Thursday, March 27, 2014

Banana Bread a la Crescent Dragonwagon

In our house, overripe bananas are always an occasion for making banana bread.  Usually I only have one or two ripe bananas, so I throw them in the freezer until I get three.

But this time I actually had three ripe bananas on the counter, so it was time.

Also, I'm celebrating Mr. Bread Maiden, who is back to eating carbs again after a two-year abstention.  Bread Maiden is quite happy, as you might expect.

I've already covered one banana bread recipe here.  But now that I've made this one by Crescent Dragonwagon, I've become a convert to CD's method!

She calls it: Spice Islands Banana-Date-Walnut Bread.  I nixed the walnuts since I don't like them, and I was halfway through chopping dates when I realized I was actually chopping figs.  Oops! I used them anyway and they were fine.  Also I did a mix of AP flour, whole wheat flour and pastry flour since I didn't have whole wheat pastry flour.

The recipe makes one average-sized loaf.

You will need:

little bit of butter (or cooking spray)
one teaspoon of flour (doesn't matter what kind)
3 ripe bananas
Grated rind and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup brown sugar or 1/2 cup white sugar and 1 tsp molasses
3 tablespoons of buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 cups unbleached AP flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or some other low-protein combination of flours
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
fresh nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped dates (or figs)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter and flour your pan and set aside.

2. Put your three ripe bananas, lemon rind, lemon juice, oil, brown sugar, and buttermilk in the food processor.  Buzz to make a smooth puree.

3. At this point I should probably back up, for those who thought, "brown sugar? I thought you said I could use white sugar and molasses."  And I did.  Here's why.

You can take a fork to white sugar and molasses to make your own brown sugar.  It's super easy and it's actually how they make commercial brown sugar too!

4. Ok, once you have set aside your banana puree, you can move on to the dry ingredients.  Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon in a large bowl.

5.  Take a tablespoon of flour and mix it with the chopped figs until they are fully coated with the flour.

6. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture along with the figs and stir to combine but not too much!  Pour the batter into your pan and smooth out the top.

7.  At this point I was set to put the pan in the oven when I realized I hadn't added the figs.  Oops!  I dumped the figs on top and tried to squish them in the best I could.

8.  Put in the oven and bake for about 40-50 minutes.  Take it out and let it rest for ten minutes before turning it out onto a cooling rack.

Looks pretty good!  Here it is once it cooled and I could cut it into slices.

Because I forgot to fully incorporate the figs, they weren't evenly distributed throughout the loaf.  But the next few slices I cut after this had more fig pieces in them.

I like banana bread toasted with butter or peanut butter. Yum!  This recipe is a keeper.  I like the addition of a little fiber :)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bread for communion part IV: Irish Soda Bread

One of the things I love about my church is that each new pastor adds their own flair.  Just for example, in the past five years we've had one pastor (Ben), a transitional pastor for six months (Stephen), and a husband-wife pastor team (Marty and Robin).  Even though the church is Baptist in denomination, Ben taught at Catholic University and many members of the congregation were former Catholics.  He introduced some of the Catholic rituals, such as Ash wednesday and communion by intinction.  Then, Stephen introduced a time during the service for the congregation to share joys and burdens.  Marty and Robin, our current pastors, have introduced a Blue Christmas service for those who are grieving during the Christmas season, and are now hosting a Shrove Tuesday event.

What is Shrove Tuesday?  Until recently, I had no idea!  It's basically the British Isles' version of Mardi Gras and Carnival. You serve pancakes and have pancake races.  I've read that pancakes are traditional because they use up milk and eggs before the period of Lent.

As you can see from the title, this article is not about pancakes.  I've already written about my favorite pancake recipe here.

Reading about the British Isles made me start thinking about Irish Soda Bread!

It turns out, I've actually written about Irish Soda Bread before.  But this is very different.  I decided to go with a traditional recipe this time, without the raisins and orange zest since it's only for display purposes.  That said, since trying out this recipe for the blog I've made it three more times.  It's a great breakfast bread since it has the taste and texture of a biscuit, and it bakes up quickly.

According to this NYT article, Irish Soda Bread typically only has four ingredients: flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and salt.  So that's what I went with.

Where I deviated from this NYT recipe is that they suggest using a baking sheet.  The comments said you should use a cast iron skillet instead.  I tried the cast iron skillet method and found the top of the loaf browned way too quickly in the high heat.  So I tried again using my dutch oven and the loaf came out perfectly.

You will need:

450 grams all-purpose flour, I used a mix of bread flour and AP flour.  I've also thrown in some whole wheat and pastry flour at times and it's turned out fine.

3 grams sea salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
4 grams baking soda (about 3/4 teaspoon)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, more as needed.

A note about the buttermilk:  I don't buy buttermilk anymore.  The first time I tried this recipe, I added a tablespoon of white vinegar to whole milk and let it sit for an hour to curdle.  The second time, I used a cup of plain yogurt and a 1/2 cup of milk. Both worked out fine and served the same function.  You just need something acidic to create the chemical leavening reaction with the baking soda.

1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and slide your dutch oven into the cold oven to warm up.

2. Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.

3. Pour the buttermilk (or milk concoction) into the flour mixture and use a clean hand to mix everything together.   The dough is pretty sticky, so use a folding motion.  Let the dough sit while you clean your hands.

4. Cut a square of parchment and transfer your dough to the parchment.  Gently fold the dough until it forms a smooth loaf.  Flatten it down until it's about 1 1/2 inches tall all around.  This was one of my mistakes the first time around.  I shaped it into a ball and it really didn't work.



5. When it's time for the loaf to go into the oven, take a knife and cut a large, deep cross in the top.  Transfer the loaf to the dutch oven and bake, with the lid on, for 15 minutes.

6.  After 15 minutes have elapsed, remove the dutch oven lid, drop the temperature to 400, and continue baking another 20-30 minutes, until the loaf is brown and it makes a satisfying thump when tapped.

7.  You can eat this bread warm or let it cool.  The bread is more like a biscuit or scone than a regular loaf of bread.  I like it toasted with butter and jam (as does Little Bread Toddler).

8.  I don't know if anyone on Sunday will necessarily appreciate my thought process for making Irish Soda Bread, but I do think they will appreciate when I try something new.  After all, we call ourselves an uncommon church :)

If people like the Irish Soda Bread pieces during communion, it may become a regular recipe I use.  It's easy, the texture is nice and soft, and did I mention it's easy?