4/22/11

Baking on Friday: Orange-Spice Banana Bread



I had some brown spotty bananas on hand, and so I decided today's baking project would be banana bread.  I've always used the recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook, published sometime during the 14th Century, when Betty wore her hair like this:

(She never gets any older.  She just changes her hairstyle.  I wish I was like that.  I'm just the opposite.  I'm always changing my hairstyle, and getting older by the minute.  I'm even older now than I was when I wrote that sentence.  And older now.  And now.  Depressing.  Anyway . . . )

I like banana bread, and I like the one I've always made.  Mike, however, got sick after eating a banana when he was 12 (that would have been the 13th Century), and, well, those things stick with you.  So I was hoping to use my bananas, but not be too banana-y, if you know what I mean.  So I went to my favorite baking reference when I want to try something new, and I want to do it in the best way possible. 



This is my absolute favorite reference/cookbook.  I love that they tell you how and why they do things, and they'll make a recipe 40 times if they have to in order to get it just the way they want.  I like that they make all the mistakes so that I don't have to. 

If you're like me, you've always got brown bananas sitting on your counter top.  Today I learned from Baking Illustrated that the best way to store bananas for baking banana bread sometime in the future is to put them unpeeled into a zip-lock bag and freeze them.  You can continue adding bananas to the bag if you like.  When you're ready to use them, just thaw them on your counter until they're soft.  Cool!  I hate it when I throw away bananas that would have made good bread.  But how much banana bread can one eat?  Or bake?

And before I go on, I want to say something about baking and cooking, in general.  I love baking and cooking.  I always have.  After I got sick a few years back, I was forced to quit working, and I haven't returned.  I'm fortunate to have the time now to do all the cooking and baking that I feel up to doing, but it wasn't always that way.  I raised two boys, worked full time, and went to to graduate school--all at the same time.  (Crazy, I know.)  So I'm well aware of the demands on a person's time.  But here's the thing:  I think part of the reason people don't like cooking and baking is because they don't have the right tools.  You wouldn't think of trying to cut a board without a saw, or pound in a nail without a hammer; yet, we try to do similar things in the kitchen all the time without the proper tools.  No wonder people don't like to cook! 

When I stopped working, I became a Food Network devotee, and I learned so much about cooking and tools.  Really.  Do yourself a favor and invest in a few basic tools that will make your job easier.  Good sharp knives, a sharp vegetable peeler (both conventional and the Y-style), a salad spinner, an apple corer, a good rasp--these things are not terribly expensive when purchased one at a time, and they will save you hours of time and many headaches in the kitchen.  I avoid items with just one purpose, as a general rule.  They fill up your drawers with items you rarely use, and they use up precious dollars that could have been spent for something more useful.  Today I used my rasp, which is a tool I didn't have previously.  It's the best tool for zesting citrus fruit.  But it also makes a good grater for hard cheese.  I'm thinking now that when I post about cooking and baking in the future, I'll mention my favorite tried and true tools.

Okay, on with the recipe.  As I said, this recipe appears in Baking Illustrated, copyright 2004, by the Editor's of Cook's Illustrated.  (I could be wrong about this, but I think I'm safe posting these recipes as long as I give credit where credit is due, and as long as I'm not making money while doing it.)  As I said earlier, Mike isn't wild about bananas, but he loves all things orange.  And so when I saw a version of banana bread that included oranges, cinnamon, and nutmeg, I knew I'd found my recipe.  The authors note that they liked banana bread, but that some breads are "flat, gritty, or heavy."  (Guilty as charged on the heavy part.)  They were looking for a bread that is "soft and tender with plenty of banana flavor and crunchy toasted walnuts . . . moist and light, something so delicious that you look forward to the bananas on the counter turning soft and mushy."  (That sounded good to me too.)  This is what they came up with (orange-spice variety).

Orange-Spice Banana Bread
Makes one 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf

2 cups (10 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 1/4 cups walnuts, chopped coarse
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz.) sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
3 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan; dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

2.  Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5-10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

3.  Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange zest together in a large bowl; set aside.

4.  Mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl.  Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky.  Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

5.  Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  (The bread can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

My notes:  I didn't have enough walnuts, and so I used half walnuts and half pecans.  Otherwise, I did just what they said to do.  Also, I always use the baking spray with flour instead of greasing and flouring my pans.  It works great, and I always get even distribution.  I hold the pan over the sink when I spray so that I'm not spraying it all over my counter tops.

The authors note that mixing the bread in the way they suggest here is better than creaming the wet ingredients in a mixer.  They also mention taking care when mixing the wet and dry ingredients together.  Over mixing with a spoon causes more gluten proteins to form "into long, orderly bundles."  They "create an elastic batter that resists changing shape and cannot rise as well."  I always follow their advice on such things. 

The bread is in the oven as I write this, and so I'll have to update you on how it tastes.  It certainly is filling the house with a heavenly aroma.  Mmmmmmmm.  Ahhhhhhh.  (I love that about baking.)

Update:  Yum!

3 comments from clever and witty friends:

Kathy said...

My bananas always get black on the counter too. Wish I had some now so I could try this recipe. let us now how this turned out.

otterdaughter said...

You can also spray pans on the open door of your dishwasher. That works great for larger pans that don't fit in your sink, and any overspray gets cleaned up next time you run the washer!

quiltzyx said...

Catching up on my blog-reading....

OK Barbara, you have my address. If you should make some of this bread without the walnuts & end up with more than you could possibly eat yourself..... ;^)