Monday, March 05, 2012

I'm a busy and important person with a very stressful life

french toast that looks like pancakes
I forced myself to choose some recipes from John Besh's My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking and am going to cook them and decide whether to keep the book or donate it to the library. I only bought the book a month or so ago, but it rubs me the wrong way, starting with the subtitle. More on that later.

Yesterday I made Besh's Nutella-stuffed french toast. I had to. Every day Owen comes home from school and spreads a piece of untoasted bread thickly with Nutella and that is his snack. I made Nutella from scratch a few times, but he prefers the waxy store product and I gave up trying to elevate his tastes. It's not very healthy and I should stop buying it. Wait! I don't buy it. My husband buys it.

Besh's Nutella-stuffed french toast involves putting a dollop of Nutella in the middle of a slice of sandwich bread which you top with another slice. I would not use rough whole wheat bread or artisanal bread for this; it should be soft white bread, storebought or homemade. Now cut a circular shape around the blob of Nutella, sealing the doughy edges of two slices of bread. (Besh specifies a dull juice glass and you mustn't substitute a biscuit cutter; I tried and it doesn't smash the bread together enough form a seal.) Soak very briefly in a rich french toast batter (eggs, melted butter, sugar, milk, vanilla, orange juice) and fry. The recipe is here.

Should you make it? I don't like Nutella and only ate the plain bread part, so can't comment on whether this is an exquisite treat or disgustingly rich. Owen said it was "more like dessert than a breakfast." My husband had thirds.
before it looked like pancakes, it looked like Uncrustables
Some thoughts:

-wasteful of bread. We gave the crusts to the chickens and of course you could make bread crumbs. But french toast that uses the entire slice is more efficient.


-the french toast batter: excellent. On account of the melted butter? The boatload of sugar? Orange juice? Made very sweet and custardy french toast.

-Besh specifies frying french toast in oil. I think it was Molly Wizenberg who swore by frying french toast in oil. I remember thinking at the time, no, no, no, she's wrong, butter. I've changed my mind; she's right.

This morning, I decided to check A Homemade Life to be sure I hadn't misremembered Wizenberg's comments on the subject, but couldn't find the book anywhere. Distressing! I started thinking about other recipes from her book that I didn't want to lose and remembered the chocolate chip banana bread. Or at least I thought there was a recipe for chocolate chip banana bread. . .

Then I started thinking about banana bread. I love banana bread and make it a lot. Why are some recipes so much tastier than others? Decided to cross-reference the recipes in Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, and other stalwarts to see what I might learn. Got carried away and ended up looking in the indexes of all my cookbooks and "studying" banana bread recipes.

Fact: There are 104 different banana recipes under our roof.

When I staggered to my feet after this riveting exercise, hours had passed. It was lunchtime. I ate a piece of banana bread I'd baked recently using Recipes from Miss Daisy'sIt's a bit dry and I now knew why: because it calls for butter. I had figured out that all the recipes I most love call for oil, which yields a moister bread. Obviously. Because oil is not just moister than butter, oil is actually liquid. This is unappetizing when you think about it.

I am now a banana bread expert. Ask me anything! I can tell you that some people replace the oil with whipped prunes or applesauce and use egg whites instead of whole eggs. Dwight Yoakam likes banana bread made with whole wheat flour. Nigella soaks golden raisins in rum and tosses them into her loaf, while Mark Bittman prefers coconut and the wizardly Shirley Corriher folds whipped cream into the batter. (This, I am going to try.) Other people fortify their banana breads with Wheat Chex, wheat germ, bran, and Bisquick. Cooks stir in black coffee, maraschino cherries, candied citron, sesame seeds, mango, fresh cranberries, cocoa powder, or marmalade. You can flavor with rum, almond extract, vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, lemon peel, orange oil, allspice, cinnamon, or none of the above. Use more sugar or less, or replace the sugar with honey or Lyle's Golden Syrup. Barley flour? Sure. Rice flour? Why not. You can even make sourdough banana bread, though I wouldn't.

It was fun.

I may be a little underemployed.


  1. My Owen loves Nutella (as, alas, do I). I'm going to keep the existence of this recipe from him and hope he never discovers it!

    I like Marion Cunningham's Kona Inn banana muffins. They use more than the usual number of bananas, I think. And my all-time favorite cake, David Lebovitz's fresh ginger cake, also uses oil. You have to try that one if you haven't.

  2. Loved your post.

    Banana bread may be the only food I make consistently well. Here's why:

    I use yogurt -- vanilla, greek, once even lemon b.c it was all I had -- and it is delicious every time.

    Except the time I accidentally sprinkled the top w/cumin b.c I thought it was cinnamon sugar. I did not dare try it. (Fun post might be accidental/mistake recipes that trump the real one. I bet none involve accidental cumin.)

    Anyway, make this bread. Simple, delicious and fail safe, as long as you can properly identify your spices!

    nora k

  3. I never considered the manifold varieties of banana bread before. That's pretty interesting. I seem to have found one recipe I like, and I stick with it.

    And I agree--Lebovitz's ginger cake is the ginger cake I've been searching for my whole life. I'm not to be trusted around it.

  4. Thank you for the article...but what a teaser! Has your comprehensive research yielded the recipe to the perfect banana cake yet? I haven't made enough of them to properly compare, and the varied quality and ripeness of the bananas might be a factor of variation, too. Please, please post the ultimate recipe when you have found it!
    Also, as a French mother of 3, I can only praise and encourage you for trying to open your children culinary horizon. It ALWAYS has a result, even if just in the later years, for their own children's dismay!
    I had your book sent to a French cousin living in the US, she was really happy to be able to learn to cook the basics at home with the local ingredients. Many thanks, then!

  5. I love these types of posts. I hope your book is selling well and it allows you to keep writing us. We need you underemployed if this is what we get!

  6. I would recommend trying some Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter as a sub for Nutella. It is more expensive, of course, but much healthier and delicious. Sometimes I find it on sale and buy two.
    Most of the recipes of a basic that gild the lily seem an exercise in futility to me. Maybe that's because my palate is not well educated.
    I would say that fascination with permutations of recipes and food writing is just a "flow" activity for you. What a wonderful thing! You are just a practical chemist with a sensual side. How's that?

  7. Here is a really good banana bread recipe. It is very moist. I used 4 very ripe bananas. Didn't even add nuts, as I usually do. I'd lost my old recipe. Figured you couldn't go wrong with a recipe passed down through generartions. I was right.

  8. I have an ultimate recipe -- but then I started to wonder it if it really was the ultimate recipe, and if so, why. It's the banana bread from Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible. I've probably made it 25 times. Now I have to try the banana breads you mention. And others. Fortunately, I have a freezer full of black bananas.

  9. Beard on Bread is my bible for Banana bread plus I use hazelnuts, maybe you could add cocoa=Nutella banana bread! BTW I took cooking classes from Beth many years ago and still use her pastry dough. She made killer hand pies with it.

  10. Our family's banana bread recipe uses maraschino cherries--I'd never seen anyone else use them. I combined my great-grandmother's recipe with one from Cook's Illustrated, and it's good every time, so I try not to have a wandering eye with banana bread recipes, though the one in Flour did tempt me.

  11. I have my favorite banana bread recipe here:

    And I think it is phenomenal. I use butter, and what I usually describe as "too much vanilla". I don't like it as well when I make it into muffins, but I don't quite know why. I used to make this every weekend for brunch when I worked at a sweet little local restaurant. Sometimes I didn't have over-ripe bananas and would try to compensate in various ways, once even adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder to the batter, which was a disaster. Again, I don't know why!

  12. Tipsy, I would love a definitive banana bread recipe! Please post your favorite?!

    Also, if you want to get really unhealthy, you may want to try Biscoff spread.

  13. Our family has recently discovered Nutella. Can't keep an open jar in the house for more than a few days. Michael prefers his nutella spread on frozen waffles as an afterschool snack -- can't get much more processed than that, but he makes it himself, so I'm happy. Sometimes he brings friends over and they all take part. Not quite like having a Wii, but it does give our house a little more appeal.

  14. I make banana bread all the time, too.

    And count me in as another who would love Tipsy's Ultimate Banana Bread recipe, if you want to go there.

    I've had several go-to recipes over the years, but for the past several years it has been the one in "Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook." (This is one of the few Martha recipes I've tried that works, but from what I gather the recipes in this excellent book were probably developed not by Martha but by her minions.)

    This bread uses oil for its fat, and it's a fairly dense, substantial bread, not cakey. I also like it for the coconut and the toasted walnuts, and because it makes 2 large loaves, so I can freeze the other or give it away. It calls for 3 cups (15 ounces) of white flour, but I substitute 5 ounces of either white whole-wheat or spelt for some of the white, which is pretty much what I do for all non-delicate baked goods these days.

    Recipe is here:

  15. I just finished your book and I loved it! You have me looking at goats and chickens and my family thinks I'm nuts. Excited to find your blog too. Thanks for some great ideas.

  16. We've been making this one that my mother got from her sister. And isn't that the best way to get a recipe?

    Banana Bread (Braddock Tavern)
    2 1/3 cups flour
    1 tsp. salt
    2 tsp. baking soda
    1 cup butter
    2 cups sugar
    2 cups mashed ripe banana
    4 eggs
    ½ cup walnuts
    ½ cup chocolate chips
    ½ cup apple sauce

    Blend sugar, butter, and mashed bananas, apple sauce, and eggs. Add dry ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. 2 small loaves

    1. I have the original Braddock's Tavern in Medford, NJ Banana Bread Recipie and it callls for shortening not butter. I use Crisco butter flavored shortening sticks, one stick equals 1 cup.

  17. I really love your writing! It feels so effortlessly funny.

    I'm not sure if they have Aldi supermarkets near you, but my mom found a Nutella-like hazelnut spread there with a much shorter ingredient list. It has that familiar smooth consistency and is really tasty.

  18. The recipe Molly Wizenberg uses for banana bread in her book is an uncredited but exact version of Cook's Illustrated's (from Baking Illustrated), with the addition of crystallized ginger and chocolate chips. So if you can find Baking Illustrated in your library, you have the basic recipe and can improvise a desired amount of chocolate and ginger. I use a combination of Cook's and Beth Hensperger's versions, with canola oil but also the yogurt.

  19. Can you post the recipe?

  20. I'm sorry - but all of this claptrap for banana bread? And Nutella - a processed spread? Great banana bread calls for nothing but sugar, butter, bananas, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and (optional but ultimately distracting) nuts. Ginger? Chocolate chips? CHERRIES?! No.

  21. clap·trap noun \ˈklap-ˌtrap\

    : pretentious nonsense : trash

    I think there's only been, uh, one post here I'd define as claptrap.

  22. You promised to say more about "The Family Table" cookbook - and I am looking forward to it! I am on the fence on this one and would like to know your thoughts.

  23. Loving this recipe so much. I made it at my grandma’s house. The combination of recipes goes well with each other and the taste is certainly admirable. and www.coffeefashion .com also have interesting recipes that you’ll surely want to try!

  24. I just found your blog via another food site, Food in Jars, I think. I love your honest opinions, and I'm sure I'll be spending a lot of time combing through your back post. I have two favorite banana bread recipes, one is less sweet and more bread textured and the other really should be classified as cake. I occasionally add peanut butter to banana bread.

  25. my banana bread recipe was given to me by a friend, I believe she got it from Maida Heatter. (sp?) it is very dense, and rich and tasty. I usually do add chocolate and walnuts, but sometimes do it plain when Im missing my mom's version which was plain.

  26. I love banana bread and really should make it more often. My biggest problem is my husband loves 'really ripe' bananas. This week I decided the single lone banana was black enough that no one in their right mind would eat it & I threw it in the freezer. The next day my husband asked "Where is my banana?" He did not appreciate it when I handed him the frozen one. :)

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