It surprises me that the banana isn’t the most popular fruit in the world. Depending on which reference I consult, it’s either in 2nd or 3rd place, up there with tomatoes and apples. And lest you think I jest, the tomato is a fruit, wouldn’t you know it. No matter, the banana will always be tops for me. I love its grab-and-go nature and in the Philippines, we have the tastiest banana in the lacatan, my absolute favorite. Of course if I can get away with having my five-a-day (of fruits) in dessert form, then all the better. And a dessert company named after one of the most loved fruits in the world? Ah, even better!
Gone Bananas! (exclamation mark theirs), is made up of engaged couple, Marjorie Torres and Jhon Salvador. Of course I’m dying to know why they named their business as such, and the simple reason is — it’s because their bestsellers are the banana-based items: banana bread (plain ”“ P190/loaf and with walnuts ”“ P240/loaf), and the Chocolate Swirl Banana Cake (P250). Makes perfect sense now, no? Their banana bread’s robust flavor is attributed to more than double the customary amount of what Marjorie calls, “… perfectly ripened (not over-ripened) bananas. We consider our banana bread a cross between a Filipino-tasting banana cake and an American-textured banana bread.” Upon request, they’ll even sprinkle some chocolate chips in the banana bread, and sometimes for a change, they’ll enrobe their well-loved Chocolate Swirl Banana Cake with ganache and present it as cupcakes.
Banana bread is one of those things that can be eaten as a dessert or for a snack. It’s incredibly versatile too ”“ it tastes good toasted, at room temperature, or straight from the fridge. And it’s incredible with a slap of cream cheese, made into bread pudding, transformed into dessert bruschetta, lightly grilled and dribbled with ganache and crÃ¨me fraiche, cubed for dessert fondue … somebody stop me! What I like about Gone Bananas!’ banana bread is how the top of the loaf is moist and fragrant with the fruit. There isn’t a more enticing invitation to stop what I’m doing and devote my full attention to it.
Having been in business for three and a half years, Gone Bananas! used to be a for-Christmas-only baking venture. After particularly successful holiday seasons and the particularly pushy encouragement of their families, Marjorie and Jhon have been part of the bazaar circuit since 2003. Business has been so good that they’re now offering their goodies year round.
Marjorie muses on how two business graduates without any formal pastry training whatsoever have been able to come this far. I have two answers: Overload Brownies (P300/9×9) and Almond Sans Rival (P750/8”). For me, a brownie is never just a brownie. Superloaded and uber-rich, Gone Bananas!’ brownies are gilded with mini and regular chocolate chips frolicking with shards of walnuts — the topcoat is a delicious counterpoint to what it conceals. One bite leads me into a food coma of delirious decadence where pronouncements of caramel and dark chocolate chant my name. Softly cakey with a blush of fudgy texture, I have no intention of resisting these. Inspired, I cut the brownies into whimsical triangles, doing away with the traditional squares. I serve them on pretty plates to some friends visiting me that day, and we all swoon to the floor together.
For a long time, I thought that Jill Sandique made the only sans rival that I liked. Until today, that is. While Jill’s is refined, not to mention that pistachio is her nut of choice, I like the rusticity of Gone Bananas!’ sans rival (P750/8″). The traditional buttercream is actually a custard cream that Marjorie and Jhon have “… made less buttery and more custard-y,” spilling out over the crispy-chewy meringue layers. They’ve added their own touches to this dessert by using a liberal hand with sliced almonds and garnishing the pastry with a few strawberries. Admittedly, this sans rival is a bit chewier and sweeter than most, but if your middle name is “dessert,” like mine is, then you’ll want to appropriate this for yourself by portioning out mere slivers to your guests in order to have more for you to snack on at midnight.
photo taken from Gone Bananas!’ brochure
No home baking business is complete unless it’s got too much chocolate. Marjorie and Jhon tell me that they bake using only Belgian chocolates, Callebaut, and Valrhona cocoa products. The deeply dark and chocolate taste of these products is highlighted in another of their bestsellers, the Black And White Chocolate Cupcakes (P270/9 cupcakes, each 3oz). Visually arresting, they’re moist chocolate cakes interestingly upgraded with swaths of cream cheese (Philly, if you please) and strewn with chocolate chips. Groan inducing, the flavors embrace in a combination that will intoxicate any chocoholic.
It’s only the cookies that the pair makes that I’m not too happy about. Crumbly, they’re the type that don’t keep well overnight. Even the cookies I bake are lousy the next day, turning into dry, despicable hockey pucks unless there’s corn syrup, honey, or some other such hygroscopic ingredient in the batter.
Marjorie and Jhon have several plans for Gone Bananas! which include opening a pastry shop and concentrating solely on their chocolate-based sweets. But wait, if that happens, then their name may change. Ah, no matter. I’m sure it’ll still be top banana in my book. (Pun very much intended).