bake: banana bread
It's true what they say about the power of food: it has this innate ability to connect people and create a magical experience. If you had asked me 5 years ago what my favorite hobby is, I would have immediately said BAKING. I used to REALLY love it and get so much pleasure out of the process, from trekking to the store and buying the ingredients to seeing someone's face light up when i brought them a homemade cupcake.
I developed a love for baking probably sometime around the age of 11 or 12. I feel like this was the point where I understood that putting together ingredients in various sorts of ways with a variety of flavors produced a wide variety of results. While some kids might have woke up on Saturday morning to watch Saved by the Bell (no doubt, I loved it too), I watched PBS cooking shows like Jacques Torres or Jacques and Julia.
Somewhere between 2013 and 2018, though, I lost a bit of my passion for it and for awhile stopped altogether. While the past 5 years have had it's ups and downs, I think back and can't really come up with a good reason for the sudden stop. Maybe my interest in trying to make these baked goods "healthier" than the original version? (really, they just SOUND healthier as they are just as decadent and rich and sugary and so on and so forth) Or maybe it was that horrible failed attempt at lemon bars that one year that bruised my ego.
I suppose the reason is not so important as the life lesson it taught me. You're thinking, really? Just because you stopped baking for awhile you have some huge life lesson to share? Well, yes. The lesson is that we often times find ourselves trailing down different paths and we're constantly pulled in directions that are unbeknownst to us. Sometimes these paths are positive and enriching and sometimes they are dark and mysterious. Sometimes we choose to commit ourselves to other passions or other intricacies of our lives that take us away from other joys. That's OKAY! As humans, we have this amazing ability to bounce back and find those little joys that once gave us so much pleasure. Sometimes it takes years, maybe even a lifetime.
Two weeks ago I woke up with the urge to bake. The feeling just hit me. I made the simplest banana bread I could find and I enjoyed every little moment of it.
Recipe for The Kitchn's Homemade Banana Bread
Makes 1 loaf, easily multiplied
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup granulated white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3 medium bananas, very ripe
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts or chocolate chips (optional)
Heat the oven and prep the pan: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Line the loaf pan with parchment, letting the excess hang over the sides. Spray the inside with nonstick cooking spray. → If using nuts, toast them in the oven for 10 minutes as the oven is pre-heating.
Melt the butter: Melt the butter in the microwave or over low heat on the stovetop. → Alternatively, for a more cake-like banana bread, soften the butter (but do not melt) and cream it with the sugar in a stand mixer in the next step.
Combine the butter and sugar: Whisk together the melted butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until combined. (Or cream in a mixer until fluffy.)
Add the eggs: Crack the eggs into the bowl. Whisk until completely combined and the mixture is smooth.
Add the milk and vanilla: Whisk the milk and vanilla into the batter.
Mash in the bananas: Peel the bananas and add them to the bowl. Using the end of the whisk or a dinner fork, mash them into the batter. Leave the bananas as chunky or as smooth as you prefer. If you prefer an entirely smooth banana bread, mash the bananas separately until no more lumps remain, and then whisk them into the batter.
Add the flour, baking soda, and salt: Measure the flour, baking soda, and salt into the bowl. Switch to using a spatula and gently stir until the ingredients are just barely combined and no more dry flour is visible.
Fold in the nuts or chocolate, if using: Last but not least, scatter the nuts or chocolate over the batter and gently fold them in.
Pour the batter into the pan: Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, using the spatula to scrape all the batter from the bowl. Smooth the top of the batter.
Bake for 55 to 65 minutes: Place the pan in the oven. Bake until the top of the cake is caramelized dark brown with some yellow interior peeking through and a tooth pick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Baking time will vary slightly depending on the moisture and sugar content of your bananas — start checking around 50 minutes and then every 5 minutes after.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes: Set the loaf, still in the pan, on a cooling rack. Let it cool for 10 minutes — this helps the loaf solidify and makes it easier to remove from the pan.
Remove from pan and cool another 10 minutes: Lift the loaf out of the pan using the parchment paper "wings." Set it on the cooling rack to cool for another 10 minutes before slicing. Leftover bread can be kept, covered, at room temperature for several days or wrapped in foil and frozen for up to 3 months.
My notes for this recipes:
- DO use toasted walnuts. Per The Kitchn's recommendation, toss them on a baking sheet and throw them in the oven while it's preheating. You'll know their done when you can smell the aroma of toasty nuts.
- DO use over ripe bananas. Not only are they sweeter but they are easier to mash up in the mixture.
- DO use room temperature ingredients. This is a lesson I learned from my mother and The Barefoot Contessa herself. As soon as you know you're going to bake, take your eggs, butter, any COLD ingredients out right away.
- DO use the best ingredients you can find. Another tip from mom and Martha Stewart herself. Splurge on the good vanilla and good flour.
- Lately I've been experimenting with using organic cane sugar as I've read some articles lately about white granulated sugar that I'm not on board with. What seem like small swaps in recipes to some, I'm sure this changed the consistency and bake time of my banana bread. Just use caution and try to weigh your ingredients.
- DO top this with a generous amount of salted butter.
I recommend using the following for this recipe:
Nielsen Massey Vanilla Bean Paste (or extract)