Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Tropical Banana Bread


[As seen at the SLC Share OurStrength Bake Sale.]

Banana bread and I have had a tumultuous past. On the few occasions my mom broke out the Betty Crocker quick bread box, I experienced the sweet, downright intoxicating smells of bananas (pre-mashed in a pouch). Eating was more of an obligatory ritual. The Country Crock spread slathered liberally over the too-moist, rubbery slice.

Even now in life, the supermarket versions are rarely up to snuff. Banana bread to me is what my Mormon friend says coffee is to her. She LOVES the aroma. Hates the taste.

Making it for myself wasn't always a sure fire if only for the fact that I'm not really a banana person. I don't drink glasses of milk. And I don't snack on fresh bananas. It's the closest thing to a food phobia I have, but something about the stringy veins that don't come off with the peel and the mushy texture.

There never was a very ripe banana to mash. And all the ones at the market are never ripe enough to use for a recipe, so why would I even bother to buy them if I know I won't have time to make it a few days from now. And I wouldn't eat them anyway. And so it goes.

But cohabitation brings with it new boundaries and for me that boundary is banana. As expected, a few were forgotten and looked near mummified. But my frugality forbade me from chucking them into the bin. So I pulled out the recipe books, file and internet to see what I could muster up.

The blackened bananas revealed a perfume I'd never smelled before. Sweet. Floral. And lingering. It deserved something a bit gussied up, a bit of oomph to accentuate the voluptuous scents I never thought possible in a banana.

So the result is this: a bit of toasted coconut, toasted chopped almonds, demerera sugar and a good shot of rum.

Thanks to the influence of about five recipes, I mashed one together that fit what I had in the pantry and equipment arsenal. Melted butter mixed with sugar works in a pinch if a mixer isn't to be found. The tropical line up is a bit gawdy. But it works. If you have a good sense of humor, a cocktail umbrella is apropos. Regardless, this simple cake speaks for itself.


Tropical Banana Bread

I've realized that banana bread or quick breads in general are quite forgiving to substitutes and laziness. Food like these let you cook without the anxiety and the need to go to the supermarket for just one little item. I once even accidentally added the sugar to the dry ingredients instead of blending it with the sugar. It still turned out well. This is the best type of cooking. Laid back, low tech, and immensely satisfying. It's not as dense as other recipes, more like a cake really. Great for breakfast, room temperature or toasted. Though these days I'm about the softened butter in lieu of my nostalgic tub of Country Crock margarine. It's also good as a bed for dulce de leche ice cream -- always impresses the friends. Simplicity rocks.

1 cup and 2 tablepoons of all-purpose flour * 1 teaspoon salt * 1 teaspoon baking soda * 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder * 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) butter, melted * 2 eggs * 3 to 4 ripe bananas (they'll look almost unsuable to our doubting eyes), mashed (this is about 1 1/2 cups total) * 2 tablespoons dark rum * 2 teaspoons vanilla * 3/4 chopped toasted almonds * 2/3 cup toasted coconut * 2 tablespoons demerera sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs and butter, mixing well so that there aren't blobs of eggs in the butter. Add the bananas, rum, vanilla, almonds and coconut. Stir until combined.

Fold in the flour mixture (basically mixing it minimally as to not overwork the flour). Pour the batter into a basic loaf pan (or 3 mini loaf pans) and bake in the preheated oven for about 50 to 55 minutes. If using mini loaf pans, 35 minutes should do it. To check, a paring knife or a skewer or toothpick inserted in the center of the bread should come out cleanly. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Slice and serve. Also, keeps well overnight for breakfast the next day. Keep it loosely covered, though, so that the demerera sugar top stays crunchy the next day. Coconut chew, almond and demerera crunch make this one of the more texturally interesting banana breads. It's also pretty good looking, too.