Sunday, March 9, 2008

Re-embracing Banana Bread

No one thinks much of banana bread.

Banana bread seems to be the tired, old whore of the baking world. Every one's had a slice, and no one's impressed anymore.

Frankly, most versions of banana bread are dull. I find most to be dry with an insipid banana flavor that does not leave me craving another slice. For the past 5 years, I've been tinkering with a certain recipe for banana bread--one that I was introduced to during my days as a pastry flunky at the Inverness Hotel & Golf Club. The banana bread served at the hotel was actually moist, with a decent banana flavor, but it had no punch, and it relied too heavily on nuts for its climax.

Because I have so many friends, family, and customers that do not care for nuts or are allergic, I wanted a banana bread that spoke to them.

I wanted a banana bread that sang heavily of bananas but also played well with other notes, perhaps a hint of cinnamon, the heady scent of vanilla, a twinge of citrus, and maybe a little note of caramel.

To keep the bread moist, I used low-fat buttermilk and full fat sour cream as my dairy/liquid base. The slight tang also underlined the caramel note that I wanted to develop.

For the light caramel flavor, I used browned butter, and I replaced some of the white sugar in the original recipe with light brown sugar.

For a full banana flavor, I used bananas that were fully ripe, with a few that were over ripe. I don't advise using bananas that are so ripe that the skins are completely black; these tend to have a bitter flavor that is hard to counterbalance. Luckily, bananas freeze extremely well, so when they reach their fully ripe stage, but you don't have the time to use them for baking, you can just toss them into a freezer bag (with the skins on) and freeze until you are ready to use them. I also used more bananas than what most traditional recipes call for--6 medium sized bananas for 2 loaves of bread. This ensured a heavy distribution of bananas throughout each loaf.

I brought in a stiff shot of vanilla, a whiff of Vietnamese cinnamon, and the grated zest of one medium orange to backup the banana flavor and to make each bite of bread so interesting that you can't hold back to just one slice.

Banana Bliss Bread
(note: all measurements are for 5,000 ft)

1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar--packed
3 large eggs
6 medium sized, fully ripe to slightly overripe bananas--mashed until just chunky
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup full fat sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
Grated zest of one medium orange
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, browned and slightly cooled

3 cups all purpose flour (stir, dip, & sweep method)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1.25 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1.5 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon (Vietnamese cinnamon--also called Saigon cinnamon--is very potent stuff so a small amount goes a long way. If you need to use supermarket cinnamon, increase the amount to at least 2.25 teaspoons.)

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F.
Lightly grease 2, 8x6 inch loaf pans

To brown the butter:

Put the butter in a clear glass or stainless steal heavy-bottomed, 2-cup sauce pan (or a small skillet). Over medium heat, heat the butter until it stops foaming. Very quickly, the milk solids will fall to the bottom of the pan and will begin to brown. Once it reaches a deep brown (but not black, be careful not to burn it!) and begins to smell of toasted nuts, pull it off the heat and let it cool. I suggest transferring it to a heat-proof ramekin to stop the browning.

For the wet stuff:

All eggs and dairy should be at room temperature.
In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients and whisk thoroughly to combine them.

For the dry stuff:

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Pour the dry stuff over the wet stuff and fold the two together using a large rubber spatula. It will be a somewhat thick batter, but you are looking for no large streaks of flour to remain (small lumps of flour are fine and will integrate into the batter as it bakes).

Evenly divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans. Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean--30-45 minutes (depending on your oven and your particular elevation).

1 comment:

Tegan said...

Too too funny--tired old whore; nuts for a climax. I tried making some banana bread about a year ago and it was absolutely terrible; I don't think the bananas were quite ripe enough.