Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Banana Bread

Meet The Banana Bread
Yes, I do mean to imply that there is only one. That’s because there is only one banana bread recipe that will ever have my heart. The Banana Bread is the only banana bread I have eyes for. I have no recollection of where I originally found the base recipe for this. Likely on a large cooking database like allrecipes, which has its moments. It was my freshman year of college, and because I’m sometimes a kitchen klutz (this you will find out about me), I was not successful in putting in the required ingredients in their correct amounts. This is the first recipe I ever fiddled with, though accidentally.  I wrote it down immediately after the entire bread was gobbled up by deprived and hungry students at 11pm in under 10 minutes, while it was still hot even! So as my first post here, I think it’s appropriate to honor my first great success with culinary creative license.

I’m not sure what your banana bread standards are, but if you like a moist, dense, but not too dense, sweet, but not too sweet, super bananay, spicy, fiddle-able bread, this is it. I think it only gets more delicious with time, as the moisture from the bananas really saturates it. I’ve tried it with a cup of pineapple, which was a dead ringer for pineapple upside down cake. I’ve mixed in blackberries for a structurally sound loaf of what tasted like berry cobbler. It doesn't care if it's baked in a full fledged oven or my dinky toaster oven here in China. In my more desperate times, I’ve even healthed it up with flax seed and by replacing part of the butter with yogurt. When I’m feeling wild, I replace the vanilla with brandy, mix half a bar of melted dark chocolate with some cream cheese, spread it on while it’s hot and later have something that I have to hide from others. My boyfriend ate an entire loaf of that last incarnation by himself just yesterday. Now that I live in China, and butter is a magical unknown substance here, I use vegetable oil. 
Good to the last crumb!

The Banana Bread
Makes 1 lovely loaf

1/2 cups softened, room temperature butter salted or unsalted, I use salted
(china-fied: or, you may substitute 6 tbsp vegetable oil)
1/3 cups sugar (white or brown is fine, or a combination, experiment!)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp salt (or slightly less if using salted)
1/4 cup milk 
1 tbsp vanilla extract (or, you know, booze of some sort, like brandy)
3 or 4 mashed, old, spotted, left-for-dead bananas
1 cup of add-ins like chocolate chips, fruit, craisins, or nuts (optional)
Your choice of spices, to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C), making sure your rack is in the middle position. Assemble your ingredients on the counter. Prepare your normal sized loaf pan, 12 muffin muffin pan, or 3-4 mini loaf pans by greasing, paper lining or greasing respectively.

Blend together the butter (or oil) and sugar. Once the butter is fluffy and creamy looking, add the banana, stir. Add the eggs, stir. Add the milk and vanilla (or booze), stir. 

In a separate bowl, (and I'm serious, there is nothing worse than getting a lump of baking soda in a bite of your delicious bread) mix the dry ingredients with a fork to combine and smooth out any little lumps. 

Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir until just combined, don't overwork it or you'll tire it out too much to rise in the oven. Here is where you will add your spices or orange zest, and can add your 1 cup fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, or anything else you want. Don't exceed one cup of extra material though, or it will cook funny. I regularly use about 3/4 tbsp of pumpkin pie spice, but nutmeg and cinnamon do the trick too, or just cinnamon, or nothing at all. It's a choose your own adventure sort of bread. 

Scrape all that goodness into your desired bread form, smooth it out a little. In a loaf pan, don't fill it up more than 3/4 of the way full. It rises, and you don't want sad burning banana goo on your oven floor. Likewise, don't fill up your muffin cups more than half way or so, or you'll have sad spilly outy muffins and sad crusty muffin pan.

Now, pop that bread into your preheated oven. Bake for around 35-45 minutes for a loaf, or 25-30 for mini loaves and cup cakes. It will turn a golden brown, and a thin, sharp knife will come out clean after being inserted in the middle of the loaf (or muffin). 

Take it out, and let it cool for 5 minutes in the pan (wait for it...). If you get too antsy, it'll stick to your pan and be sad. Just wait. Now, run a butter knife gently around the edges to release it from the pan, pushing very gently towards the center of the pan to really release the bottom. Put a plate on top, flip the whole thing over and gently shake your bread out of the pan (this step always makes me think of getting condensed soup or refried beans out of a can). Flip your bread right side up on its new plate home, and bask in the glory. Now, eat it. Toasted, frosted, buttered, warm, cold or as is, it's delicious. Enjoy! 

I'd love to hear what sort of combinations you come up with! Post them in the comments!

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