You may have noticed the snazzy button on the left. I'm honoured to be nominated for a Best Food Blog Award from Saveur Magazine, in the category of Best Cooking Blog. If you'd like to vote, please click the links, or that award badge on the sidebar. The polls closed April 9th., and congratulations to the winners! Thank you for any and all support. xo

 

The world may not need another banana bread recipe, but banana bread is what I'd offer if you were to come over for coffee today. It has roasted bananas, oats, a whole bunch of seeds and nuts, and then a streusel-ish top. And chocolate. There's chocolate in there. Hopefully you'd be up for a slice.

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

I took Home Economics in grade seven. We sewed stuffed animals, learned to iron, and baked a coffee cake that was my first introduction to a New York-style crumb. At the end of each day, we’d do the dishes. The teacher taught us to fill a sink with hot, soapy water at the start of class in anticipation; as we dirtied dishes, in they’d go, so when it was time for clean up, they were already soaking. Knives were the exception. Knives went on the counter, set to one side. "The last thing you want," she'd say, "is to plunge your hand in a sink full of water and find a blade."

For a long time, I was afraid of the knife in the dishwater. The biggest risks in my life were those that happened too fast to for me to consider them first. I didn't jump in, or leap, or leave things to fate. 

In light of all that, it may seem uncharacteristic of me to encourage you to take this recipe and run with it. Seriously. Take note of the basics and go, go, go from there. I've talked about (almost) this one before, in UPPERCASE a few years ago, and it's close to an old standby. As with most breads of its size and ilk there is a basic ratio of (around) 2 cups flour to 3 or 4 bananas to 2 eggs. Fats, from butter to coconut oil to olive oil, will vary, but not by much. 1/3 cup is fairly average. Stay in those parameters, and the possibilities open from there; swap the nuts, add candied ginger or dried fruit. It will be different each time, and almost assuredly very good. 

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

This specific combination came about because of William. He wanted us to make banana bread, and I agreed. As any child in his position would do, Will then proceeded to take best advantage, suggesting we incorporate his favourite things into the loaf. Walnuts, sure. Maple syrup, you betcha. (His grandfather is in the thick of sugaring season.) Cinnamon, alrighty. And because he is five-almost-six years old, chocolate chips. That loaf was gone in a flash. 

A few days later, with a craving for more bread and without any ripe bananas around, I baked barely-ripe fruit to replicate that deep, caramel sweetness of almost-past-their-prime specimens. Once allover black and smelling like butterscotch, I mashed them in the bowl with the sugars, oil (olive, as I was going for a peppery, green sharpness), brown sugar, maple syrup, and eggs. Though it is better form to whisk the dry ingredients before adding to the wet, I was trying to save on bowls for cleanup, so unceremoniously dumped the flours et al on top—it's worth doing the same. When looking for bananas in the freezer I had come across the last spoonfuls of various seeds stashed in there, thought to use them up. 

Sour cream followed for even more sharpness and extra moisture, then chocolate, and nuts. My choice of chocolate is regular bar-style, chopped. I like how chunks push and melt into the batter, so there are pockets of richness in the crumb, but you could stick with William and go for chips. They stay in their discreet kiss shapes, firm and vaguely resistant to the tooth. 

Since I still had seeds to use, streusel solved the problem. The laziest streusel, really. Simply some more oats, flour, seeds, and spice, dampened with olive oil. One last banana arranged on top, and we were off.

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

The bread was not what was expected. I had envisioned it would be more like a dessert, but it was restrained. Cake-ish, but still bread. Moderately sweet, tender, stodgy in that way that we know and love about banana breads. While, yes, it is packed crust to crust with all manner of good things, there's not enough of one specific thing to pull attention. The streusel comes closest, baking up scraggly and cracked, but it adds more chew than crunch. The walnuts and oats contribute similarly, and the overall impression is a surprisingly wholesome, a bit woollen, and gentle.

It's a reliable loaf. I am convinced it would get you through Home Ec, and whatever were to follow.

 

 CHOCO-OAT-NUT ROASTED BANANA BREAD

 A note on pans. My original recipe upon which this Frankensteinian version is based fills a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. I think this one would squeeze into that size, with an increase in baking time and you'd probably have to tent it with foil towards the end, too. The trouble is, with all the extras added, I'm not absolutely certain that it would emerge with an impressive crown rather than ooze all over the oven. If you give it a go, please report back with your findings.

To that end, and as the last thing I want to do is lead you astray, the directions below reflect the pan I used this time, a long, narrow one, or the alternate option of a tube pan. When using the latter, start checking for doneness at the 50-minute mark. 

FOR THE BREAD

  • Butter for greasing the pan
  • 4 bananas, ripe but firm
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup (105 g) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup (125 ml) pure maple syrup, grade B is my preference, but I'll take whatever dad has boiled
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (95 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (105 g) whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons mixed seeds (I used sunflower, hemp hearts and sesame)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) sour cream or thick, plain yogurt (not nonfat)
  • 4 ounces (115 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 1 tablespoon rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons mixed seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra if needed)
  • 1 banana, ripe but firm

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 350°/175°C with a rack in the lower third. Grease a 14-by-4.5-inch loaf pan with butter. Line with parchment paper, with long sides overhanging. Butter the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a standard tube pan, knocking out excess.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then place the 4 bananas, whole and unpeeled, on top. Bake until the skin is deeply roasted on both sides, but not split, 20 to 30 minutes. Flip once during baking, and add the walnuts to the tray for the last 10 minutes of roasting (if t here's a lot of liquid from the bananas, give the nuts their own tray). Remove the bananas to a bowl to collect their juices. Chop the walnuts and set aside.

Once the bananas have cooled a little, remove the peels and leave the fruit in the bowl. Mash to a pulp with the brown sugar. Beat in the maple syrup, olive oil, followed by the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Stir in the vanilla. Sprinkle the flours, oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger on top of the wet ingredients. Fold to almost combine, then spoon in the sour cream. Give a few more turns, then gently incorporate the chocolate and walnuts. Scape the batter into the prepared pan. 

In a small bowl, stir together the oats, seeds, flour, cinnamon, and olive oil until it clumps. Honestly, I do this with my fingers, and scrunch it together. Peel and slice the banana into thirds lengthwise. Scatter the streusel over the batter, then arrange the banana on top. Bake in the preheated oven until the bread is golden and puffed, and a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean of batter (chocolate doesn't count), 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then use the parchment to lift the loaf onto the rack to cool completely. 

Makes 1 loaf.

 

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Finally, another piece of news! I will be speaking at Food Bloggers of Canada's conference this fall. I will be partnered with Robert McCullough, Vice President, Random House of Canada and publisher at Appetite by Random House, and the Canadian publisher of my book. The event will be in Vancouver, BC on October 17-19th. Details are on their site, and I'll be sure to share more particulars as they're finalized. Hope to see you there!

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Untitled

I won't beat around the bush.

Banana Bread Waffles. Think about that for a minute, say the words slowly and out loud so that you get the full effect. Banana Bread Waffles.

I know. What could be better, right? Here's the story.

Tuesday morning was damp and dark, and there were some bananas laying about, past their prime and looking woebegone. Upon the sight of them my mind went to banana bread, as I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

My reaction was hardly original. A dreary sort of day pretty well begs for the heartening presence of banana bread. It is the goose down duvet of baked goods; it swaddles everything in layers of protection, like heirloom Christmas ornaments you find in your Grandmother's attic. The morning feels treasured, as do you.

I forget why I didn't make the banana bread, although I was possibly influenced by our full cookie jar and the bowl of Halloween candy residing on the countertop, but either way, come evening the bananas were still around, and still despondent.

Waffles came into my consideration then, with the curious notion of substituting bananas into one of the many pumpkin versions appearing temptingly on my screen for the last while. Even though I am a rookie when it comes to waffle-makery, this being the second batch of my career, I think we might be on to something here.

I will caution that this was the first go-round of the recipe, and I fiddled as I went along. But I do believe we're friends enough that I can give you a peek at my notes, like my best friend and I maybe did in grade school. (And that was only once and it was homework not a test, I promise, pinky swear.)

In introducing you to these waffles, let me start with something important - they are not all that sweet. Leavened with yeast and rested overnight, they have the slight sourness typical of similarly-raised baked goods. To compound that trait, thick spoonfuls of sour cream were added to the batter and underscores that tang, bringing along with the smooth freshness of dairy. I left the job of sweetness to the maple syrup, warm and waiting, on the table.

We were met with a waffle that was crisp on the outside, slightly tortoiseshell in its look, with a thick and soft interior. Rousingly spicy and fragrant with fruit, they had the best qualities of the crusty end piece off of a loaf of banana bread, my favourite part and the bit we fight over most often.

Now look at that, I've gone and kept you far too long when there are waffles to be made. So sorry. I'll leave you to it.

Untitled

YEASTED BANANA BREAD WAFFLES

With inspiration from a variety of sources, including Dorie Greenspan (via Williams-Sonoma), and these Overnight waffles (from Better Homes and Gardens). With most of the preparation done the night before, the morning of only requires a few stirs of a spoon and you're ready to go. It's not a bad way to wake up.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch of ground clove
  • 2 eggs, beaten lightly
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana, about 3 whole
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream or greek yogurt

METHOD

In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, milk and vanilla. Set aside, the mixture should be warm but not hot.

In a large mixing bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, brown sugar, yeast, salt and spices. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisking until smooth. Stir in the beaten eggs. Cover the bowl loosely with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, but up to 24.

About 30 minutes before you want to make waffles, take the batter out of the refrigerator to come up to room temperature slightly. It should be doubled in size and the surface will be covered in bubbles.

When ready to begin, stir the sour cream into the mashed bananas and then mix the fruit into the batter. It will deflate, but use a light, quick hand to thoroughly combine.

Heat your waffle iron and bake the waffles as per the manufacturer's instruction.

Our waffle maker is Belgian style and yielded 5 round waffles; I think a classic round iron would make 6 or 7.

Notes:

• Leftovers can be frozen and then reheated in a toaster or in an oven; keep the heat low and an eye on them though, they brown quickly.

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I used to have a particular prejudice against banana cream pies. When I thought of them, I thought of flabby pastry barely-restraining globs of pudding soused with imitation banana flavouring and topped with mounds of cotton-candy-sweet cream. I assumed their only use was as the punchline to a gag; the projectile of choice for one clown to toss squarely into the pucker of another - most likely right after they had exited the confines of a very small car. Discarded pie everywhere, the crowd erupts in riotous laughter.

That is what I thought of banana cream pies.

As with most prejudices, mine was not rooted in much reason. Save for an encounter with some aggressively-flavoured banana pudding I had at a friends house as a child, I do not think I have ever tried anything remotely associated to a banana cream pie. Banana bread, we're old acquaintances. But banana cream pie and I were pretty much strangers.

Most often I see it offered against the gleaming expanse of diner counters, on mile-high cake stands, with its pristine swirls captured under a glass dome. I am almost enticed. But then my wandering eye catches glimpse of Banana Cream's sibling Coconut or its dreamy cousin Chocolate, both equally (and moreso) tempting. There's no contest. It hardly needs saying that my preference consistently falls with the the latter.

My dear friend, all of that is in the past. For now I am a full-fledged, card-carrying convert.

These past few days, I have had reason to feel thankful. Thankful in a way that makes you feel lucky. That makes you feel cared for. That makes you feel light. I have had good reason to feel crazy as well, but the thankful part far outweighs all of that nonsense.

I wanted to bake something for those responsible for some of that gratitude, to wordlessly express how much their efforts were appreciated. I feel like a Wednesday is a fine reason to celebrate when they are around. With book laid open, the recipe for banana cream pie grabbed my fancy and would not let go; the notion of a proper pie just about glowed in my mind with projected nostalgia.

So I baked my first banana cream pie. And what did I learn?

I learned that banana cream pies can be sublime. Now that is an often-used word when it comes to dessert, but a more apt description would be hard to find. This pie is worlds away from any of my preconceived notions. Crisp pastry cradles slices of ripe banana layered with smooth, spiced custard. The fruit and pastry cream are meltingly supple, melding into one, singular, wonderful texture. Atop all of this a cloud of heavy cream, barely whipped and barely sweet, tangy and bright with the addition of some sour cream.

If you are going to have a banana cream pie, please take my word and make it this one. This pie is not for throwing.

BANANA CREAM PIE

From the book Baking: From My Home to Yours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) by Dorie Greenspan. A modern classic, this book is one of my most reliable resources - I have never been disappointed by a recipe. My family will heartily attest to that.

Recipe

Notes:

• I used dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar in the filling as that was all I had on hand. The resulting custard had a deep, rich caramel flavour; its colour was a bit muddied, but we didn't mind.

• I added a good pinch of ground ginger to go along with the cinnamon and nutmeg.

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Authortara
Categoriesbaking, dessert
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I am feeling more than a tad under the weather. I know that a lot of people, including my dear husband, are in the same circumstance just now, but even company is not making this misery go away any faster.

The company is appreciated though, as Sean and I are spending our time comparing analogies to our symptoms. At last count he was mired in a rather fog-shrouded bog, whilst I was enjoying the company of particularly-prodigious pachyderms as they perched upon my head.

I am not so sick as to require reinforcements to help me wrangle the boys or make it through my day, but I am sick enough that said wrangling sometimes sets my mind aswirl and by the end of the day I am reaching for the coziest of sweaters and the softest of pillows. I am not so sick that I did not get dressed today, but I am sick enough that when I noticed my socks did not exactly match, I shrugged my shoulders and pulled them on anyway.

I had meant to write about bread baking and chocolate cakes and other such interesting things. But to be honest, I am not in the mood for food just now. I have little appetite, and when I do eat, that's not the food I am wanting - I want warmth, and I want it in a bowl.

Wandering about the kitchen this morning, I set about making a pot of steel cut oats; hearty and filling, a regular winter breakfast for us. I took pause however, and thought of baked oatmeal instead. This is the goose down duvet of breakfasts; stewed fruit is tucked beneath a layer of soft, pillowy oats, with a thin, crisp crust atop. My banana and blueberry version is like eating banana bread combined with a fruit crumble, with the best qualities of a breakfast bar and oatmeal cookie thrown in for good measure.

The potent mix of spice and fruit filled the kitchen with a soothing fug that brought appetites to the table. Textured and toothsome, the oatmeal was greedily spooned out and gobbled up, warming both our hearts and bellies. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Be well.

Endnote: If anyone might happen to find me, still in my robe (and possibly mismatched socks) eating this cold out of the fridge (and directly from the dish), please don't judge.

BAKED OATMEAL WITH BLUEBERRIES AND BANANA

Perfect for a cold morning, this baked oatmeal can be served as is or, as I like it, with a splash of extra milk or a dollop of yogurt.

INGREDIENTS

  • Softened butter for greasing the pan
  • 2 cups large flake rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup pepitas, lightly toasted
  • 2 teaspoons flax seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups milk (I use 1%)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 medium bananas, diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries (not thawed)
  • Coarse sugar, optional

METHOD

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease the inside of a 8" round baking dish (around 2 quart capacity) and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, brown sugar, pepitas, flax seeds, baking powder, spices and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, almost all of the butter (save about 1 teaspoon for drizzling over the finished dish), vanilla and maple syrup. Set aside.

In the prepared baking dish, spread the diced bananas in an even layer, then scatter the blueberries over top. Pile the oat mixture to cover the fruit, but do not pack too tightly. Carefully pour the wet milk mixture over the oats; it will look as if there is too much liquid, but not to worry, it will be absorbed during baking.

Drizzle over the reserved butter, sprinkle with a scant teaspoon of coarse sugar (or to taste), and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the oatmeal is puffed and set, with a golden brown top.

Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, then enjoy.

Makes about 4 hearty servings.

Notes:

• Although I have given measurements, the fruit simply needs to completely cover the base of the baking dish. You might need to adjust your quantities to suit your baking dish. Speaking of which, an 8x8 inch square baking dish can be used in place of the round; the oatmeal will be crisper, though.

• This is one of those recipes that allows for a host of variations; I simply pillaged my pantry for ingredients and went from there. Almost any nuts and an array of fresh and dried fruit would all work here. Some specifically-tasty combinations: grated apple with almonds, bananas, dried cranberries and pecans, blackberries and peaches with almonds, dried figs with pistachios, or diced pears with walnuts. In each case, spices should also be adapted accordingly.

Menu for Hope V update:Marty McCarthy, winner of CA06: The flavours of Canada, please email me at tara[at]sevenspoons[dot]net with your contact information.

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After weeks of a heat that turned once-lush lawns to straw, this past Sunday dawned misty and gray. A constant drizzle pattered its way through the leaves, and the mercifully cool air smelled of damp earth.

It was a day to spend indoors, in the comfortable routine of business about the house, getting bits and pieces in order and lazily flipping through the weekend newspapers. By far, my favourite sort of day.

As far as food went, our menu was decided by consensus - following only our inclinations without worry of schedules or agenda. Immediate and extended family members stopped by for a cup of of tea, a chat or general diversion.

Some time in the early afternoon I caught wind of collected whispers, mentioned cravings for something as a snack, a cake perhaps. Nothing decadent, just a nibble of something a bit sweet.

Banana bread; this old fashioned loaf seemed the perfect fit for a rain-soaked Sunday afternoon. Studded with moist chunks of banana, their richness undercut by the acid twang of yogurt, this was the sort of loaf that sits on the counter with a knife nearby. For the remainder of the day we snacked, coming back for another slice, another crumb, whenever temptation arose.

Yogurt banana bread
This recipe yields a meltingly moist loaf with a cake-like texture. However it may look though, do not be fooled. This bread is not the overly sweet, dessert variety. The perfect partner to coffee, it is much more subtle in its charm.

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large, ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup well-drained yogurt (see note)
4 1/2 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Lightly butter a standard, 9"x5"x3" loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking powder and spices.

In another bowl, mix the yogurt and banana together until well blended. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until light and fluffy. It should take 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, with the mixer on medium speed and beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter, beating on medium-low until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the bananas and sour cream, beating until distributed. Add in the remaining flour, still stirring on medium-low until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

Bake in a preheated oven for about 1 hour and 10-15 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean the bread pulls away from the side of the pan. Cool in tin for 10 minutes, then turn out to a rack to cool completely.

Makes 1 loaf.

Notes:

• I used well-drained 1% yogurt.
• For the loaf pictured, the pan was the darker metal kind. For that reason, I reduced the oven temperature by about 15 degrees F to keep the exterior tender and golden. If this is the case with yours, you may need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.