Monday, November 2, 2009

When All Else Fails, Bake Your Favorite Banana Bread . . .

My baking objective this past Saturday was to make a simple, tasty, and relatively wholesome cranberry coffee-cake. I found what looked to be a promising recipe on the King Arthur website (a site which, as you may know, I just love). I usually have great luck with any recipes I find there, but I'm afraid the coffee-cake gods were not smiling on me last Saturday.

I don't know if it was me (did I screw something up?) or the recipe itself, but what I imagined and anticipated didn't materialize in the oven. In fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give that recipe maybe a 4 . . . or perhaps a 5 if I were feeling disturbingly generous. It's called "Yogurt Cranberry Coffee-Cake," and it sounded good, in any event. The recipe contains plain yogurt, whole-cranberry sauce, and all the other typical sorts of ingredients one would expect. Nothing unusual. I had no reason to expect it would bomb, but bomb it did.

Besides being unattractive, the finished product somehow managed to completely overwhelm any cranberry flavor. A slice of this coffee-cake was just a hunk of undifferentiated sweetness with no character whatsoever. All in all, a disappointment. There weren't even any redeeming factors in the texture, nor in the color for that matter. See how it looks in the picture below . . . it's not a pretty cake, is it? No, not pretty.

Is there a chink in King Arthur's armor? Is it even possible? I don't know. I doubt it. I can't bear the thought. But in the photo on their site, the cake looks wonderful . . . light colored, finely textured . . . what gives? Was it me who botched it, or was it them? I guess we'll never know. And, heck, I'm not sure I want to know the answer to that anyway. Some days it just seems better not to know. (Sticking my ostrich-like head in the sand now . . . please excuse me.)

Moving on . . .

In situations like this, sometimes the only thing you can do to restore your shaken confidence is to bake something that's never let you down, a recipe as reliable and predictable as Old Faithful itself. One such recipe, for me, is from that venerable red and white Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, published about a zillion years ago. You know the one? That friendly, three-ring bindered legend was a mainstay in my house as a kid. How it survived the decades, given its heavy use, I haven't a clue.

Here's a very representative quote from the book, typed just as it appears (emphasis is theirs): "Measure as Exactly as a Druggist measures a doctor's prescription! Two minutes spent measuring carefully can save you hours of grief." Isn't that just the cutest (albeit predictably patronizing) admonition to not-screw-up that anyone could concoct? The book is crammed full of that stuff. It's priceless, as are the poignantly archaic food photos. I sincerely love it.

I still make a recipe or two from it now and then, but the one I return to quite regularly is for banana bread. In the book, it's listed on page 81 as a variation on their "key recipe" (there's even a picture of a little key) for "Fruit Loaf." I sometimes tweak it slightly here and there, but not enough to corrupt the sanctity of the original formula. Anyway, here it is for you below, with mini-chocolate chips thrown in for extra oomph, along with a pinch of cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract tossed in for good measure. I don't typically add any nuts, but you can certainly do that if you like. I've reworded the very simple directions, so as not to put off 21st century bakers who've yet had no exposure to ancient tomes like this one.

It's a nice, moist, flavorful bread and my three resident men-folk (well, two of them are still boy-folk, technically) like it also.

Banana Bread, with Mini-Chocolate Chips (or not)

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" x 5" x 3" loaf pan.

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup soft shortening (ie., Crisco)
2 eggs, large
3 Tbsp. sour milk or buttermilk
1 cup mashed banana (the recipe can handle more than one cup, so don't worry if you've got a bit of extra mashed banana . . . just throw it in)
2 cups All Purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup mini-chocolate chips (and/or chopped nuts, etc.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, mix together thoroughly (by hand--you don't need to use a mixer), the sugar, shortening, and eggs. Stir into that the mashed banana and the sour milk/buttermilk.

Add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture and stir just to combine. Pour in the chocolate chips and stir just to combine. Don't over-mix the batter.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan, and sprinkle the top with sanding sugar or granulated sugar if you like. Bake for about 45 minutes or even up to an hour (seems to me it depends upon the amount and texture of your bananas . . . the riper and softer they are, and the more you put in, the longer the bread takes to bake), until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out relatively clean. If the bread is browning in the oven too quickly, be sure to cover it loosely with foil at any point.

Remove from the oven and place on a rack. Remove the bread from the pan after a few minutes and let it cool completely on a rack. Slices best when it's cold, but it is good served warm or cold, and tastes even better the second day.

(If you'd like to comment on this post or to read any existing comments, just click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

If you like this recipe, you might also like:

Whole Wheat Peach Bread
Coconut Bread, and Coconut-Lime Bread with Sweet Lime Glaze

Sour Cream Zucchini Bread

Pear Bread with Dried Cherries & Ginger


Kate at Serendipity said...

I'm so sorry about the cranberry coffee cake. It SOUNDS like a good idea...

But if your fall back position is this banana bread, then I think you still have your mojo...

Kim said...

That banana bread looks wonderful. I love adding chocolate chips to mine. Sorry the coffee cake was a failure.

Julia @Mélanger said...

URGH, I hate when a recipe doesn't turn out. You really can be left scratching your head. But this tried and true looks fantastic.

Hanaâ said...

Oh poor Jane. I think that happens to all of us (I hate it when it does, ha ha!). I clicked on the KAF link and it does look pretty. Some people made it and gave it 5 stars. Weird!

Your "fall back on" banana bread recipe more than made up for the cranberry mishap, I'd say. It looks delicious. From the picture alone you can tell it's moist and tender. I agree with Kate... you still got your mojo! :o)

Jane said...

Hi Kate, Yeah, it did seem like a good idea, but you know what they say . . . about the best laid plans of mice and bakers! Well, nothing ventured nothing gained, right? I got a nice loaf of banana bread out of it anyway. Can't let anything happen to that mojo! The mojo MUST remain intact!

So glad to see you must be back from Japan!

:) Jane

Hi Kim,
Thanks so much! I like the chocolate chip addition a lot too. Your sympathy re the cranberry coffee cake is appreciated!

Many thanks,
;) Jane

Hi Julia,
How is married life treating you? Hope all is perfect! Are you baking up a storm for the hubby? Your latest posts look just as divine as ever. I LOVE, as always, your beautiful, beautiful blog. (I noticed in your Halloween post that you mentioned Sherry Yard's book -- I love it too! I wallowed in it last summer. What fun!)


Hello there Hanaa--
I think I must have really botched that recipe somehow. I mean, how in the world did I make it come out so BROWN throughout? What the heck did I throw in there that didn't belong? A bunch of cinnamon? Or maybe it was pine mulch, or top soil?? Heaven only knows! I do have a tendency to get distracted when I'm baking with a bunch of people around; I think I bake more precisely when it's a day with the kids in school and the house quiet. Love those days! Thanks for always emphathizing--you are wonderful that way!

:) Your bakin' pal,

La Table De Nana said...

Look at us almost making the same thing..I appreciated learning about you today..and will try and play some sort of catch up..

Tears.. come and an ebb tide..truly..there are no amounts of years:) Just a book.. a movie..a sight.. can trigger .. it's forever..Thank you for sharing..Have a lovely evening.

the twins said...

i love banana bread and yours looks great. i used to have an ancient betty crocker cookbook which was made for teenagers. it was hilarious! unfortunately, i lost it before i could make very many of the recipes.

Tish Boyle said...

I actually thought it looked ok! Just needed a little whipped cream (my solution for everything). But the banana bread looks wonderful....