Besides your bog-standard banana loaf, how else can you make use of a bunch of overripe bananas? Why not transform them into these finger-licking fritters or a light sponge, fragrant with thyme? Bananas embody the heights of my optimism and depths of my guilt – I buy them in the hope that sometime I’ll find room between the cakes, breads and buns for a simple piece of fruit. Without fail they languish in the fruit bowl, bloom fat brown spots, soften, wither and grow black. I throw them away in shame. It’s of necessity, then, that I’ve learned to reconcile bananas with my baking, reviving overripe ones with a dose of sugar or a spritz of lemon, mashing them into a cake, dipping in light batter and flooding with caramel.
Banana sesame fritters with balsamic caramel
These are the kind of no-fuss fritters you might find on the dessert menu of a Chinese restaurant or cheap buffet eatery – it’s simple comfort food, deep-fried, sweet and moreish. You could use white sesame seeds, but the black ones look better, standing in contrast to the golden batter. The simplest way to serve these is with a little warmed golden syrup, but here I’ve suggested a sticky balsamic caramel sauce, with a slight acidity to take the edge off the sweetness. Make sure you chill the flour and water in advance as this will help the batter to puff on contact with the hot oil, for a light, crisp coating.
1.5-2 litres vegetable or corn oil
150g plain flour, chilled
50g caster sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
40g black sesame seeds
175ml sparkling water, chilled
2 egg yolks
6-8 small ripe bananas, cut into 4cm chunks
For the caramel
150g caster sugar
3 tbsp water
110ml double cream
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
A generous pinch of salt
1 First, prepare the caramel. Combine the sugar and water in a small metal pan (avoid nonstick pans, which can cause crystallisation) and set over a high heat. Apart from occasionally tilting the pan to gently swirl the mixture, it’s crucial that you don’t stir it. Just let the syrup bubble until it begins to caramelise, darkening to a mellow amber colour. Warm the cream in a separate pan or in the microwave until it’s hot. As soon as the sugar has caramelised, turn off the heat (it’ll continue to cook in its own heat for a while, so better to under- than over-cook it) and pour in the hot cream, whisking briskly. Watch out for any sputtering or steam. Stir in the butter, then add vinegar and salt to taste. Set the caramel aside. (You may want to reheat it slightly in a water bath or microwave if it cools and sets too much prior to serving).
2 Pour the oil into a medium pan (preferably not nonstick) until it’s no more than ⅔ full. Set over a medium heat and pop a sugar thermometer in. Keep a close eye on the oil, turning the heat down as soon as it reaches 180C–190C (350F–375F). Don’t leave the hot oil unattended.
3 In a large bowl, combine the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, salt and sesame seeds. Stir the water and egg yolks together in a separate bowl then pour half of this mixture into the dry ingredients, whisking continuously until smooth. Whisk in the remaining liquid, adding a little extra water if necessary, to give a thick, though not gloopy, batter.
4 Dip the banana pieces in the batter in batches, coating thoroughly, then carefully put in the hot oil a few at a time. They may sink to the bottom of the pan before rising back up to the surface – keep an eye on them and give them a nudge with a metal spoon if they stick to the base. Fry for 2 minutes before gently flipping them and cooking for a further 2 minutes. The fritters should be golden brown and sizzling. Remove with a slotted spoon and pat dry with kitchen paper. Keep the cooked fritters warm while you fry the rest in batches, keeping the oil at 180C-190C all the while.
5 Serve the fritters with the balsamic caramel and several generous scoops of vanilla ice-cream.
Banana thyme cake with a lemon glaze
It’s an unusual flavour combination, but ripe banana sits with thyme as naturally as strawberries with thick cream. If you have any doubts, smell the two side by side – something about the aromatics of fresh thyme marries perfectly with banana’s creamy sweetness. A zesty glaze brings these two flavours into sharp relief in this soft, fragrant cake.
110g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
Zest of ½ lemon
2-3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
For the glaze
75g icing sugar
10-15ml lemon juice
Zest of ½ lemon
Fresh thyme leaves, to decorate
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a 20cm round springform cake tin with baking parchment (this is quite a soft cake and benefits from the protective swaddling).
2 Cream the butter and sugar until very soft and fluffy. Stir in the bananas, eggs, lemon zest and thyme. It’s perfectly normal for it to have curdled a little by this point. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, then add to the wet mixture, folding until just combined. Spoon in to the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, until well-risen and springy to the touch. If a small knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out more or less clean, it’s ready. Leave to cool completely in its tin.
3 Once the cake has cooled, remove from the tin and peel away the baking parchment. Whisk enough lemon juice into the icing sugar to give a smooth icing that’s loose enough to brush over the surface of the cake. Use a pastry brush to spread the icing over the cake, then scatter with the lemon zest and thyme leaves.
Ruby’s banana fritters (left) and springy banana thyme cake with lemon glaze. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian