Baking Nigel Slater's Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake with My Boys

About three weeks before Otis was born, I made a list of all the things I thought I would accomplish once I became a full-time mother and left the workforce. I was leaving a job with incredibly demanding hours (a position which typically required 55-60 hours per week and where I was called "part-timer" when I left at 9 p.m.), so I though I would have (oh) so much time on my hands. I mean other than changing dirty diapers, singing ABC and 123 songs, going to early morning reading classes, putting the baby to sleep as many times as he needed, I'd have plenty of time left to spend ruminating on philosophy, reading Ulysses, Anna Karenina and War and Peace, teaching myself how to knit, actually completing the NYT crossword puzzle, and mastering Arabic...right?
Wrong. Though the first few months were relatively smooth (this early period of infancy is like a "fourth trimester" since the baby usually "wakes up" around month 4), I kind of overlooked the fact that I wouldn't really be sleeping at all during this early stage. Nope, not at all.   
I looked back at my "Things I Will Do Once the Baby is Born" list and realized that I was totally delusional and unprepared. It turns out that when you are a first-time mother, time really isn't on your side.
But after I got into the swing of motherhood (that took about a year), and I got a handle on our new sleeping routine(s), I was able to carve out a little bit of time to learn about food, how to prepare it and document my forays in the kitchen and our transition to life in Colorado in the form of this blog. 
I still find that one of the most challenging parts of motherhood is that you don't really have your own time, and when your interests/needs compete with that of your child(ren), well, that's when the problems start.
I save all my pinning, Facebooking, and blogging for the kids' nap time (or for when they are otherwise entertaining themselves). But when I want to bake and cook, well, I just have them do it with me. This is a case of "everyone wins." I get to try different recipes, photograph food and eat new things; they get to have fun making a mess, writing their names in flour, and eating food that they helped make. Yes, if you want to cook and bake with your kids there are some frustrations, more to clean up, and sometimes a broken dish or two. But you're building memories,  spending quality time and baking together. 
Since you can never have too many banana bread/cake recipes, here's a new one I tried last week. It's made with muscovado sugar (also called "Barbados sugar"), and like other dark brown sugars, it's basically white sugar with molasses added back in...but this one is darker and stickier than most brown sugars. Muscovado sugar is commonly used in baking recipes and making rum, so I took that as my cue to add a little splash of rum in the batter. If you aren't keen on rum, just omit it. 
I saw this great photo on The Kitchn which illustrates how much darker the muscavado sugar is from the commonly used "light" and "dark" sugars. (Image credit: Dana Velden)
Hope you enjoy this banana cake as much as we did. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to start working on my crossword puzzle, while I enjoy a slice of cake and some hot tea (you guessed it, the kids are napping)...
Happy weekend, 

Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake (Adapted slightly from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries II and converted, to the best of my ability, from The Wednesday Chef)
Makes 1 loaf cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (Denverites and other high-altitude bakers, I adjusted the recipe to 1 3/4 teaspoons)
9 tablespoons softened unsalted butter (1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon)
1 1/3 cup, plus 1-2 tablespoons, of muscovado or dark brown sugar
3 to 4 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3.5 ounces of (100 grams) dark chocolate
Optional: Since muscovado sugar pairs really well with rum, I added a splash. Chopped walnuts would work too. 

1. Heat the oven to 350F. Line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper. Sift the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar one at a time until fully incorporated.
3. Peel the bananas and mash them with a fork in a small bowl. When you are done, the bananas should still be slightly lumpy and not entirely puréed. Stir the vanilla extract into the bananas.
4. Chop the chocolate finely and and fold it, along with the bananas, into the butter and sugar mixture. Gently mix the flour and baking powder into the banana batter.
5. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake in the oven for 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cake is browned and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Remove the cake from the oven and let sit on a rack for 15 minutes. Then, using the parchment paper as a sling, remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on the rack. When the cake has fully cooled, peel off the paper and use a serrated knife to slice.

Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins

Espresso and chocolate go so well together. Add bananas to the mix and you are talking about the most wonderful triumvirate of flavor.  
This recipe for Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins is from the Baked Cookbook (which I've mentioned quite a bit recently).  These little treats are an excellent way to start your day and a great way to turn those over-ripe bananas into something more delicious than compost mush.
Note:  Instant espresso powder is not the same as ground espresso - it dissolves instantly in hot water.

1 1/2 cups mashed, very ripe bananas (about 4 medium bananas)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (I usually go with Ghiradelli.)
Yield: 12 muffins (Halving the recipe is simple, except for the egg part...)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.  (I take a paper towel and use the remaining melted butter from the saucepan to grease the muffin pan.)
In a medium bowl, stir together bananas, sugar, butter, milk and egg.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, instant espresso powder, baking soda and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients into the well and stir until just combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips.
Fill each cup about three-quarters full.  Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
Move the muffin pan to the cooling rack, and let cool for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, remove the muffins from the pan and let them finish cooling on the cooling rack.
Muffins can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Rum (Just a Pinch)!

This is a very simple concept: 
Bananas + Chocolate + A Splash (or two) of Rum = Deliciousness.
I asked Debbie, a wonderful baker and girlfriend of my cousin-in-law, for one of her favorite dessert recipes. She suggested the 'Jacked Up Banana Bread' from Smitten Kitchen. The recipe looked very familiar. It wasn't long before I realized that this was a souped-up version of Elise's recipe from Simply Recipes and that I had made, like, a million times (though I added chocolate and nuts). Is it too presumptuous to say, "Great minds think alike?" 
Banana Bread is perfect for an early morning snack, a mid-afternoon treat, or at the end of the day...with a little bit of coffee, wine or rum!
Jacked Up, Souped Up Banana Bread  
(Adapted from Elise and Deb-- with thanks to Debbie for reminding me about this bread.)
3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted salted butter (5 tablespoons)
1 cup light brown sugar (can easily be reduced to 3/4 cup)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons of rum (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cup of flour
3/4 cup of chopped chocolate - a 3.5 ounce bar  (or large chips)
1 small handful of walnuts (optional if you like nuts)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and rum, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in.  Add the flour, mix.  Now add your chopped chocolate.  Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.