Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Great Banana Bread Experiment

I have always loved the smell of banana bread baking in the oven, filling the house with a sweet aroma. I found a quick bread recipe in an edition of Joy of Cooking that is older than me. My grandma, Ma for short, lent it to me shortly after moving into my first apartment. After using it for months, Ma finally gave me the cookbook, telling me that I have used it more in just months than in the almost three decades she's owned the book. Without the gluten to help hold it together, I was concerned about it not turning out and becoming a crumbling mess. Surprisingly enough it didn't. The bread was, however, dense... not that I mind because it makes great French toast (just add a little cinnamon to the eggs).

I then decided to enter it in the 2007 Tri County Fair (the fair held every Labor Day weekend in my hometown) and was pleasantly surprised to see a third place ribbon on it. I know third place isn't the best, but I was happy with what I got. For me it wasn't about winning the ribbons and a few bucks. Every year I enter because I want people to know that you can make gluten-free food where you actually can enjoy it. Yes it still has carbs and sugar and all that, but please don't let that stop you from trying this recipe. A few months ago Suzi (she's in charge of the food department for the fair and also my mom's cousin) asked my mom what the easiest way to contact me was. Later (after a warning from my mom) I received an email from Suzi. She said that people had been coming up to her asking for a gluten free division for the fair. I was the first person she thought of (trust me, I was honored) and asked me to help her come up with the various classes they could have for the division. I do hope they have a gluten free division because every year I have to put my food up against the "normal" stuff and in a way I feel like I'm at a disadvantage in a way. Gluten is responsible for helping baked good to rise and be fluffy. I also think that if the Tri County Fair does introduce this division (I think I would be one a very few to enter) it may help to raise awareness of Celiac Disease and may even get a few people to ask their doctors about it and, hopefully, get tested. Sorry, I'm getting a little off topic.

The Great Banana Bread Experiment...

So the other day, I decided to make banana bread since I let a few bananas sit on the counter to get black. Usually I throw them in the freezer just after they start turning black. Knowing I already had a few in the freezer, I got curious to know if you can tell the difference between using frozen bananas versus ripened on the counter bananas. My initial guess was no. Banana bread is banana bread no matter how you ripened the bananas to the point where they look absolutely disgusting. I pulled four bananas from my freezer (I usually try to use them within a couple months of being in the freezer). I had to use one of the frozen bananas to make up the banana requirement for the recipe. Same recipe, both using farm fresh eggs (tip with using farm fresh eggs - add an extra egg because they are usually smaller than your typical store bought eggs... oh and wash off any chicken poop before using), all ingredients were brought to room temperature at the same time. I had everything laid out according to the steps of the recipe out of my trusty Joy of Cooking Cookbook and got to work. Here’s the recipe I used:

1 3/4 cups Gluten-Free Flour Mix
2 1/4 tsp double acting baking powder
1/2 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp salt (I use Kosher)
1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup lemon rind (a.k.a zest)
2 eggs (3 if using farm fresh eggs)
1 cup banana pulp

Have all ingredients at room temperature (I leave everything on the counter for minimum of 30 minutes).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Blend shortening until soft. Add sugar and lemon zest and beat until creamy. Beat in eggs and banana pulp. Add the sifted ingredients in about three parts to the sugar mixture. Beat the batter after each addition until smooth. If you want banana nut bread at this point just fold in 1/2 chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are my favorites). I’ve also added raisins, currants, and cranberries. It’s gonna be your bread. Add what you like. Just keep in mind that the more stuff you add to it, the harder it’s going to hold together in the end.

Drop batter in a greased bread pan. Bake for about an hour or until done. Cool on a rack before slicing.

I usually add more baking powder to help the bread rise a little more but forgot this time around. I also used a larger loaf pan so they were flatter anyway. If you want a “normal” sized bread use about 3 tsp - 3 1/2 tsp. Xanthan gum can be used in place of the guar gum but is typically more expensive. Guar gum works for me and I usually keep it away from the baking powder until it get mixed in the batter (bad experience in the past, different story).

So how did I manage to remember which was which. Simple I made myself a note and labeled them when I couldn’t bake them right away (what I had a meeting and news of a friend who was in the hospital - he died on January 21, 2009).

The results: The one with the all frozen bananas were softer in feel (not moister, but softer in density) and were sweeter. I’m not surprised with them being sweeter. So which did I like the best? The ones made from all frozen bananas, but the ones that were (mostly) ripened on the counter would be great for Banana Bread French Toast since they were a little denser.

Now I’ve just got to think of a new experiment because this was so much fun… Any ideas?