This year’s UK Master Chef series on the television has been fantastic. The final five were all incredibly creative and really put through their paces as the competition ruthlessly progressed. (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here if you haven’t watched the final episode to crown the winner.) Of the final five, I was really inspired by Emma whose love of middle eastern spices and modern use of ingredients mirrors the zeitgeist made mainstream by Ottolenghi.
You may recall that Adagio Tea sent me a sample pack of their gorgeous teas to try. I wrote about their artisan teas in last month’s IMK post. They have a huge range and their green teas alone are worth a look at. Their Masala Chai is quite incredible – it has the deep flavour that I remember from my childhood and is chock full of whole spices like cloves, cinnamon bark, cardamom seeds and ginger as well as black Ceylon tea.
Spurred on by Emma’s creations on Master Chef, a LOT of dangerously dark bananas and Adagio’s Masala Chai, I adapted my go-to recipe for Banana Bread from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. It’s a recipe I have been making for years and it never lets me down. It’s particularly devilish and delicious when made with chocolate chips instead of fruit, but that is another story!
Because I had so many bananas I used them all and in retrospect, it was too much and caused the loaves to become heavy and sink in the middle when cooling. In the recipe below, I have written the amounts as they should be and not as I did this time.
I quite often use frozen bananas but let them thaw and drain off the liquid before mashing and mash the bananas coarsely as this enables the loaves to remain lovely and moist. I prefer to use light brown sugar for a deeper more caramel flavour too. Steeping the fruit in very a very strong solution of masala chai gives them a haunting flavour when you bite into a plumped up morsel. I have enhanced that with a little cardamom stirred through the batter too.
The icing. Oh my God, the icing! It’s just sublime. I wanted to compliment the heady banana and masala chai flavours of the loaf and put this icing together. The flavour reminds me of coconut burfi or penda (which my father adored) – Indian sweets as Jake refers to them…
I really like using coconut powder as you can get the depth of flavour you want and also the thickness by adjusting the liquid to powder ratio. A further rummage in the pantry led me to the gorgeously fragrant rose petals I bought recently on a foray into Shepherd’s Bush with Elaine and a bag of pistachio nuts.
I ended up with a Magic Carpet Banana Bread! I think Emma would approve!
Masala Chai Banana Bread with Coconut Cream Cheese and Cardamom Icing
Adapted from “Banana Bread” How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
My loaf tins are standard 900g/2 lb loaf tins. Measurements may vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they should be approximately 23cm x 13cm x 7cm or 9″ x 5 ½” x 3″.
- 150 g mixed dried fruit (like berries, cherries, figs and sultanas)
- 75 ml of very strong brewed Adagio Masala Tea Blend
- 175 g Plain/AP flour
- 2 ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp cardamom powder or 2 drops of cardamom essence
- ½ tsp salt
- 125 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 150 g light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 3 medium very ripe bananas
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the Coconut, Cream Cheese and Cardamom Icing
- 3 Tbsp coconut powder
- 1-2 Tbsp warm milk
- 1 x 180 g pack of cream cheese
- 1 x 250 g tub of mascarpone cheese
- 5 – 6 Tbsp icing sugar
- 3 drops cardamom essence or the powdered seeds of 2 cardamom pods
- chopped pistachios (optional)
- edible dried rose petals (optional)
- Steep the dried fruit with the hot masala chai for an hour (or microwave on high for 2 minutes and steep for as long as you can)
- Pre-heat oven to 170C/325F and either pop a paper case into each of two loaf tins or line with two strips of parchment paper. Put the butter in a heat proof bowl and place in the oven to melt. Check after 3-4 minutes.
- Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Mash the bananas, coarsely, and set aside.
- With an electric mixer, beat together the cooled melted butter and the sugar until creamy and caramel in colour.
- Add the eggs, one at a time and make sure to beat well after each one.
- Add the bananas and the vanilla extract and mix well and finally, stir in the drained fruit.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pans and bake for 50 minutes. Test with a wooden skewer which should come out moist but not with batter clinging to it. Let cool completely before icing.
- While the loaves are baking, make the icing: stir the coconut powder into warm milk until smooth.
- In a medium sized bowl, mix together the cream cheese and the mascarpone with a rubber spatula then add the coconut mixture and stir in. Sift in the icing sugar, mixing well and taste after you had added 4 Tbsp – it may be sweet enough. Stir in the cardamom essence or the powder and set aside in the fridge. When the loaves are cold, spread with the icing and top with the chopped pistachios and rose petals if using them.