Whole wheat banana redemption (bread)

For months (okay, years), my best friend Kelly and I have been plotting an Ultimate Milwaukee Weekend, wherein Danny and I visit Kelly and her husband Jim in our smaller, more chilled-out sister city to the north and Have A Time.  Though the original idea was born of a possible ploy in the Early Days of Danny and me to get him to move up there with me someday, that vision has died a long but quiet death. After many recent and less recent talks, neither Danny nor I can earnestly imagine being anywhere but Chicago.

Kelly and I talked about this today, actually, on our way to breakfast, after her 30th birthday shindig on Saturday night and a day at Miller Park on Sunday.  We’ve been friends since just about the first day of college, and it’s amazing to think of how many conversations we’ve had over the years, ranging from the ridiculous, to the mundane, to the hilarious, to the heart-breaking.  The beginning days of our friendship centered around group projects for our German class and conversations about dorm food; now we talk about houses, babies, travel, marriage.  She asks me today what Danny and I are thinking of doing in terms of buying vs. renting, now vs. later, city vs. outlying city neighborhoods vs. suburbs.  I tell her we don’t know, but that we talk about it a ton.  I tell her it’s a really freaking good thing that we don’t have to decide any of that right now, because we have a different answer every week, and that answer is often heavily influenced by where we have recently hung out.  Like her and Jim’s house on a couple of acres of land 20 minutes north of downtown Milwaukee.  So, for example, sitting in traffic on the way back into the city today made us yearn – hard – for life in the kind of city that didn’t have this kind of traffic, that was less spread out, less big, less crowded, with more green and trees and visible stars at night… but we also confessed to each other that we were still enamored, besotted really, with Chicago, and that we suspected we always would be.

But:  Danny and I both love Milwaukee more than enough to go up and take part in its wild and wonderful fruits, particularly in summer.  Like Brewers games.  And brewery tours.  And drinking in the backyard.  And fawning over the breakfast cocktails at Blue’s Egg.  And picking up 2 sampler packs at the local Sendik’s from New Glarus and the promising Milwaukee Brewing Company to bring back over the border.  Oh, and a pound of Alterra Coffee for good measure.  (One of these things is not like the other…)

It should be a surprise to no one, then, that today’s return to Chicago felt a little foggy.  And heavy.  A little bummed-out, and very tired.  However, thanks to a trip to the grocery store on the way in from 94, the return to our kitchen, at least, made life feel manageable again.  Encouraging, even.  Returning to a pile of work after a 3 day weekend?  YOU CAN DO IT, CHAMP!  Making a respectable dent in thank-you cards?  HIT ‘EM HARD!  Figuring out something to do with those literally completely black bananas on the counter you’ve been avoiding since last week?

Slow-mo sad face.

BUT WAIT.

BANANA BREAD!

And, after our weekend of blind, gleeful indulgence:

WHOLE WHEAT BANANA BREAD, BITCHES!

Never having made banana bread, much less a whole-grain version, I should have felt daunted.

BUT I DIDN’T.

I’ve made enough olive oil cakes with various citrus, loaves of real-life, kneaded-by-hand bread (okay, three, I think), homemade not-from-a-box-no-way brownies, and dozens of cookies that I officially believe in myself when it comes to floury mixtures, doughs, batters, and the like.  After years of assuming I couldn’t bake, it turns out that I do not suck.

Finding a recipe wasn’t too hard, either.  This is adapted from a cookbook by what I can only imagine are the rosy, flour-dusted biddies in ruffled aprons over at King Arthur Flour.  (I am probably dead wrong about this.  Peter Reinhart? Chad Robertson?  You’re a douchebag, Jeanelle.)

Whoops.  I think we ate some.
(Also pictured: ever-less obscene stack of thank-you cards.)

Gloriously, thanks to the whole wheat flour that we had the foresight to pick up earlier in the day, I had everything on hand.  (Or, if I didn’t, an easy substitution was within reach.)  It was stupid-easy to put together, and I didn’t even have to go near a power tool – electric beater, stand mixer, whatever.  All you need for this is you, a wire whisk, a couple of mixing bowls, some sort of pan/baking dish, and a functioning oven.  I used a 9×9 glass dish for this, because of all of the bakeware we got as wedding gifts, not one was a loaf pan.  So apparently I need to make a thousand cakes now.  (Our bad, really – I don’t believe we thought to register for a loaf pan.)

If you want to make this – if you’ve had too much to eat, too much to drink, too much sun, too little sleep, spent too much money, spent too little time on your couch eating something halfway wholesome and watching Despicable Me (evening plans?  I’ll never tell) – here’s what you do:

Preheat your oven to 350.  Then throw together these things in a big mixing bowl:

  • A stick of butter, softened (I said halfway wholesome.)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar.  I only had about 1/4 cup of (ancient) brown sugar, so I used another 1/4 cup of white sugar and, NOT IN THIS BOWL, a drizzle of molasses
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
And whisk the bejesus out of it, just until it’s smooth.  If you detect micro-bits of butter that have stubbornly remained intact, let it go.  They’ll get theirs.
Then put your wet ingredients in another (smaller) bowl:
  • Those bananas.  They should be mostly black, and you should mash them up pretty good before adding the things below.  Mine were so far gone they literally oozed out of the peel on their own, and needed very little mashing.  Yours don’t have to be that bad, but they should be Pretty Grody, and there should be about 3-4 of them if they are anything like the smallish-medium bananas that we’ve been seeing lately.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • That molasses, if you’re using it
Just whisk this together with a fork to make sure the eggs are incorporated.  One thing you don’t want is scrambled egg chunk in your bread.  (Unless, of course, you do… I guess.)
Once your wet stuff has been combined, dump it in with your butter/sugar/spice mixture, and mix with a wooden spoon.  Then add 2 cups of whole wheat flour, stirring more with that spoon to combine it once and for all.  If you are into nuts:  You can add them here.  We happened to have about 1/4 cup of walnuts lying around, and I am fairly sure they were… old.  They were crying for a decent ending, so I put them in.  There is also the obligatory option of chocolate chips, additional nuts, dried fruit, whatever.  I’m sort of a banana bread purist, though, mainly since the addition of chocolate chips puts this squarely in the Dessert category, which makes this Scary to Eat In Daytime from a perspective of responsible eating.
This does take a little while to bake – I did it for about 40 minutes (though my oven tends to veer on the warm side), then covered the top with foil, and baked for another 10 minutes, and it was perfect.
One thing (of many) that I like about this recipe is that despite the whole grain flour, it turns out nice and moist, without feeling pudding-y or too rich.  In future incarnations I’d like to cut down on the fat and sugar content without compromising too noticeably the flavor or texture.  I’m thinking applesauce and yogurt could come into play.
For now, though, the presence of a baked good on my counter makes our home feel even more like home again. 

Comments

  1. danielle says:

    musssscley, i love this!

  2. Glad you enjoyed the recipe! We have more than 2,000 recipes online, too. Check out our website to learn more about us – we're not entirely a bunch of old biddies! 😉

    Happy baking!

    http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

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