Friday, March 16, 2012

Banana bread buried in the middle

The prettiest thing I've made lately, if not the very best.
Day before yesterday, late afternoon, I was about to unload the dishwasher and thought I would mind the chore less if I had something to listen to. Although I had tried and failed to read it several decades ago, I decided to download The Screwtape Letters. by by C.S. Lewis because it was cheap ($5.95) and short. For the next 3.5 hours I did not at all mind unloading the dishwasher, cleansing a mildewy lunchbox, reducing tangerine juice, sterilizing the drawer organizers, mixing another loaf of banana bread, and then baking a completely gratuitous marmalade tart for dessert because I could not stop listening. A book beloved by both Sarah Palin (well, supposedly) and David Foster Wallace? And me?

You have to read this book!

I've baked three banana bread recipes since I last posted on the topic, omitting nuts and chocolate (when called for) partly because they would skew the comparisons, but mostly because I like the texture of banana bread to replicate the smooth, custardy texture of an actual banana.

perfect banana bread and burnt banana bread
1. The banana bread recipe from Joanne Chang's Flour (recommended by Nora K and printed here) was the most perfect and beautiful loaf. Owen thought it was less moist than my usual Beth Hensperger's recipe, but ate huge chunks of it nonetheless. He was right about it being slightly less moist, but then he and I like banana bread that is almost wet -- a bread some would describe as "dense" and "heavy." Chang's bread is light. Her recipe calls for cinnamon which I would omit in future because I like unadulterated banana flavor. But that's just my taste. This is a truly fantastic banana bread and I highly recommend. (If you make the recipe using the version online, choose a 9x5 inch loaf pan and please note that the original recipe as printed in Chang's book calls for heating the oven to 325 degrees F. Nora K said yogurt can be substituted for the sour cream/creme fraiche so I used yogurt and it worked great.)

2. The roasted banana bread from Kristin's recipe smelled incredible, first when the bananas were roasting and later when the bread was baking. I also loved the way the recipe was written. I don't ever actually mash bananas in a bowl, always drop them directly from their peels into the mixer and I appreciated seeing a recipe acknowledge this shortcut. Sadly, I managed to burn this loaf -- a thick layer of burn. But that the unburnt middle layer had the mightiest banana flavor of the loaves I've baked so far.

3. The Braddock Tavern banana bread recipe posted by Sarah Policastro in the comments to the original banana bread post is the closest to the benchmark Hensperger recipe. I think it might be better, but I would have to taste the two side by side. This recipe uses butter (which you cream rather than melt), 5 bananas (required to fill 2 cups -- lots!) and some applesauce. I made one big loaf, baked it for a longer time than specified for two small loaves, refrigerated the loaf overnight and ended up with a custardy and creamy bread, almost like a pudding. I love this bread, which is totally different from the other two banana breads and probably the closest to my personal ideal.
maybe underbaked, but very tasty.
4. I also baked the banana blondies from Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard. (Recipe here; you'll need a metric scale.) They are a gooey confection packed with bananas, white chocolate, and brazil nuts and of course they are in a whole separate category from banana bread. These blondies are the work, as Screwtape might put it, of "our Father below." I ate one blondie and am not allowed near the rest.

End of banana bread claptrap. For now.


On another subject, Nancy Silverton's Mozza got me started cooking mussels which I'd always thought of as "special," but which turn out to be fast and cheap and great for weeknights. Don't wait to order them in restaurants; they're much easier to make at home than a pot of soup. The other day I steamed mussels according to Big Sur Bakery Cookbook's very rudimentary recipe (white wine, herbs) but the resulting mussels couldn't hold a candle to that original zesty Silverton recipe. My husband said, "You should only make those first mussels you made." He is right. I have found my mussels.
Owen: "I didn't like them."
This past week, I also made seared scallops with cauliflower puree and tangerine reduction out of The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. It sounds fussy, but was super-easy.You start with big sea scallops -- expensive, but you only need 2 per person. Boil 1 cup of tangerine juice (recipe says fresh; I used bottled) until it's reduced to 2 tablespoons of jammy syrup. Boil a cut-up head of cauliflower for 12 minutes and puree with 1/2 cup warm cream and 1/4 cup of chicken broth. You season then sear the scallops in a lightly oiled skillet, 3 minutes per side. Scrape cauliflower puree onto a plate (you can put everything on one platter, but I think this dish looks better apportioned to individual plates), place scallops on cauliflower, pour tangerine reduction on scallops. You now have a dinner that looks fancy, tastes wonderful, and requires almost no effort. Your kids might not eat this, which means more scallops for you. Detailed recipe is here.

topped with grapefruit, blood orange, cara cara orange
Finally, as mentioned, I baked the gorgeous marmalade tart from Big Sur Bakery. It's a generous rectangle of sweet dough topped with a cup of marmalade, homemade almond cream (sugar, orange rind, butter, chopped almonds) and sliced citrus fruit. My husband was wildly enthusiastic, but only after he picked off the wheels of stringy and bitter grapefruit. A very slight adaptation of the recipe is here; I agree with Blue Ridge Baker that the dough needs much more liquid than called for. If you try this, I'd go with oranges for the topping and skip the grapefruit, which (unlike bananas) is apparently not enhanced by baking.

I'm out of breath now and you've probably stopped reading, but this recipe from Food52 is intriguing.

Too many banana blondies?


  1. 1. I love the unique perspective of "The Screwtape Letters." It's insightful and thought-provoking.

    2. Puddingy banana bread is the gold standard--I am disdainful of a recipe that can take such a wet fruit and make it into dry bread.

    3. That cat is astonishing.

  2. Layne -- Owen put the camera in fisheye mode. You can imagine my horror when he took a picture of me and I didn't know of this wonderful "trick."
    Even without fisheye, Jerry is very fat.

  3. Enjoy your blog but would enjoy it more if you could manage to refrain from the snarky political comments. I realize you live in a very close-minded, march-in-step community, but most of the rest of us don't. Most the rest of us embrace tolerance and open-mindedness. Not close-minded you say? Well, where I live no bookstore would refuse to carry Obama's books, but remember this from the San Francisco Chronicle?
    "It might as well have cooties. . . .The new autobiography by moose hunter and failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is harder to find in the Bay Area than a hockey mom. . . many nonchain bookstores won't handle it. . . . There are no copies of the book at Cover to Cover Booksellers in Noe Valley . . . . 'Anything like that we wouldn't carry,' said clerk Emily Stackhouse. 'We're a small store and it would probably gross us all out.' . . . " Enough said.

    1. How VERY DARE SHE comment politically on her OWN blog? The outrage!

  4. Anonymous -- Interesting. I wondered if anyone would seize upon my parenthetical about Sarah Palin, one of the only political comments -- if you can even call it that -- I have made in the last 3 years. And it came on the second comment.

  5. I read Layne's comment and thought how "astonishing" is a wonderful vocab word that I don't use very often. Then I got to comment two and had a really good use for it. I don't want to flame anybody out, but that was probably the least snarky reference to Sarah Palin I've ever read. What a really despicable presumption of your mindset.

  6. Even if the comment you made about Sarah Palin was political, rather than an expression of surprise that people from such different viewpoints all enjoy the same book, it's your blog and you can say whatever the hell you want.

  7. Well, it is the political season, so I'm not surprised that someone tried to impose their political views, but how inappropriate! As above, it is your blog, and you can say whatever the hell you want, and please continue to do so.

    I am with you and Layne - the gold standard for banana bread is gooey, bananay, and custardy. So, I can hardly wait to try the recipe. The yogurt recipe looks yummy as well.

    Are you ever going to elaborate about those wonderful breads you made while in Hong Kong?

  8. How on earth was that itty bitty Sarah Palin reference at all political? What rubbish. I'LL give you a snarky comment about Sarah Palin...well, perhaps I'd better not. Hey, maybe Anonymous IS Sarah Palin! Maybe she has a few black bananas lying around and did a search....

    I hope you will try the roasted banana bread recipe again--I thought I recognized it from the photo when I first glanced at it--but it isn't what I would call custardy. It is rich and dark and very moist, and when it's no longer hot, it is damply cool, sort of flexible and stretchy (!), and I usually can't decide whether I'd rather have a slice from the heel or from the middle.

    I'm loving your blog. So funny and well-written.

  9. Great writing, great recipes, adorable cat pics. What's not to love?

  10. Kristin and Jennifer--made Kristin's bb this am with much success except I underbaked a little because the top was starting to burn so I had to rescue it. Delicious! BTW agree with Kristin re the snark factor--very low on this blog. Palin should be so lucky with the rest of the blogosphere....

  11. Shame on you, Tipsy! It's obvious that you were the mastermind behind the anti-American plot to keep Sarah Palin's latest masterpiece out of Bay Area shops.

    Your blog is nothing but a thinly veiled conspiracy to ban free speech!

    And your book with its anti-capitalist propaganda (Make it at home! Don't buy American!) is nothing but a Communist manifesto in disguise!

  12. I want to eat that picture of the scallops. It's been years since I read Screwtape, but now I have to again. I run a discussing books w/ religious and mythic themes; this would be right in the wheelhouse and I've considered it before but couldn't find my copy.

    Made banana bread last week, spurred by your earlier post. Overbaked it. Drat. Not sure how I feel about "wet" banana bread, though.

    I don't use a mixer, just two bowls, wet and dry ingredients (melted butter) so I always mash bananas with fork; using blender or mixer would dirty more dishes. I haven't had good luck mixing the bread--comes out tough.

  13. Ms Tipsy -
    Love your blog, your book and your sensible self. Reading your blog is always a highlight of my day.

    Wish I could make my banana bread cook all the way through, but at least the end pieces are delicious.

    Keep up the great work!

  14. Do you think you liked Screwtape Letters better this attempt because of the quality of the audio version you chose? And if so, who did the reading? It's already one of my favorite books, but I'd love to hear it read in a nice English accent.

  15. Anonymous -- I think it was improved by the reading. Or certainly not diminished as some books can be. The narrator was Ralph Cosham.

  16. Love it - more banana bread brouhaha! Or perhaps that's another word at which Steven will take umbrage.

    A noisy and overexcited critical response, display of interest, or trail of publicity.

    Love your blog, Tipsy!

  17. During my own forays into the Banana Bread recipe odyssey, I found that Paula Deen's Banana Nut Bread Recipe, from The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook, was moist and banana-y. I had to cut back on the salt and the sugar for my family's tastes though. Now this is my go to recipe. I have also used this recipe to make muffins instead, but don't use paper liners, the muffins become horribly attached to the liners, and you spend your breakfast gnawing muffin from the paper.

  18. I weirdly read your book first and am only now checking the blog out. I cackled my way through the book, SO great. My husband looked at the back flap and assessed: "This lady is adorable. She looks super adorable and she sounds awesome." My little son is intrigued that I was reading about ice cream and cake. The baby even thought it looked pretty and tried to grab the hen on the cover. So there, fun for the whole family.

    I made this Big Sur Bakery citrus pastry too - I don't own a stand mixer - yet - so I mixed the dough up with a combination of a handheld pastry cutter and my fingers and it was still really good.

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