It's kind of scary how reliant I am on my computer. I like to think of myself as someone who would be fine in a paper and pen world, but last night, when my laptop decided to crash (temporarily, thank goodness) on me, I went into a full fledged tizzy. It's not like I had anything in particular I needed to do, but not being able to Google who exactly that guy in that film that's on TV is was oddly restraining.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who reminisce about some nostalgic past they think would be somehow better than their present. Often, things change for the better. I'm no technophobe. I mean, I'm writing on a blog right now. But I have to say that when it comes to my tastes in food, more often than not, old-fashioned wins. I suspect that plenty of you would agree.
It seems like 'comfort food' is now taken to mean a certain kind of cooking - fatty, creamy, carb-y, sweet, chocolate-y, etc. It implies food that is decadent and rich, and probably at least slightly guilt-inducing. But, you know, I think it's actually food from people's memories that qualifies as their comfort foods.
This banana cake recipe qualifies as both kinds of comfort food. Banana cake is something I remember eating when I was very young, and it has remained one of my favourite sweets. Over rich chocolate cakes, over fancy pastries. Banana cake is like a warm blanket - it's comfort at its essence. It reminds me of my family, of being home and sitting in the kitchen in the afternoon, talking and eating.
The caramel sauce I decided to pour on top of the cake certainly takes this into the realm of Comfort Food, the kind people expect. It's made with beer, in a cursory nod to Oktoberfest (I made this a while ago). I won't say the taste of beer is overt, but I think the hoppy ale I used gave the caramel an amazing malty flavour. The addition of orange and cardamom makes this a warm and spicy caramel, the best kind for a chilly autumn day.
p.s. I know this is what is called 'Banana Bread' in the States, but I think especially when it's smothered in caramel, there's no getting around the fact that this is a cake, so we may as well own it.
Banana Cake with Beer Caramel
Makes one loaf cake
For the cake: (recipe adapted from Dan Lepard on the Guardian)
200g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
250g plain flour
4 eggs, preferably medium sized
Finely grated zest of one orange + 1 tablespoon of its juice
3 bananas, mashed with a fork (you want about 200g of mashed banana)
3 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat the oven to 160C (320F). Grease and line the base and sides of a large nonstick loaf tin.
Melt the butter over a medium heat, and then let it cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, beat the melted butter with the sugar until well combined. Beat in 100g of the flour, until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each.
Mix in the orange juice and zest, as well as the mashed banana. Add the remaining flour and baking powder, and mix until smooth and combined.
Transfer the cake mixture to the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for about an hour and ten minutes, but start checking the cake after an hour. If a cake tester or skewer inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean, it's done.
Cool in the tin for 2 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool fully.
For the caramel: (recipe adapted from The Food Network)
250g caster sugar
240ml double cream
30g unsalted butter
1 bottle beer, about 330ml
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed open with the flat side of a knife
Zest of an orange, in large strips - use a vegetable peeler
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
In a deep saucepan, bring the beer, cardamom pods and orange zest to a gentle boil over a medium heat. Stir and cook until reduced to about 1 cup (240ml) - this should take between 10 and 15 minutes.
Add the butter and sugar and boil, stirring only if the mixture looks like it might boil over. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until thick and syrupy. It's done when it reaches 112C (234F) on a candy thermometer. Alternatively, drop a small spoonful of the syrup into a bowl of cold water. If it forms a soft ball that gives when pinched, it's perfect.
Slowly stir in the double cream, watching out in case it boils over. Cook for another 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla extract and salt. Let the caramel cool slightly.
I waited till it was cooled to a thick but pourable consistency, and then basically drowned the cake in it. It then cooled further and set on the cake, like a frosting.
This caramel recipe makes much more than is necessary for the cake, so save it for topping ice cream, or just eating with a spoon. It should be fine for a week in the fridge, if it even lasts that long!