Moist Banana Chestnut Loaf – or French Cake?
This weekend the wind has brought Autumn to Paris with skydiving leaves and at the exits to many metro stops, guys are selling roasted chestnuts on their familiar beaten-up trolleys. Although still quite unusually warm, we’ve definitely been spoiled with a surprising Indian Summer luxury, but that first smell of woodsmoke hit me in the garden today. Three bananas were looking rather spotted and brown – a most perfect excuse to make this most moist banana chestnut loaf.
The kids love banana bread for breakfast: you may have tried this banana chestnut coffee cake recipe, inspired by a UK celebrity chef with the coffee, but in the end, it needed LESS THEN HALF of the sugar. If you know my recipes by now, I’ve been so inspired by French pastry chefs: ever since I learned that too much sugar kills the flavour of pastries and cakes, I consistently reduce sugar that isn’t necessary for flavour. As bananas are naturally sweet enough, even adding a little soft brown sugar is treat enough.
Chestnuts vs Conkers
The Corsican family connection means that I love using chestnut flour in many Autumnal recipes (have you tried this Chestnut Flour Tart with Pumpkin and Mushrooms? It’s Autumn on a plate!) It adds that nutty intrigue and so that it’s not overpowering, I use a a mix of plain flour with the chestnut flour, depending on the recipe. Chestnut flour does tend to make cakes rise less, so although it doesn’t look the most photogenic of cakes, the taste is what counts. Speaking of photographs, I used the conkers here from my nature table after a weekend forest walk in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Note that horse chestnuts are not edible – unlike the sweet edible chestnuts so popular in France.
Is a French Cake Really a Cake?
I find a French “cake” rather amusing since it can be a bit confusing at first. The French will call a cake (in English with their lovely French accent) a Cake – but it’s not a cake as we know it like this orange caramel cake, or chocolate ginger passion cake. It’s more like a loaf, as the cake is baked in a loaf tin and looks more like the shape of this moist banana chestnut loaf. See Pascal Caffet’s Christmas cake, and you’ll understand what I mean: the French chefs top it with fancy frills, such as quartered fresh figs, or candied fruits. It’s rare to see a bare, naked-topped French cake in any patisserie. If you do see one, tell me and I’ll eat my cake. Or is it, I’ll eat my hat? I’ve forgotten my English at times!
So, as you can imagine, I often get mixed up between banana bread, banana cake and banana loaf. I’m calling it a loaf but perhaps I should say cake, like the French? Does it really matter? Just try it and you’ll decide for yourself.