Back where I come from, a bread is a bread – you know those things that are white or brown, come shaped in loaves, and are part of that phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread” (which I have never understood); bread that you toasted and ate slathered with butter, mixed fruit jam (which for some reason was the only jam ever bought in my house) or if you were very, very good with that very, very special treat – Nutella (which deserves its very own honorable post).
So you can imagine the face I made when I first saw the words Banana Bread – I think it was in the index of an American book on baking. I liked bananas well enough but they had to be just so – I hated biting into ones that were even slightly unripe, and the smell of over-ripe bananas just turned me off. Growing up, I had more than a few clashes of will with my mother due to my fussy eating habits. Thankfully, for the grown-up me, my mother won them all, because if she hadn’t, I would have never got around to making banana bread, ever. (The first time I went over to that recipe, I shut the book after reading the very first ingredient – 3 very ripe bananas).
Once I started baking on a regular basis, I eventually worked out that – let me just say it – banana breads and muffins are just a very well worked out excuse to legitimately eat cake at 9 a.m. This, in my book, is absolutely fabulous (not that I need an excuse to eat cake at 9 a.m. or any other time of day or night).
There is just something so wholesome about banana bread that even though I never had it growing up, it still invokes a homey feeling – one of comfort and contentment. There is also something very consoling (and dangerous) about the fact that it can be whipped up at a moment’s notice with ingredients that one would normally find in the pantry. (I find myself having those moments only too often.) The batter comes together in no time, no fancy equipment is required, really all you need is a bowl and a wooden spoon; if you’re afraid of baking, let this be the first thing you attempt – you’ll never look back.
With all my cooking books back home, I was looking for a new banana bread recipe. And if you’re looking for banana bread recipes, who better to turn to than the Queen of Banana Bread, Molly Wizenberg. (I wonder what she’d feel about that title.) Molly writes one of my favourite food blogs, Orangette, wherein reside not one, not two but six banana bread/cake recipes – yes, six! I recently finished reading her charming book, A Homemade Life, and I warn you – please don’t pick it up unless you want to seriously inconvenience yourself. Weekend laundry will be conveniently forgotten and you will get very, very hungry; you might embarrass yourself by laughing out loud in public before you can grab hold of yourself, and if you’re on the bus, you might miss your stop and have to walk back an extra quarter of a mile. (These are, of course, hypothetical situations and obviously, did not happen to me.)
The first thing I baked after finishing the book was, obviously, banana bread. I started with this recipe, but was looking to make it more decadent, if possible. (Not surprisingly, I like my banana bread to be more cake-like.) I swapped the granulated sugar with brown sugar because I love the depth it adds to any baked goodie, increased the number of bananas because I like them to have a commanding presence, omitted the ginger because I don’t like it too much and added some spices (I’m Indian, I can’t help it). What I got was a tender and moist loaf fragrant with the whiff of cinnamon and nutmeg and redolent with the flavor of ripe bananas, interspersed with morsels of bittersweet chocolate. What I also got was a new recipe, and when it comes to banana bread, you can never have too many. I wonder if Molly needs another one.
Recipe adapted (a lot) from Glenn’s Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Candied Ginger – Molly Wizenberg, Orangette
3/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes
1 large egg, beaten
3 medium-size, very ripe bananas, mashed
3 tablespoons milk (next time I’m going to try this with 3 tablespoons yoghurt instead)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
pinch of salt
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional, I didn’t have any on hand but I’m sure I’ll be adding them in the next time)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan with butter.
2. In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter.
3. Mix in the egg, then the mashed bananas, milk, vanilla extract, spices and salt.
4. Sift over the flour, baking powder, and baking soda and gently mix, stirring only till combined.
5. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
6. Transfer the batter to the pan, smooth the top with the back of a spoon and bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick/cake-tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 45-60 minutes.
7. Allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool. (I can never, during that second part, resist cutting myself a warm slice, and eating it standing up.)
Though banana bread always tastes fabulous on its own, I sometimes serve it with cream whipped with the barest hint of cinnamon.