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Better Banana Bread

banana breadAh banana bread, the ubiquitous go-to dessert of all home bakers- right after chocolate chip cookies.  Banana bread is great because it easy, beloved by all, and requires virtually no baking utensils.  The other great thing about banana bread is that it is easy to “play” with the recipe.

When people find out that I am a baker I almost always get this question, “So, uh, baking is really precise right?” After which said person usually explains to me that they love cooking because there is no precision and that baking requires too much technique.  Well, my friends, I beg to differ! Baking does require precision in its elements. (e.g. amount of liquid to protein to fat to sugar). But, if you understand how these ingredients interact with each other you can play with them all you like. I don’t want to make this post into a lengthy tutorial but I would like to briefly review the role each ingredient plays in banana bread.

SUGAR

Sugar is integral to a baked product in many ways such as adding flavor or aiding to build structure.  But the key thing to remember about sugar is that it is hygroscopic. This means that sugar attracts water.  Adding more sugar can think out a batter since the sugar pulls water away from other ingredients (like flours and proteins).   So you can remove sugar from a product for dietary reasons but remember that it will change the consistency of the product.

FAT

Fat helps to emulsify ingredients together and add flavor.  Butter, of course, is one of my favorite fats but fat can come from other places too like oils or nuts.  Butter also softens dough and develops the crumb or structure of the product.

FLOUR

Flour adds strength and bulk to a product. It absorbs liquids and adds flavor. Flour also adds gluten which can toughen a baked product.  Gluten is desirable in breads and less desirable in cookies and cakes where one would like a tender, soft crumb.

LEAVENING

Banana bread calls for baking soda so that is the only leavening ingredient I will discuss here.  Baking soda reacts with an acid when moisture is present and is a mild leavening agent.  In the case of banana bread, the baking soda is reacting with the mild acidity in the bananas.  (Bananas have a pH of about 5).  Be careful when playing around with baking soda- add too much and you coulld give your product a chemical taste.  If you want to create a super soft banana bread you can add 1/8 cup of buttermilk or two tbsp of sour cream.  These acids will react with the baking soda in the recipe resulting in a tender crumb.

Now that you know the basics, play around! And if you are looking for even more detail on baking terminology check out this site.  Below is my banana bread, created after some careful tweaking.  I would love to hear back from you about your experiments and adventures with banana bread. Message me and let me know what you have learned!

CHRISSY’S EASY MIX BANANA BREAD

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup nuts toasted (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 2 tbsp sour cream (optional)

Mash bananas and mix with melted butter, egg, vanilla paste, and granulated sugar. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt. Gently stir dry ingredients into the wet (do not overmix).  Add your optional ingredients if you like at this time.  Spray or grease a small metal loaf pan.  Pour in banana bread batter and bake at 350 F for 40-50 minutes until golden brown.

5 Tools Every Baker Should Own

Whether you are new to baking or a seasoned professional there are several key tools you should own.  For a novice baker especially it can be daunting to assume that you must purchase a mixer, pastry blender, seasoned pot, or any number of specific tools.  I am going to allay your fears today by showing you that there only a few tools you must posses to make almost anything.  Save for a mixer that is needed to whip buttercream, meringue, mousse, etc. most items can be made completely by hand.  Even cream can be whipped by hand which I know because I once held a cream whipping contest with a friend wherein we each took a bowl of liquid cream and whipped it vigorously with a fork to see who could fluff it the fastest.  I did it in eight minutes. And have some nice biceps to prove it.  But I digress.  Below are what I consider to be the pivotal tools for any baker’s success.

1) THE RUBBER SPATULA

Use it to scrape down a bowl or spread a buttercream.  A good spatula made out of heavy, pliable plastic is a baker’s best friend.  Pliable is a key word here.  You want the spatula to bend liberally without breaking to really get into the crevices of a bowl.

2) THE OFFSET SPATULA

Use it to ice cakes, finish a cake, or adhere icing.  Use it to apply glaze and smooth it quickly.  Heat it up and spread it over cream to create that perfect flat finish.  Once you start icing cakes the offset will be your best friend.  My favorite one is about eight inches long and has a wooden grip.  It was given to me by a favorite French chef I idolized in culinary school.  I use it for everything from birthday cakes to wedding cakes.

3) THE WHISK

For whipping eggs or beating together a filling.  The whisk is how a baker combines ingredients and aerates liquids.  The whisk is used to get the lumps out of buttercream and stir through a simple sauce.  Buy one with a good strong handle and durable metal prongs.

4) THE WOODEN ROLLING PIN

No self respecting baker would be caught without a wooden rolling pin.  It is heavy and has the weight of the wood so it can be used to pound out butter for puff pastry or slap down some shortbread.  If you are a baker of bread you will come to rely on your rolling pin heavily.  For pies, tarts, or cookies the wooden rolling pin is ideal.  Wipe it down gently with a damp paper towel only.

5) THE PROBE THERMOMETER

This bad boy is your timer and thermometer all rolled into one.  All probe thermometers can be toggled between Celsius and Fahrenheit so you can use it for any manner of recipe testing.  Probe thermometers are necessary for candy making but also useful when making mousses or buttercream.  And every one needs a timer. Who hasn’t had five things they are watching in the oven and on the stove at the same time?

Of course this list is really pared down to the bare essentials.  If you would like a more detailed list of baker’s tools check out this site.