February 6, 2018
I remember the first time I ever tasted banana bread. It was at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, and I was 10. My parents had taken us to New York for the weekend to see a new Broadway show – You’re A Goodman Charlie Brown. I felt as if it was a very grownup thing to do. We were having dinner in The Palm Court, a restaurant in The Plaza, another very grownup thing to do. I was just so pleased to be in this very fancy restaurant eating very late at night, and I was so impressed with all the fancy people dressed up all around me. Our waiter thought my sister looked just like Eloise, a girl who lived in the “room on the tippy-top floor” of The Plaza with her nanny, her pug dog Weenie, and her turtle Skipperdee. In the lobby of the hotel hung a portrait of Eloise, and sure enough if my sister didn’t look a lot like her. Because of that, our waiter would slip us a basket of this delicious banana bread before dinner (can you imagine dessert before dinner?) just to make us happy. And then again, when were were going back up to the room, he gave us another basket of banana bread. That began my life-long desire to find a recipe that was as good as theirs. As good as the one I remembered from that night, eating at The Palm Court, in New York City surrounded by fancy people, going to a Broadway show, and eating this delicious warm banana bread 50 years ago.
I was thrilled to find a banana bread recipe in my Genius Recipes cookbook. Add chocolate to the mix and that makes it even better. This recipe is called a banana cake – cake being the operative word. So what would this cake taste like? It looks like a banana bread. It has all the ingredients of a banana bread. I was intrigued.
The recipe calls for muscovado sugar instead of the white sugar most of us have used in banana bread – oops, I mean cake. Honestly, it is hard to call it a cake – it doesn’t look like one and it doesn’t taste like a cake. It is dense and chocolaty, maybe a little on the heavy side. It uses a surprisingly small amount of chocolate, yet the flavor was distributed so well there wasn’t one bite where you couldn’t taste that yumminess. The muscovado sugar is dark, very moist, and has a strong molasses/caramel taste. I really loved the difference in texture and taste that the muscovado sugar gave the bread/cake. I am going to try using what I have left in cookies and other desserts just to add that flavor. But it is expensive – $5.69 per pound. The recipe calls for a little over a cup, or 235 grams. That used up half of a very small package.
The recipe uses chunks of banana so that you only slightly mash it with a fork. This really helped with the texture, and when you slice the bread/cake you can see the pieces of banana throughout. The book suggests you wait a day or two to eat it, as they believe the cake gets better. It definitely does.
The creator of this recipe is Nigel Slater. He is a food writer, journalist, and broadcaster born and raised in England. He currently writes for The Observer and is the principle writer for the Observer Food Monthly supplement. Nigel has written many books about food – one in particular is Toast: A Story of a Boy’s Hunger, which is autobiographical and details the trials Nigel faced while growing up. It sounds like he really had to struggle and food was his way out.
As for his banana cake, I definitely like the trick of using muscovado sugar and the chunks of banana. This was an easy recipe, and I would make it again for a large group. It is so rich and dense that slicing it thin was the perfect serving for each person. My loaf pan was slightly smaller than what they call for, but I think you could get 12 slices out of it. I would also plan to make it two days before serving – it really did improve the taste.
Did this make me a genius in the banana bread/cake department? It is very, very good – but not as good as that warm banana bread served to us when I was 10 in The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel that night. 50 years later, I am still looking for that perfect recipe. It is so hard to live up to that night and that memory, so my journey continues.
The cost: $14.37, with the sugar taking up a big chunk of that.
The time: 40 minutes to prep and 60 minutes in the oven.