As I type this, I am one week – count it! – one lousy week from Spring Break. That doesn’t sound like much, but as I’m sure any of my students would agree if you asked them, in lived reality it is an eternity. On top of that, the sudden influx of warm weather draping itself all over Southern California this past weekend has
enchanted misled my poor little vacation-focused brain into thinking the upcoming break might actually be the onset of summer break. It’s going to be so disappointed.
Because I’m foolishly thinking of summer, it’s finding its way into my cooking. N. and I have promised ourselves a Hawaiian vacation this year, in celebration of various job and life related things, and so I’m feeling a bit tropical in some of my undertakings.
In light of my recent declaration that what I do here inelegantly boils down to messing with classics, I’m bringing you banana bread. Now, my banana bread recipe – the one I’ve used so many times the page in the cookbook is torn and spattered and hard to read – is pretty sacred. I’ve been using it since high school, and it produces a loaf that is thick and moist and golden and just barely crusty on top, and when N. heard that I was going to change it, I am fairly certain he let out a legitimate whimper. Apparently there are some things you just don’t mess with.
But I did it anyway, jamming the moist, fragrant batter with indecent quantities of chopped candied pineapple and crystallized ginger.
To make it even more of a celebration, I finally decided to replace the old, mismatched, stained and eternally sticky-handled (they aren’t dirty, the stickiness just doesn’t wash off anymore) glass bread pans I bought from a thrift store while I was in college with actual 9×5 inch standard loaf pans. Non-stick, too. What a luxury! Unfortunately, the stickers advertising how amazing these pans are had been adhered to the insides with gigantic globs of something that can only be described as superglue derived from elephant snot. When not even liberal doses of rubbing alcohol failed to remove all of the adhesive, I got so angry I actually started hiccuping.
Good thing the resulting bread was so delicious. Truly, with all my recent quasi-failures, this one is a real triumph. It is moist, studded with fruit that softens over the long, low bake. These bits of fruit, especially the ones that sink to the bottom of the loaf, take on an appealing kind of gumminess, and some even attain a whisper of the kind of caramelization you’d find in the fruit of a tarte tatin. Sliced thick, it is rich but not too sweet, making it a perfect companion for morning coffee or mid-afternoon chai (the basic boxed mix combined with vanilla coconut milk is my current favorite, and all the more appropriate for the whole Hawaiian vacation thing). It’s the kind of bread you want to eat barefoot, lightly clothed, on a lanai looking out over the ocean, perhaps after you’ve just enjoyed some –ahem– morning activities that left you wanting a snack. The pineapple and ginger mingle well with the already slightly tropical feel of the banana, and the ginger adds a welcome warmth without being spicy (I used a lot, and the flavor is quite pronounced – see my quantity suggestion below if you are unsure about this).
We should all be on a Hawaiian vacation. We probably all deserve one. But if it’s not possible for you, and if you are still in a part of the country that refuses to let Spring over the threshold, may I humbly recommend this bread? At least your taste buds can hop a quick flight…
Tropical Banana Bread
Makes one 9×5 inch loaf
Adapted from Country Cooking
3 medium overripe bananas
½ cup vegetable or other neutral tasting oil
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, use ¼ cup regular milk + 1 tablespoon white vinegar, stir to combine, and let sit for 2-3 minutes)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup roughly chopped candied or crystallized pineapple
½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (this results in a strong ginger flavor. If you aren’t sure about this or you’re not overly fond of ginger, reduce to ¼ cup)
- Preheat the oven to 325F and prepare a 9×5 inch loaf pan. I usually just coat the bottom and sides with non-stick spray, but this time I lined the inside with parchment paper to protect against any lingering elephant snot glue (see above).
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, mash the bananas into a pulpy mess. Add the oil, the eggs, the buttermilk, and the vanilla and combine thoroughly.
- Add the sugar and mix well.
- Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix just until combined. Be sure to scrape the bottom – sometimes streaks of flour wind up hiding out down there.
- Add the pieces of pineapple and ginger and combine thoroughly; you want even distribution of the fruit through the batter.
- Carefully pour and scrape the batter into your prepared loaf pan. Beware: if your pan is smaller than 9×5 inches, you may want to make a few muffins as well, or at least place a cookie sheet under the pan in the oven in case of overflow.
- Bake at 325F for 80-90 minutes, or until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Check at 80 minutes, but don’t be surprised if it is still a bit raw in the middle. This is quite a large loaf, and depending on the size of your bananas it may take even longer than 90 minutes to bake.
- Let cool completely (or at least twenty minutes) before removing from the pan and slicing.
- Keeps wrapped well in foil for at least three days, but I doubt you’ll have that problem.