor, or the mashed banana in the middle, making it a triple-layer banana hit. Probably both, not forgetting the slightly balmy, creamy addition of coconut. The next time I make these, I’ll add more coconut extract for an extra exotic kick. The delicacy of the crumb in this cake deserves the trueness of flavour.

You definitely don’t need a mini bundt pan for these, and can do the same thing in a mini muffin tin, or spread the batter in a square tin and bake for the same amount of time, then cut little squares/whatever your wild heart desires out of the final product.

And if you’re in the mood for more…

Feeling like cookie butter?

Or perhaps a little lemony?

Clearly I’ve run out of humour.

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One Bowl Banana Coconut Mini Bundts with Coconut Icing (makes 12-14 mini cakes)

Ingredients

For the cakes:

60g soft, unsalted butter

1 1/2 mashed bananas (should amount to a half cup)

an additional 2 mashed bananas for the filling

225g (1 cup) white sugar

2 eggs

60ml each of coconut cream and coconut milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

190g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour mixed with a half tsp of baking powder (alternatively, use self-raising flour)

quarter teaspoon of salt

 

For the coconut milk icing:

2-3 tbsp coconut cream (or use coconut milk)

75g icing sugar

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and butter your mini cake/bundt/muffin tin. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the butter and mashed banana together in a microwave to add a little caramelised effect to your already-ripe bananas, around 20 seconds. Pour contents into a larger bowl (makes mixing a bit easier later on), then add all the other ingredients for the cake, except for the 2 mashed bananas which you need for the filling afterwards.

Spoon a tablespoonful of batter into the bottom of a well in your tin, add a teaspoon of mashed banana in the middle, then fill the rest of the well with batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes (mine were fine at 18). Whilst they are baking, mix the icing ingredients in a bowl and set aside. It’s hard to test for doneness due to the moist banana filling, but a little poke into the sides with a wooden skewer should reveal a mostly clean tip. A few moist crumbs clinging to the tip are fine; these cakes are pretty fragile and need to rest in the tin for a good 20 minutes before removing anyway.

If using a mini bundt pan, use a serrated knife to cut the tops off (these make wonderful little snacks). Loosen the edges with a blunt knife (just use a normal dinner knife), then tip the pan over to remove the little cakes. You don’t need to do this if using a normal muffin or cake tin. Drizzle with the coconut icing and top with coconut flakes. Fragile, sugarplum fairy-esque teatime treats await.