Or, Banana-Chocolate-Marble-Spice Cake, or (my favourite name of all for it), Ballistically-Excited-Holiday-Food-Pre-Emption Cake. You see, at the time that this post is set to auto-publish, I will be about to touch down on the tropical island of Zanzibar! But, going back in time to (the present?), I’m still just sat at home in Qatar getting ridiculously excited about the whole trip. (Though not, of course, funnelling any of this excitement into the useful activity of packing. Because the only thing worse than packing is unpacking. But not to worry too much about unpacking just yet as that really is getting too far ahead). Instead of packing, and not entirely unpredictably, what I am doing is reading about Zanzibari food, and, in particular, how the rule of different colonising powers, as well as Zanizbar’s role in the spice trade, has resulted in a unique kind of island-fusion cuisine.
A historically important Indian Ocean crossroads, Zanzibari cuisine has Arabian, Indian, and East African influences. It was in the 16th century, under the control of the Sultanate of Oman, that spices were planted on the island, and it became a major port in the global spice trade. The name ‘Spice Island’ stems from this era, and speaks of the vast quantities of clove, cardamom, cinnamon and peppercorn planted to satisfy the emerging taste for these ‘exotic’ flavours in Europe.
Nowadays, the term ‘Spice Island’ brings to my mind holiday images of swaying palms, coconut-strewn beaches, and shallow waters teeming with (delicious) fish. From what I’ve heard, lobster is a bit of a staple food on Zanzibar, and octopus (my current obsession), is the key ingredient in one the national dishes, Pweza wa nazi. (This literally means ‘octopus in coconut’ and is apparently made by boiling an octopus in coconut milk with curry, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic and lime juice – I can not wait to try it).
Another dish I have come across a couple of times in my reading is ‘Spice Island Spice Cake.’ Reportedly Zanzibar’s most famous dessert, it’s made with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate. With a haul of fresh spices from my Istanbul trip still vacuum-packed in the cupboard, and keen to get into the Zanzibari holiday mood, I thought I might give the spice cake a try. But, because I am very excited about my holiday, I couldn’t just stop there…. The tropical mood demanded more - so I added banana, honey, marbling, and a bundt tin, (I’ve always wanted to bake something in one of these). There was almost also coconut too, (and dates to for about 5 minutes), but I managed to talk myself out of these, just…
So, ‘Zanzibar Dreaming’ Spice Cake - I’ll report back on the real thing once I have actually tried it (!), in the meantime though, whatever the weather, this is good way to get an island vibe happening in your kitchen.
- 300g butter – cubed and at room temperature
- 275g light brown sugar
- 4 eggs
- 300g self-raising flour
- 1 heaped tsp baking powder
- 20 cloves – ground (approx. ½tsp)
- ⅓ of a nutmeg - finely grated
- 2½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 350g ripe bananas
- 2tsp honey
- 150mls milk
- 1 tsp good quality vanilla extract
- 60g of baking chocolate (52% cocoa solids) – finely grated
- 2 tsp cocoa
- 5 tbsp hot water
Grease a bundt (or loaf) tin with butter, and preheat the oven to 180˚C.
Beat the cubed butter with an electric whisk until it is pale and soft. Add the brown sugar and cream together until the mixture becomes lighter and fluffy. Beat the eggs in, one by one, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Sift in the flour, and baking powder, whisking until well combined.
Mash the peeled bananas on a plate, mixing through the honey and vanilla extract. Add the ground cloves, grated nutmeg, and cinnamon, and then scrape the banana mixture into the cake batter, mixing together thoroughly.
The batter will be quite stiff at this point. Add the milk in three stages to loosen, using the whole 150mls if necessary, but stopping after the second addition if the consistency is sufficiently loose at this point.
Decant about a third of the cake batter into a new bowl. In a small cup, combine the cocoa and hot water, mixing together until there are no lumps. Pour this into the decanted batter, and mix through. Then add the grated chocolate, and stir until combined.
Now for the fun bit – marbling… To get a pattern going, dollop spoonfuls of the two batter mixtures into the cake tin at random. When all the mixture is used up, take a wooden skewer and trail this through the mixture briefly, swirling the two batters together.
Bake for 45-55 minutes, removing from the oven when the cake has begun to visibly shrink from the sides, or when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. (A bundt cake will cook more quickly than an equivalent-sized loaf, which may take more like an hour). Leave to cool in the tin, before turning on to a wire rack to cool completely.
If serving as a dessert, offer some chocolate or vanilla ice-cream alongside; I love to eat this sort of cake in the afternoon, absolutely slathered with spreadable Lurpak (such an affliction of mine) and a cup of tea. Afternoon tea and cake is not quite the stuff of tropical island fantasy, I know, but as I say, at the time of writing, I’m still just sitting about the living room, looking for any excuse to continue the dreaming and procrastinate the packing for ten minutes more…