You know that scene in Julie & Julia when Julie has a meltdown because of aspic? Ha, that was me yesterday, and it wasn’t pretty.
“Why am I baking banana bread right now?” I cried, throwing things at the sink. I knocked over salad dressing instead. “I hate this recipe! I hate this kitchen! I hate the summer!”
“Stop, just stop,” said Chris. He circled me cautiously like an animal trainer. And I was the beast that had gone berserk, leaving a trail of flour and melted butter and ooey gooey banana in my wake. Balsamic vinegar’s pungent odor wafted through the kitchen.
I actually love banana bread, and I was eager to try the Cook’s Illustrated version for which I’d saved four withered bananas in the freezer. In hindsight, I should’ve left them there until September.
I’m also actually okay with our kitchen. Although have I ever complained to you about it before? No? Okay well, it’s very typical as far as New York kitchens go, except smaller. Tinier. More diminutive. It’s about 6 by 8 feet, with no window, no fan. And it’s warm, always warm, like the inside of a locker room. And when the oven’s on, it boils. But other than that, it’s cozy and it’s functional and I like what’s come out of it.
And summer? Well, I can’t say I love it. Of course, remembering what I left behind, I’m thankful that I get to experience it at all. San Francisco summers are lessons in delayed gratification and they’re very bad for morale. My morale improved considerably when I left them behind. Although my morale became very confused when I spent my entire winter south of the hemisphere—in essence, I’ve been living summer for the last year.
I really shouldn’t have turned on the oven.
But, I did. Silly, inexperienced me. I figured I could leave the front door open to let some of the cool air in (did I tell you that the front door opens right into the kitchen? And directly opposite is the bathroom? Yeah, awkward layout). Nope, that just sets off the hallway smoke detectors, which are hypersensitive. That’s a good thing in most cases. Not in this one.
In the end, tiny kitchens and summer heat can’t stop the most committed of bakers from baking. I don’t count myself as one of them. By the time I stuck the loaf in the oven, I’d disavowed baking. Forever. It was only going to be tiramisus and cheesecakes from now on.
45 minutes later, and considerably calmer, I took the banana bread out of the oven and let it cool. I sliced off the end piece and bit into it.
I think America’s Test Kitchen must be my Julia Child.
Makes 1 9-inch loaf
From The New Best Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, coarsely chopped
10 Tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 very ripe bananas, mashed well
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and walnuts together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla. Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined. Note: Lightly means lightly—the flour starts forming glutens when it’s mixed with water. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Note: I used a longer, narrower loaf pan, so mine was slightly overdone after 45 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Make sure to wrap it tightly when storing.