Monday, 4 December 2017

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from The Tivoli Road Baker

I've started this post I think about ten times by now. What I want to say is just not coming out right.

But here goes... for the eleventh time now...

I've been in a cooking funk for a couple of weeks. My mind has been elsewhere. When this happens I find I go elbow deep in a project. At the moment, it's sourdough and for the past few weeks I've been trying to master a simple loaf, I think I've got it but sourdough is a labour of love. It takes planning and time. You put so much effort in, folding, proving, shaping, proving, preheating your oven to very freakin' hot, turning your apartment into a sauna and then, to find a flat, very dense, pancake looking blob. It's like a stab in the guts. Although in saying all this there has been one recipe that has given consistent results each and every time, the Basic Sourdough recipe from The Tivoli Road Baker Cookbook. It's simple, reliable, clear, not too wordy and I like that it uses both white and wholemeal flours. Now, for those sourdough bakers out there, I am sorry but I am not sharing a sourdough recipe here today. Even though I think I've got it down pack now (touch wood) I am no way confident enough to share sourdough on the space just yet, I still cross my fingers and pray to the sourdough gods each and every time.


banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from Tivoli Road Baker | salt sugar and i

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from Tivoli Road Baker | salt sugar and i

But now on to the actual reason I'm here (not to whinge about sourdough), The Tivoli Road Baker cookbook ... Wow. It is beautiful. I find myself grabbing it off the shelf and reading it through again and again, day dreaming of everything I want to cook and eat. If only there were more hours in the day or I got paid just share recipes and ramble to you lot. Oh the dream! I want to eat EVERYTHING, all the pages. The breads look perfect and crusty, the pies looks so so delicious (chicken curry!) and the pastries, oh um yum. They bring back memories of pastry school where we'd spend all day baking and chatting and then eating our creations. Fresh out of the oven pastries are one of the best things in the entire world to eat.

In the book (and bakery) they have these delicious looking pastry things called Morning Buns. I want to make these and eat these every time I open the book but there is no whipping them out midweek unless you'd like to forgo sleep. If you're in the Melbourne area, I'd go and get yourself a Morning Bun from The Tivoli Road Bakery, ASAP. They look incredible. Flaky croissant dough, covered in sugar and filled with vanilla flecked pastry cream. Does it get any better? Anyway. Maybe this weekend I can make them as I've (temporarily) given up wine after the weekend just past and thinking baking is a better option.


banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from Tivoli Road Baker | salt sugar and i

After reading this book cover to cover (twice at least), last week, midweek, I knew that I had to make something from this beauty of a book with instant results (no waiting, folding and proving) and the skanky bananas in the fruit bowl were calling 'banana, fig and walnut loaf cake... banana, fig and walnut loaf cake' so thats what I made and it made our apartment smell incredible. I'd forgotten how nice it is to bake just for the sake of making a cake, no birthday, no gift, just because. I did end up sharing it at the tupperware party I went to as there was no way myself and Tris could eat the entire thing (ok we could but probably shouldn't) and I think it went down quite well (after I has to explain that it was NOT christmas cake).

It's very similar to a banana bread but fully loaded with figs that while still warm, taste like sticky jam and walnut halves, giving crunch. While baking it smells homey and like delicious banana bread/cake but once out of the oven, it smells just like christmas. It's got to be the cinnamon and the dried figs that go all jammy and treacle-like. It's not an overly sweet cake so if you're one of them who doesn't like the sweet sweet cakes, this one is for you. You can also swap out the figs and walnuts for whichever fruit and nuts you prefer, they suggest dates and hazelnuts as another delicious alternative. The image in the book and recipe below says to thinly slice a banana and place it on top which I would have done if all my bananas were not mushy so instead I just sprinkled the top with raw sugar and left the sliced banana off. It turned out great, a little dark but that's our oven. Even with it on lower than instructed, our oven has a viscous bite.


banana, fig and walnut loaf cake from Tivoli Road Baker | salt sugar and i

The cake keeps for a good three days wrapped up or in an airtight container and I think, it's actually better the next day and day after! The flavours really come together and because of the moist sticky figs, it keeps it from drying out. I think this is one of the best loaf cakes I've ever baked and eaten, it was seriously tasty, kept so well and made it feel like Christmas is here... always a good feeling.

There are some Christmasy goodies in the cookbook I want to have a go at too which might go in rotation this year and the usuals can take a seat for a change. The Basics section in the back also has great pantry staples that'd make great little Christmas gifts, everyone loves pickles with leftover Christmas ham, right?

banana, fig and walnut loaf cake 

recipe from The Tivoli Road Baker by Michael James
makes 1 large loaf

Note: it's best to use very ripe bananas in the mix for this cake. The browner the banana, the more flavour it will lend to the finished product. You can often find heavily discounted bananas in just the right state of disrepair at your green grocer.

155g plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon powder soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
250g very ripe bananas, peeled (approx. 3-4)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 eggs, at room tempreature
1/2 vanilla pod*
85g unsalted butter, soft
170g caster sugar
115g walnut halves
225g dried figs, stems removed and quartered
1 banana (less ripe)
1-2 tablespoons raw (demerara) sugar, for topping

*I used a squeeze of vanilla paste instead

Preheat your oven to 160C / 320F and grease a 9 x 22 x 10cm (3.5 x 8.75 x 4 inch) loaf tin and line it with baking paper.

Sift together the plain flour, cornflour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mash the very ripe bananas with the lemons juice until soft, then stir in the eggs and vanilla.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer for this or a bowl and wooden spoon if you dare), cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the egg and banana mixture, beating well between each addition until fully incorporated. If the mix looks like its splitting while adding the egg, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture and mix till it comes together then continue adding the egg and banana mixture. Add the dry ingredients and mix gently until combined, then add the walnuts and figs and mix together.

Peel the other banana and cut into thin slices lengthways. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin, then place the banana slices over the top. (It is important the slices are thin, otherwise they will sink into the batter as the cake bakes.) Sprinkle with raw sugar, as desired, then bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

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