Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ginger-banana bread

Warm and cozy as an open fire, soft and rich as a scrap of golden-brown velvet, exotic and strange as a Byzantine ceiling, a beautiful smell blooms from the oven. The experiment seems to be going well. I open the oven and test the loaves for doneness, not quite yet. I slide them back in and wait five minutes. This time, the toothpick comes out clean. I take them out of the oven. After they cool on a rack for a while, I slice some pieces, warm, dense, moist, rich with spices, slightly sweet from banana, and with a bit of crunch from the walnuts. Perfect. My ginger-banana bread turned out just the way I had hoped it would.

Struggling for the last month with high fevers, bronchitis, and an infected molar, I haven't spent much time in the kitchen. Fever and antibiotics killed my appetite and wasted my energy, so it's been a struggle to eat anything at all, and I mostly let my family eat a lot of takeout. Things are rarely ideal, and sometimes they are less ideal than others.

In the meantime, I've been reading Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking and getting more and more excited to get in and work with some of the ratios. For a creative cook (especially a mostly self-taught home cook like myself), the book is a gift. Ruhlman breaks down fundamental kitchen techniques into simple ratios. Once you understand the ratios and how the basic ingredients work together, you can layer on and riff from there. The book teaches you reading and writing; with those basics, you can create poetry. It's exciting stuff.

The opportunity to test one of the ratios came as some of my son's bananas grew dark and unappealing. I didn't want to let them go to waste, but they were no longer fit to eat out of hand. Thus banana bread. So I checked out Ruhlman's ratio for quickbreads: 2/2/1/1. Two parts flour, two parts liquid, one part egg, and one part fat. OK. (Note that these ratios are based on weight, not volume.) And I checked out his basic recipe for quickbread/muffin batter, which is based on the ratios. But I got it into my head that I wanted to include some of the flavors from my mother's gingerbread cookies. And I was off and mixing. I was going to make gingerbread banana bread. (Or, as some friends have suggested, baginger bread, ginanabread, or gingy-nanny bread. If you have ideas for a good name, please fire away in the comments. I think I kind of like baginger bread.)

Anyway, this is one of the easiest possible things you could ever make. You'll need two bowls (one for dry ingredients and one for wet), a scale, and a loaf pan. Note: the recipe that follows makes one loaf; I made two because I had quite a lot of dark bananas. Also, you could probably do a straight swap of banana for pumpkin puree, and it would be delicious too.

Measure by weight on your scale, except where noted in teaspoons.

  • 8 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz brown sugar (white sugar will do in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground dried ginger
  • 1 tsp finely chopped orange zest
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup mashed banana (about 2-3 bananas)
  • 6 oz milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 oz unsalted butter, melted 
  • 1/4 chopped walnuts (optional)

What to Do

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter, oil, or spray a loaf pan. 
  2. Place your dry ingredients bowl on the scale and measure flour, sugar, salt, spices, and baking powder. Mix the ingredients with a whisk until everything is uniformly distributed.  
  3. Place your wet ingredients bowl on the scale, measure milk, and then add eggs, melted butter, and banana. Mix everything together until the egg is evenly distributed throughout the liquid.
  4. Mix your wet and your dry ingredients until they just come together. Scrape the batter out into the greased loaf pan and slide it into the oven. 
  5. Check for doneness after 40 minutes by sticking a toothpick into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean and dry, the loaf is done. If it's still wet, check in five-minute intervals.
  6. When you take it out of the oven, let it cool in the pan for a while. Then slide the loaf out of the pan and let it cool on a baking rack. It's good warm, but I think it's best completely cooled. 
  7. Watch out for small, thieving hands. Trust me, this bread is not going to last. 

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