But first, let's talk about how we (or at least I) get inspired to cook. When I was young, I somehow started to realize that cookbooks were great nighttime reading. I think it started during a visit to my grandmother's home, but I can't be sure exactly. And that was even in the time before the new age of cookbook, inspired by cooking blogs, where recipes are wrapped in with stories of the cookbook author's personal life. They were just recipes, hard and flat and exact, sometimes accompanied by a glossy photo that showcased the final recipe just right, and sometimes just lonely black type on a thin page wrinkled with age and smudged with a streak of dried batter. There was something about those recipes that made me go to bed feeling both inspired and creative. And then came the cookbook blogs. Cooks who were also writers started to put words behind the feeling that comes with cooking, how it's wrapped up in our sense of self and our memories and the world we create around us. I became an avid follower of those blogs, and an even more avid cook. Today, most of the recipes that I make are inspired by the blogs I read. I also have a few trusty cookbooks that I return to again and again, and I love Pinterest as a window into the whole cooking blog world.
I've also had the fortune of living in so many different countries, and experiencing the cuisines of the world firsthand, which has really helped define me as a cook. First, I've often had the opportunity to eat the real thing in it's most authentic form, so I know what it looks like and tastes like. I don't often read a recipe, and say "ummm what the heck is Okonomiyaki?" or "what do they mean by Chinjiang vinegar? How is that different from other vinegar?" I also realize that the world is such a diverse place with endless cuisines, varying not only by country, but also by locality, so it's a never-ending source of inspiration. That might be what I love the most. That, or that we, ourselves, as cooks, can constantly keep re-inventing recipes. That's what I try to do. I am inspired by a recipe that I read, or a food that I tried, and I want to re-invent it to my own particular tastes.
But I didn't do that this time. I saw a recipe on Pinterest that somehow combined the American banana bread obsession with the German love for poppy seeds, and it was perfect, just as it is.
Poppy seed, known as Mohn in Germany, is a favorite flavor for pastries and sweets. Usually eaten as a dense, sugary filling in a variety of cakes, or sprinkled over Germknödel, it has a bit of a different characteristic than American poppy seed baked goods, which tend to be more sparing with the poppy seeds. I think sometimes Americans even wonder if poppy seeds have a taste, or if they are more for decoration? In Germany, we like a strong poppy seed flavor, often almost like a thick paste or band of jam filling - but with the crunchy texture of the seeds and that unmistakeable earthy, flowery taste of poppy.
This recipe doesn't yet venture into the realm of true poppy seed glory - the seeds should be ground into a paste to release their oils in order to reach peak fragrance and flavor - but it flirts along the edges of that. The cake is laden with so many poppy seeds that the flavor and crunch is unmistakeable. I think you'll enjoy it!
Banana Poppy Seed Cake
from the view from great island
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (140 g) white sugar
1/2 cup (120 g) sour cream
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup (65 g) poppy seeds
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup (125 g) white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
The Vanilla Bean Frosting
3-4 oz (approx 100 g) cream cheese, at room temperature (about half the 8 oz package)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
the seeds from 1 vanilla bean
2 cups (320 g) powdered sugar
milk or cream for thinning the icing
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 175C/350F
- Cream the butter, sugar and sour cream together. Beat in the egg, mashed bananas and vanilla.
- Sift the flour, salt and baking soda into the wet mixture. Mix together just until thoroughly combined. Fold in the poppy seeds.
- Spread the batter into a buttered and floured 8x8 square baking pan.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until a toothpick just comes out clean.
- Cool before frosting.
- To make the frosting--- mix everything together until you have a thick, creamy, spreadable consistency. Taste to adjust your lemon juice.
- Spread the frosting thickly onto the cooled cake.