Thursday, June 10, 2010

Banana Bliss

I often buy lots of bananas with the idea that some of them will get too ripe for my daily peanut butter and banana toasted sandwiches. My version of ripe may not be everyone else's. I declare them "too ripe" as soon as I can smell them from 3 feet away, with slight brown spots. For some, this is the sign of a nearly perfect banana. I just can't take the "squish" of a well-ripened banana. So, at this point, I freeze them (sans peels, in a ziploc with most of the air squeezed out) to use at a later date, if I just can't turn the oven on at that moment, which means I must be pretty busy.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, besides the above PB&B sandwich, one of my cravings was a good, fruit filled smoothie - not the sherbet, wheat grass, protein powdered smoothie offered at a shop, but one truly based on fruit. I'd use frozen bananas, strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, and any other fruit on hand. Again, as the fresh fruit headed towards the overripe stage, I'd wash them, spread them out on a pan, freeze, and keep in a ziploc in the freezer. I'd also add yogurt to my smoothie and some juice, or even milk, to up the calcium intake. Not too sweet, but oh-so-satisfying.

My favorite use, though, for ripe bananas is Banana Bread. I've been faithful to the same recipe for years, always hoping the result would be different than the perfect on the top, overdone on the bottom, loaf I got every time. I'd tried Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything (usually my main man in the kitchen), but the loaf was too bread-y, not banana-y enough for my taste. So, I pulled out the well-used copy of The New York Times Cookbook, by Craig Claiborne, my parents were done with and gave to me a few years ago (I have the 1961 version). The recipe is nearly the same as my old, not-so-faithful recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that I've been trying to make work all these years. The big difference, I think, is the order in which the ingredients are put together. And, of course, I had to add something else. Coconut being my main obsession, that's what I added.

Banana Bread with Toasted Coconut
1 3/4 c. Flour                      2/3 c. sugar
2 tsp Baking Powder          2 large eggs
1/4 tsp baking soda            3 mashed ripe bananas (I like more than a cup's worth)
1/2 tsp salt                         2 tsp. almond extract
1/3 c. salted butter             1 c. coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter loaf pan, but not all the way up the sides (this will keep high edges from forming), and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a non-stick pan, lightly toast the coconut (do not brown). Immediately pour the coconut onto a plate and cool in the fridge.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat the eggs together, then add to the butter and sugar. Really let these mix together well. Add almond extract. Add the flour mixture alternately with the mashed bananas, mixing well after each addition, until smooth. Mix in 3/4 of the coconut flakes. Pour into prepared loaf pan and top with remaining coconut flakes.

Bake for 1 hour, then check for doneness - insert a toothpick or thin knife blade in the center. It should come out clean. I usually pull the loaf out as soon as there is very little moisture on the blade, since I don't like my banana bread dry. Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes, then take the loaf out of the pan and cool on a rack.

At this point, I can't wait for the bread to cool completely, and I slice off a piece and slather it with butter. Quality control, at it's best. Store the bread wrapped tight in plastic, on the counter for a couple of days. Or, in addition to the plastic wrap, put the loaf in a ziploc bag, and freeze. I also like to toast a slice of the banana bread in my toaster oven (a plunger-style toaster doesn't work, since the bread can break apart too easily) for an afternoon snack with my 3 o'clock cup of tea. And, it's perfect for breakfast. Okay, I could eat a slice an hour and not get tired of it. There's never enough to share, so, I'm sorry, sweet co-workers, I will not be bringing any banana bread in for you today. You'll just have to bake your own loaf.