At its best
There are certain uncomplicated foods out there – guacamole, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies come to mind – that have the ability to ignite doctrine-like beliefs and competing claims of The Best and Only Credible Version Out There. I’ve yet to meet a bowl of avocado I didn’t like, but then again, I subscribe to this belief in cooking.
Banana bread falls into this category. Its quiet flavor lends itself to constant permutations, garnering many a superlative statement about each and every version. And there are so many ways to make it delicious. Molly waxes poetry about the merits of adding chocolate and crystallized ginger. I’ve seen orange zested in, every kind of nut added, and strawberries blended into the batter – all of them delicious, all of them worth the trouble.
But when it’s my turn behind the stove, (or the oven, I should say) I tend to be a bit of a purist. Politics of bananas aside, it’s hard to disagree about the merits of its bread. It exemplifies cozy, straight-from-the-oven nourishment, and comes from the most humble ingredients. It requires that its star ingredient is at its ripest, most ugly-looking stage, making it the hero of unloved ingredients, and a lesson in maximizing your pantry. An oven-fresh piece with a pat of butter is often just what the doctor ordered to cure even the most persistent blues, or you can freeze it and toast a slice for a satisfying breakfast.
This recipe comes from my mother, (as many good baking recipes do) and was the type that she could detail from memory over the phone while finishing emails and stirring pots and listening to a Law and Order rerun. It’s that straight-forward a bread, and dare I say, the best.
3-4 very ripe bananas so you can mash with a fork
1/3 cup of very soft butter
1 cup sugar — brown and white combined in roughly 50-50 combination
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. With your electric mixer (or a heavy, large spoon if you don’t have one) mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add in the sugars, egg, and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last and mix to incorporate.
Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.