Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Banana Bread - another easy holiday gift

Petra's Banana Bread - made December 17, 2011, the latest out of countless times

Got more holiday parties to attend between now and Christmas?  Need to bring something to the family gathering?  Need an easy hostess gift?  I don't know about you but most of the people I know, including myself, already have enough "stuff".  And even if they don't, you don't always know what "stuff" people want or don't want and you don't want to give somebody something they won't like or will end up gathering dust or end in the Goodwill pile.  Which is why I like to give consumables.  And if it's something they can freeze for later, even better, since, if you're fortunate, we're in the season of plenty, food-wise.  But you can't eat everything at once.  Or at least, you shouldn't :).  Which makes this recipe for banana bread a perfect and easy holiday gift.  Besides lemon bars, this is what I'm asked for most often.  This also freezes really well.

I use the same recipe I've always used since college and the only thing that varies is how much I make and how long it lasts.  Or doesn't last. When I went to Winnipeg for my cousin's wedding, I brought 4 batches of banana bread (each batch makes 4 small loaves or 2 regular loaves).  They might've lasted a day, maybe 2, not counting the loaves my aunt hid in the freezer to try and space out their consumption.  The last time I brought some to my sister's house, one of my nieces got mad at her twin, my sister and my sister's boyfriend because "they ate it all" while she was sleeping.  Guess that'll teach her to be the last one in the house to wake up when there's banana bread on the table.

There are many ways banana bread can go right and many ways it can go wrong.  Even though I've shared this recipe with everyone who likes the bread and asks how to make it, I still get a lot of "mine doesn't taste as good as yours".  Hmm, not sure what to say other than "but that's the same recipe I use".  Or maybe they would just rather I made it instead of them, lol.  I've made this recipe so many times I can probably bake it in my sleep and I rarely eat it myself anymore since I don't need to taste test it.  I made it again last weekend and had a taste - hey, it is pretty good :).  I'll reiterate the basic tips for good banana bread, regardless of which recipes you use.

Normally they should be even more ripe than these for banana bread
The bananas have to be really, really ripe.  As in to the point of blackened skins and banana mush texture that you wouldn't normally eat anymore, no matter how much you like bananas.  The ones I used this past weekend were still a little too firm for my liking and not quite ripe enough but I was out of time to let them ripen further as I needed banana bread for baked gifts I was giving away to church friends the next day.  So I made do. 

If you like chunks of banana in your banana bread, puree 2/3 of the bananas called for in the recipe, then mash in the remaining 1/3 with a wooden spoon.  That way you'll have part of the banana that is the liquid mush texture needed for the batter while still retaining some  banana chunks in there.  Some people have suggested roasting the bananas for better flavor.  I tried that once and it didn't work as well as I expected.  I think my bananas were either too firm (it's harder to roast softened banana mush) or I didn't roast them long enough for the caramelized flavor to come out.  I'll have to try it again someday.

I also don't like "stuff" or other flavors in my banana bread.  You should taste banana in banana bread.  Not nuts, not raisins, not cinnamon or nutmeg, nothing.  Heck, Petra's recipe doesn't even use vanilla extract.  It's just pure banana.  Which is one of the reasons I like it.

And of course, don't overbake banana bread.  You don't want to underbake it either since the bananas already add moisture to your batter and underbaking just makes it more gooey than is good.  Baking just right means the toothpick inserted at the ends come out clean but in the middle just barely comes out with moist crumbs.  If it comes out coated with batter, it still needs to bake some more.  This recipe has more of a cakey texture than a chewy bread texture so it's a little lighter than most quick breads.  The sweetness will partially depend on the ripened state of your bananas (the more overripe, the sweeter) so you may want to adjust the sugar content if you like it less sweet or more sweet.  I like to have the banana speak for itself so I might cut back on the sugar but I've never added more sugar than this recipe calls for.

The great things about banana bread during the holidays is 1) it's a year-round fruit so you can get good bananas almost anywhere and don't have to wait for it to be in season and 2) it's easy to bake in pretty paper loaf pans for gift giving.  I love these loaf pans because they're sturdy enough to bake in and are a good way to present mini loaves for gifts.  Not to mention no pans to wash after using. To use them, fill them halfway with your batter, place them on a baking sheet (don't crowd too closely against one another) and bake in the oven.  Once they're baked, let them cool, then wrap them in clear plastic or aluminum foil and put in a holiday cellophane bag with a twist tie.  Easy gift.

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