Monday, July 16, 2012

Banana Bread, maligned and revisited

Visitors to my Bread Doctor page, where I take (and even sometimes answer) questions on bread, may have noticed replies from me such as "I said...NO MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT BANANA BREAD!!" as well as a recently-added rule barring further BB (as we'll refer to it henceforth) queries. I was driven to ban BB (although that hasn't stopped people from continuing to ask questions) because a) I specialist in yeast breads and know nothing about BB; and b) I've never had a BB that didn't stick in your throat and wasn't and either too banana-y or too dull, and I just don't understand the passion for it.

Which brings us to Amanda, who operates a small microbakery out of her home in Gainesville, Fl.and blogs from

Amanda wrote me in defense of BB, in particular, hers, which makes up 40% of her sales, and which, she assures me, is sublime. Furthermore, she has generously offered to share her recipe here. I haven't yet tried it, but I will. A couple of unusual things drew my attention: The 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, which should give it the moistness of, say, pumpkin bread, and the 1/2 cup of apple sauce. Note also the interesting note at the end: peaks at day 2 or 3. So without further ado, I give you BakerBaker's Banana Bread. (But in case you're wondering, I'm not changing my policy on Bread Doctor: no more BB questions!!)

Amanda's Banana Bread from BakerBaker

2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

2 eggs
1  cup sugar 
4 ripe bananas (I've used everything from almost green to black, frozen bananas)
1 tsp vanilla (I use mexican vanilla from Cozumel)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (or canola, but not butter)
1/2 cup applesauce, natural - no added sugars
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4-1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts plus a small amount for topping

Whisk together the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Cream eggs and sugar in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, add bananas and mix until they are broken up well. Add vanilla, oil, applesauce, cinnamon, and nutmeg to banana mixture. Add flour mixture and mix very lightly, just until most of the flour is wet. Then mix by hand until all the flour is wet, Make sure to go all the way to the bottom of the mixing bowl in a "folding" action. Add nuts, if desired. The mixture will be very loose and chunky. The key to great banana bread is being able to adjust for "dry" bananas at this time. Right at this point, it is very much like making yeast breads!

Pour into a greased loaf pan(this will make a nice large loaf) or some into a loaf pan and then finish the batter off in muffin tins. Fill to 2/3 of your chosen pan and, if desired, sprinkle with un-toasted reserved walnuts. Bake at 350 F until done ~ 1 hour. It will be golden brown and will spring back when gently pressed with your finger. Let cool for 5 minutes and then remove from the pan to cool completely. 

This amazing bread will continue to moisten as it rests, peaking at about day 2-3.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Warm-weather baking

With the temperature up near 90 every day here in the mid-Hudson Valley, I've still had a hankering to bake, but not to crank the oven up to 500 for a couple of hours. The solution is the delicious seasoned Armenian crackers called lavash, that bake at only 350 for 20 or so minutes. The recipe is adapted from Peter Reinhart's The Bread-Baker's Apprentice (so the measurements are in ounces, not grams). My touch is to substitute some sourdough (or levain). But you can make it with just flour. (see note)


5.25 ounces all purpose flour
3 ounces levain (see my recipe for levain
.13 ounce salt
1/2 teas. instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 ounces water
Assorted seeds and seasonings: E.g., sesame, poppy, and flax seeds, paprika, coarse sea salt, whatever you like

NOTE: If not using levain, increase flour to 6.75 ounces and water to 3.5 ounces.

  1. Combine all ingredients. Dough should be tight, but if crumbly add a bit more water, a tablespoon at a time.
  2. Knead for 10 minutes. The dough should be silky and smooth, a lovely dough to work with.
  3. Ferment in bowl covered with plastic wrap, at room temp for 2 to 2-1/2 hours
  4. Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.
  5. Press out into a rectangle on a floured countertop, then roll out as evenly as possible to fit a standard sheet pan (do not use an insulated cookie sheet). You may have to occasionally pick up and move the dough or let it rest a few minutes if it keeps snapping back. Take your time and get the dough as paper-thin as possible.
  6. Cover the sheet pan with parchment paper and transfer the dough, stretching out by hand to fit. Trim any dough that hangs over the edge.
  7. Lightly mist the dough with water, and sprinkle with alternating rows of seeds and seasonings, overlapping slightly. Press seeds into dough with your hands
  8. Bake in center of oven 15-20 minutes until crackers just start to brown.
  9. Remove from oven and cool on rack.
  10. Break into shards and serve.

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