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.

No-bake Strawberry Cheesecake

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Rain, outside. Currently listening to Millie Vernon’s That Old Feeling, and feeling swingy. I haven’t given enough verbal weight to the importance of smooth jazz to my creations. Its silky notes have a way of churning the cogs up there. The rain is helping, too.

Cheesecake, cheesecake! Inspired by none other than my favourite Ben&Jerry’s ice cream flavour as a child. Am I the only one who thought it was better than every other flavour they had? Phish food was fine, Cherry Garcia was an atrocity only because I had no appetite for cherries in any form at that age, the banana thing was a no. It was a picky phase, I could only stick to solid chocolate and cheese sort of flavours, and anything nutty or fruity was sacrilege. Except for strawberry cheesecake.

I approach most vegan cheesecake recipes with caution. Cashews and coconut? The furthest things from that signature dairy taste? I think not. But this one proved me (and will hopefully do the same to you) wrong. A good soak of your cashews will yield a fine, smooth texture, similar to your typical New York cheesecake, I promise. I kept this one base-less to keep the focus on the pure filling, but you can use this crust if you wish. That crust is also featured in my recipe for a classic vegan cheesecake, if you wish to try a proper baked one instead. It’s good to remind oneself of why it’s important to use more plant-based foods and proteins in anything you cook and bake. Just look at the power of cashews, the main star of this event:

  • They are almost a quarter total protein
  • 62% of its fats are monounsaturated, and have less fat than most other nuts
  • They are brimming with a sort of flavonol that starves cancer tumours
  • They help manufacture enzymes involved in the formation of haemoglobin and collagen, and are therefore key in skin and hair health
  • I keep forgetting that full stops don’t belong in bullet points

So you see, I guess this whole cashews-not-milk-plus-save-cow-exploitation sort of headspace isn’t so bad. The better you blend all this up, the better your result. You really want it to be as smooth and creamy as possible. What’s great about this recipe is also that i’s no-bake, which means it satisfies all you lazy bakers (me included sometimes).

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Ingredients

250g raw cashews, soaked overnight or for a couple of hours in lukewarm water, and drained. You can leave the cashews in the fridge or on the counter. Alternatively, you can add boiling water to the cashews and let this sit for half an hour before using.

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp fine salt

120ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed from about 3-4 lemons

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

80ml maple syrup

60ml vegetable oil (sub: melted vegan butter/melted coconut oil)

3 heaped tbsp coconut yoghurt or any yoghurt you like (sub: applesauce or milk)

3 heaped tbsp strawberry jam

Directions

Blend all ingredients except for the jam in a high-speed, powerful blender. Continue to blend until you get a smooth, pale consistency. It should be thick and runny. Pour the filling into a bowl, add the strawberry jam and then use a spatula to fold the jam in, creating a ripple effect. Tip this into a 8 or 9-inch cheesecake pan with a removable bottom and place it into the freezer to set.

*To create the swirly effect as you can see above, take the cheesecake out of the freezer after 30 minutes, and run a small knife or spatula in the formation of a spiral from the outside to the inside. You may get this all messy the first time, especially as the cheesecake starts to thaw, but don’t worry, the fact that the cheesecake thaws easily means it’s also easy to scrap whatever pattern you’ve done and start again. You can also put the cheesecake back in the freezer and take it out 10 minutes later to re-mold whatever pattern you want. Enjoy with coconut yogurt and strawberry jam.

Chocolate-stuffed Pillow Pancakes for One

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And it’s back to the pancake grind. Does anyone else think pancakes are just beyond magical? I mean really, think back to when you had one really good pancake, and all the suffering it may have alleviated. I’m not saying one must be dependent on pancakes (or good food) alone to be relieved of anything depressing or sad, because that in itself isn’t a case for good health. Good health need not mean a good pancake, but good health certainly leaves room for a damn good pancake.

My signature pillow pancakes have been my (and your) long-standing favourite recipe since I started posting recipes on this blog. Though it seemed initially banal to re-write a recipe which I’ve done too many times to count, it behoves me to re-write it for your benefit, just this once, because chocolate-stuffed pancakes do take these to a whole new level, and because it’s ‘for one’, you need not share, or worry about tidying up and freezing leftovers. Further, it’s the perfect way to use up any leftover chocolate frosting you may have from a cake or tart experiment. This is no pabulum or stupidity (the latter you may witness, though, in the current issue surrounding the new American immigration policy; I am both heartbroken and angered by such hoo-ha).

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A firm warning from yours truly– these pancakes will make you productive the entire morning. I topped mine with a homemade pumpkin spread and some granola given to me by my dearest Charlie, although these toppings are optional (and honestly, gave the photography shoot bit a nice bit of pop and fun). You’re good with some maple and extra chopped dark chocolate, and I imagine some good, thick coconut yoghurt would work so well.

I’ll dial the excitement down a shade, and leave you to it. The past week has been rife with friendly gatherings and good food, and I hope this does not stop for a long, long while.

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Chocolate-Stuffed Pancakes for One

Ingredients

For the pancakes:

80g plain flour, or use half plain and half whole-wheat

1 tbsp ground flax (optional)

1 tbsp coconut/white/brown sugar

1/2 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda

pinch of salt

2 tsp melted butter (normal/vegan) or coconut oil

100ml milk or mylk (I like almond or soy)

For the chocolate middle:

10g cocoa powder

30g icing sugar

splash of milk or mylk almond/soy)

 

Directions

The night before you make the pancakes, whisk the cocoa powder and icing sugar together, Drizzle in the milk/mylk drop by drop until you get the consistency of a smooth and thick chocolate icing. Put the icing on a plate, spread it out and put it in the freezer to set. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour(s), flax (if using), sugar, salt and leavening agents). Pour the rest of the ingredients into the dry mix and mix briefly with a wooden spoon or a normal dinner spoon. Continue to mix until everything is justt combined, which means there will still be a few lumps, but no more streaks of flour. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy.

Preheat your pan on medium-high heat and ready some butter. You know the pan is hot enough when you flick a little water onto its surface and there’s a clear sizzle. At that point, add a little pat of butter, let it melt, and add a heaping tablespoon of pancake batter for your first pancake. Then take your frozen chocolate disc and place it in the centre of your first pancake. Add a little more batter to cover the disc. Wait for the pancake to cook through, or once you notice one or two bubbles forming on its surface. Flip the pancake and let it cook for at least 30 more seconds. Let this cool on a paper towel while you do the same for the next pancake.

Serve with butter and maple syrup, or whatever you want. They’re wonderful with banana and more chopped chocolate, its moist sweetness adjoining arms with the maple. What a Sunday.

 

Kaya Bundt With Dark Chocolate Frosting

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Things have been taken a step up. In thought, and in action. From trying out crazy buffet restaurants, to understanding which camera is the most accurate (iPhone, Snapchat, Instagram or something else? Help, which tells the truth?) and why, to Kim and Trump having negotiations just this morning, in a luxury hotel right here on our little red dot Singapore. Why not do the same in the kitchen? Like this, like now.

Making my own kaya was an intrepid effort, but by no means terribly intimidating. Kaya has always been one of my favourite spreads ever. Simply spreading the stuff on my toasted, buttered crumpet this morning was some beautiful nostalgia. I just had to recreate a vegan version. A few years ago, with so many amazing nonya kayas out there, I never felt the need to make my own. Although this vegan recipe, which I adapted from an online source, needs a little tweaking, the final product turned out more than fine, with the right gloopy texture, a strong coconut taste, perfect for soaking into crevices, into the porous, crusty craters of white toast, on a crumpet (this morning’s gala).

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So you’ve got the kaya. Then it’s simply a matter of mixing wet with dry, the kaya going into a smooth homogenous mixture of butter and sugar all nicely creamed together, some flax eggs (or normal eggs, whatever floats your goat), and added coconut extract for punch and pizzaz. Once that’s done, you make a damn good, deep and dark chocolate frosting to literally ice the cake in flavour, texture, and colour. Experiment with the baking time too– mine needed 45 minutes in total although you may only need 40 or so minutes. I even used some edible flowers to decorate but I’m posh that way (ok no, I’m supporting a sustainable urban farming movement. The owner propagates edible flowers and breeding pollinators in the middle of bustling Orchard Road here in Singapore… how cool is that??).

The cake is dense, moist yet fluffy. Behold some robust coconut breath in each sturdy bite. The icing stays strong even in this terrifying heat and humidity, so you can be well assured you don’t have to worry about a schmozzle when you drizzle it on your beautiful bundt.

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Kaya bundt cake with chocolate drizzle (makes one medium bundt)

Ingredients

For the kaya bundt cake:

400g kaya, homemade or store-bought (make your vegan version, I found a good recipe here– mine turned out tasting a little too much of soy due to all that tofu, but the texture and taste was still nonetheless on point)

350g cake flour, or plain flour if you don’t have cake flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp coconut extract (optional, I added it for amplified flavour)

200g each of vegan butter (room temperature) and sugar (sub: normal butter if you’re not vegan)

2 flax eggs (sub: whole eggs), made by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp room temperature water)

For the frosting:

40g icing sugar

10g cocoa powder

1 tbsp tahini (optional, I added for creaminess and a hint of sesame flavour)

5-6 tbsp almond milk

60g dark chocolate

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Make your flax eggs by combining the ground flaxseed with water and setting it aside to gel up. Grease and flour a bundt pan. I coated the inside of my pan with coconut oil, then floured it by adding a tablespoon of flour into the pan and then jiggling the pan around so the flour is mostly coating the oiled inner surface.

In a large bowl and with a spatula, cream the room temperature butter with the sugar. I find a spatula makes it nice and easy. Cream together until the mixture is homogenous, pale and fluffy. Add the flax eggs, coconut extract and kaya, and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.

In a separate medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Tip this into the large bowl containing your wet ingredients, then mix all together gently, until everything is smooth and evenly incorporated. Spoon dollops of batter into the greased and floured pan, continuing to do this until all batter is used up. Bake the bundt in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre comes out with a few moist crumbs.

While the bundt is baking, make the frosting. Chop up the dark chocolate, tip into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until the chocolate is all melted. In a separate bowl, sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together, then add the tahini (optional) and milk. Add the melted chocolate and mix until you get a thick but runny consistency. Once the bundt is done, let it cool down (don’t tip it!) on a wire rack for at least a half hour. Drizzle the chocolate frosting over the top and sprinkle with sesame seeds for decoration.

 

 

 

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.