I’m a skeptic when it comes to things that are heavily hyped. The most recent thing that comes to mind is the Twilight series, which I’m sorry to say -and this is just my opinion- is rather terrible. (I’ve never had issues hanging out with people who like this as long as they do not try to convert me or annoy me with their fandom.) However there are some things that the hype machine gets right, and that includes this cookbook.
One of the first bakeries I ever heard about when I started food blogging was the Flour Bakery. I didn’t actually know anything much else about it, only that its owner, Joanne Chang, wrote a cookbook of some of its famous offerings. A lot of people love this cookbook, and after browsing a copy at my local bookstore, I knew that I had to have it too.
Every day 1,500 Bostonians can’t resist buying sweet, simple treats such as Homemade Pop-Tarts, from an alumna of Harvard with a degree in economics. From Brioche au Chocolat and Lemon Raspberry Cake to perfect croissants, Flour Bakery-owner Joanne Chang’s repertoire of baked goods is deep and satisfying.
While at Harvard she discovered that nothing made her happier than baking cookies leading her on a path that eventually resulted in a sticky bun triumph over Bobby Flay on the Food Network‘s Throwdown.
Almost 150 Flour recipes such as Milky Way Tart and Dried Fruit Focaccia are included, plus Joanne’s essential baking tips, making this mouthwatering collection an accessible, instant classic cookbook for the home baker. (from Goodreads)
I absolutely adore the colour scheme of the book, and the pictures on the recipes that have them look scrumptious. Not all the recipes have photographs, but just the names of the pastries are enough to make one’s mouth water. Ms. Chang really leaves it up to your imagination. Most of the recipes are classics that have been reinvented somehow, but there are also some new twists to old recipes that make them seem completely new. All I know is, after reading through this book, there is no way I am going to miss my chance to visit the bakery when I go to Boston.
The book is divided into chapters for breakfast treats, cookies, cakes, pies and tarts, breads, and other treats; with each chapter having an abundant number of recipes. At the start of book we get Joanne’s Top 12 baking tips, which really for me is a great bonus. I like it when baking greats share their personal tips for baking success. It makes it feel like they sincerely want you to learn from them. I absolutely love the ‘Same recipe, different flavors’ sections, where Joanne Chang offers some lip-smacking variations to her base recipe. Every single recipe in this book look and sound so great, I want to lick the words off the pages!
When time came for me to pick my first recipe from this book, the Banana Bread seemed like the obvious choice. I’ve been hearing so many great things about it, and I was most excited to give it a go. It’s appeared in a couple of other food blogs I frequent, tempting me, egging me on. But I waited until I got the cookbook to make the bread. It just makes it all feel more legit somehow.
How do you like your banana bread? For me it kind of depends on my mood. There are days when I look for the sweet streusel scattered on top of the bread’s cracked surface, but mostly I like my banana bread simple, with a strong burst of banana flavour. Some other banana breads are either too sweet or too bland, too moist or too dry, more sugar and no banana flavour whatsoever– but this one had that unmistakable scent and taste of bananas. The addition of the nuts adds a nice crunch to the lightly sweetened, moist bread.
I have another delicious banana bread recipe I like to turn to, but that one makes use of a lot of sour cream. Not exactly diet-friendly if you ask me. This one uses just a little bit of sour cream for added moisture, and it works marvelously. I don’t have a good history with walnuts, but in this case, just the right amount of them added a really nice touch to this bread. From the oven, I could smell the lovely aroma of the bananas with just the tiniest hint of walnuts, and already I could imagine how amazing it would be to eat this. And boy was I right. This is officially one of my favourite banana breads. Ever.
Troubleshooting: I saw a couple of blogs talking about their breads not being baked through in the centre even after an hour in the oven. The solution to this is to either extend the baking time (maybe set it atop a baking sheet to prevent a burnt bottom), or transfer your batter into a pan that has a more well-distributed bottom and less height (like a bundt pan). I don’t like to keep my old oven on for too long so I baked mine in three 6×3-inch pans, running into zero problems. My baking time was cut down to about 50 minutes, and I produced three loaves that were perfectly-sized to give away. I must warn you though: once you get a taste of it, you’re not going to want to part with it! I gave one small loaf to my grandmum as is my habit, but kept two loaves for ourselves.
Flour’s Famous Banana Bread
adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang | makes one 9×5-inch loaf, or three 6×3-inch loaves
1 2/3 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (230 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) canola or other flavourless oil
3 1/2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 1/2 cups or 340 grams mashed bananas)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 to 3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped*
1. Position the rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 325°F (165°C). Butter and flour your pan of choice.
2. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes for the stand mixer, and about 8 minutes for a handheld mixer; or until light and fluffy.
4. With the machine on low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Do not pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn’t deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding the oil should take about 1 minute.
5. Add the bananas, creme fraiche/sour cream, and vanilla, then continue to mix on low speed just until combined.
6. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and nuts just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible and the nuts should be evenly distributed.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.
8. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours for a 9×5-inch loaf and bundt, and about 50 minutes for three 6×3-inch loaves; or until golden brown on top and the cake springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer.**
9. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, and the pop it our of the pan to finish cooling.
Storage: The banana bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or it can be well-wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Make sure to thaw overnight at room temperature before serving.
*I used only 3/4 cup since I don’t really like walnuts. You can adjust this quantity according to you preferences.
**You can also stick a cake tester or a skewer into the centre of the loaf to make sure the inside is baked.
It used to be that I would make banana breads only to get rid of all the excess, overripe bananas. But I agree with what Joanne Chang said in the introduction to this recipe, it’s worth actually buying more bananas for the sole purpose of making this gorgeous-in-every-way banana bread!