I wasn’t supposed to be in Brussels this weekend. I had booked flights to Rome to see Alessandro who just moved back there after taking his final exams in Turin. Alas, thanks to the fire in Rome’s airport, that weekend in 32 degrees Celsius temperatures was not meant to be. Instead I spent all of Saturday at work (thankfully this doesn’t happen too often and being in Brussels definitely made it easier having to work) and what was left of my weekend was mainly spent on the sofa, drinking my first batch of this year’s cold brew coffee and eating one too many slices of this Smokey Banana Bread.
The inspiration for this recipe goes back several years. Back to before I moved to Brussels, back to before I had even moved to Rome, when my sister Helena was still living in Brussels and I was living in London. Helena came to see me often – to spend time together, to try out new restaurants, to shop, to visit exhibitions. My task for our weekends was always to try and find somewhere exciting to eat. Not an easy task at first when I was still on a student budget, but no less the fun. One of our first ventures took us South of the river, just beyond Waterloo Station, to a Malaysian restaurant called Champor Champor.
Never having been to Malaysia I could not vouch for the quality of the food or its authenticity. But suffice it to say that it came heartily recommended by a Malaysian friend of a friend and our meal was as delicious as we had hoped. I still remember the delicious baby octopus stew we ate (and how we struggled to lift these little slippery creatures to our mouths with chopsticks). But what I remember most vividly, both for how unusual and delicious it was, was the bread basket we shared.
Truth be told, ‘bread basket’ is a bit of a misnomer as there was no actual bread involved. Instead, we shared several thick slices of a wonderfully light and spongey banana bread, lightly toasted, and numerous large pieces of what I think must have been tofu skins – thin sheets that shattered easily, leaving delicious crumbs all over our laps, and that were as sweet as salty, smokey and a bit spicy. The combination of the sweet banana bread with the sweet-smokey-spicey tofu skins was out of this world delicious and its memory has stayed with me ever since.
Coffee, especially darker roasts, is sometimes described as ‘smokey’ in flavour (or even tarry). And with banana bread being such a coffee shop staple and having had this smokey banana flavour combination on my mind for so long already, making a Smokey Banana Bread for my Goes Well With Coffee series was a no-brainer. I tinkered with the ratios of numerous recipes until I settled on a formula resulting in a banana bread with a wonderfully open and springy crumb similar to the one we had at Champor Champor. And then I added a small amount of finely ground Lapsang Souchong tea for a hint of smokeyness. While home-smoking does not seem not inherently difficult, I have yet to try it, and rather than spending lots of money buying ingredients like smoked flour, smoked flour, smoked salt etc., Lapsang Souchong is an easy and affordable way to add a smokey note when cooking or baking.
Smokey Banana Bread
Notes: Lapsang Souchong has a bold, even divisive flavour. While I don’t drink it as a tea very often, used sparingly, it is wonderful if you want to add a smokey flavour to marinades, ganaches or cakes. For this Smokey Banana Bread I have used less tea leaves than what is typically used to brew a single cup of lapsang souchong. It is enough to lend the banana bread a smokey and almost slightly savoury note, but without being overpowering.
300g very ripe bananas (ca. 3-4 depending on size)
125g melted butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
300g spelt flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
180g caster sugar
4g lapsang souchong (ca. 1 tbsp of tea leaves), finely ground
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a loaf tin.
Add the peeled banana to a large bowl. Using an immersion blender, puree the banana until smooth. Whisk in the eggs one by one, followed by the melted butter and the lemon juice.
In a separate bowl, stir together the spelt flour, baking soda, pinch of salt, sugar and lapsang souchong. Add to the wet ingredients and whisk until you have a smooth batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top.
Bake for 60-65 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean (if the cake is starting to colour too much around the 40-45 minute mark, cover it with some parchment paper). Leave to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes before carefully removing the banana bread from the tin and placing it on a cooling rack to cool completely.