Category Archives: bananas

Art and Science of Perfect Banana Bread


Moist, moist, moist! Freshly baked banana bread based on a recipe of a true bread artist is something to behold. Utterly aromatic, comforting and delicious, what can taste better or be a better gift on the Hugging Day (today), or the Hunt for Happiness week (this week)? There are thousands recipes of banana bread, but this particular one stood the test of time in our family. 
Photo of Peter Reinhart credit: Ron Manville
The recipe comes from Peter Reinhart, one of the world’s leading authorities of bread, author of nine books on bread baking and multiple James Beard Award winner. To call his book ‘Crust and Crumb’ a bread-making bible in our house wouldn’t be an exaggeration (fyi, his most recent ‘Bread Revolution’is currently undergoing lots of testing chez nous). Every recipe from it is a hit, so when it came to banana bread recipe few years ago, Reinhart’s book was undoubtedly our first reference.  
My grandfather in law was pioneering in bananas import to Quebec about a century ago in hunt for his own happiness. I’m not sure if an idea of making banana bread from some of his perished goods ever crossed his mind, but the fact remains: bananas were then very expensive. The first recipes of banana bread started appearing in the cookbooks around the Great Depression when some entrepreneurial housewives hustled on recycling overripe bananas into baking goods and popularizing baking soda and baking powder. The two latter ingredients were chemically leavening breads rather than natural yeast. Banana bread spearheaded the revolution of breads from other leavens. Quick breads became a new American staple.
Here’s Peter Reinhart’s Banana bread master formula: ‘Banana bread is the standard by which quick-bread artists are judged. The criteria for great quick breads are simple: They must be moist; They must be delicious. The way to accomplish this is by using plenty of ripe fruit and the proper proportion of supporting ingredients. Tenderness is produced by fat, which means butter, though canola, corn, and other oils can be substituted if cholesterol is a concern. The rest is just flavor blending, the eternal balancing act among sugar, fat and starch.’
The exact banana’s condition is crucial for the bread’s quality. The more overripe is the banana, the more flavor, aroma, sweetness and moist texture it will add to the bread. That said, the slightly greenish or perfectly all-yellow banana will not add any flavor to the bread. 
Example.These are no-goes (the last one is close, but still not enough blackened):
The naturally overripe banana will have much more of brown and black spots. 
For the successful loaf bananas have to be absolutely, perfectly OVER-RIPE! There are two ways to speed up banana’s over-ripe: by hot or cold temperatures.
1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Place unpeeled bananas on the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool completely before peeling and mashing.
2. Place bananas in the freezer for 3 hours. Or, heck, if you are in Montreal right now where the frostbite has reached its peak, just put them outside for an hour.  Let bananas thaw completely  and discard any liquids before peeling and mashing.
This is how the banana will look like after:
Yes, ROTTEN would be the right word. Which brings me back to the ‘Rotten’ episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘The Mind of a Chef’ series featuring Chef Chang and Christina Tosi (from Momofuku Milk Bar) making a wondrous banana cream pie from limp blackened thawed bananas.
True: ‘some foods are better rotten…’ to attain the best results in the recipe.
I hope you’ll have a blast making this bread.  Keep it in the fridge, so you can slice it and toast it and have an incredible breakfast, snack or dessert at any time you feel like going bananas.
Enjoy!
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Two years ago: King Cake
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BANANA BREAD (Peter Reinhart’s Master Formula)
Yields: two large or three small loaves
Ingredients:
3 ½ cups (16 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (0.5 ounce) baking powder
½ tbsp (0.64 ounce) baking soda
1 tsp (0.25 ounce) salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs (6.65 ounces) at room temperature
2 tsp (0.2 ounce) vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) ripe bananas, mashed (3-4 bananas)
1 ½ cups (9 ounces) walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
Vegetable oil cooking spray
Instructions:
Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Spray two 9x5x3 loaf pans with non-stick spray.
Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy – about 2 minutes.
Mix in eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Mix in vanilla and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/3 of buttermilk, then 1/3 of mashed bananas. Continue in this manner until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Stir in walnuts.
Fill the pans 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 45 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake for additional 15 minutes, or until baked through. The safest way of knowing if they are finished is to test them with a probe thermometer. The internal temperature should be 180-185F.
Let the loaves cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn them out carefully on a rack to cool for at least one hour before slicing.
Adapted from ‘’Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers’’ by Peter Reinhart, The Speed Press 2006

Waste Not Cranberry Banana Bread Pudding


The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.’ This quote from witty Calvin Trillin is very ‘dear’ to me because leftovers of the unknown origin were what my Mom served the family as well. Which partly explains why I am so keen on food and cooking today… 
This reminiscence however, has nothing to do with the delicious sweet-and-savory Cranberry Banana bread pudding I made last weekend.  Except for the word leftover and the fact that almost half of the food we buy goes wasted. Let’s improve this statistics a little with a worthy and no-waste recipe.  This one is full of flavor and good things (fruits, seeds, allergy-friendly ingredients) and can be used in different menu applications: breakfast, brunch, dessert, side dish or coffee/tea break. And it’s actually made of the LEFTOVERS: stale bread/brioche/challah, very ripe banana, cranberry sauce left from holidays, etc. 
It is also fun thing to make with kids. Last week-end one of my friends, a busy mom with two little kids, popped around for a cup of tea after her ski trip and, pudding was the first thing that came to my mind as a quick and uncomplicated treat.  
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Give your kids some easy tasks like peeling and slicing banana, breaking eggs, distributing crumbs and fruit in the baking dish. Crushing candy cane with the roll (to sprinkle on top of the pudding if the wish be) is another kitchen chore kids adore to do. They would really appreciate the result and their own participation. And of course, a nice cartoon while the pudding is in the oven…
I didn’t have to invent it or look for a recipe – I just used my favorite summer cherry pudding recipe  (the best thing ever to happen to a fresh or frozen tart berry: I’ve tried other recipes, but the acquired taste wins every time) with a few new touches.  I added 1/3 cup of roasted hemp seeds for a slightly nutty taste to upgrade the amount of protein, B vitamins and fatty acids. Feel free to skip this ingredient, or replace it with seeds or nuts of your choice (poppy seeds make also a very good option). 
I spiked the pudding with a bit of Meyer lemon juice and zest and replaced whipped cream dressing with a savory yogurt cream, mixing Greek yogurt with some cranberry sauce and a spoon of maple syrup. Finally, I made a quick cranberry coulis with an old cranberry sauce and some frozen cranberries.
The wonderful thing about this dish apart from being tasty and made of the recycled ingredients (and so comforting during winter cold), is that you can’t have too much of it. If you have any leftovers, please don’t throw them away, just portion them out if necessary and freeze.
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Although the leftover fatigue is in my blood, I am urging you, please give them a second chance with some further dishes.  Put a slice in a lunch bag, have a piece for a tea break, with your morning café au lait (with grilled cheese on top – why not?), or freeze some and try later as a side dish to grab some of that juicy gravy from a roasted bird.
However you decide to re-purpose this pudding, it will be better, healthier and cheaper than any store bought stuff. Enjoy!
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One year ago: Easy Eggless Tiramisu
CRANBERRY BANANA BREAD PUDDING
Ingredients:
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar, or mix of sugar and maple syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups of milk (or almond milk)
4 cups gluten-free white rice flour bread (or challah, or brioche), cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (up to 1 ½ cups of berries)
1 large ripe banana, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1/3 cup of roasted hemp seeds (optional)
Zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon (or 1 orange)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make 4 cups. Peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Reserve the cranberries.
Using a wire whisk, stir well beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (or use a blender).
Place 2/3 of the bread cubes in on 9 x 13-inch buttered baking dish (or two smaller ones to make the equivalent volume); distribute cranberries, banana slices and hemp seeds and top with remaining bread cubes. Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture.
Bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly (or completely, if you would like it to set so you can remove it from the baking dish to the plate) and serve with a dash of yogurt cream and a splash of cranberry coulis or a topping of your choice.
Yogurt Cream for dressing – mix three following ingredients:
1 ½ cups of plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 to 2 tbsp cranberry coulis
Cranberry Coulis (yields 2 cups):
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tbsp grated orange zest
2 tbsp orange juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar or maple syrup (or more if you like it very sweet as opposed to sour-sweet)
1/3 cup water
1 cup cranberry sauce leftovers
Mix the first 5 ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil over the medium high heat. Lower the heat and let simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cranberry sauce and mix well helping to dissolve faster.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

Green Mountain State & Sour Cherry Banana Bread Pudding

I call this simple dessert the epitome of summer happiness as it truly gives your taste buds that special touch of freshness you can only find in sour cherries. Their season is short, however, so if you are a sour cherry lover, you better hurry to the farmer’s market now for these little delicate fruits only show up once a year and not for long. Sour cherries are amazing in baking: they hold well under the temperature while their tartness and tanginess bring any dessert to a new tasty heights. As antioxidant-rich fruits (viva quercetin!) they are also huge on nutritional benefits and are known to relief stress, prevent cancer, improve cardio-vascular and anti-inflammatory functions.

Bread pudding is often associated with a heavy, cloying desserts most often served during fall or winter, but just wait until you try this one and you will surely be surprised. This recipe was inspired by our recent trip to the Green Mountain State – a week of a prolonged indulgence in the green beauty and locally grown organic food. For most of us Vermont is known for its skiing or fall foliage, but it is actually in summer that it really shines and you can see for your own eyes why it has consistently ranked the healthiest state in America. 
Vermont is so much more than just maple syrup or Ben and Jerry ice cream. It’s a lifestyle. The farmers’ markets are bustling with everything from locally grown food, to cheese and wine, arts and crafts. The switch to more organic, good-for-you products is apparent everywhere, even at the level of the convenience stores.
Lush green mountains, crystal clear lakes, pastoral scenic roads, rolling farmlands, rivers and waterfalls – you notice immediately how ”green and clean” this state is. You can actually enjoy the scenery while driving – no billboards obstructing the view. Back in 1968 Vermonters voted to regulate business for the benefit of the landscape and thirsty travelers. Since that time there has been no billboards along their roads. Surprised? Me too. (Curiously, the billboards are also banned in three other healthy and least populated states including Hawaii, Maine and Alaska).
Living in the green paradise clearly has its perks and you quickly notice that well-being is another Vermonters’ forte. People are shockingly friendly and relaxed. So nice and welcoming (so rare in our remorseful post-affluence society) that I felt I was lost in time somewhere between Norman Rockwell’s characters and Happy Hippies. I had to pinch myself sometimes to make sure I was not having a hallucination.
 Like taking a sip of a clean cold water on a hot summer day, so truly refreshing was my summer-in-Vermont discovery. I promised myself to embark on this wanderlust again shortly. So, when am I going back? This weekend, as a matter of fact. Yep, that’s how much I liked it! But let’s get back to our pain perdu aux cerises (French for our Cherry Bread Pudding), my little tribute to the state of all foods good and wholesome.
This lazy-amazing bread pudding takes only 15 minutes to prepare and easily converts to gluten free if you choose to use a gluten free bread like I did. In fact, I much more prefer it with gluten free bread (I used the most popular white rice flour bread variety you can get anywhere, from Walmart to Loblaws) since its major ingredient is rice, and, rice (as we all know) is awesome in puddings. Fresh sour cherries are of course the star of this dessert, but, frozen, dried or canned sour cherries work well too, or, you can vary the flavor using other sour fruits (i.e. apricots, plums, apples, cranberries, etc.) and adapt it to the summer’s bounty your way. One big ripe banana is a must as it makes a perfect taste & texture juxtaposition with any fruit combination. So, in four easy steps: 

  1. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F; pit the sour cherries using safety pin to make about one cup of pitted cherries; cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make about 4 cups; peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces;
  2. using a wire whisk, stir together beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (sometimes I use blender for this to cheat on the whisking);
  3. place 2/3 of the bread cubes in an 8x8x2-inch buttered baking pan or dish; distribute cherries and banana slices; top with remaining bread cubes; pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture;
  4. bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly and serve warm with a splash of cream and maple syrup drizzle (optionally, I also splash it with Grand Marnier) or a topping of your choice.

Looks convincing? Tastes too, you bet!
Bon Appétit and have a Happy Summer Time!
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SOUR CHERRY BANANA BREAD PUDDING
Ingredients:
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar, or mix of sugar and maple syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups of milk (or almond milk)
4 cups gluten-free rice flour bread (or regular raisin bread), cut into 3/4 inch squares
2/3 cup fresh or (frozen, canned or dried) sour cherries
1 large ripe banana, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pit the sour cherries using safety pin to make 2/3 cup of pitted cherries. Cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make 4 cups. Peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces.
Using a wire whisk, stir well beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (or use a blender).
Place 2/3 of the bread cubes in an 8x8x2-inch buttered baking dish; distribute cherries and banana slices and top with remaining bread cubes. Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture.
Bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly and serve warm with a splash of cream and maple syrup drizzle (optionally, I also splash it with Grand Marnier) or a topping of your choice.

Healthy Summer Scoop: Banana ”Ice Cream”


The temperatures have been soaring sky-high in the last few weeks, which turns summer basking into a doubtful pleasure of a never-ending smog. And the heat goes on and on. The time when everyone is looking for shade and a good scoop of an ice cream.


As much as I love Coaticook or Lactantia commercial brands, an idea of a healthy simple home made banana ”ice cream” was tempting me since I discovered the recipe. So I made it: there is no dairy or sugar in it; it’s gluten free, relatively low in calories, and, super-refreshing on oppressively hot and humid summer day. I promised to a friend of mine, who tried and liked it and wanted me to share the recipe with her, that I will post it this week. So here you are, my dear.

Slice and freeze some bananas; blend them with almond milk, some maple syrup and vanilla extract – and it’s ready to serve. Top with some roasted sweet-and-salty slivered almonds. Voila, almost a sin-free dessert with some very positive nutritional value, which you can make in a few minutes!
Ideal when served while you laze around in the garden or the pool, but also perfectly refreshing when you come back home on one of these sweltering days.
BANANA ”ICE CREAM” WITH SWEET & SALTY ROASTED ALMONDS
Yields about 1 pint
Ingredients:
4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted almonds
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons good-quality maple syrup, divided
A pinch of coarse sea salt
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Freeze the banana slices in a single layer on a tray or plate lined with parchment or wax paper. Once the slices are frozen, use them immediately or keep frozen in a zip-top plastic bag or airtight container for up to a month.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the almonds with 2 teaspoons of the maple syrup and the pinch of salt and set the mixture aside.
Combine the frozen banana slices, the almond milk, the remaining 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, and the vanilla extract in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is the texture of soft-serve ice cream, scraping down the sides as necessary. Don’t worry if the mixture is not totally smooth at first – once the bananas start to break down and defrost in the food processor, they’ll give in and the ”ice cream” will take shape quickly.
Spoon the banana ”ice cream” into bowls immediately and sprinkle with a bit of almond mixture.
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Recipe from: ”It’s All Good” by Gwyneth Paltrow with Julia Turschen, Grand Central Life & Style Hachette Book Group, April 2013.