Some context. I’m writing this from a 12th story room in Tokyo, about to hop a train to the Kiso Valley, to Tsumago. I’ve spent the past two days wandering the technicolor streets in a daze. I don’t think I’ve ever been this alone. The language barrier coupled with traveling alone has forced solitude on me in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time.
Home is far from me, and even if I were to return tomorrow, it will never be the same because things change. I don’t know what day of the week it is; I woke up not knowing what country I was in.
So. This recipe.
Let’s talk about it for a second.
Buttermilk banana bread. I know. It’s like really?
No but really.
This recipe is by Claire Ptak, the owner of Violet bakery in London, from her book The Violet Bakery Cookbook, and it’s remarkable. I highly recommend it for a baker’s library. It’s full of those solid recipes. I can make anything in it and know it will come out fantastic.
Like this buttermilk banana bread.
It completely changed the way I look at that simple staple of any home cook’s baking repertoire—namely now it’s something I would go out of my way to make as opposed to a way to use dangerously dark bananas.
This recipe is a reminder to all of us that wander or feel lost that home is always there. My grandmother always made banana bread with buttermilk. As did, I suppose, everyone’s grandmother. And she died. And life went on when it felt blasphemous for it to. But we are indefatigable and so human. Always. Normalcy and the gorgeously mundane are only a mixing bowl away. No matter how upside down or painful your life becomes.
It came to be that I started writing this post on a 14-hour flight to Tokyo, my life for the next three months succinctly packed into a backpack save my heart which I forgot or broke or never had or maybe gave away. Perhaps it’s happened before. I’m my own worst historian, so it’s hard to say. All I know is that I’ve again left that Tennessee valley I’ve habitually haunted my whole life. Ghost. Runaway. She always runs away. At least that’s what they say. But I’m not running. Not at all.
Instead, I’m facing three months abroad of work and community with some of my dearest friends & colleagues from all over the world. And that world is wide. But when I started this I was barreling on a plane to the most unknown from the most known, literally and figuratively. I was spinning, disoriented. The whole of reality foreign, sitting in the dark listening to my favorite terrible pop music on an airplane over the sea or over god knows, god knows what. Reality was bending again, its fabric rippling and torn asunder right before my eyes. And by my own hand. And and and for the best because your bones know that’s true.
It’s in those moments most of all that I have to sink my hands into the earth and hang on. Because whether I’m falling or breaking, I can’t lose sight of that very basic truth: the show must go on. That’s the thing. Empires rise. Cities burn. And at any given point we might be on the seemingly winning or losing side. But while we’re alive we have to get on with the business of living. Eating. Loving. Dishes. Work. The world doesn’t stop for us; it doesn’t heed our little novels. It spins like mad, and you can either plant your feet or get flung into space. I’ve done both. I prefer my feet on the earth. So, banana bread made with buttermilk. Bake it. Whether you have calm seas or chaos.
- 6 bananas very ripe
- 150 g vegetable oil
- 200 g dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp dark rum
- 2 eggs
- 75 g cultured buttermilk or plain yogurt
- 210 g plain flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp fine sea salt
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
- Heat the oven to 180°C. Butter and line your loaf tin with baking paper.
- Mash up well, 5 ½ bananas, reserving half a banana (cut lengthwise) for the top of the cake.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar, vanilla, rum, eggs and buttermilk. Add the mashed banana and set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, powder and salt.
- Fold the dry ingredients into the banana mixture until just combined and pour into your prepared tin. Smooth the top and place the banana half on top and sprinkle with the caster sugar.
- Bake for 40-50 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the top has become set and starts to caramelize. I sometimes use a kitchen blow torch to help this along.