Thursday, May 3, 2012

What I found in Paul's cupboard.

Really, it was not my intent to pry.  I was just looking for the New Mexico chiles Paul keeps on his top shelf.  But lo, at eye level, were five of the most perfectly rotted bananas I had ever seen (as well as some manner of food item which had, with great success, disguised its original form with green mold).  I found the chiles, flung la terreur vert into the garbage, and allowed the bananas to continue on their path to enlightenment - I had other plans that day.

Nobly, they waited for the time when I had time to deal with this culinary find.  I pondered a roasted banana ice cream, but I still have half a quart of the coffee ice cream left over, so I decided to go with the classic.

My mother doesn't bake much.  She cooks almost every night, her salad dressings are to die for (as are her salads), and I'll share her quiche recipe soon enough.  But cookies, cakes, and all their delightful cousins are just not things she makes on a regular basis.

There are a few exceptions to this rule.  And let me tell you, those exceptions are executed perfectly.  Her Dutch apple pie and her brandy cake are requested weeks in advance.  You can find a yogurt container filled with her bran muffin batter in my fridge every other month.  But the recipe I'm sharing today is for her banana bread.

Wait, what?  I know, I know.  There is no shortage of banana bread recipes on the internet and in cookbooks - I'm sure you've got your own favorite.  I myself used the Silver Palate recipe for many years.  (Try it coated with sesame seeds - visually lovely, and very tasty.)  But maybe you're like me, and you've got a standby, but you're keeping an eye out for more (actually, this is more reflective of my brownie quest than my banana bread quest).  And maybe this will catch your fancy.

One of the things I like best about this recipe, and probably about banana bread in general, is that it is so easy to play with.  Might be I have candied ginger and candied lemon peel lying around - sounds like banana bread!  Walnuts?  Pecans?  Why not.  Golden raisins?  Dried cranberries?  Orange zest?  Count me in!  I do have a habit of turning my banana bread into a kitchen sink, but it tastes so good…

I tried to rein myself in this time.  I wanted to emphasize the flavor and the texture of the bread, and not overwhelm it with mix-in's an' fillin's an' toppin's.  I do have a few things that I always like to do (the toppings at the end), and I've included those.

Banana Bread:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
3 very ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups flour (I usually use half white, and half whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup sour cream (I rarely have sour cream, and often have yogurt.  This makes an excellent substitution.  I imagine buttermilk would work as well, though I have never tried this.)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup nuts (I usually use walnuts or pecans)
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit (or a mix!) or other exciting mix-ins
turbinado or other coarse sugar (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter and flour two 8x4 loaf pans.  (You can use a smaller pan to get taller loaves, but I like the way the bread domes in the 8x4 pan.)
  2. Toast the nuts (a toaster oven at 350F for 3-5 minutes works great.  Keep an eye on them, though!  You want the nuts browned and smelling toasted and delicious, but not too dark.)  Once the nuts have cooled, chop them coarsely.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition.  (A Maida Heatter tip: crack your eggs into a bowl first.  If you're like me, and have troubles with shell bits falling in, this will save your life.  And your bread.)
  5. Add the vanilla, and the bananas.  Beat on medium until the bananas are completely broken up.  The batter will look slightly curdled, but this is normal.
  6. Add the flour, and beat on low until almost combined.
  7. Add the sour cream (or whatever you choose to substitute), and beat briefly.
  8. Add the baking soda (sift to make sure there are no lumps) and the salt.
  9. Mix until combined.
  10. Fold in your mix-ins of choice.
  11. Divide the batter evenly between the loaf pans, and sprinkle the tops with nuts and turbinado (if using).
  12. Bake about 50 minutes (I always check at 45, just in case), or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  13. Enjoy!

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