Spotted Brown Sugar Peanut Butter Loaf Cake

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Simon and Garfunkel– Cecilia. Now I’m ready.

It feels good to just sit and write, even if it’s something completely unrelated to course content. The mind can think and meander, explore different routes, modes, moods. Creative inspiration seems much more inclined to approach a weary mind when you’re willing to let a bunch of different feelings and experiences coalesce. To just let yourself go.

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Fluffy, moist brown sugar pound cake ‘spotted’ with dark brown sugar bits, peanut butter and chocolate spread. 

I personally have nothing against the word moist, which I think describes this perfectly, along with sweet, treacly and buttery. Are those last 3 ok? I actually recently read an article on word aversion which I could fully relate to. I have zero aversions to any word. I just love English. And words. But I do have an aversion to word aversion.

Right smack in the middle of exam season, and everyone is jostling in the library. Noses to books, noses to screens, pen to paper. I can feel the heat emanating from everyone’s bright and burning brains almost immediately upon stepping foot in the silent arena. A battle zone of books. There seems to be little time for anything now, but having just a little time in the kitchen to experiment has become a priority to me. The other day I came across a well-known brown sugar pound cake recipe by one of my favourite lady bakers, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity, when it struck unexpectedly one free day, to give it a go and perhaps see where my creative endeavours led me down the road.

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I used an especially dark, treacly, molasses-y brown sugar (oh, what is English?). You’re probably wondering what’s with the ‘spotty’ label, and I figured that the picture right above provided an appropriate example– something which arose from chance rather than prediction. You take thick chunks of sticky dark brown sugar, and crumble it with your hands. The result? Some larger chunks (not too large) some sandy pools, some little peas.

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You make the batter, pour half into the pan, dot with blobs of peanut butter (I used all-natural chunky) and chocolate spread, spread on the other half, BAKE.

I term this ‘loaf cake’ instead of ‘pound cake’ because I did have to modify the recipe a little with the quantity of brown sugar I used. The ‘spotted’ factor makes it all the more rich without being sickly. The rise and density of the loaf is spot on. Though it doesn’t have quite the same sharp crust as my favourite-ever banana bread recipe, the flavour is there, all you want and more. There’s a real nice split down the middle as it bakes, relatively even, revealing a little of the sticky, soft inside. Like the formation of the primitive streak during gastrulation in embryo formation. Hope that didn’t sound too weird.

You might die of joy from the smell, but then you’ll take a bite. Life, welcomed. Relish all the fused flavours, all that nutty, brown sugary goodness, hit the tender middle with speckles of brown sugar and chocolate and peanut butter which seeps right into the batter. Pick at the caramelised edges and tops, which are always the best bits.

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Spotted Brown Sugar Peanut Butter Loaf Cake (makes one 9×5-inch loaf, adapted from Yossy’s brown sugar pound cake)

Ingredients

200g (a little more than 1 1/2 cups; used slightly more than stated in the original recipe) flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3 eggs

110g (1/2 cup) white caster sugar

220g (1 cup) dark brown sugar, the darkest you can find at your store, packed

200g (7 oz) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

120ml (1/2 cup) whole milk

3 heaping tbsp peanut butter of choice

3 heaping tbsp chocolate hazelnut spread

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 170C (325F). Butter your loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a separate, larger bowl, whisk together the softened butter (has to be soft!!) and white sugar. You could use an electrical whisk here if you wish as well, but I just like to use a standard wire whisk. Take your brown sugar and crumble it into the butter and white sugar mix, leaving some large and some small clumps. Whisk briefly so as not to break up those larger lumps.

Whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract. Pour the dry mix into the wet, add the milk, then whisk everything together. Pour half of this batter into your loaf pan, then dollop blobs of peanut butter and hazelnut spread on top. Spoon the rest of the batter into the pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes; take out when a wooden skewer inserted in the middle has moist (and peanut buttery) crumbs clinging to it. Leave to cool, then serve. As the original recipe states, wrap and store this at room temperature for 4 days (mine just didn’t last as long; thank you fellow floor mates).

Perfect for breakfast, tea, those tiny breaks between lectures. Ho yes.

Kaya Maple Loaf Cake

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If I had to choose the one local breakfast item I miss most from Singapore, it would have have have to be good, buttered kaya toast. Made complete with a steaming, frothy cup of teh tarik and half-boiled eggs. Thinking about it is already making me salivate.

Kaya toast to me is the epitome of simplicity done right– warm, charred white toast, the crusts traditionally, almost clinically removed with a sharp serrated knife, slathered thickly and unevenly with unsalted butter and a thick layer of homemade kaya. For those of you who do not know, kaya is basically coconut jam. A creamy, sweet, thick curd made from coconut milk, eggs and sugar. Some days I want butter and marmalade on my toast, others warrant almond butter, honey and banana, and sometimes it’s all about good old butter and kaya. The latter occasion has greatly increased in frequency.

This kaya loaf cake made with olive oil and maple syrup is your favourite local breakfast in one big warm hug of a loaf. It’s :

  • sweet, earthy, tender
  • such a breeze to make!!
  • got the most amazing sweet and crusty top
  • heaven in the morning
  • actually your new wake-up call

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It’s one of the most moist, dense (in a good way) and tender loaf cakes I’ve baked in a while, undoubtedly due to the texture of kaya itself, as well as the addition of olive oil, dark brown sugar and maple syrup.

The components all possess deep, earthy, sensual undertones which complement each other fantastically, the dark brown sugar providing a hint of molasses, the kaya’s almost-fluffy consistency offering milky sweetness and volume. I used nyonya kaya (couldn’t find the traditional brand on Amazon; the link I provide is the closest I could find but you should be able to find it at any oriental supermarket), but Hainanese kaya, which uses caramelised sugar and sometimes honey and is brown instead of green, would work perfectly too.

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Kaya Maple Loaf Cake (makes one standard 9×5-inch loaf), based loosely off my banana bread recipe

Ingredients

190g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour

one generous pinch salt

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

60ml (1/4 cup) maple syrup

1 cup kaya (no metric measurement eek– you should be fine!)

2 eggs

120g (1/2 cup, packed) dark brown sugar

2 tbsp plain yoghurt (I used coconut yoghurt for extra pizzaz, but you don’t have to go that far)

120ml (1/2 cup) olive oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the crusty top: 2 tbsp dark brown sugar+ 1 tsp ground cinnamon

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease (line as well if you wish) a 9×5-inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, whisk together everything else except the ingredients for the crusty top. Pour the dry mix into this wet mix and stir everything together well with a whisk or wooden spoon. Pour the thick, green-tinged mix into your greased loaf tin– the batter should appear quite wet and not very lumpy (like a typical banana bread batter). Mix the topping ingredients briefly with a fork in a small saucer and sprinkle evenly on top.

Bake in your preheated oven for 50 minutes, then remove and let cool for at least a half hour before slicing. Any leftovers can be stored at room temperature for 3-5 days, or kept in the fridge for a week. It’s wonderful toasted on its own, with a smear of salted butter and hot coffee.

 

 

 

Try This Toast Combination Now

When the going gets tough, it’s easy to give up on a lot. But fret not, for you’ll have a slice of toast that will get you over that hump.

It’s the perfect little snack, or breakfast if you have a birdy appetite, like me on some days. I can attest to its pre-yoga workout effectiveness. Energy boosting, almost wholesome. Here is a slice of whole wheat toast, half slathered in tahini, maple syrup and salt, half with a generous coat of butter and marmalade. 

The second bit is a classic, the sort of thing you might fall back on at an endless breakfast buffet (or if you’re a plain old novice). I love love love butter and jam on most days, and some days it’s good old almond/peanut butter, honey and a pinch of maldon salt. Today demanded a switch in routine, and so this was born.

Directions (because the ‘Ingredients’ bit isn’t necessary, right?)

Take one slice of any sort of bread you like (preferable whole wheat, sourdough or a dark rye), and toast in your toaster. Cut in half any which way, then top half with butter and marmalade (or jam, if you don’t have any marmalade, but marmalade is still the best option!), and the other half with tahini, maple syrup, and  apinch of coarse salt (Maldon). Eat the halves separately or, for optimal pleasure, sandwich together and bite. Savour that crunch, then the nuttiness mixing with the sweet jammy middle. A tick of salt at the end. Savour, swallow, maybe repeat.

Breakfast Special: Try This Now

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The gap in your knowledge must be filled. Certain Eureka! moments cannot, must not cease to be conveyed to the masses (however small my audience is; don’t want to sound all high and mighty here). I like discoveries and surprises, be it with regard to random tidbits of information I come across on the net or in books, or when I put two and two together in the kitchen and suddenly I get five but it works. Unless you dislike bananas or yoghurt or, well, butternut squash (sigh), I’m (almost) on my knees begging you to put the three together.

What you see above, friends, is really a simple construction: a thick slice of the bestest, moistest, chocolate chip banana bread cut in half and stacked, topped with homemade butternut squash candy puree (oh you just wait), drizzled with plain yoghurt, and a crumbled leftover brownie. I have already posted the recipe for two of those components, the only thing left is the squash candy purée. I learnt the recipe from a family member, after watching her cook the stuff and label it a ‘Filipino delight’. It was a little hard to adapt this because she doesn’t measure anything, however after just one spoonful of the delightful stuff, I can see why she does it the way she does– it’s all according to taste, and how sweet your butternut squashes are in the first place. What you get is a rich, thick, sweet plateful of orange purée. It’s like a healthy orh nee, or yam paste, but with a distinct squash flavour and undertones of coconut!

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You may find the recipes for the moist banana bread (the recipe yields a plain loaf, but I threw in a cup of chocolate chips for extra goo and decadence; the chocolate also makes the perfect pairing with the banana here) and the brownie here and here. The brownie recipe was written to incorporate an additional cream cheese swirl, but I used salted caramel in place of that this time. Bits and bobs of sweet, salty goo. You may also leave that out, or you may wish to leave out the brownie component altogether, which would be just as sublime (see pictures right above).

Butternut Squash Candy Purée (makes enough for 2 servings)

one large butternut squash

240ml water

200-240ml coconut milk

3-5 tablespoons of light/dark brown sugar (range is due to difference in taste and the natural sweetness of the butternut squash you have on hand)

half teaspoon of salt

In a heavyset saucepan, add the water, salt and butternut squash, turn on the heat and let everything come to a boil. This will take around 10-15 minutes. Once boiled and the butternut squash is soft and tender, use a large spoon or potato masher and mash the butternut squash in with the water. Reduce the heat a little to medium and add the coconut milk once most of the water has evaporated. At this point, add however much sugar you want, according to taste. Mix on medium heat for another 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is thick and smooth. Pour into a container and let cool before serving. I personally think this is best served cold, so if you wish, make this a day ahead and scoop it right out of the fridge the following morning.

Assembly: Take one slice of moist banana bread, top with the cold (or hot) squash purée, then drizzle on some plain yoghurt (vanilla or Greek works well), and top with broken bits of brownie.

Chelsea Date Buns

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So I have just a few weird habits.

1. Occasionally listening to Phil Collins and Westlife late at night when nothing else seems to appeal to my senses as much.

2. Burning toast on purpose.

3. Eating properly burnt toast with a knife and fork.

And lately, it’s been trying to perfect a specific recipe which is both nutritious and spectacularly delicious– a date lemon glaze!

But more on that a little later. I’ll get to the real meat (or should I say, crumb) of the whole situation first. I’ve been wanting to make chelsea buns for a while now, after coming across Paul Hollywood’s (anyone else here a massive Great British Bakeoff fan?) recipe online. It all seemed simple enough. I modified it a little, using a different proportion of dried fruit, as well as dates, and softened instead of melted butter for the filling. Chelsea buns are traditionally flavoured with lemon zest, cinnamon and dried fruit, but I incorporated the lemon more so in the glaze rather than the actual dough. If you’re giving this a shot, there’s no harm going all traditional as well.

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I’ll tell you now– this dough is a dream to work with. Probably the best ‘roll dough’ I’ve worked with in quite a while, and kneading was a pleasure even in this 38C weather. Is it just me or has it been extra sauna-like here recently? Once baked, the bun itself is soft, white and fluffy, though not as buttery as a brioche cinnamon bun or something of the sort. It’s a little headier, denser, but nevertheless upholding a tender, moist crumb. Those punch marks made my knuckles feel like they were in heaven, by the way.

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You can use any sort of dried fruit here, but I knew dates might be a little different given their soft, squidgy, texture, and I didn’t want anything too sickly sweet either. I was rather afraid of creating a mess of melting dates, but that fear was quickly replaced with hope ad excitement because it’s just these dates, not the cranberries or apricots (top), that, when mixed with the brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, created the most glorious soft, caramelised inner filling. The bottoms were dripping with toffee-hued, sweet goodness. So yes, dates were a terrific idea, a sublime encounter.

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Pretty much a date caramel, now that I’m sitting here recalling its texture and taste. All it is is dates, hot water, and a squeeze of lemon. Oh wait, and just a touch of cream. My my, it’s healthy (??). These chelsea buns aside, it can also be drizzled on fruit and whipped cream, or ice cream. Quite versatile, so easy and forgiving.

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Chelsea Date Buns with a Date Lemon Glaze (makes 10-12)

For the dough:

500g white all-purpose flour

7g instant yeast

3/4-1 tsp fine salt

300ml milk of choice (I used whole)

45g unsalted butter, melted in the microwave

1 egg

For the filling:

30g unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

80g brown sugar

170g dried fruit (I used a mixture of dried apricots, dried cranberry, and chopped, pitted dates)

For the date lemon glaze:

10 dates, pitted (I used medjool)

juice of half a lemon

250ml hot or boiling water

1 tbsp heavy cream

Make the dough. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt, then add the yeast on one side of the bowl. In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter and milk together. Add this milk-butter mix to the flour-yeast mix, then crack in the egg, and mix everything together with a wooden spoon, or in a mixer if you’re using one.

Flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Sprinkle a little more flour on top. Knead the dough for a good 5-10 minutes, until it’s no longer sticky and it looks smooth, pale and elastic. After kneading, put the dough back into the large bowl, cover with cling film or a damp cloth and leave to rise until it has visibly doubled in size, around 60-90 minutes. Grease two baking sheets and set these aside. Preheat your oven to 190C.

Whilst waiting, make the filling. In a medium bowl, mix the cinnamon, sugar and dried fruit together. Take the butter out so it can soften to room temperature during this period. After the dough has proven, lightly flour your work surface and tip it out. Lightly punch down on the dough, and with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle roughly 12×8 inches. Using a pastry brush, brush the softened butter all over, leaving a small border round the edges. Sprinkle on the mix of cinnamon, sugar and dried fruit. Roll the dough starting with the long side, so you end up with a 12-inch log. With a serrated knife, cut off the jagged ends (if you have any), then cut the log into 12 rolls. You may have more or less, but you should end up with 12 1-inch thick rolls. Put the rolls swirl side down on the baking pans, with a little space between each one. Cover the rolls with a piece of aluminium to prevent the tops from burning, then pop in the oven (you can do one baking sheet at a time) and bake for 18-22 minutes. Mine were perfect after 20.

Make the date lemon glaze. Take your dates and put them in the hot water, then add the lemon juice. Let this mix rest for 15 minutes. After waiting, put them in a blender (I have a Vitamix, so I used that), and blend for a full minute. The mix would look like it has already been fully blended after around 15 seconds, but don’t stop here. The dates thicken the glaze once they fully break down, and this only occurs a few seconds later. So don’t stop blending. Once a minute is up, pour the glaze into a bowl. It should be smooth, almost lump-free, and golden-brown. At this point, add the tablespoon of heavy cream.

Once the buns are baked, let rest on the baking pan and a cooling rack for half an hour. Drizzle the buns liberally with the date lemon glaze and, if you wish, top with slivered almonds.