Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is that a loaf of banana bread in your pocket,
or are you just glad to see me?

In my mind's eye, I can still see my mother strolling into my house on Christmas Day with a loaf of banana bread in one hand and pumpkin bread in the other. For me. ALL for me. I made sure.

Mom wasn't boho, but she was a prodigious baker, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. She started in October making batches and batches of cookies and quick breads, which she wrapped carefully and froze for holiday sharing and gift-giving. Just about everyone she knew looked forward to a plate of her goodies.

Through the year she collected five-quart plastic ice cream containers so she could send each grandchild home after Thanksgiving with a bucket filled to the brim with cookies. That’s after they’d already stuffed themselves over the course of a four-day visit, mind you. And the buckets were mostly emptied by the time they arrived back home.

My niece, nephew and daughter weren’t interested in her quick breads, though, which meant MORE FOR ME!

Truly, I’ve never met a cookie I didn’t like—especially one of mom’s—but if there was banana bread around, I zeroed in on that. When I got really addicted and couldn’t limit my habit to the Christmas season, I started making my own in between. I used mom’s recipe, of course, because it’s easy, quick and delicious. There are no eggs or dairy in it for those of you with allergies, yet it always magically turns out moist.


Just 6 simple ingredients



  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3 bananas (over-ripe preferred)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ tsp. soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Insider tip: Over-ripe bananas make the best banana bread because the sugar,
moisture content and flavor is more intense. I often let mine get much riper than those pictured.


Getting started



Prep: Set your oven to 350 degrees F. While it’s preheating, butter (or use Crisco) and flour 1 standard loaf pan or 3-4 mini-loaf pans. Metal pans work better for baked goods, and butter and flour should cover the bottom and all the way up the sides because the batter will rise. The purpose of the butter is to keep the loaf from sticking to the pan. The purpose of the flour is to keep the butter from simply melting into the batter.

Insider tips:
  • I usually double this recipe and make mini-loaves, so I have quite a few pans to prepare. To simplify buttering, I peel back the paper from a stick of butter about halfway so I can slide the stick around and cover sides and bottom all at once. This also leaves enough paper wrapping on the stick to keep me from getting butter on my hands. 
  • Do your flouring over the garbage-disposal side of the sink (or a waste can), dump out what doesn’t adhere to the buttery bottom and sides after you've carefully shook it 'round, and rinse it down the drain.


Step-by-step



With an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar and bananas. Depending on the power of your mixer, you probably don’t need to mash up the bananas beforehand, particularly if they’re over-ripe. But you do want to make sure you adequately puree the bananas into the sugar and butter before moving to the next step.



Add flour, salt and soda, and mix well. I generally use the splatter guard my mixer came with to help confine the flour, though it’s removed here to facilitate photographing. Keep the mixer on low speed while adding flour gradually to lessen loss. Once dry ingredients are mostly incorporated, increase mixer speed to medium and continue mixing until your batter looks like the photo on the right. It will be thick.



If you want to add nuts (or anything else, like chips, fruit or coconut), now is the time. Remove your mixing bowl from the mixer stand and stir in with a wooden spoon or spatula until evenly incorporated.

Chris is allergic to walnuts, and I’m a bit of a purist, so I always make ours unadulterated. But I like the nuts, and I bet chocolate chips would be yummy too, though I’ve never tried it.

Insider tip: If you toss the nuts (etc.) lightly in flour BEFORE adding to the batter, it will help distribute them evenly and prevent them from sinking to the bottom while baking.



Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake in center of preheated oven for 1 hour for standard loaf pan.


Mini loaves bake faster (so check sooner, say 30-45 minutes), glass pans require less heat (cut to 325 degrees), and multiple pans may increase bake time. You may also need to rotate them part way through, depending on how well your oven circulates heat.


Insert a toothpick or wooden cake tester in every loaf to test doneness. Loaves are done if toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs. If not done after an hour, increase oven heat to 375 degrees F., add time, but monitor closely. To ensure your banana bread is moist, you want it out of the oven BEFORE the toothpick comes out completely clean and the sides of the loaf shrink away from the pan.

Insider tip: Metal cake testers do not give you an accurate read of doneness. Because they’re slippery, often nothing will stick to them at any point in the baking process. The wood surface of a toothpick, on the other hand, is rougher, and crumbs cling to it readily.



Cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack. When pan can be handled, run a knife around the edge of the loaf, and turn upside down to pop out. Finish cooling on the rack.


Enjoy!




I prefer mini-loaves because they’re a perfect amount for one or two people to use up at any given time. If I’m serving banana bread at an event, mini-loaf slices cut in half make ideal finger-size portions. I would say mini-loaves are perfect for gift-giving—which they are—but I’m a banana bread hoarder and must confess that I seldom give any away.

I usually leave out one or two small loaves for my husband and I (mostly for me!) and freeze the rest. Mini-loaves thaw in about an hour, or sooner on the defrost cycle of the microwave (in case I get a craving, which is certain).

Insider tip: If freezing, wrap first in press-and-seal plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil to ensure freshness, then in a zippered freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. Remove outer bag and aluminum foil to speed thawing, but leave plastic wrap on to prevent drying and/or to microwave.



Nothing goes much better with morning coffee than a thick slice of warm banana bread. It’s great plain, of course, or add a generous smear of cream cheese.



To me, it tastes like a mother’s love.



My mother, Wilma Jean (Porter) Clark would have turned 89 last Friday, Feb. 19. This photo is from one of her earlier birthdays (circa 2000?). It's hard to believe she's been gone nearly six years. I still miss you, mom, and if you walked through the door today I'd simply be glad to see you, banana bread in hand or not. 


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