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On the 11th of June I got a hankering for banana bread. As it happens, I produced photo-documentation of said baking event, which I have decided to share with the world at-large. After providing the basic recipe, I continue with an extensive play-by-play, accompanied by several dozen photos of ingredients, the process, and the final result.
First I will start with the “special” ingredients: vanilla and buttermilk, one easy to find around here (Berlin) and the other more difficult. Buttermilk, like all dairy products, is ubiquitous in German stores—Germans are (rightly) proud, it seems, of their fine dairy products, and there are umpteen-zillion different types of buttermilk one can purchase ... plain, flavored, and—as in this case—with flecks of butter! If you lack buttermilk, you can substitute regular milk by adding a couple teaspoons lemon juice or white vinegar to the milk and letting it sit 5-10 minutes.
Vanilla extract is hard to fine in stores here, but packets of vanilla sugar are readily available (in which case I generally add 2 packets of vanilla sugar as part of the sugar quotient), and in this instance I used a packet of "Vanille Aroma," which comes in a small packet and is powdered—it is supposed to be enough for 500g of flour, so is the right amount for a small nut-bread recipe.
One and a half cups of bananas is about 3 and a half “normal” bananas. I put them in a large plastic measuring cup that came with the apartment and I mash them with a fork until they are have a texture similar to baby food. About 12oz.: I try not to add to many bananas; the bread has texture problems from my experience if I add more than 14oz. or so.
Butter comes in 250g blocks; half of that is a bit more than a stick of butter, but there is no need to be too precise. I stick my half-block in my regular pot and melt it over low heat.
Once the butter was nearly melted I added about a cup of white granulated sugar, which finished off the bag I had been using, so I substituted a quarter cup dark brown sugar for the remaining white sugar, thus explaining the nice dark brown of the butter-sugar mixture. I then added two eggs and beat the whole mixture with a spoon until it had a consistent texture. The heat from the range causes the mixture to bubble a bit, and one might as well turn off the heat.
At this point I pour in the vanilla and a half cup of buttermilk; I enjoy the swirl of the buttermilk as it soaks into the butter-sugar-egg goo. I mix this about fifteen to thirty seconds by hand until it is smooth before I dump in the mashed bananas; the result looks like a mass of yellow brain material simmering in beef broth. I then mix another thirty seconds; it will remain clumpy and more a liquid than a paste.
As one can imagine, ripe to overripe bananas are the best; they provide the best flavor and the best texture. I often mash my bananas and let them sit an hour or two before I getting around to baking.
I add salt, baking powder, and baking soda before adding the flour. I mix in the three and the resulting batter tends to bubble and swell due to the leavening agents, but settles down to a nice frothy liquid that is more uniform than the pre-powder/soda mixture.
I add the flour one cup at a time, primarily because my pot is relatively small and I have no desire to make a mess. As I fold it in the mass of the mixture almost overwhelms the pot, but I have never had it overflow. Do not over-mix; you only need to get the flour moist and make sure that there are no clumps.
As one can see, the result is a smooth and perfectly fine batter, and if you have a nut allergy or just do not like nuts, you could bake it right now. I added a small package (100g) of Haselnuss Krokant, which contains chopped hazelnuts coated in sugar. I also like to use almonds, regular hazelnuts, and walnuts.
I had a tablespoon or two of coffee left in my French-press, so I added it to the batter, as one can see in picture 20.
Grease the bottom of a bread pan with shortening; I could use butter, but I bought a large block of shortening for baking purposes, and I might as well use it. There is no need to coat the greased pan with flour. The batter almost fills the form; a spoon is sufficient for emptying the pot. While I love the taste of raw batter, some of my German friends refuse to partake out of (in my mind an irrational) fear of bird flu. Now it is just a matter of putting it in a pre-heated oven and waiting.
My oven is a small, old, electric East German model, and like other small ovens I have used, it tends to run too hot and burn items I bake. It has upper and lower heating elements; I pre-heat using both, bake the first fifteen minutes with both, and then switch to using only the lower element for the remaining hour.
The batter goes from goo to golden (15 minutes in), to cracked and browning (after an hour), and finishes up a rich, textured brown after 75 minutes. I also tend to lower the temperature in my oven to about 165 or even 160C after a while to avoid burning, but in a nice new, large oven this is likely unnecessary.
I let the loaf cool a good ten minutes. Sometimes I only need to turn the form upside down to get the loaf to roll out; if that does not work, a butter knife run around the edges usually does the job. The banana bread at this point needs to cool for another half hour or more, otherwise it tends to fall apart in your hands.
The final result has a sweet, crunchy top crust and has a wonderful mix of banana and nuts in the middle. This batch turned out a bit different than usual; some of the banana chunks stuck together and provided little islands of fruity goo, though curiously enough such islands resembled baked rhubarb and hand a slightly reddish hint. The coffee provided a subtle but distinctive flavor.
Past loaves, such as this one using regular chopped hazelnuts, have been more even in texture and blond in color. This shot shows the remains of a loaf on the 6th of March; it had been baked a day or two later.
—June 19 2006