Walking into a Japanese bakery, you might be forgiven for thinking you are somewhere in the heart of Paris. Pastries, loaves and rolls are piled high and plentiful, and you are cosseted by the sumptuous aromas of warm dough and hot sugar. But look a little more closely, and you may start to reconsider. The cheese has a slightly odd, plasticky sheen. What you thought were chocolate chips appear, upon closer inspection, to be red beans, the kind you might normally expect to find in your chilli con carne. And, of course, much of the bread is green.
This isn’t mould, but matcha: the quintessentially Japanese ingredient that has become a recent darling of the Western food world for its apparent health-giving properties, antioxidant content and ability to turn almost everything a glorious shade of emerald green. Parfaits, puddings, cakes, pies, bread – matcha can lend its distinctive colour and bitter flavouring to almost anything. In Japan, high-end bakeries often carry a range of pastries that are almost identical to those in the Western world, but for the small difference that their crumb is permeated by the slightly astringent tang of powdered matcha. Once you’ve gotten over the oddity of eating green bread, you start to enjoy the unusual fragrance this precious powdered tea lends to everything it touches.
No, this banana bread isn’t green. Although I do happen to have an inordinate fondness for green bananas, despite my grandmother insisting when I was younger that they give you headaches (other pearls of wisdom in this vein: raw mushrooms are poisonous and getting out of the bath without drying your back is a sure fire route to an early death). Bluebird Tea recently sent me a pot of their Golden Matcha, which proclaims itself to be a ‘Detox Warrior, Energizing Elixir, Hangover Destroyer and Slimming Superhero’. Rather than powdered green tea, this unusual variant is made with powdered rooibos, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper, harnessing the health benefits of these particular spices (especially turmeric, which is known for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties and digestive benefits). It’s apparently excellent blended with coconut milk and honey as a drink, but I decided to go one step further and use golden matcha-infused milk to spice up a banana bread recipe. Warm, chai-style spices have an affinity with butter and sugar, and I thought the tea and turmeric would add colour, depth and an unusual flavour to a banana bread.
This is the result: a golden, moist loaf packed with sweet banana goodness and punctuated by the toothsome chocolate crunch of cacao nibs, which are also very good for you and slightly less decadent than using actual chocolate (but by all means go ahead and do that – I just wanted to use up a packet of cacao nibs in the cupboard!) The golden matcha gives a beautiful colour and an unusual back note of flavour, and I added extra cinnamon and ginger for a really warming, spicy loaf, topped off with crunchy flaked almonds for texture.
I love this warm from the oven or toasted, spread with salted butter or with a generous slather of nut butter (peanut works well). It’s a great breakfast or afternoon snack, and it’s packed full of things that are supposedly good for you, which can’t hurt. I’m quite tempted to try a standard matcha version, but I can’t quite get past the mental block of green banana bread yet. Until I can, I will keep making this.
Thanks to Bluebird Tea for the Golden Matcha!
Golden matcha cacao banana bread (makes one loaf):
- 60ml milk (you could use coconut milk or normal milk)
- 1 heaped tsp golden matcha
- 2 very ripe bananas, peeled and chopped
- 100g self-raising flour
- 80g wholemeal or spelt flour
- 1 heaped tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 50g cold butter
- 60g dark brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- A handful of cacao nibs
- 2-3 tbsp flaked almonds
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a loaf tin.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan until just starting to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the matcha. Leave to cool, then mash the bananas into the milk. Set aside.
Mix together the flours, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and cacao nibs. Add the mashed bananas and milk and mix together until just combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and scatter over the flaked almonds. Bake for 40 minutes until golden and firm, and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Eat warm with butter, nut butter or simply on its own.