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.

 

Strawberry Streusel Cake

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This is, briefly and simply put, absolutely sublime. When I shared this loaf with my godparents, my mother and godsister, they all exclaimed it was incredible, especially doused in some heavy cream, after a lighthearted meal over denser conversation. And I do agree.

I’ll say it first before you get to the ingredients: This is a gluten-free cake. Yes, it is gluten-free, but. A but. I’ve recently become more aware of the effects of gluten not just in myself, but in others. I love my bread and might never stop eating it, however one too many a slice and I will feel it. The bloat, you get it. The carbohydrate may be the most demonised item in this current era of food-demonising, and it’s hard to determine what we could or should eat, if we end up eating anything at all. But this article puts things into nice perspective. That being said, the effects of refined flour cannot be denied and I too have to force myself to take it slow with the not-so-great stuff. There will always be room for dessert, just not every day of the week.

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Therefore, the side effects of a Saturday morning’s adventurous spirit include stepping outside of my little box of refined flour and sugar and trying things like almond flour. And how simple, plain and easy, it was. How joyous, to mix something as nondescript as almond flour with eggs and then boom, a perfectly intact cake is born.

The cake is moist without being gluey, with that perfect golden-brown all over after the single hour in the oven. I used strawberries here but feel free to use any berries you have on hand, and the same goes for the streusel topping which has mixed nuts, in which case you can use whatever nuts you like.

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Strawberry Streusel Cake (makes one 9×5-inch loaf)

Ingredients 

For the filling:

2 cups strawberries (fresh or frozen), stems cut off and diced

100g (0.5 cup) sugar

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

0.5 tsp cornstarch

 

For the streusel topping:

45g (0.5 cup) almond flour

handful of chopped nuts (I used a mix of almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and walnuts)

90g (little less than 0.5 cup) sugar

35g (0.15 cup) salted butter, melted

 

For the cake:

3 eggs

50g (0.25 cup) light brown sugar

60g (0.25 cup) caster sugar

150g (around 1.5 cups+ 2 tbsp) almond flour

0.5 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla extract

*Substitution notes:

VEGAN: Make 4 flax or chia ‘eggs’ in replacement of the 3 eggs, made by mixing 4 tbsp ground flaxseed or chia seeds with 8 tbsp water, and setting that aside to gel up for a bit. Substitute the butter with vegan butter.

KETO: Substitute the half cup of sugar with half cup xylitol or two-thirds cup erythritol

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). We start with the juicy berry filling: In a saucepan heated on medium heat, add the strawberries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice and cook until the mixture turns glistening and sticky.

Now for the cake. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars, vanilla extract, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the almond flour and whisk. The mixture should look pretty wet, but don’t worry since this will set nicely in the oven once it is finished baking.

Make the streusel topping by whisking all the streusel ingredients together with a fork in a separate bowl. Grease a 9.5-inch loaf pan, then add half of the cake mixture. Add the mixed berry mixture evenly on top, and then add the rest of the cake mixture, and then finally the streusel topping. Bake in the oven for 1 hour exactly. Remove and let the cake cool in the pan before serving (with powdered sugar and doused in heavy cream, preferably).

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.

 

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.

Chocolate Chip Waffles

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Things to note this past week:

My class’s Friday book/film club is adorable and is the perfect excuse to bake every Thursday night if not being lazy.

The National Gallery is an underrated treasure here in London.

Another underrated food is caramelised banana.

Learning is the right balance of acceptance and curiosity.

The bright and vivid, dark ink of a new pen is almost orgasmic.

I picked at a mostly dry stack of buckwheat pancakes the other Saturday and am now afraid of ordering pancakes or waffles somewhere ever again. Today’s post is thus born out of a love for the neglected kitchen, a strong tribute to the homemakers of the century– who needs waffles outside when you can make amazing ones within the warm comfort of your home, to accompany a freshly brewed Nespresso cuppa, a book or probing documentary, and mountains of whatever toppings you would like?

Now that the first huge set of assignments are done, I’m relaxing with my waffles, already on my second cup of coffee. As I type, some doughnuts hibernate behind me. A free Wednesday is therapeutic and needed, sometimes. I think I spend all my money on flour and nothing else. Flour, frozen berries, bread and veggies. Those top the list. What else is required for a happy life; what else is needed to dedicate concentration to the hours that don’t make up breakfast, lunch and dinner?

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These waffles. They’re thick. They burst and bubble with specks of chocolate, all crisp round the edges and mildly chewy everywhere else. The rims and ridges are sharp and taut, ravines ready to catch your lashings of maple syrup (didn’t have any syrup this time sadly, so used blackstrap molasses which did the trick anyway). You probably can’t tell, but the first picture shows a plain version, the second is chocolate chip-stuffed. Depending on your mood, make either, but at your own caution, for chocolate, melting and caught between each crevice, really makes all the difference.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Waffles For One (scale up for more people as needed)

Ingredients

25g rolled oats

120g plain flour (or whole-wheat if you prefer)

35-40g chopped dark chocolate

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

120ml (1/2 cup) almond milk, or any other plant milk (soy/coconut/oat) you have

3 tbsp olive/coconut oil/vegan butter (doesn’t have to be melted, as long as it’s soft or at room temperature)

3 tbsp maple syrup/blackstrap molasses/rice syrup (use honey if you’re not vegan)

 

Directions

Tip all ingredients into a bowl and mix until all is well combined. The mixture should be like a thick cake batter; add more flour if it isn’t. You could do this the night before and pop the bowl into your fridge so you save a little time in the morning when you make it!

Preheat your waffle iron according to its instructions, grease with whatever fat you used in the batter itself (in this case I used coconut oil) and pour the batter in, making sure not to exceed the tips of the iron ridges. Cook until the surfaces are lightly browned. My waffle iron doesn’t require me to flip the waffles over, but if you feel the heating is uneven, go ahead and do just that after 3-4 minutes, depending on how fast and strong your iron is. This recipe makes about 2 thick waffles, a generous serving for one person, but sharing with someone else works too. Freeze any extras and toast in your toaster when you want to have them again. Soooo good with thick and creamy soy yoghurt, berries, caramelised banana (see above) and maple syrup.