Banana Cake with Toffee Sauce

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Where has the consistency been? This week has been a flurry of priority questioning and it’s taken until now, April, to finally feel as if things are getting back on track. I’ve forgotten how effective blogging is at re-wording my sense of self and re-aligning priorities. More and more I’m realising it’s an outlet, to help me more than just others, and it feels good. If others indeed benefit from my own vulnerability in words as well as my recipes, then the ultimate goal is reached. Further, although Instagram, that occasionally fun and bright little platform, nicely links to this blog, I have to say that words flow a little more naturally here in prose. I can write all the long captions I want on every Instagram post, but that would ruin the point of this blog, and rarely does one go on Instagram to read paragraphs anyway.  There’s no limit here, just freedom of thought as my hands hurry across the keyboard. And doing it even just once a week is such a great relief, a comfort, away from other pressing worries.

Life is supposedly about work and play, but I realised there must be a couple of concrete things in place, done on the daily or weekly, that help reinforce my work ethic and everything else that comes in this sphere of daily living. Namely, blogging like this, fitness and health, and words. There are some practical ways in which these can be enforced, ways which in previous years I may have been too nervous to talk or even blog about. In the points below I’m more specific in methods that help my human relations (this is the one thing I think I’ll always be private about), body, life and general goals.

read and write a little everyday: words are assuagement, trailing between my teeth and lips and hands, giving meaning to the smallest overlooked things on the daily, resetting focus and slowing down my (usually too fast to the point of no return) brain. So a little everyday goes a long way. I’ve been journalling almost every day since I was 7, so I’m happy that that’s a natural habit in place, but my reading of books could seriously be upped, and my German is still incredibly poor so I must drastically improve my practice, with this blogpost keeping me accountable.

On this note on words, here’s an interesting quote to fluff up your day: ‘Science is one way of connecting with the mystery of existence. Atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method because atheism is a declaration of nonbelief, but there are not really any declarations in science.’–Marcelo Gleiser, winner of the Templeton Prize 2019. Funny to read this as I constantly question where I am on the spirituality spectrum. That was something complex compressed neatly into a few keen sentences, something to think about more often.

cardio and strength training: movement is another meditation. I’ve been trying to alternate between these two 4 times a week, and I’ve found my general focus and memory to have improved significantly. Yoga, spinning, bodypump classes, and walking daily. I have pretty crap stamina so aiming to get stronger with time, as I zone out and tune in, and to improve insulin sensitivity. Anyone else have a strict fitness routine?

food: I’ll repeat myself every day if I have to– this blog is my fairytale place. It makes me happy to write about sweet things, made slowly and pleasingly with jazz music in the background, but it’s by no means what I eat on a daily basis. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m pretty health-conscious, given what I study (human nutrition, gut health and how it links to brain health), but good at pretending I’m not. I will happily visit the newest bakeries and indulge my sweet tooth, but that probably goes as far as once or twice a week, and I’m apt to look out for the other sugary things I enjoy slotting into my meals: sweet chilli sauce, oat mochas (I’m having one right now, guilty), maple syrup, etc. I never can, or will, be too militant because this in itself is a set-up for failure and a very UNfun life. So here’s to more protein in my protein-lacking diet, slow-releasing carbohydrates, more whole fruit and veg, and less sugar overall to keep me feeling sluggish.

And with that said…

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Cake. A cake for the weekend, or a midweek pick-me-up. This banana cake has olive oil in it, which I find readily complements the ripe banana flavour, but if you so happen to not have that on hand, then any other oil (sunflower, rapeseed or even coconut) would work. Maybe not sesame. There’s not much oil in the cake anyway, so you should be safe in any case.

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Banana, chocolate, olive oil. A serious, yet light-hearted, harmony. I experimented with the vegan version of this using ground flaxseed to make the flax eggs, but really this was The best part of eating this cake, in my humble opinion, is the drizzling of hot toffee sauce and cold cream (plain or coconut) on the cake, making it a squidgy, moreish mess, dry and wet in all the right places, before digging in. The hot and cold and bit of banana on top of the cake come together in a cute waltz that intensifies into a crazy textural orgasm. So hot.

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Ingredients (makes one 9-inch cake)

For the cake:

188g (1+1/2 cups) plain, all-purpose flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

handful of chopped chocolate (milk/dark)

230g (around 1+1/4 cup, unpacked) light/dark brown sugar

4+1/2 bananas, 2 whole and 2+1/2 mashed

3 eggs or 4 flax eggs (made by mixing 4 tbsp ground flaxseed with 7 tbsp water and leaving aside for a while to gel)

120ml (1/2 cup) olive oil, or sub with melted butter/vegan butter/another oil that’s more neutrally flavoured

Handful of chopped chocolate

For the toffee sauce:

113g (1/2 cup) butter/vegan butter

3 tsp fine salt

135g (2/3 cup, unpacked) light or dark brown sugar

120ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream or coconut cream

Directions

For the cake:

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Grease a standard 9-inch round cake pan. It would be easy if you use a springform pan, in which case you can easily take the cake out, and I don’t bother lining the tin. If you do use a normal pan then make sure to line your tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. In another medium bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas (2+1/2), brown sugar, eggs, oil and salt. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and fold everything together until you get a nice homogenous batter. Some banana lumps are fine. Pour the cake batter into the pan. Next, cut each of the remaining 2 bananas in half, and then cut each half again in half, lengthwise this time. You end up with 8 short banana halves. Place each banana piece cut side up in a wheel formation (or however you like) on the cake, then sprinkle on the chopped chocolate on top, then place the cake into the preheated oven to bake for 35 minutes exactly.

Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce. Add the brown sugar and butter to a saucepan, bring the heat up to the highest and wait for the mixture to come to a boil, helping the brown sugar and butter to dissolve faster by nudging the mixture with a wooden spoon. Once it starts to sizzle, let bubble for 2 minutes, then add the cream and whisk. It will sputter a little, but that’s normal and good. Cook for a couple more minutes, then bring the heat down, cook one more minute until everything is smooth and caramel-coloured, and take it off the heat.

Once the cake is baked, take out of the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes. Serve with the toffee sauce and some extra cold cream or coconut cream. Store the toffee sauce in the fridge, and the cake at room temperature for up to 4 days in an airtight container.

Soufflé Pancakes

As the year passes, in too quickly a manner, there has been a burgeoning demand for precious moments and their savouring.

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One of those precious moments happened last year, or perhaps a little before that, when I successfully made these Japanese soufflé pancakes. And since one of my life missions has been to having a professional feel for developing accurate, DELICIOUS vegan or plant-based reproductions of my favourite, usually nostalgic, breakfast or baking recipes, I couldn’t miss the chance to do so this time. I haven’t had these pancakes in ages, but they really are beautiful things. Admittedly, their sky-high, pillowy nature makes them not quite so pancake-like in the books of many purists, whatever continent may be in. Eating them, nevertheless, is pure ecstasy, and that’s what really matters. Each bite is weightless, teeth effortlessly sinking into these fluffy bodies. The little bit of sugar added to these pancakes suffices, coming through clearly purely due to all that air in each tower of a cake.

The addition of pumpkin purée here comes in handy after Fall, when you may still have half-cans of the stuff lying around. It adds the texture and flavour of egg yolk, which is what I originally use in the ‘normal’ recipe, without being intrusive with pumpkin’s own natural flavour. As for the Japanese (kewpie as it’s called) mayonnaise that’s one of the main stars in the normal recipe, vegan mayonnaise is used. I use the one by the brand Follow Your Heart, which tastes astoundingly like the real thing– crazy! The only thing here which isn’t exactly comforting is the use of white sugar, since I learnt that it’s common for the stuff to be made from bone char, and I am still trying to cut down on the use of refined sugar in general, since its general effects, both physically and mentally, just aren’t very desirable. However, I had some lying around and did not want to waste it, so that happened. Would be very grateful for any recommendations for substitutions!

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Soufflé pancakes (serves 1-2)

Ingredients  

4 tbsp pumpkin purée (sub: 2 egg yolks)

1 heaping tbsp. vegan mayonnaise (sub: normal mayonnaise if you’re not vegan)

The liquid from 1 can of chickpeas (aquafaba; sub: 2 egg whites)

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp white sugar

5 tbsp cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

some vegan butter for the pan during cooking

Directions

Prepare your pan and ring molds– you will need 3-4 4-inch wide ring molds for this. I actually did not have this on hand so I improvised and stapled together rings of aluminium foil to get the same effect. Note to self: use ring molds next time. The foil works but you have an increased chance of leakage at the bottom!

In a bowl, briefly whisk together the cake flour and baking powder. Then add the pumpkin purée, salt and vegan mayo. Whisk these together until you get a thick, dark yellow, almost paste-like mixture.

In a separate clean bowl, use an electric whisk to beat the aquafaba on high until frothy and mostly white throughout. Once you reach this frothy point, add the sugar and continue beating on high until you get a thick consistency. Aquafaba takes longer to whip up than normal egg white so be patient here– this can take up to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place your pan on the stove to preheat it on medium heat. Once thickly whipped, add the aquafaba to the pumpkin mixture and gently fold with a spatula (I recommend a rubber one) until you get an incredibly light and airy consistency. At this point, your pan will be rather hot. Place your ring molds on the pan and add the batter to one of the molds until it is ¾ full. Cover the pan with its lid and wait 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid– once you see that the top is rather firm, use a flat pancake spatula to flip the pancake with the ring mold still in tact, to cook the other side. Remove this pancake and put it on a paper towel on a plate to rest while you cook the rest of the batter.

 

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.

Classic Crepes (gluten-free option)

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Fall, friends! It’s here, and I don’t know about you but I’m ready. Hello, excessive amounts of anything with pumpkin and apple pies. Hello, my favourite season.

The term has once again started, and with it comes a sense of both excitement and dread. To be intellectually stimulated is one thing, but it’s important to not let the intimidation of new, bright faces obfuscate any goal, be it professional or personal.

Enough with my obsession with pancakes. I let crepes take over this time. Sometimes a change of breakfast routine is all you need to feel excited about a new season, a new beginning, a new.. anything. These crepes can be made with any flour you wish, however buckwheat or spelt does result in a fluffier crepe with a more interesting flavour dimension. I never was a buckwheat gal, but decided to experiment with the rather wholesome-looking grain after a friend of mine whipped up a delicious buckwheat veggie dish for me last year, and since it’s free of gluten, it’s worth a try for my increasing number of gluten-free peeps. What’s more, more buckwheat, barley, brown rice and basically anything not scarily white is a good way of reducing intake of refined sugar and carbohydrate, for as much as I (and most of us) love the stuff, it does nothing for the brain or body, and can possibly trigger terrible eating habits.  Furthermore, it’s exciting just knowing that buckwheat:

  • is full of the bioflavonoid rutin, which contains quercetin (also abundant in apples), and is thus of higher nutritional value than many other grains. Rutin helps with blood circulation and lowers cholesterol, to name just a few things.
  • is full of magnesium (supports respiratory health and helps restore normal sleep patterns), copper (helps the body absorb iron), and manganese (can improve bone health and reduce inflammation)

Makes it all a bit more exciting to put together. So you just whisk a few ingredients together, smack a quarter-cup of batter each time onto a hot pan, spread it out a little, flip to cook the other side for a short while, and there you have it– incredibly soft, tender crepes. The uniqueness of this dangerously delicious breakfast lies in its versatility– there’s a lightly toasted nutty flavour that can be combined with almost any flavour topping, although my personal favourite is coconut yoghurt and plenty of frozen but thawing summer berries on top.

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Crepes (makes 4-6, enough for one hungry person, scale up as necessary)

Ingredients

65g buckwheat flour (sub: plain or spelt flour)

pinch of salt

200ml plant milk of choice (I used oat)

1/2 tbsp ground flaxseed

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp vegetable oil/melted vegan butter (sub: normal butter)

Directions

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients well. The batter should be pourable but not too wet, so if it seems too thick, add a tablespoon of milk, and if it seems too thin, add a little more flour. Heat your pan (add a little oil if it’s not a nonstick pan) on medium heat. Flick a splash of water on it to see if it sizzles, to check if the pan is hot enough to use. Once it is hot enough, add a quarter-cup of batter to the pan and use the back of the cup measurement to spread the batter out into a thin circle. Be careful here– you don’t want the batter to be too thin, as this will lead to easy breakage afterwards when you try and flip the crepe.  Cook the first side until you see the edges of the crepe firm up, then slide your spatula carefully underneath and flip the crepe. Cook the second side for a little shorter, about a minute or so. Place the cooked crepe on a paper towel and roll it up before placing on a serving plate. Continue to do this for the remaining amount of batter. Serve with thick coconut yoghurt, tahini, berries and maple syrup!

 

Earl Grey Chocolate Chip Spelt Waffles

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Back home in London again, after a long summer. The past few months have truly been something, and as my thoughts spin faster than I type, perhaps just jotting down a few highlights would be slightly more comprehensive.

Highlights of summer:

  • meeting old friends in Singapore and eating all the good, cheap Asian dishes of my childhood!
  • travelling alone to New York for the first time, for my first science conference. Then, going there again with family for a cute fam holiday because all. The. Food. Once again. My favourite things were pistachio halva at Seed and Mill,  the ravioli, lasagna and french toast– goodness that ravioli had my whole family screaming– at Blossom Vegan restaurant, and the ice cream from van Leeuwen. Thick, stretchy ice cream. New York was essentially one big blur of food ecstasy.
  • travelling all over Italy (Padua, Modena, Bologna, Bonassola, with my boyfriend and spending time with his family, too. It was weeks of less internet connection and more real connectivity, something I’ve found more and more necessary in an up-and-going, busy city such as London. Ignorance is truly bliss, sometimes. Padua, our first stop, is a gem with her cheap aperols and tramezzinis, and so is Modena with her divine food (pretty sure we saw Massimo Bottura on a bike) and pretty streets. Those two areas were probably my favourites, and to visit again would be a blessing.

Things I’ve learnt after returning to London:

  • always clean your waffle iron really well after each use; you don’t want gross black burnt bits of waffle from two months ago left behind on that thing…
  • spend enough quality time with both yourself and the people who mean the most to you
  • short naps are underrated
  • London is amazing, period– I always forget how vibrant, diverse and fun it is here. I also have yet to find elsewhere with an architectural scene as unique as it is here, and yes, I like the cold, the grey, the soft sun and tender clouds, I like it all. Further, there’s something for everyone here, anytime, anyplace. Want some fun? Head straight to Shoreditch or somewhere in Central London for a drink or delicious bite. Feel too overwhelmed? Escape to the outskirts or have a solo picnic in Hyde Park. Or stay home and make…

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Well, waffles. Of course.

Not just any plain old American-style waffle (although there will always be a case for that, and one will always be partial to that classic combination of butter and maple syrup), no. It’s a waffle with class, with taste, but all in good measure, not stuffy in the slightest. The earl grey lends a note of sophistication to the sultry blend of spelt and chocolate. Who knew spelt made such a good case for your Sunday stack? Not I, not I for too long a time. The nutty, almost sweet angle to spelt has made it popular in more and more dishes, both sweet and savoury, recently. Although it’s not gluten-free, its relatively low in gluten, making it easy on the abdomen for the more gluten-sensitive of you. It is incredibly rich in many B vitamins such as niacin (like mushrooms!), protein and minerals, and even used to brew beer in Belgium and Bavaria. If you’re not convinced by its versatility, then check out these waffles. They’re perfect in every sense of the word in waffle world– soft and chewy all the way through, and golden-crisp around the edges.

These are truly one of the best waffle recipes I’ve developed. I have always wanted to experiment with spelt, but the combination of earl grey, chocolate and fluff makes for something so wonderfully extravagant yet humble in the simple shape of a waffle. Easy to make, and take no time at all to cook. Compared to my other waffle recipes, these take less than a minute to cook fully– how sublime is that when you’re cold and starving on a weekend morning?

They pair magically with coconut yogurt, more chopped chocolate and strawberry jam. Maple syrup isn’t necessary since the waffles themselves are relatively sweet, but go for it if you wish– I understand than some liquescent element is necessary for it to feel like a Sunday sometimes.

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Ingredients (makes 5-6 mini waffles and serves 1-2 people, double or triple the quantities if necessary)

130g spelt flour (use plain if you wish, but spelt will make your waffles softer and chewier)

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

80ml milk of your choice (I used almond)

half tbsp apple cider vinegar/ white vinegar

1 tsp vanilla extract

50g agave syrup/ maple syrup/ honey

90g yoghurt of choice (I used coconut)

2 tbsp oil (any type such as vegetable/ rapeseed/ coconut/ sunflower)

2-3 tbsp earl grey tea, made by steeping your favourite earl grey tea (loose/teabag) in hot or boiling water for a couple of minutes

40g chopped dark chocolate (use whatever chocolate you want but dark is preferable– I used Lindt’s 70% for a strong and true flavour)

Directions

Preheat your waffle iron according to its instructions. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Then add the rest of the ingredients, the chopped chocolate going in last. Mix until everything is evenly incorporated, but don’t overmix the batter as this will result in rubbery waffles.

Liberally grease your waffle iron and place two heaped tablespoons of batter on the hot surface. Press the lid of the iron down and let the waffles cook for 30-40 seconds. Check if they’re golden and crisp on the outside by carefully lifting the lid. If not, let them continue to cook until golden-brown. There should be melting or cooked bits of chocolate all around the edges… yum.

Carefully remove the waffles (use your hands if you’re daring, and a fork if you’re not stupid) from the iron and place on a paper towel to let them cool while you handle the rest of the batter. Serve with coconut yoghurt, fruity jam and a little extra chopped dark chocolate.