Friday, February 15, 2008

Recipe Box: Banana Bread (and Banana Bread French Toast)

This past weekend there were twelve of us snowed in together, and just before the storm got too bad to venture out, we got a mutual craving for banana cream pie. We sent the guys out in the four wheel drive for ingredients and they brought back two bunches of bananas from the "last day" produce clearance rack. That was twice as many as I needed for the pies, even when feeding twelve people, and they were so ripe (just turning brown) that I knew they would be tossed the next day. So there was nothing to do but turn them into bread (yeah, banana bread, twist my arm, right?)

The best part about making up a big batch of banana bread is that there's rarely any leftovers. Make small loaves and freeze them, then just leave them out on the counter overnight to thaw. Also, homemade banana bread can be turned into the most decadent, luscious french toast ever created.

The bread is a recipe from my family cookbook, which my mom transcribed onto note cards for my brother and I. I remember the original book from when I was a little kid, and how our "favorites" at dinner or holidays always involved the first step of pulling out "The Cookbook". A veritable witch's scrapbook, the recipes were scrawled out in the handwriting of three generations of mothers and sisters, and stained with decades of chocolatey fingerprints and smudges of flour. The cover bulged over too many pages and slips and crumbling bits of old scotch tape holding together magazine clippings. The recipes were designed for creative people, with terms like "a chunk of butter" a "dash of salt" or "a zap of water," in place of measurements and a lot of ingredient amounts listed as "to taste". It included booby traps like not mentioning if the brown sugar was measured packed or loose (which led to the great "better than meth" sweet potato sugar junkie disaster of 2003) and left out some unwritten secrets like how the roux turns that perfect beach-sand brown and feels like liquid velvet when it peaks. It really felt like each recipe's author assumed she'd be standing over your shoulder, guiding your hand, with the recipe as nothing more than a quick reference. Or else that a few tablespoons here or there didn't really matter, because if it didn't turn out, you could just make it again. Yeah, remember when people were allowed mistakes? Better yet, develop your own twist to the classic recipe and write it down on your very own page, to pass on to another generation.

Banana Bread (ingredients per loaf):

3 bananas, the riper the better (look for brown and nearly black patches on the peel, but not yet split or slimy. The inside should be really soft, past the good eating point, but not yet black)
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/2 cup apple sauce
3 eggs, well beaten
2 1/4 cups flour (sifted)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda mixed into 1 Tablespoon hot water (hot tap-not boiling)
Handful of pecan or walnut pieces to taste (about a cup) (optional) (and/or raisins, dates, whatever floats your boat.)
1 8"x4" loaf pan (regular dull metal. If using glass, dark metal or non-stick, the cooking time may be reduced about 5-10 minutes, check the loaf carefully)
2 mixing bowls

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

grease loaf pan with butter or shortening
Cream sugars and shortening together
Beat eggs and applesauce into mixture
Set aside
In second bowl, combine flour, baking powder, nuts (optional), salt and spices
Mix well.
Add the two bowls together, mix only until everything is even and moist, don't over-mix.
In now-empty bowl, crush bananas so that no large chunks are left.
Stir baking soda into hot water (if you haven't already), and add to bananas. Mix well.
Add bananas to the rest of the batter.

Stir as little as possible, but just enough to evenly distribute.
Pour batter into loaf pan. It doesn't rise much, so you can generally fill the loaf pan up to 1 inch from the top.
Bake at 350 F for one hour, or until the top of the loaf splits and browns, and a toothpick inserted into the loaf comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan. Serve warm or room temperature. It'll keep fresh on the counter for a couple days in a plastic bag, or in the fridge for about a week. Freeze if storing longer.

If you're freezing, allow to cool completely to room temperature. If necessary, place in plastic zipper bag and leave out on the counter overnight. When completely cool, wrap individual loaf tightly in plastic wrap (no air), then in aluminum foil. They should keep like that up to 6 months. Thaw at room temperature.

To make Banana-Bread french toast:

Cut bread into 1/2 inch slices
In flat bowl or pie plate, mix:
3 eggs
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk (can substitute 1/2 cup milk and 2 tsp sugar)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon

Melt 1 tsp butter in pan or on griddle on medium heat

dip banana bread slices in mixture to coat both sides (don't let them soak or they'll fall apart)
place coated pieces in pan, fry until brown on both sides

serve plain, dusted with powdered sugar, with sliced bananas and whipped cream or chocolate drizzle, rum sauce, syrup, or whatever your imagination suggests.

Yeah, ok, it's more dessert than breakfast :-)


Anonymous said...

I love the description of your family cookbook. It sounds exactly like the box of recipe's my mother had. And I will certainly be trying the banana bread french toast very soon.

Lauren A said...

This seems really good.