Banana and Almond Cake with Toffee Whipped Buttercream

Banana and Almond Cake with Toffee Whipped Buttercream
Cake Friday, woo!

At the moment I’m embarking on the heinous task of cake testing. I know, I know it’s a pretty abrasive chore but I’m knuckling down and getting it done like the true professional I am. All in the name of whittling my recipes down so I can take only my very favourite cakes to the market stall I am launching next month.

My baking to-do list is a little overwhelming at the moment. I have several notebooks full of scribbled down ideas, flavour combinations and inspiration gleamed from the efforts of others. This is not to mention the highly disorganised long yellow stickie that I keep on my desktop which is covering my screen so completely that it hinders any view of the perfectly chosen photograph of our holiday to Vietnam where we are smiling, having never been more happy, clinking our bottles of Saigon beer in front of the idyllic vista of Halong Bay. No, that’s being covered up with a stickie.

Banana and Almond Cake with Toffee Whipped Buttercream  |  Stroud Green Larder

I have to get my obsessive recipe writing and note scribbling under control so that some of these baking ideas actually get to the next level, i.e. I make some of these suckers. So this week I have launched an initiative to start at the top and work my way down each and every list which seems very logical and sensible and not at all unmanageable.

Which is how the world’s best cake came into being. Actually, no it isn’t. No sooner had I launched this brilliant initiative, collated my various lists and put them in some sort of order then I completely cast them aside when I suddenly had the craving to make banana cake.

Banana and Almond Cake with Toffee Whipped Buttercream  |  Stroud Green Larder

I have run several cake stalls in the past and it’s very noticeable the kind of cakes people like, proper grown up adults like the victoria sponge or lemon cake, people in their 20s like the chocolate cake and kids like the cupcakes. I, on the other hand, have a bit of a thing for banana cake. I don’t necessarily mean a dense intense banana bread, which is yumola, don’t get me wrong, but banana cake, light and fluffy with a pinch of icing, is what floats my boat. And that is why I always keep bananas in the house as I don’t know when the mood will take me.

So what I’m saying is that my quest to make some sort of inroads into this baking to-do list wasn’t particularly helped by the fact I had to make a banana cake right here right now. This poor innocent banana cake didn’t even know I had a list, but in it bounced, eager to please, oblivious of all the other recipes seething with jealousy that this precocious young upstart had leapt to the top of my to-do list without putting in any of the grunt work in the early rounds. And then, like a spoilt young prince it then claimed the hallowed crown of the best damn cake I have ever had.

Banana and Almond Cake with Toffee Whipped Buttercream  |  Stroud Green LarderIt all began with some homemade almond and cherry ripple ice cream. Which was on the list and which I ate. Mmm delicious research. However, during the making of the almond ice cream base my recipe required me to soak some ground almonds in milk and cream, then once my recipe had decided enough soaking had been going on I was required to strain the mixture, dispose of the ground almonds and carry on making my ice cream with the infused milk and cream. Now, I don’t like to dispose of anything which would have a better home in my tummy so, although it wasn’t clear what their immediate use would be I covered the almonds with cling film and put them in the fridge.

soaked almonds

They lasted in there about a day which was when my banana cake craving hit and they were soon drafted in to participate in the banana cake of dreams. And that my friends is how I made the best damn cake I have ever had. Plus I learnt a valuable lesion, from now on I am always soaking my almonds before adding them to any cake. The moisture it added was unbelievable. without dampening the sponge. It means a little more preparation has to go into your batter but sometimes you just have to go the extra mile to reap your sugary rewards.

Banana and Almond Cake with Toffee Whipped Buttercream  |  Stroud Green Larder

To prepare the almonds you just need to lay 250g of whole unblanched almonds onto a baking tray and roast for 10 minutes at 180°C. Remove them from the oven and pour into the food processor so you can grind into crumbs. Once the almonds are completely ground then pour some whole milk (or half milk, half cream) over so they are not quite covered. Give a good stir then leave overnight for the nuts to soften and absorb the milk.

The banana and almond sponge is made even more glorious by the cloud-like whipped toffee buttercream adorning each layer, adding the perfect amount of dreaminess to each bite. I adapted Delia Smith’s Sticky Toffee Icing for the job which I then whisked into my favourite whipped vanilla buttercream. This amount of buttercream is perfect to ice about 12-14 cupcakes or 3 thick layers in a layer cake. If you would like to ice the outside of the cake as well it’s doable but you would have to double the buttercream ingredients.

Banana and Almond Cake with Toffee Whipped Buttercream  |  Stroud Green Larder

So, fun and cravings now over, I’m returning to my to-do list, whereupon I am now sentencing myself to the completion of a chocolate and whisky bundt cake with chocolate caramel drizzle. As I said, it’s a heinous task.

Banana and Almond Layer Cake with Toffee Whipped Buttercream

175g soft light brown sugar
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
100ml buttermilk
120ml light olive oil
3 large bananas
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g ground almonds soaked in milk
325g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt

For the buttercream:
8 tbsp evaporated milk
325g unsalted butter
6 tbsp dark brown soft sugar
¼ tsp salt
30g plain flour
250ml milk
1 vanilla pod
100g caster sugar

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C and line and grease three 20cm sandwich tins.
  2. In a large mixing bowl beat the sugars, eggs, buttermilk and olive oil.
  3. Mash the bananas well then add them to the mixing bowl along with the vanilla.
  4. Drain any loose liquid from the ground almonds then add them in as well, beating everything together until smooth.
  5. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
  6. Add the flour to the rest of the batter and mix together until just incorporated.
  7. Pour evenly into the three sandwich tins and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden and coming away from the sides.
  8. Turn each cake out of the tin onto a cooling rack and leave to cool.
  9. Meanwhile make the buttercream by melting the evaporated milk, 100g of the butter and brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Simmer for 4 minutes then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  10. In another saucepan whisk the flour, 100ml of the milk and the vanilla seeds until smooth. Heat on low until the mixture has thickened then gradually add the rest of the milk in a slow stream, whisking all the while to avoid any lumps which would be quick to form. Whisk hard until the mixture just touches a boil and has thickened. Remove from the heat immediately and continue whisking for about 3 minutes. Strain to guarantee no flour lumps then leave to cool.
  11. Whilst the toffee sauce and the flour mixture are cooling, beat the rest of the butter (225g) and the caster sugar for about 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Then add the cooled flour mixture and beat for a further 3-4 minutes until even lighter and fluffier.
  12. Finally pour in the toffee sauce and beat the buttercream for a final 2 minutes to fully whip it all together.
  13. The buttercream can be applied as soon as the cake layers have completely cooled.

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade Almond Milk
When I was in my mid-twenties I was unwell a lot, I was missing a lot of time of work and since I had quite a busy job I was really feeling the strain. The days I did go into work I usually felt awful, constantly sick and exhausted with pounding headaches. The doctors tested me for everything but in their eyes I was fit and well. So under the advice of my personal trainer I went to a local kinesiologist to seek a more holistic approach, which was a fun if slightly batty experience. Kinesiology is the study of human movement and a series of simple tests on muscles is believed to determine any imbalances in the body. Since by this time I was fed up of going to the doctors for them merely to shrug and give me further blood tests the holistic approach seemed a welcome relief.

Homemade Almond Milk  |  Stroud Green Larder

Homemade Almond Milk  |  Stroud Green Larder

The kinesiologist put various food samples in my hands and tested my muscle response to see if any particular food group was causing an imbalance in my body and by eliminating the incriminating substances from my diet she hoped to determine the cause of my lack of energy and why I was frequently plagued by nausea and headaches. Now the results were not a short list; it turned out I was intolerant to mushrooms (yay, I hate them anyway), beer (ditto), soy (meh), marmite (hmm, I always quite liked marmite), wheat (oh) and dairy (noooooo). At the time I was subsisting on a diet of chicken baked in tomatoes and crème fraiche and I did so love my cups of tea; I couldn’t bear having to give these up.

However, if I thought about it, the dairy thing kind of made sense. As a child I was never able to eat cereal as the milk made my ears pop, like I had lost my centre of gravity, and since taking up the tea habit in my late teens I was never able to drink more than a couple of mugs before getting my patented ‘tea tummy’.

The inability to tolerate lactose is more prevalent in human beings than we realise. Most mammals cease to produce lactase after being weaned which means they become intolerant to lactose and although many human beings have developed lactase persistence into adulthood, meaning that they can digest lactose normally, Wikipedia says (so it must be bible) that in 75% of adults lactase activity is decreasing, leading to the intolerance of lactose.

Homemade Almond Milk  |  Stroud Green Larder

Homemade Almond Milk  |  Stroud Green Larder

Over the years I have managed to erase wheat from my everyday cooking, only saving it for my baking addiction and the odd burger from Meatliquor, which is why you see so many gluten-free recipes on this site. However, the dairy thing has plagued me off and on for years, I have been more than happy to treat myself to a bit of dairy for the odd recipe but slowly I found that I was consuming it every day again, mainly in my tea but also cheese, yoghurt and my own personal temptation, crème fraiche (seriously, I was adding it to everything).

Since I began to think about and then embark upon the Whole30 I have successfully managed to cut it out for 24 days and counting. Now, thank goodness the Whole30 allows caffeine as it has meant that I can happily still drink my beloved two cups of tea a day without any guilt. The reason I can do that… well now finally I am getting round to my point… is Almond Milk (cue halos and a heavenly chorus).

I see a lot of American paleo sites are a bit concerned about commercialised almond milk due the ingredient of carrageenan which is used as a thickener and which some studies show has slight carcinogenic properties. However, I cannot see it included in the ingredients list of my normal Alpro Almond Milk. Still, I have been keen to try my hand at homemade almond milk since the beginning of my Whole30 plan and I finally took the milky plunge this week. My word, am I glad I did, it’s like discovering almond milk again which has meant more angels and more heavenly music.

Homemade Almond Milk  |  Stroud Green Larder

I never really minded the substitution of almond milk for dairy in my tea, it was different, but for me cleaner than dairy, it has a sharper flavour and seems to strengthen the taste of the tea rather than soften it like dairy. However, since I like my tea as mighty as an ox this turned out to be the milk I was looking for. However, this homemade stuff is the real deal; richer, silkier, fresher, more nutty and made my tea feel much more luxurious, almost as if it had whole milk in it.

Before I started looking into it I couldn’t imagine how almond milk was made but it turns out that it’s pretty straightforward. You just soak the almonds in water for a couple of days, drain them and then blend with fresh water. The milk is produced immediately but you will want to strain through muslin to get rid of all the nitty gritty. It’s worth mentioning though that at the end of the milk making process you will be left with some soggy almond meal in the muslin after straining, I would heartily recommend you dry this in a low oven before keeping in a jar as they make an absolutely perfect breadcrumb substitution.

Homemade Almond Milk  |  Stroud Green Larder

Homemade Almond Meal  |  Stroud Green Larder

I am pleased that the Whole30 has made me embrace almond milk again and I know I will never go back to whole milk in my tea. I cannot say I will avoid all dairy in the future but it is certainly a good thing to keep to a minimum since I cannot deny that as soon as I limited my wheat and dairy intake the daily headaches and nausea faded away. I have lots of plans for this almond milk as its possibilities are so much more adventurous than just adding to tea but they do include a bit of baking and ice cream making and I can’t wait for my Whole30 to be over so I can get stuck in.

Homemade Almond MilkHomemade Almond Milk
Makes around 500ml
Adapted from thekitchn.com

150g whole unblanched almonds
500ml of water, plus extra for soaking

  1. Place your almonds in a medium bowl then pour over enough water so it covers the almonds by an inch.
  2. Cover with cling film and leave for two days for the almonds to soften.
  3. Drain and rinse the almonds then place in a blender with the 500ml water. Whizz up for a couple of minutes until it’s as smooth as you can get it.
  4. Place two layers of muslin in a large bowl, wide enough to gather up after you pour in the milk mixture.
  5. Pour the milk mixture on top of the muslin then gather up all the corners and tie up with string.
  6. Lift up the muslin ball and watch all the clean almond milk drip into your bowl. Squeeze the muslin ball to get as much milk as you can.
  7. That’s it. Pour the milk into a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge. You can reserve the almond meal left over in the muslin for breadcrumbs or baking.
  8. The almond milk only lasts for a few days so drink up quickly.

Almond Milk Tea  |  Stroud Green Larder

Fragrant Cauliflower Rice

Fragrant Cauliflower Rice

I love rice. I could live on it forever. For breakfast, for lunch, for dinner. You can have rice with curries, with stir fries, with stews. It’s my desert island carb. However, I occasionally do have to pull myself back. It’s not that rice is bad for you, but it’s not really giving much back either besides filling a hole.

Recently I have been substituting in cauliflower rice for my beloved carb staple, in particular with my curries or in my salads. Cauliflower loves a bit of spice to pep it up so it marries beautifully with a hot spicy curry and to be honest you just don’t notice the difference. I know that it sounds like cauliflower rice is a bit of a faddy thing but prepared this way it really doesn’t feel like you are eating a vegetable dish and means you can add naughty little knobs of butter at the end without the slightest bit of guilt. Not that I have any guilt when adding butter to things, but then I think my food guilt switch is permanently switched off.

cauliflower rice ingredients
CardamomThe key to achieving the perfect consistency is to keep some bite and texture to the cauliflower so just ensure that it doesn’t touch any water in the process. I will either wash the cauliflower the day before and leave to dry overnight or if it’s not too dirty just brush over with a kitchen bristle brush, the same way you would with mushrooms.
Cauliflower in mixer2
cauliflower rice2

But to treat cauliflower rice as just a couscous or rice substitute is doing it a disservice. This fragrant cauliflower rice recipe is excellent with grilled chicken or lamb or as a meal on its own.

I have also used coconut oil in this recipe which is such a lovely ingredient. It imbues your kitchen with a wonderful fragrance and of course is a natural flavour enhancer to this dish. It’s not a strong taste but just sits in the background.

Fragrant Cauliflower Rice

Fragrant Cauliflower Rice

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 large head of cauliflower
1 tsp cardamom pods, de-shelled
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted
knob of butter

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook on a very low heat until the onion has caramelised. This might take about 20 mins.
  2. Meanwhile snap the florets off your head of cauliflower and blitz in a food processor until it is in very fine flakes.
  3. Once the onion is ready, remove from the pan and set aside. Add the cauliflower rice, the cardamom seeds and the cinnamon to the pan and continue to cook on a very low heat until the cauliflower starts to brown, which should take about half an hour.
  4. Stir in the almonds, the onion, a knob of butter and serve.