Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

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Today is a Wednesday, but I am trying to frame today as a new start to the week, considering the mess of yesterday. Tuesday started off on an incredibly tired note, as I hauled myself to places where I had to be at but where my heart wasn’t. A revival was needed, I thought, when I collapsed on the couch yesterday afternoon. It tends to be during moments of stress and tiredness that I am weak of mind, giving in too much to the simplest pleasures without thinking (processed, sugary food), which leaves me feeling even more tired and disgusting, and I simply am totally unproductive and useless to talk to for the rest of the day. I wish a break in routine did not have to be so tiresome or intrusive, but that’s the reality of it.

A ‘revival’ to different people can mean different things, and most are valid- entertainment, learning, education, a walk, reading, something good. For me, it’s long walks and nourishing food, or playing around with new ingredients to create something. I recently discovered a beautiful block of salted butter in my local gourmet grocer (which you can find here), somehow so soft and creamy even right out of the fridge, when I pressed it. I came home and cooked some vegetables in a generous pat of the stuff, discovering the beauty of salt crystals from the North of France– truly a work of wonder. How have I not had the pleasure of biting into a salt crystal in a piece of butter spread on sourdough toast (or anything) before? I had to make some good use of it. With ripe banana, a new beautiful block of butter and leftover cream cheese, these delightful squares, an extravagant combination of tang and luxury, were born. Banana bread and cream cheese sounds very, um, American, since anything involving cream cheese is very typically USA, no? Anyways, I could talk for days about this recipe, but best to keep it brief.

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The use of salted butter in general here is paramount to the success in making this good salted browned butter frosting. It was magical to watch the salt crystals separating while melting the salted butter. The frosting is optional but really something special, and I literally squealed upon my first bite, which was chewy, fudgy, brimming with a natural banana flavour without being too sweet, even with the frosting on top. The cream cheese is almost a necessary component to enjoy all dimensions of this dessert, as its mild sourness offering a creamy cut-through the layers of different degrees of sweetness, from simple banana bread to rich salted frosting. It was all a simple matter of mixing a few things in different bowls and assembling the components before and after baking the blondies.

I definitely felt better about making these, by the end of the day. Still tired, but better. Creating and playing, these are the free blessings we all have.

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Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

Ingredients (makes one 8×8 or 9×9-inch pan, or 16 medium-sized blondies)

KEY:

For the blondies:

120g (1/2 cup+ 2 tbsp) salted butter, melted

¼ cup tahini (can also use yoghurt or apple sauce)

1+1/2 bananas

200g (1 cup) brown sugar

80g (3/4 cup) almond flour (ground almonds)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

70g (1/2 cup) plain flour

1 egg

220g cream cheese (or 1 standard 8oz tub) cream cheese

90g (1/3 cup) icing sugar

For the frosting:

60g (1/4 cup) salted butter

60g (1/4 cup) brown sugar

100g (slightly less than 1 cup) icing sugar

3 tbsp heavy cream

 

General notes:

  • Use all plain flour instead of half flour and half almond flour if you wish. Would be equally delicious, just a little less kind on the gut.
  • I baked mine for 22 minutes for a fudgy centre, but bake for longer if you like a more cake-like consistency.
  • If you don’t have salted butter, add a teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients.

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), then grease and line your 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan. In a medium bowl, mash your banana and then whisk in the melted butter and brown sugar. Then whisk in the egg If you just melted the butter before mixing the sugar, make sure to wait a minute after mixing in the egg so that you don’t unintentionally scramble the egg, unless that’s your kind of thing. Then add the flour, cinnamon, and a teaspoon of salt if you did not use salted butter in the beginning. Mix everything together. The batter should appear quite sticky and not too thick, easily dropped off a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, make the cream cheese middle by mixing the cream cheese with icing sugar.

Pour half of the blondie batter into your greased and lined pan, then add the cream cheese frosting and spread it in a thin even layer on top of the batter. I find that it helps to put 9 equal dollops of the filling on the batter and then using a knife or your finger to spread it out to fill the gaps. Then pour over the rest of the blondie batter and smooth it out into an even layer. Place your pan into the preheated oven and bake for 22-23 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist crumbs (not dry!).

For the frosting, melt the salted butter in a pan on medium heat, until it goes an amber colour and you can see the milk solids separate from a darker, browned liquid. This will be clear to see after 4-5 minutes of heating on the oven Skim off some of white bits so most of the darker liquid is left. Once the butter is browned and there’s a waft of something toffee-like and nutty in your kitchen, add the brown sugar and heavy cream bring the liquid to a boil. Once bubbling, set aside to cool down for 5 minutes, before adding the powdered sugar. The frosting may not look like a lot but is pretty rich, enough for all 16 blondies.

Once the blondies are baked, take the pan out and leave to cool on a heatproof surface for at least 10-15 minutes. Spread on the frosting and cut into squares. These are best eaten on the same day but will keep for the next 3 days.

 

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.

White Chocolate Caramel Banana Bread

Because we all know banana bread is actually cake.

Side note: I’m back!!

An apology is necessary and expected. The past few weeks have been an absolute blast, busy busy busy, what with moving to London to embark on a very science-y and exciting adventure. Early lectures, lots of note-taking, and the constant fear that I’ve done nothing to deserve a place in this wonderful university. The people are amazing, the work intriguing, and nothing beats the nighttime kitchen adventures, midnight study sessions and later-night parties. Nothing I say here could ever fully justify the experiences that have been thrown at me as well as those which I have yet to encounter. It’s still incredibly surreal; like a dream come true, yet somehow better.

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A modification on one of my previous banana bread recipes, this one has a gallant twist with the incorporation of white chocolate and caramel. If ever I do this again, I’ll be sure to add in a nuttier texture or more earthy flavour component to up the ante of everything else going on in the picture. It’s the sweetest pick-me-up, and a one-bowl wonder. Don’t you love the easy stuff? Remember: I’m all about simple. Sometimes. Ok, most of the time. With college matters whirling around my head, this loaf was a nice and easy break, which took no time at all to put together and bake. Feels good to get into mixing, picking ingredients and experimenting again in the kitchen. Made it with one of the sweetest people I’ve met here, and everyone loved (and then attacked) it. Crowd-pleaser. Bananas. White chocolate. Caramel. Good play.

Now, it feels like home.

White Chocolate Caramel Banana Bread (makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1 1/2 cups (190g) plain white flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup (76g) melted unsalted butter

2 tbsp milk

2 heaping tbsp caramel sauce

1/3 cup (68g) white sugar

3/4 cup white chocolate chips (I cut up a good bar)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). In a large bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, milk, sugar, melted butter, egg, salt and vanilla. Then add in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, milk, caramel sauce. Finally, gently stir in the white chocolate chips. Pour into a greased loaf and bake for 50-55 minutes. This one was ready by 53 minutes.

To serve, slice up and serve with more caramel, marmalade (a touch I personally adore) and more chopped chocolate. I’m guessing whipped cream or ice cream would sort out any lonely evening, too.

Moist Banana Bread

Because I can’t have this blog without sharing my favourite banana bread recipe. On Earth. Ever. Bread? Cake? Is there a difference between banana versions of either? I personally just call it banana bread, you dashing BB, because I’ve always associated the teatime stuff with a traditional bread-like texture. More robust, hearty, almost wholesome. Less airy-fairy, but call it a cake if you wish. I think I’ll stick to the former. My favourite sweet and dense bread. There are those who like sticky fruit cakes, the sort you can stick your hand into and it feels like muddy air, and this is no different, except perhaps the bits and bobs of banana will stick lovingly to your fingers, and when you pull them out your hands smell like the best bloody thing in the universe.

The smell of banana bread baking and emerging from the oven, then resting for a while, a solid, plump and golden thing, is my favourite ‘oven smell’ ever. One of the purest joys in life.

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I think there are 3 things which make it brilliant.

1. There’s thick and lush Greek yoghurt in it, for superb moisture and flavour.

2. The whole cup of mashed banana and perhaps more, in some cases where 3 mashed bananas nicely exceed that capacity. If I had to re-label this recipe, it would definitely be ‘double banana bread’.

3. The use of flavourless vegetable oil instead of melted butter, which I think aids in producing a lighter, more tender crumb, and doesn’t mask the natural sweetness or flavour of ripe banana.

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Divine, and so easy that there’s really no other way I make it now. I have serious history with this recipe, and it’s funny how I’m only posting it now. Ridiculous. I’ve tried out so many variations– with and without yoghurt, made with just milk, no oil/no butter… Anyways, here I am and boy am I glad I’m finally spilling the beans.

Moist Banana Bread (makes one 9×5-inch loaf)

Ingredients

3 medium bananas, ripe and mashed (usually amounts to about one cup, and lumps of banana make for better texture)

90g (0.5 cup) light brown sugar

100g (0.5 cup) white caster sugar

2 eggs (sub: 2 vegan eggs made from 2 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 4 tbsp water)

40g melted salted butter/vegetable oil

125g yoghurt, or use almond/soy/coconut yoghurt if you’re vegan

240g (1.5-2 cups) all-purpose flour

*note: I’ve made this using half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, and the end result was just as brilliant. A little less devious, but equally moist and decadent.

1 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda

Optional add-ins: 150g dark chocolate/nuts/a mix of both

Directions

Grease a standard 9×5-inch loaf pan, line with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 162 C (325F).

In a large bowl, whisk together the mashed banana, sugars, eggs, melted butter and yoghurt with a whisk or a fork. In another smaller bowl, briefly mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a spoon. Add the chocolate and/or nuts at this point and mix these in well. Add the dry mix to wet mix, and fold briefly until just combined. Lumps are welcome. Pour into the pan and bake for 60-75 minutes. With my oven, I found that the perfect baking time is 70 minutes (1hr and 10 mins). Bask in that smell.