Thursday, September 29, 2011

So many bananas!

I currently have about a dozen ripe bananas sitting in my freezer, waiting for me to bake with them.  You know when you buy a bunch of bananas but they begin to get spotty and black before you have the time to eat them all? This happens to me and my flatmate quite a lot; to me because I only like to eat them when they are yellow and firm and as soon as they are getting soft I don't want them anymore. But I can't just bake as soon as the bananas are over-ripe because then I would end up baking (and eating the baked goods) far too often. The answer is to do why my mother always did and chuck them in the freezer (with the skins on, that is)! I remember once when I was much younger finding a plate in the freezer (seriously, a dinner plate, in the freezer!) with a big pile of black bananas on it and nobody could remember how long ago that had been put in there. So I took them out and made a couple of big banana cakes, which are popular back home but not so common here. Today though I am not making cake, I am making banana bread.

Bananas are actually a really amazing food source - apparently it is the one food that you can live off entirely and still be healthy, and there are nations where the primary food source is banana. Though I'm not sure what sort of banana, maybe not the yellow ones that we get in the supermarket. Maybe there are varieties that are even more nutritious. The common yellow ones are good enough though, they're high in one of the B vitamins and in potassium, which means they are good for your heart and blood pressure. The apple-a-day thing should probably be changed to an apple-and-banana-a-day, and I'm sure that using them in baking still counts a little. Like, maybe not for a whole banana but definitely half a banana, and if you are baking in a healthy way with wholegrains and not too much butter then we can surely say it is good for you? Banana bread has potential, depending on how you make it, to be very healthy and not at all a dessert food. Depending on your recipe, banana bread might actually just be cake in a loaf form but this one is not, it is actual banana bread.

So many people ask what the difference is and I struggle to explain it, but I have finally found a good decisive answer that I like. I always used to be stuck trying to describe the difference by the texture of the final product, whether it is dense and cake-like or airy and muffin-like. It is the exact same argument as the difference between cupcakes and muffins. So there are two answers. One is, you can call what you make whatever you like and people won't argue because they are too busy stuffing their faces. That is not a good proper answer though. The real answer is to do with the proportion of ingredients: breads and muffins have only a little fat and sugar, while cupcakes and cakes may have the same amount of flour but two or three times as much fat and sugar. Which leaves you with an entirely different texture at the end. Which means that many muffins are actually cupcakes and many breads are actually cakes, but that is not the case here.

I have posted about banana bread once before, but it was a different recipe. In fact every time I make it I use a different recipe because it all depends on what scraps I have in the cupboard. Last time I had hazelnuts and buttermilk. This time I am adding a bit of sour cream, and on other occasions in the past I have added chocolate chips, shredded coconut or frozen berries. This new recipe has less sugar than the last because I want it to be more bread than cake and of course the bananas impart a lot of sweetness themselves. I have found that a lot of people here in Ireland don't really like things too sweet so even when I think something needs more sugar, it is generally very well accepted here.

Banana Bread

2 cups plain white flour
1 cup rolled oats
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons spice (I use cinnamon, allspice and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, though I'm not sure it's actually a spice)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter or oil
1 cup sour cream or thick buttermilk (or coconut milk for dairy-free)
Mashed banana (3-4, depending on their size, about 250 to 300 grams)

Begin by turning the oven on to 180 degree celsius and grease your loaf tin (or muffin tins).

In one large bowl mix together the dry ingredients, sifting the flour and baking powder. In a smaller bowl combine the wet ingredients (if you are using butter, melt it first) and whisk them together until the mixture is relatively smooth.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid in, then fold the liquid into the dry mixture until the two are just combined. You don't want to overmix it, there are allowed to be little pockets of flour, but not too many. Then pour the mixture into the loaf tin, or spoon into muffin tins, and bake for about an hour (for muffins, 20 minutes should be more than enough). You will know that it is ready when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Also, if you press lightly on the top the loaf should spring right back and not remain depressed. The amount of banana in this can make for a rather gooey bread if you don't leave it to bake for long enough. My muffin version of this recipe was a bit gooey:

However the loaf version was just right:

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