I was recently sent an exciting new Nescafe Dolce Gusto Genio coffee machine to try out, and asked to create a recipe based around coffee - either something featuring coffee as an ingredient, or something that would be good with a cup of coffee. Naturally, I went all out and did both.
When I consulted my flavour thesaurus for ideas, a surprising number of ingredients cropped up that apparently pair well with coffee, the most surprising being beef (the combination of red meat and coffee is recommended as a dinner party dish for 'your most health-conscious friends'). I'd have thought that coffee would be a rather difficult ingredient to work with, because it is so bitter and complex in itself. Apart from the obvious - chocolate, cream, milk - I wasn't sure of any coffee pairings that would work. However, given its strong bitterness, coffee works quite well with ingredients that are naturally rich - nuts, for example, and flavoursome spices like cardamom. It's therefore a great base flavour for all sorts of decadent sweet concoctions; this is just one example.
My eye landed upon bananas in the flavour thesaurus. I noticed the twenty bananas sitting in my fruit bowl, and the answer to my coffee conundrum was obvious.
Well, obvious in so far as it needed to be a coffee cake featuring bananas. I've wanted to make a banana upside-down cake ever since I saw one of the contestants on the Great British Bake Off make an insanely delicious-looking banana tarte tatin, all gooey and dripping with caramelly goodness.
That was a particularly challenging episode, incidentally, to watch while hungry. Pastry, fruit and caramel? A trio of dreams.
While I cook a lot with bananas (bread, pancakes, porridge...), they are always mashed up. I've never baked or cooked them still in intact pieces, and something about the way they had softened and turned sticky and golden on that tarte tatin made me deeply eager to try it. I've never done that thing where you cut holes in a banana in its skin, stuff them with chocolate and barbecue it - every time I tell people this they're astonished it wasn't a regular feature of my childhood barbecues. This probably has something to do with the fact that barbecues were a rare feature in my house, because it took my father approximately a million years to get the barbecue to the stage where it was ready for cooking.
Bananas also undergo a rather exciting colour transformation upon heating, turning from pale yellow to a deep red colour; rather like quinces, now that I think about it. If anyone could enlighten me as to why this is, I'd be grateful.
I love the taste of coffee cake - my granny makes an excellent one - and I figured the two would make rather a nice couple. As with most upside-down creations, this requires that the fruit be drenched in a layer of caramel. The addition of coffee to the cake batter ensures that the caramel-banana pairing is not too cloying. While you might be sceptical about the combination of coffee and bananas, it's rather delicious - one is gooey and sickly sweet, the other slightly bitter and rich.
It's banoffee, but with coffee instead of toffee. But there's still caramel. So basically you get your banana-sugar hit, but with the addition of caffeine. Definitely a pick-me-up kind of cake.
I made a simple caramel mixture by melting together butter, sugar and cinnamon (bananas and cinnamon are fabulous together, as are coffee and cinnamon, so it just made sense). This was smothered over a layer of banana slices in the cake tin. On top went a simple cake batter made with yoghurt (gives it a lovely moist texture) and enriched with espresso coffee - I got to use the exciting Genio machine, which uses little pre-packaged pods so there isn't any faffing around with loose coffee; even for cappuccino and coffees involving milk, it all comes in a pod, plus you can make both hot and iced coffee, which is pretty clever. For someone like me who doesn't make enough coffee to justify buying a proper manual machine, it's quite handy.
Anyway, there is a little espresso coffee in the cake batter (but you could also use instant coffee mixed with water if you don't have access to espresso). This, along with good old brown sugar, turns it a glorious golden brown colour. It goes over the caramel bananas and bakes, while the caramel bubbles up and permeates the cake mixture, softening the bananas and turning them sweet, sticky and cinnamon-scented.
The result of this unconventional pairing is a fabulously rich, moist, earthy cake sticky with sweet caramel and chunks of gooey banana. The coffee flavour isn't too strong in the sponge (you could add more coffee if you want it stronger) but it gives it a lovely mellow, rounded flavour that works so well with the sticky chunks of banana. There's a delicious breath of cinnamon from the caramel that brings everything together.
Because I know this is important, here's a tip: the edge pieces are the best, where the caramel has run down the sides, so save those for yourself if you make this for a crowd.
While I won't claim that this combination of sugar and caffeine is health food, the sponge itself has very little butter in it (the addition of yoghurt both ups the moisture content and reduces the calories - genius), and the caramel not a huge amount either. You could probably skip the caramel and just sprinkle the tin with a little sugar before adding the bananas, and you'd still have a lovely cake that's not too heavy on the calories, if you're worried about that sort of thing.
It's filling and satisfying - the perfect thing for that mid-afternoon slump, with your cup of tea or coffee. It would also make a great dessert, served warm from the oven with some vanilla ice cream.
Banana caramel and coffee upside-down cake (serves 8-10):
- 50g soft butter
- 130g light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 200g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp strong espresso coffee (or 1 tbsp instant coffee granules mixed with 1 tbsp boiling water)
- 200ml yoghurt
- Pinch of salt
- For the banana topping:
- 2 bananas
- 40g butter
- 80g light brown sugar
- 1.5 tsp cinnamon
Pre-heat the oven to 170C. Whisk the butter and sugar together using an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and whisk in. Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix, then add the coffee, yoghurt and salt, mixing to form a smooth, thick mixture.
Grease an 8x8in square cake tin, or a 20cm round cake tin. Slice the bananas thinly and arrange the slices in a single layer over the bottom of the tin, so they mostly cover it.
Put the 40g butter and 80g sugar in a small saucepan with the cinnamon, and heat until melted together. Pour this evenly over the bananas - you can use a spoon to spread it over them, but be careful not to dislodge the slices.
Pour the cake batter over the bananas and caramel, then bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Best served warm.