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).

Berry Cheesecake Muffins

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Diary excerpts:

17/5: vegan magnums are terrific// the gravity of writing my thesis has not fully weighed down on me yet

18/5: so glad to have found a fitness routine that doesn’t require a gym (more walking, running)

23/5: honestly rather sad that I’ve become addicted to the temporary pleasure of something crunchy, something sweet.

2/6: Brown adipose tissue has uncoupling proteins that allow protons to travel form the outside to inside, effectively creating its own energy? A study in mice found that during periods of overeating, the TRIP gene is activated and causes massive inflammation, triggering fat storage.

3/6: fliesen= tiles

4/6: ventouse= suction device applied to baby’s head in childbirth, to assist birth. Wow.

When efforts to bake are stymied, say due to travel or the fear of people who are at your house smelling something even mildly burnt, the itch later on comes on hard. Hard. I’ll try and write an essay or put something into Excel and then I have to physically get up and go to the kitchen to play. This muffin experiment, one extrapolated from a previous one, was borne out of one of those impulsive childish outbursts, and possesses that exact childlike quality. Such a relentless need to do something with my hands is almost childish, and perhaps it would be wise to use my hands for something else, yet this is all I want to do with them, with my time.

It has nothing of the mature notes of dark chocolate somethings, but all of the decadence. It’s much welcome in light of the past week, when a few disappointments came through, but of which were also softened by a recent trip to Vienna, Austria.

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And it’s simply beautiful there. I stayed in the suburbs with a beloved family, away from the bustle of the more touristy centre. There, a different light hits the streets, a soft one which seems to imbue all its residents with the same attitude towards life. It enables a brisk but more serene walk, or perhaps a cycle, to take in the details between cement tiles or patches of grass. It enables you to observe, feel and be. Very unlike what it feels like here, where it seems rather uncommon for people to walk not for the sake of enjoying it, and mealtimes are for sustenance, never pleasure. That light, that feel, has made me want to drown in the impossible (‘unmöglich’ in their language) beauty of everyday life. From our sun-drenched brunches pregnant with pretzels (bretzeln), to cuddling near a thermal bath, to reading (The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf) and swallowing it up easily because my phone notifications are now, permanently, off.

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A soft and gossamer muffin studded with tangy berries and sweet cream cheese.

These berries are like a dense piquant forest, pleasantly tart and just slightly biting, uprooted and plunged into new beige territory. To sleep. To rest without dying, their inborn qualities of tart and fresh and zing there, always there. A cream cheese river cutting through the forest, right in the middle, breaking up the forest and letting it lie nonchalantly on either side.

Quote of the day: “Feelings are important. But they’re important not for the reasons we think they are. We think they’re important because they say something about us, about the world, and about our relationship with it. But they say none of these things. There’s no meaning attached to feelings. Sometimes you hurt for good feelings. Sometimes for a bad reason. And sometimes no reason at all. The hurt itself is neutral. The reason is separate.”

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Berry Cheesecake Muffins (makes 12 medium muffins)

*=vegan substitution

Ingredients

For the muffins:

250g (2 cups) plain flour

2 eggs (*3 vegan eggs, made by mixing 3 tbsp ground flaxseed with 6 tbsp water in a bowl and letting set aside for the timebeing)

210g (slightly less than a cup) sugar

113g (0.5 cup) melted butter (*vegan butter or margarine)

1 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

240ml (1 cup) yoghurt or sour cream (*any plant-based yoghurt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

0.5 tsp salt (leave out if you used salted butter)

around 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries (I used frozen since I always have frozen berries stuffed in my freezer)

 

For the cream cheese filling:

110g cream cheese (*vegan cream cheese)

2.5 tbsp sugar (you can also use icing sugar)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. Spray your 12-muffin pan with cooking spray or grease it with some butter, going all over the insides of the pan, including the whole surface on top. This is because the batter will rise and then fall to create the signature muffin top look, so greasing the surface will help you easily get the muffins out. Line your pan with paper liners.

First, in a bowl, make the cream cheese filling by mixing together the cream cheese and sugar. Put this in the fridge while you make the muffin batter. Using a whisk or electrical mixer, whisk the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, vanilla, and salt and mix until everything is frothy and well combined. In a separate bowl, briefly mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda, then tip this into your egg mixture. Lastly, fold in your berries. Make sure your berries are not too big– cut large raspberries or blackberries in half before mixing them in.

Fill each muffin cup halfway with the batter. Then take your cream cheese filling out from the fridge and put teaspoons of this filling into the centre of the muffin tins. Repeat until you’re done with all 12. Finally, fill the muffin cups until the top (or three-quarters full) with the rest of the batter. As a final touch, sprinkle the tops of your muffins with Maldon salt and granulated sugar. Don’t be too liberal though, since the muffins themselves are already rather sweet by themselves.

Bake for 20-22 minutes in your preheated oven. Check with a wooden skewer or knife after 20 minutes– if there are moist crumbs clinging to it, take it out. If the skewer/knife is still obviously wet, leave the muffins in there for another 3-5 minutes. These are best enjoyed warm with some vanilla ice cream or yoghurt, or plain, but can be kept in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

 

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.

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.