2/06/2012

B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Yum

I am a huge advocate for all things baked. If you can mix up a bowlful of ingredients and 45 minutes later a cake is coming out of the oven, I'm happy and impressed. I could write an ode of allegiance to any variety of bread(s). Seriously. My last entry that consisted of me drooling over a croissant should be proof enough.

Still, there is one downside to having a weakness for breads and baked desserts (ie. cookies, muffins, rolls, and a particular new[er] weakness, soft pretzels, SHEESH), and no, I'm not going to say carbs. As my dear cute Colin once said, in all sincerity while chewing thoughtfully on a piece of fresh ciabatta, "That Atkins guy must have been one depressed fucker," (do pardon me, but: hahaha), I am not one for any skip-EVERYTHING trend, a carb-free crash diet, or snapping at the waiter, instructing that he not to bring the dinner rolls anywhere near your table.

Not bring the BREAD BASKET? Are you CRAZY?

If you think it sounds as insane as I do, then whew. All those diet schemes (that's right, schemes!) out there built around the claim that bread is the devil, bread is what makes you fat, and the second you eat a piece of toast it settles somewhere in your pants, expanding your thighs with every bite.

Well, pish-posh, I say. Though I do my best to stay on the healthy-eating path, despite my buttery crescent-shaped diversions, there is no real reason why baked goods have to feel either dry and crumbly and diet-y or deliciously indulgent as they were meant to be. There are some fantastically sneaky ways of cutting the negative calories in breads and cakes without sacrificing taste, texture, and satisfaction. (Even though the recipe I'm about to share is one I've made countless times by now, and even though I'd back it 100%, I am still, without guilt, an advocate for the whole of the baguette chomping community, white flour and all.)

SO: this is a recipe I stumbled upon about one year ago, after many, many Google searches for a healthy(ish) banana bread recipe. I know, I know, you'd think it wouldn't be too difficult a feat, seeing as its main ingredient is a fruit (right?), but most of these concoctions are loaaaded with sugar, heaps of white flour, and a variety of other non-beneficial ingredients.

The recipe I finally settled on, because it carried all the key ingredients I was hoping for, was on a blog created by a momma with a kid whose allergies ranged from everything to everything. So, this devoted woman set about revising recipes so that her dear daughter could enjoy everyday normal treats without being deprived or having an outbreak. The blog is Makeshift Meals, and though she has yet to update it as of recently (Jenni! Come back! I love your ideas!), this banana bread recipe is one I will stick with for life. So, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and here's what you need:

A couple of overripe bananas (you need 1 1/2 cups, so usually three medium-sized ones will do)
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal


The first thing to do is start mashing those bananas. I suppose you could go the cheater route (that'sss right) and toss them in a blender or a food processor. I, however, am a big fan of the mash-with-fork method, seeing as it leaves for a slightly chunky texture (which is a pleasant surprise post-baking) and allows for an aggression-releasing outlet, should you so choose. What?


The fork method works best if you break the bananas into smaller pieces, which should be quite easy seeing as they should be very ripe. (The ones we used could probably have gotten even riper, to be honest. The darker the skin gets, the sweeter the bread will be. Personal preference at that point, folks.) Post-mashing, the consistency should be something like this:


Alright. Here's another thing that I totally love about this recipe. While I am a major fan of baking, it is known for being a very precise and planned art. All things are sorted out in measurements and timing, even the specific temperature of ingredients determining whether or not your results will be airy or flat. NOT SO HERE. The next step is to literally throw everything into ONE bowl, ALL together, and MIX. That is, except for the two eggs, which she recommends that you first whisk separately. Here is the photogenic proof that I heeded such instruction:


And, everything else:


Stir with a spatula until all the ingredients are evenly blended, watching out for those brown sugar chunks along the way. After a few minutes of easy mixing (which is no trouble at all to do by hand), your bowl should look like this:


This dough makes enough for two medium-sized loaves, AND, should you own two matching orange silicone bread pans, they can be placed side-by-side in the oven, to bake in perfect harmony. Through trial and error we have discovered that the easiest method of baking (and, as it turns out, clean-up), is to line your baking pans with parchment paper, leaving generous amounts around the sides of the pan. Then, to the best of your ability, attempt to evenly disperse the batter into the two pans. (Note: this is the perfect opportunity to add some extra flavor to one or both of your loaves. We decided to go tried-and-true with one, leaving enough batter in the bowl to add chocolate chips [yes!] and slivered almonds [yes!] in the other. The second loaf turned out to be significantly bigger than the first. Unintentionally, of course, but a mistake for which I am not sorry.)


And now for the worst part (waiting), which somehow magically ends in the best part (eating!), set your oven timer for fifty minutes. I know, I know, 5-0, and it seems like an awfully long time to pace around your kitchen in anticipation. Worth the wait, my friends, and that's a promise. One thing I have noticed is that the cooking time can vary, I suppose depending on the season, and simple and unexplainable things like the brand of yogurt or applesauce used. At about forty-five minutes, check with a toothpick. Our particular endeavor ended up taking closer to an hour and five minutes (ah!), but as long as the tops are golden-brown (don't you just LOVE that phrase) and the toothpick is coming out clean, you are well on your way to enjoying a healthy AND delicious version of a favorite treat.

When they finally fiiiinally emerge from the oven, let them cool for several minutes, if you can. I know, I know, the point of warm, fresh baked goods is that they BE warm and fresh when you finally eat them. So don't be crazy and wait for an hour or something like that.


I admit I managed to wait a measly ten minutes (okay, FIVE) before I could stop myself from digging in to the chocolate-chip almond version of this loaf. Ohhh, boy. It never disappoints.


See that? Easy-peasy. And not one thing to feel guilty about, not that you would ever dare. Jenni, wherever you are, thank you for sharing this recipe with me, so that I can share it too, and bake it often. As for all you no-bread dieters: I'm afraid I just rocked your world, and rocked it good.