CONCORD, N.H. - Can you stand one more baking story? It is the season, after all.
It's just that for 9 cents I couldn't help myself. I was at my favorite natural foods grocer in search of soup ingredients, when I got sidetracked by an enormous box of brown organic bananas.
Well past their prime, these bananas had been marked 9 cents each for quick sale. That's all it takes to get me thinking about banana bread, so I grabbed a bunch. Then another bunch. And another. One more. And yet another.
It was a bit excessive. At one point the sales clerk looked at me, gave a strange smile and said, "Thanks." Perhaps if I didn't buy them they were going to make her figure out what to do with them.
But never before have I purchased nearly 40 bananas at once. But then, I've never seen them sold for just 9 cents before, either, especially organic bananas. And though they were brown and a bit soft, they still seemed quite good.
When I got home, first thing I did was peel and freeze half of them. Frozen bananas are wonderful for baking and fruit smoothies. I froze them four-to-a-bag, since that's how many are called for by my favorite banana bread recipe.
What to do with the rest of them? Banana muffins came to mind. Pudding, too. My wife suggested banana pancakes - regular pancake batter into which you cut chunks of banana.
But by far my favorite banana recipe is one of the simplest - caramelized bananas over toast. These are so easy, so decadent, so delicious, I don't know why I don't make them more often.
Start by cutting two bananas in half lengthwise, then set them aside. In a large nonstick skillet, melt about two tablespoons of butter. When the butter has melted, add an equal amount of brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Stir the butter and sugar mixture over medium heat until well combined and bubbly. Add the bananas, cut side down, and fry until lightly browned and crisp on the bottom. Flip the bananas and fry until crisp.
While the second sides of the bananas fry, toast two large slices of bread (cinnamon raisin is especially good). To serve, place two banana slices on each piece of toast, then use a rubber spatula to scrape the sugary mixture from the pan and drizzle it over them.
Or you can go with tradition and bake up some banana bread, as I did this afternoon. This recipe is my favorite. It's simple, reliable, very moist, and very rich with bananas. It also makes great banana muffins.
For seasoning, I've taken to using a pumpkin pie spice blend, rather than measuring out the various individual spices. It isn't just a convenience thing; I find the flavor a bit deeper and a little sweeter.
If you're not lucky enough to find 9-cent brown bananas at your grocer, try this: Using the palm of your hand, gently but firmly roll a banana (with the peel on) across the counter. Do this several times, then peel. The banana should be as soft (though maybe not as sweet) as a brown banana.
(Start to finish 1 hour 10 minutes, 10 minutes active)
2 cups all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spices
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup coconut milk
1¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a standard loaf pan with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spices. Set aside.
In another medium bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter, coconut milk, sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each. Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.
Add the bananas; mix well. Transfer the batter to the loaf pan and bake until firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool completely in the pan.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
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