Sunday, June 14, 2009


I've baked a lot of banana bread in my time.

I've been around the block. I know what's up. I've tried banana bread with cake flour, with whole wheat flour, with nuts, with raisins, with rolled oats, with white sugar, with brown sugar, with dulce de leche, with pecans, etc. I've seen it all.

So I think it's about time I shared my knowledge with you.

The recipe I will share is adapted from my grandmother's recipe. I can remember one night last year when I desperately called home searching for it, and had my dad read the steps out to me so I could copy them down. I make this bread all the time, and my copy of the recipe is now stained with batter spots and the ink is bleeding off the page.

I've changed a few things over the months (more nuts, less sugar...), but the general ideas remain the same.

Recipe: Banana Bread
3 ripe bananas (the skin should have lots of brown specks)
1/3 cup applesauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1.5 cups flour (I used half whole-wheat and half all-purpose)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts and pecans work well)
  • Prepare your loaf pan. Either butter the pan and dust it with flour, or line it with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°.
  • In a large bowl, mix applesauce into mashed bananas.
  • Add sugar, egg and vanilla.
  • Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the mixture, then incorporate the flour and nuts. Be sure to work quickly! If you mix it up too much or stall, the bread won't cook properly.
  • Immediately transfer the mixture into your pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the bread is a nice, dark brown color.
  • Let it cool for at least 15 minutes. This is important. The bread is still cooking even though it's out of the oven, and if you cut into it right away it might not ever finish. Ever.
  • Eat and enjoy along with a glass of milk.
Variations: You could add 1/2 cup of rum raisins to the mix, if you're into that. Or blueberries, or chopped apples. Zoe claims chocolate chips also work well, but I don't know if I buy it.

* * * Update: I have modified the recipe once again! Testing has proven applesauce an adequate substitute for butter in this recipe.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Peach-Blackberry Procrastination Pie

I have a habit of baking things to divert myself from studying. This time it's for my summer course on the theory of Probability, which is actually just Calculus and Statistics in a clever disguise. But wait, isn't everything?

I've noted before that I take significant cooking inspiration from what is on special at my local grocery store(s). Yesterday I was quickly drawn in by the blackberries and peaches, which happen to be two of the most delicious fruits ever. Obviously I snatched up as many as I could carry in my book bag and even returned today for more. I ended up with, like, seven boxes of blackberries and two large bags of peaches.

You couldn't expect me to sit around studying with all these fresh fruits lying around, could you? Oh, the temptation.

So I baked a pie. You know, for some study energy.

Last week, I found a used copy of The Joy of Cooking, which has been incredibly helpful. The great thing about this book is its basic explanations of various fruits, breads, grains, etc. I've already used it to figure out how to eat figs, and classify different types of pasta. The illustrations are probably my favorite part. Now I know exactly how to clean a squid, or make a sectioned brioche loaf. And chances are, if I buy some random vegetable and don't know what to do with it, Joy can tell me. She also has an extensive section on pie-baking.

So first off... I'll talk about the pastry.

Before this week, I had been using Martha Stewart's recipe, which turns out to be exactly the same as Joy's recipe. I pretty much always use butter as the source of fat needed for the pastry, but Zoe has told me she uses lard. We might include further discussion on this in a later post. Joy claims you can also use shortening, but... ew.

Recipe: Flaky pastry crust
2.5 cups flour (I used 1.5 cups unbleached all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter (or your preferred source of fat)
.25 to .5 cups ice water
  • Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and mix it up with the flour so that it's all evenly distributed.
  • Process the flour-butter in a food processor until it resembles "coarse meal". This means it should look like tiny pebbles in sand. The mixture should feel powdery and not greasy. (You can split it up into two batches if you have a small food processor like I have.)
  • With the processor running, slowly pour in the water. Don't add too much--you want the mixture to just barely stick together. Try pinching a little bit between your fingers. If it's still crumbly, add a little bit more water. Be careful not to process it too much. We want to keep the butter in small pebbles.
  • Press all the dough together so it coheres. Then split it up into two discs, kind of like big hockey pucks (lol Canada). Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before using. You can also store these in your freezer for up to 6 months, apparently.
Rolling out the dough should be pretty self-explanatory. You just need a rolling-pin, some counter space and extra flour. Lightly flour your surface and rolling-pin. Place the dough-puck on the surface, and roll it from the center out to all directions. You want to try and keep it shaped as a circle, but if it assumes a weird shape you can fix it. Just cut off the protruding pieces and move them to where they need to be. Overlap the edges of the two pieces of dough and roll them back together. Roll the dough out 3-4 inches larger than it needs to be for your pan, and be sure to seal up any cracks before placing it.

I lined my pie pan with parchment paper, only because previous endeavors have exposed it as non non-stick. Greasing the pan with butter should also work--I was just being overly precautious.

You will probably want to make the pie filling while your pie crust is in the fridge, because it takes some time. Please note that you can use the pastry recipe above for lots of different pies! It will work for any sort of fruit pie, pecan pie... whatever.

Recipe: Peach-blackberry filling
2 cups blackberries (raspberries would also work well)
3 cups peaches (this was about 6 peaches for me, I think.)
0.75 cups sugar
3.5 tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • Peel the peaches and chop them up into small pieces (about 1 cm).
  • Combine the chopped peaches, blackberries and other ingredients (but not the butter yet!!) into a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes, stirring every once and a while.
The point of adding the corn starch is to thicken the filling so that you can actually cut into the pie and eat it with a fork, rather than dumping the whole juicy thing into a bowl and eating it with a spoon (still tasty).

For pie assembly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Preheat your oven to 400° F.
  • Roll out the first disc of dough and fit it into your (possibly lined) pie dish. Leave that extra dough hanging over the edge for now.
  • Spoon the filling into your pastry, and then sprinkle the cubes of butter (from the filling recipe) on top of all that fruity deliciousness.
  • Roll out the second disc of dough for the top crust. Brush the overhanging dough of the bottom crust with water or egg, then fit the top crust on. Press the edges together to seal the whole thing up. You can then fashion this crust into various edge designs. Trim any spots that have a huge excess of dough.
  • Brush the top crust with egg or milk, and sprinkle some sugar on it. Cut vents into the top of the crust and pop it in the oven.
  • Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, and then turn the temperature down to 350 and bake for another 25-35 minutes, or until thick juices bubble through the vents. You might want to put a baking sheet on the oven rack below your pie to keep things clean.
  • Try to let the pie cool completely before digging in.