Jul 1, 2014

Banana Bread (Flour Bakery + Cafe)

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Confession: This banana bread that you see here split in half, horizontally, as I attempted the somewhat harrowing task of disengaging it from its pan. Poor thing was pieced back together. The odds of a wholly intact baked good out of the oven improve by waiting for it to cool, properly buttering your pan, holding your breath, saying a prayer to Martha Stewart, or even better, laying a piece of parchment paper long enough to cover the bottom and sides of your loaf pan. Unfortunately, the banana bread sat in the oven for about 15 minutes longer than it should, and I panicked. Ran to the oven, rushed it onto the counter, and took a chopstick and ran it along the sides to help loosen it from the pan. And then (half of) the banana bread tumbled, ignominiously, out from the pan. I was not a happy baker.

Though no one really noticed. Both halves were hastily reunited, and the inherently mottled appearance of banana bread (those banana chunks have a habit of turning dark with heat and time) made it look no worse for wear. Late afternoon baking turned into an evening snack, along with some coffee (which yes, goes very well with bananas, and I may just try adding a shot of espresso into the batter next time, per the suggestion of one of my favorite food writers, Mr. Lebovitz).

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This has been my go-to recipe for the past few months whenever I see that a few of my bananas are ripening, inching closer to their potential as delicious bread. And then I hope that I'm not left with a mere lone, very ripe, ugly banana in my fruit bowl (which gets frozen and forgotten in the freezer...and who ate those other bananas, anyway?).

There's a range of sugars listed in the recipe below, as I found the original amount too sweet for my taste. In fact, cutting the amount of sugar in half still resulted in a nicely (not cloyingly) sweet banana bread. But if you find yourself with bananas that are still a few steps away from 'very ripe,' and unable to wait because you want banana bread now, then use the higher range of sugar listed below. I also reduced the amount of oil by a quarter which gave me a less oily, and in my opinion, more pleasing crumb. It keeps well, tightly wrapped, for a few days. In fact, I like it even better after a day or two, than straight out of the oven (though it's too good to resist!).

Banana Bread Adapted from Flour, Joanne Chang; Makes one 9-inch loaf

1 1/2 cups | 210 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heaping 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup | 115 to 150 grams sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup | 75 grams canola oil
3 1/2 (1 1/2 cups or 340 grams) very ripe medium bananas, peeled and mashed
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup | 75 grams walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5 inch loaf pan; or alternatively, butter the short (5") ends of the loaf pan and cut and lay a piece of parchment paper long enough to cover the bottom and longer sides of the loaf pan.

Sift together the dry ingredients: Flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

Beat the sugar and eggs until the mixture has thickened and turned pale. This step will take 5 minutes using a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment. Using a handheld mixer (as I did) will take longer, approximately 8 minutes. Make sure to beat the mixture for the full amount of time, especially when using a handheld mixer.

On a low speed, slowly incorporate the oil into the egg mixture. Slow is key here -- this step should take about a minute.

Continuing on a low speed, add the bananas, sour cream, and vanilla extract just until combined.

Carefully fold in the flour mixture and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for between 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Baking times can vary (sometimes by quite a lot).* Cool on a wire rack. And enjoy!

*I go by touch: quickly press a finger down on the surface of whatever you're baking (somewhere in the middle), and if it springs back and feels firm (not at all gooey underneath), then you're good to take it out of the oven.

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