Empower yourself by learning to bake a wonderful Carrot & Banana cake

Carrot & Banana cake with pecan nuts. A delightful, simple flop-proof cake.

Empowerment is one of the buzzwords circulating freely today. But have you ever taken five to consider what “empowerment” really means?

Educationist Dr Seth Kreisberg  of the University of Massachusetts suggested in 1992 in his  educational classic**  that empowerment was “the capacity to implement”.

Implicit in this concept is that change (and growth) is involved. Through learning to make or do stuff, you gain (change) in self-confidence and ability. Skilling is a very self-empowering process.

I took Seth Kreisberg’s sense of empowerment to heart and devoted much of my time at home to “empowering” my extended family members with home skills (carpentry, mucking around with engines, reading for pleasure and information, growing things, and preparing food).

The first non-essential, but very rewarding, skill everyone learnt in the kitchen was how to bake a flop-proof Carrot & Banana cake.

We have been baking this cake since the end of 1992 when Matt (Thabethe) and I modified a recipe from the “Great Baking Classics” supplement in the July 1987 Living and Loving magazine.

Further modifications followed over the years with suggestions and tweaks from Puggy (Xaba), TZ (Thabizolo Msimang), Philani (Khumalo),  Khaya (Mwelase), Bam (Phumlani Hlatshwayo), Senzo (Khanyile), Zotha and Zazi (Shange), and Phila (Msimang), along with Michael and David. David, now living in Derby, England, also bakes really good-looking  proper bread (made with yeast – not the “health” variety soda bicarb bread). Michael, a fine artist, knows that man does not live by bread (or meat) alone — he is continuously experimenting with simple, tasty, vegetarian dishes.

As with many of our basic recipes, the basic measuring unit is one of our cups (a 250 ml coffee mug). But any standard cup will do. Cooking is not so much about precise quantities, but rather about correct proportions and understanding what is going on with your ingredients. A “pinch” is the amount that can be held between the tips of the thumb and fore-finger. A “generous pinch” is between thumb and crooked fore-finger. I don’t do ml. I have never understood the pedantic translation of those early rough-and-ready recipes with handfuls, tablespoonfuls, and cups of this, and a pinch of that, into precise metric equivalents.

We do not use an electric mixer. All mixing is by hand with a wooden spoon. You have better control and reduce the risk of the gluten in the flour reacting too quickly through over-mixing, forming a “doodgooi” heavy dough.

  • 1 cup grated raw carrot (thinly peeled first)
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (4 ripe bananas)
  • I cup raisins
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped or broken pecan nuts
  • I cup sugar (brown is nice)
  • 2 cups cake flour (I prefer SASKO®)
  • 125 g butter or margarine (quarter of a block)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (slightly heaped)
  • 1 teaspoon soda bicarbonate (dissolved in half a cup of warm water)
  • a pinch of mixed spice. This is an essential flavourant for carrot cake – a ground mix of pimento (all spice), cloves, cassia, and nutmeg.
  • 1 teaspoon (cap-full) vanilla essence
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Switch on the oven to preheat at 180 degrees C.
  2. Into a mixing bowl add the sugar and the diced butter. Microwave on high for one minute. Stir well.
  3. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla essence. Mix well (hand mix with a wooden spoon).
  4. Add the mashed bananas. Mix well.
  5. Sieve into the mix a cup of flour and the baking powder, salt and mixed spice. Mix well. Add the second cup of flour. Mix well.
  6. Add the grated carrot, raisins and broken pecan nuts. Mix well.
  7. Add the half cup of water with dissolved bicarbonate of soda. Mix well.
  8. Divide the cake batter evenly into two  pre-greased medium loaf-shaped tins (wiped generously with a torn-off square of butter paper or sprayed with Spray n Cook®). Use either anodized aluminium, glass Pyrex®, or heavy silicone rubber  pans (Woollies ones are best).

Bake at 180 degrees C for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on oven size, age, and whether fan oven or not. We use a 32-year-old Defy® Thermofan 418. Most of the wiring, all the rings, a number of switches etc have been replaced by us over the years. But it still keeps going.

Test for doneness while still in the oven by probing the loaves at either end with a wooden skewer. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done. If it comes out with gunk, they are not ready. If gunky, close the oven door and let them do for another 15 minutes.

Let the cakes cool in the loaf pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing them from the pans. Let them dry and cool further, bottom-side down, for another hour before wrapping them in aluminium foil. You can slice and eat them while still warm – yum, but crumbly. If you let them cool properly then they will firm up and slice well with a sharp knife. They keep well, wrapped, for several days.

** Kreisberg, S. (1992). Transforming power: Domination, empowerment, and education. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992)

Since it’s my birthday – let them eat cake!

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

The famous phrase – “let them eat cake” – is often attributed to the ill-fated 18th century French queen, Marie Antoinette. The phrase in fact comes from her contemporary, best-seller serial writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

“Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: ‘Let them eat brioche [fancy bread, or cake]’,” he wrote in 1769 in volume six of his largely fictional, but racily scandalous, “Confessions” (published in 1782). He was describing his temptation for pastry to accompany wine he had just stolen.

Just which princess he was referring to is not clear, but it was not Marie Antoinette who was only 14 at the time, and had not yet arrived at the French Court at Versailles.

There are three quite different, but simply excellent never-fail cake recipes that we have adapted and used for many years at KwaKhehla: boiled fruit cake, banana (carrot) cake, and chocolate cake. In today’s blog we talk about the first.

fruit cake

Nan Elsworth’s never-fail boiled fruit cake.

Nan Elsworth’s never-fail fruit cake.

I met Nan Elsworth, 94, on Leisure Island, Knysna, in April 1986. Despite her great age she was still very active with her favourite occupations – gardening and working on her recipe book in the kitchen. She had invited me to tea and served slices of a fruit cake she had baked the day before. It was so good I asked for the recipe which we have used every year since then. I never found out whether she managed to publish her book.

Here is the recipe she gave me:

  • 500g (750 ml or 3 cups) dried cake fruit mix (raisins, sultanas, currents, candied peel)
  • 125g (125 ml or 4oz) butter or margarine
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) bicarbonate of soda
  • 250ml (1 cup) sugar
  • 375 ml (1.5 cups) water

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and boil gently for 25 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Remove from heat and allow to cool to finger warm (if you can put your finger in and keep it there without screaming, then it is probably cool enough).

Add, in the following order, to the mixture in the saucepan, stirring as you go:

  •  200g (500 ml or 2 cups) sifted cake flour
  • 10 ml (1 heaped teaspoon) baking powder
  • 1 large egg (or two smaller eggs) beaten gently with a fork
  • 1 tablespoon syrup (golden or treacle)

Stir well.

  • Option (highly recommended): add a handful of broken, shelled walnuts or pecan nuts and a handful of glace cherries.

Pour mixture into a medium (21 cm diameter) cake tin with removable bottom, lined on the bottom and sides with grease-proof paper.

Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for two hours. If you have an oven that tends to get a bit hot then bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees C and then turn it down to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F) for the remainder of the time.

Turn out the cake while still warm, running a knife between cake and bottom plate to gently part the two. Peel off the grease-paper from the bottom of the cake and let stand on a cake rack to further cool.

At this stage we usually prick the top and pour on half a glass of Old Brown sherry (but you can use brandy or what-ever takes your taste).

Once cool wrap the cake in foil. You can eat it straight away, but it will also keep perfectly well for weeks.

Wonderful to eat, wonderful to give as a present.