On baking and making a house a home

There is something deeply comforting about the aroma given off by a cake baking in the oven. I find I am not alone in feeling this way because one advice usually given to people selling their houses is to bake bread or else a cake, preferably with cinnamon, to create a welcoming atmosphere for prospective purchasers coming for a viewing. It is now three months since we moved in to our mountain cottage in Spain, but with most of that time spent unpacking and organizing, there hasn’t been time to do any cake baking.

Baking a cake is not something that I had much practice in, growing up in Manila in the 60s. My sister, seven years older than me, was and still is a keen baker, but I only learned to bake while a student at university in Tokyo during the 70s, teaching myself from what was even then already a very old book, Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, the revised 1959 edition. I’d found the two fat volumes of the book rather unexpectedly in a used book shop that stocked mainly Japanese books near Tokyo Gaigodai. (The shop closed not long after that, alas, and became a coffee shop.) The books reminded me of one of the cookbooks at home, also by Meta Given, and I have treasured them to this day. Having travelled practically all over the globe with us, their spines are quite the worse for wear and badly need rebinding. It is my go-to book when I need a baking recipe in formula form, and it also includes quaint old recipes for country living, like how to prepare game, like grouse and elk, among other wild exotica.

Anyhow back to baking. In the summer heat, fruits, especially bananas, go overripe very quickly, and there’s a limit to how many banana-yogurt shakes you can drink. And so, with 5 rapidly blackening bananas looking rather dolefully at me, I set about making banana bread. (I have always wondered why it is called bread when its texture and taste are more of a cake? Perhaps because it is baked in a loaf pan? I have no idea. Do you?)

I wanted the results to be robust, and so chose to use wholemeal flour and oatmeal. I had a few pistachios left (from an unfinished snack and I hate things going to waste), so I added those too. The recipe I followed did not call for them or any nuts at all, but rather for raisins. Fair exchange. I always experiment in this way with published recipes, and most of the time, the results have turned out fine. And one more thing, I always halve the sugar called for. My rule of thumb for my threshold of sweetness is that the amount of sugar should be half the amount of flour. In other words, if the amount of flour is 2 cups, then sugar should be 1 cup. However, I figured that these overripe bananas should be sufficiently sweet. So I used ½ cup to begin with. I tasted the batter just before baking to see if it needed more, but it didn’t. And the resulting cake was moist and full of banana flavour with a nice, hearty crumb, and the surprise of a few green pistachios every so often. You can’t tell there’s oatmeal in it, which is as it should be. I thought that 1 teaspoon of cinnamon might be overpowering, but it was not. It subtly blended in with the scent and flavour of the bananas.  And the sweetness was just right for me. I don’t like things too sweet.

And most of all, now that I’ve found time to bake and the scents of baking a fruit tart the other day and now this banana bread have wafted all over this new house, as if bestowing a blessing on it — the blessing of the hearth, I feel I’ve truly claimed it as my own. This house is beginning to feel more like home. Have you ever felt the same way when you’ve moved into a new place?

If you’d like to give my banana bread a try, here’s the recipe. Happy baking!

Banana Oatmeal Pistachio Bread

1 cup whole meal flour (regular all purpose flour is fine too)

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup oatmeal flakes (quick cooking)

½ cup pistachio nut meats, or any other nut

½ cup salted butter, softened (if using unsalted, increase the salt above to ½ teaspoon)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup brown sugar

1 ½ cups very ripe bananas, mashed (I used 5 medium bananas)

2 eggs, beaten

¼ cup milk

Prepare a 30 x 10 cm loaf pan by greasing lightly with butter and then sprinkling a tablespoon of  flour to evenly coat all surfaces. Alternatively line the pan with baking or  parchment paper. (I prefer the latter as the pan is easier to clean afterwards.)

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F.

Sift flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda into a bowl.

Stir in oatmeal and nuts, mixing well.

In another larger mixing bowl, blend with a wooden spoon the butter, cinnamon, and sugar until smooth. (You can also do this and the following steps in a mixer.)

Mix in well the bananas, then the eggs and milk.

Add in the flour mixture and mix well until all is thoroughly incorporated. (The resulting batter is thick but soft and falls easily from the spoon.)

Spoon the batter onto the prepared pan, smooth the top, and set it in the middle rack of the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer stuck in the middle of the cake comes out without any batter sticking to it.

The other indications that your cake is done is if it springs back when you press a finger on its surface, and if the cake has contracted slightly from sides of the pan.

(There was still a tad of moistness when I tested, so I turned off the oven and left the cake inside for 10 more minutes. It was perfectly done after that.)



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