Heirloom family recipes are always so precious. The cheeseball recipe card all greasy from spilled mayo and "illustrated" with dried cheese. The much dog-eared cookie recipe. I just love old, much-loved recipes so I was quite touched when my brand new mother-in-law gave me a short stack of Family Recipes in 2013.
That is until she'd left and I really looked at them.
It was one of those "Ummmmmmmm" moments when you've got to say something negative...but you're not sure how your spouse will take it.
Take her banana bread recipe for example. Don't get me wrong. The recipe worked technically. There was flour, bananas and a rising agent. It was healthy, low fat...and utterly flavorless. If memory serves, the ingredient list didn't even call for vanilla! There was nothing to raise it from the plains of dry boring bread to the mountaintops of unctuous deliciousness.
"Ummmmmmmmm, Michael?" I asked, trying to broach the topic as gently as possible. "How fond are you of your mother's banana bread?"
"It's okay," he said. "Why?"
"Well, because, there's just nothing in it!" I responded. "Not even vanilla!"
"Oh, I always slathered it with an inch of butter to give it some flavor," he said, "Throw that recipe away!"
Whew! What a relief! But I still had a cluster of maroon-ish, overripe bananas in the fridge and no banana bread recipe. Ah! The thrill of the hunt! It was my delightful task to find a new banana bread recipe to become a new family heirloom. A recipe I could pass down to my step-children proudly knowing that it'll always be good.
A recipe is like a piece of sheet music. You can hear the music in your mind as you read the sheet music and automatically know if the tune will be good or not. A recipe is the same way. You can almost taste it as you're reading it.
What you're looking for are flavoring ingredients. Moist ingredients. Unctuous ingredients. Rich ingredients. And I don't mean fake crap either. I mean the real McCoy. Butter, vanilla, cream, salt, spices, etc.
So now, for your gastronomic pleasure, it gives me great joy to share our favorite banana bread recipe with you. If Michael likes it, you know it's good.
But first, our mise en place.
Bananas, 'natch. The older, the better. Not black and gross but nearly there. The original starch in your old bananas has had time to convert to sugars, giving the bread a more sweet, banana-y flavor.
Butter: 1 stick set out to soften. You'll find out why later.
Immersion Blender: Optional, but highly recommended. Michael was particularly keen on the banana bread I made last week. As I pondered why he liked it so much, it suddenly occurred that I'd used my immersion blender to mix the batter, thereby distributing banana flavor molecules uniformly throughout. You can't do that with a potato masher and whisk!
Oven: Preheating to 350°F.
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, with spotlessly clean hands we begin.
Cream your softened stick of butter with 1 cup of sugar. Really put your back into it. Make sure the sugar and butter are completely homogenized.
Now add 3 eggs...and don't you dare skimp or throw out the yolks or I will hunt you down and crack a raw egg on your head! The lecithin in the whites balances out the cholesterol in the yolks. You need cholesterol. Your brain is made of cholesterol. THREE EGGS! No more; no less.
To your lovely, creamy, yellow buttery mixture we add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 cup (or so, we won't be pedantic about it) of your lovely, overripe bananas.
Now, and this is the secret ingredient that really makes it good, add 1/2 cup of sour cream! Yeah, baby!
Now it's time to wield your immersion blender. Mix, baby, mix!
And now, add the boring stuff:
1-2/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Chopped walnuts are optional.
Voila! That's it! Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan (or muffin tin!) and pop it in your 350°F oven for ... and here my stained recipe card goes blank.
You know your oven better than anybody. My oven always takes twice as long to bake and everything has to be spun mid-baking for even browning so just play it be ear. The loaf is done when a butter knife comes out clean, obviously.
Nothing remains now but to slice it, slather it with butter and...now that I think about it, I always like a few grains of kosher salt sprinkled on my butter-slathered banana bread. Really sets off the sweetness, y'know.
Where was I? Oh yes! Now I remember. I was just about to say...
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I dislike cooking but since I'm obliged do it, the result must be spectacular or it's a waste of time and effort. That's why I seek out the best dishes and culinary techniques to test and perfect before sharing them with you!