I often find myself hoarding (and loving to hoard) certain specific baking ingredients, without which a deep sense of insecurity prevails. To counter that unnecessary emotion, and to feed my retail-therapy hormone, I obsessively purchase vats of different qualities and variations of chocolate chips, cocoa powder and vanilla. In each of these hoarded products, there is a specific appeal that calls out to me.
Let me elucidate.
For chocolate chips, I enjoy trying varied versions of white, milk and dark chocolate chips, the variety ranges from small packets of supermarket quality chocolate chips to couverture. I find that with every brand, comes a different flavour and texture – some are too dry and don’t melt kindly into a ganache or truffle that may be the requirement of the day. Some on the other hand, are too rich to go into a frosting – and need instead to be added to a banana bread or chocolate chip muffin, allowing their flavour and texture to truly shine through. And yes, size does matter. Too big a chip (like melting discs) will overpower a cupcake or muffin, and too small, won’t be felt on the tongue at all.
On the other hand, the thumb rule for cocoa powder is 3 fold – dark, unsweetened and dutch processed. The function played by cocoa is to add an intense chocolatey character, deep and rich in its flavour profile. I like to pick up different variants, from different brands, from different parts of the world, and use them based on the type of desert I am making, but more importantly, the people that are eventually going to be eating the desert. Quite simply, there is no point using my favourite dark 100% Valrhona cocoa on a children’s birthday party brownies. Kids enjoy a milkier lighter and less bitter version, so thats what I would opt for. But for anyone with a more matured palate, a darker version would add a lot of depth to any chocolate desert.
Lastly, we reach vanilla.
The most versatile flavour that is an absolute must in most sweet treats. The profiles can vary tremendously – floral, sweet, nutty, alcoholic, complex, and even artificial. Based on how the vanilla is being used, it is essential to adjust the quantity. For frostings which have a light colour tone, I would prefer to use a robust vanilla pod or some homemade vanilla extract, to allow those gorgeous black specks of the vanilla bean to show through. For batters, using an alcohol based vanilla works well as the alcohol evaporates while the cake is in the oven. Strong vanilla flavours need to be used sparingly, so that a frosting or cake is not overpowered (yes, it can happen). I recently also discovered a local company called Sprig, whose Bourbon Vanilla Extract was rich and had the perfect amount of vanilla flavour.
I hoard them ALL.
I also find that vanilla and cocoa powder make excellent gifts for people like me, who are a teensy bit obsessed with food. They are both long lasting products, that serve well even if the recipient isn’t the most kitchen friendly. They could easily use that cocoa powder to make self tanning lotion, or use the vanilla beans to make vanilla body scrub, or to even add a subtle fragrance to a room!
But more importantly, having excellent dark cocoa powder and milk chocolate chips on hand, help tweak a classic banana bread into an elevated version – Double Chocolate Banana Bread with Fleur de Sel. I used the same base recipe – but replaced 1/2 cup of the flour for cocoa powder and I also added in a cup full of milk chocolate chips. The resultant banana bread, which I sprinkled with 1/2 tsp of fleur de del before baking, was extravagant yet the ultimate comfort food. The cocoa and the bananas lent themselves perfectly to each other, the bitter dark cocoa providing a perfect balance to the sweetness of the almost overripe bananas.
The recipe was inspired by several contributing factors, and as fate would have it, they all fell into a seamless sequence of the events, unfolding perfectly into the the black beauty that was this Double Chocolate Banana Bread with Fleur de Sel. Here is how it all began: SS loves munching on bananas whenever he gets peckish, so that is the one fruit we literally never run out of. The downside being that bananas don’t have a long self life, overripe bananas need to be intelligently dealt with. I have often baked me go-to banana bread, as it uses pantry staples and doesn’t require any effort at all (I mean, unless you classify mashing overripe bananas as effort). But this time, I wanted to make it into an extra-special desert. Luckily, @thesmitten had spruced up her banana bread to include double chocolate. Following that trail was almost too easy, so I stuck to my recipe, added her chocolate idea, and to balance it all, sprinkled it with some flour de sel.
Now given how easy this recipe is, and that it uses fruit as a base, there is really no reason not to try it out. If you want to skimp on the chocolate, by all means, do it, but I must insist on doing it with the chocolate this time, it was just really really special.
- 4 ripe bananas (overripe is great too)
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup softened salted butter
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup milk chocolate chips
- 1/2 tsp fleur de sel (increase to 1 tsp if you use unsalted butter)
- Preheat the oven to 175*c. Spray a loaf tin with vegetable/canola oil (such as PAM or any other cooking spray) to grease well on all sides.
- Mash bananas in a bowl using a potato masher. Mix in the sugar and butter, till you have a smooth consistency. Mix in the vanilla extract.
- Sift over the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Mix well and lastly, fold in the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared tin, and sprinkle the top with the fleur de sel.
- Bake for 60 minutes, and leave to cool on a cooling rack thereafter for another hour.
- Slice and enjoy. Store in an airtight container.