Friday, April 25, 2014

Basics: Banana Bread

Though bananas are easily available and really affordable (even the fairly-traded ones!) all year, I only tend to buy them in the sort of fruit off-season after the winter Citrus Crush and before the spring Berry Boom (and way, way before any locally grown fruits are available). I’ve heard there are some good berries out there, but I haven’t really had time to seek them out. But the bananas are right where I can always find them, and their quality is reasonably easy to judge, and so I’ve been buying bananas.

Since I’ve been buying bananas, I’ve been making banana bread. Of course I “over buy” bananas on purpose, otherwise I would eat them all before they get to that delightfully well-spotted and almost mushy stage that makes for the best baked goods. If they get to that stage before you’re ready for them, you can always toss them into the freezer. I prefer to peel them first, just scooping the fruit into a freezer bag.

There are probably several hundred banana bread recipes, most of which are variations on a simple original. Many of them are favorite family recipes, and if you have one of those that you are happy with (or at least dedicated to), you’ve probably turned away from this page already. The recipe I use isn’t a family recipe, although I know my mom and grandmother made plenty of banana bread. This one comes from the people at Cooking Light, although I un-lightened it a bit. (What the heck is light butter, anyway?)

This recipe is very good, giving me consistent results every time I make it. The addition of whole wheat pastry flour gives it a hint of nutty, grainy flavor without overwhelming the fruitiness of the bananas. The bread is moist but - and I think this is the best part – there isn’t a weird, gooey, unbaked trench running along the top of the loaf as I’ve seen in so many old fashioned recipes. I’m not sure what causes that phenomenon. All I really know is that when I use this recipe in a 9-inch bread pan, it doesn’t appear.

Since I use that larger loaf pan (as opposed to the 8-inch pan I use for sandwich breads like this one), the slices of banana bread resemble narrow rectangles that hold themselves together well without being tough or dry. You could use a smaller pan or even mini loaf pans or muffin tins to bake the batter, but you’ll need to adjust the baking time: I think to about 45 minutes for mini loaves and 20 to 25 minutes for muffins.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for some mix-ins in this recipe. I’m partial to walnuts when I have them or even mini chocolate chips. I’ve heard coconut is good in banana bread, but I usually share baked goods with my husband and he won’t touch the stuff. You could also play around with different flours if you’re so inclined or try stirring in some oats to bump up the Whole Food Quotient even more. That’s the beauty of a basic recipe. And the ubiquitous Banana Quick Bread is a basic even beginning bakers can master.

Banana Quick Bread

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
¼ cup milk
¼ cup sour cream
1 2/3 cup mashed banana (about 3 large bananas)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Whisk or sift together to mix well. Set aside.

3. Whisk the egg and melted butter together until smooth. Whisk in the milk and sour cream. Whisk in the mashed banana.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon just until all the dry ingredients are moistened.

5. Spray a 9-inch bread pan with cooking spray or grease it with butter or oil. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the bread comes out with just a few moist crumbs.

6. Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 1 9-inch loaf.

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