Best Banana Bread I Ever Made

Banana Bread

Baking becomes a bit of a challenge for me in the summer, since I don’t care to turn on the oven for long periods of time and heat up the house on a hot July day. This year, however, has been a bit strange weather-wise. Monday offered temps in the 60’s… I had six bananas that were heavily speckled with brown spots… and a lack of Candy Crush lives.

I really liked how this  turned out. Most of the time banana bread is dense and mushy. This recipe (from America’s Test Kitchen) solved that problem by removing and reducing the moisture in the bananas. It may take a few minutes longer to make than other recipes, but it’s worth it! The sugar sprinkled on the top caramelizes the banana slices and gives the loaf a crispy crust. You can add 1/2 cup of chopped toasted walnuts to the batter before putting it in the loaf pan… if you like that sort of thing.

 

8.75 ounces all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

6 large very ripe bananas, peeled

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 large eggs

5.25 ounces light brown sugar (3/4 cup packed)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

 

  • Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Place 5 bananas in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents. Microwave on high for 4-5 minutes until the bananas are soft and have released a lot of liquid. Strain the bananas in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and allow the liquid to drain, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. You should end up with somewhere between 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid.
  • Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the banana liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup. Place the microwaved bananas in a medium bowl, add the reduced liquid and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth.
  • Whisk in the butter, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla. If your bowl of bananas seems particularly hot after mashing, let it cool for a few minutes so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs in your batter (ewww).
  • Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Do not over mix.
  • Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray and scrape batter into the loaf pan. Even it out with a spatula.
  • Slice the remaining banana diagonally into 1/8 inch thick slices and shingle the bananas on top of either side of the loaf. Make sure you have at least 1.5 inches of space down the center of the loaf to ensure an even rise. It should look like this:

Unbaked Banana Bread

  • Sprinkle the 2 teaspoons of sugar evenly over the entire loaf.
  • Bake at 350 degrees in the center of the oven for about 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Start checking at 50 minutes.
  • Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and finish cooling on the rack.

This is truly best the same day it’s made, but you can wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it on the counter for up to 3 days, however once wrapped it does lose some of the crispiness on top, but it’s still delicious!

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Baked Potato Soup

Baked Potato Soup

This is not something I normally make during the summertime, however last week we had two unseasonably cool days, so I was willing to heat up the house a bit. This soup is thick and creamy… and with some bread or croissants, you can definitely make a meal out of it. It should be noted that this is not a quick meal, you will need a couple of hours to make this, but it’s not all active cooking time. Here’s what you’ll need:

4 large russet potatoes

1 pound thick cut bacon

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3 Tablespoons bacon fat* (see note below)

2/3 cup flour

8 cups milk

6-8 green onions, thinly sliced

2 Tablespoons minced fresh chives

8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon table salt

1 Tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

 

*If using bacon fat in the soup weirds you out, you could substitute more butter instead. Using some bacon fat really gives the soup a full, well rounded, bacon-y flavor.

 

  • Bake the potatoes as you normally would for a dinner side dish. I usually pick out the 4 largest potatoes I can find at the grocery store, poke them a few times with a fork (to release steam… you don’t want a potato explosion in your oven, do you?) and bake them at 350 degrees for about 75 minutes. Sometimes they take a little longer. I usually start checking them after an hour. I wish I had a better way to describe when the potatoes are done, but I don’t. It’s when they “feel right.” I suppose if you’ve never baked a potato before, this recipe probably isn’t for you. No need to oil the skins or salt them or anything. You’ll be removing the skin later. Allow the baked potatoes to cool on a cooling rack for one hour.
  • Cook the bacon until crispy. You can do it in a frying pan on the stove, but I prefer to do it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper in the oven. The bacon cooks much more evenly. You want the bacon to be fairly well done (but don’t burn it!). Once you add it to the soup later, the bacon loses some crispiness as it absorbs soup liquid, so if you start with undercooked, fattier bits, they’ll be really rubbery in the final product – not good. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat and set aside.
  • Chop the cooked bacon into bits and set aside.
  • Peel the potatoes with your hands. It will be easier than you think, but may take some time. Cut potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes. If you want bigger chunks, that’s fine. Do whatever you want. I just like smaller bite sized potato pieces in my soup. Set aside the cubed potatoes.
  • Add the butter and bacon fat to a large pot or dutch oven. Melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk together to form a roux. Cook over low heat about 5 minutes, until bubbly.
  • Slowly add the 8 cups of milk, whisking constantly. Do your best to not form lumps of roux within the milk. If your roux seems to be clumping, just keep whisking. It’ll all work itself out. Once all of the milk is added, turn the heat up to medium and continue whisking constantly until the mixture starts steaming and begins to thicken, but isn’t simmering yet.
  • Once it starts to thicken slightly, add the potatoes, onions and chives. Stir with a wooden spoon constantly until the soup comes to a simmer. During this time it will get significantly thicker. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot while you’re stirring. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the bacon, stir to combine.
  • Add the shredded cheese, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir each addition until completely melted. If you add all 8 ounces at once, you risk the cheese not melting properly, and you certainly don’t want to ruin your soup at this stage.
  • Add the sour cream, salt and pepper. Stir until sour cream is melted into the soup.
  • Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
  • Garnish with additional cheese, bacon and chives.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Warm and buttery, these flaky biscuits are great with sausage gravy for breakfast or a little jam for a quick afternoon snack.

I’ve been making biscuits and sausage gravy for years, long before I was married. My old roommate’s now husband used to request this now and again when he would stay at our place. It’s taken years for me to perfect this. I’d tried using different amounts of butter, adjusting how much baking powder I added, and even fiddled with oven temperatures and baking times. For some reason, the bottoms always came out tough.

Eventually, I turned to shortening. This is the one and only recipe in which I will use the product. The flavor of butter is much better, but unfortunately did not produce the soft biscuit bottom and tender crumb I was seeking on it’s own. After much trial and error, I think I’ve adjusted the butter to shortening ratio and quantities to my satisfaction. Here’s what you need (best part is most of this will already be in your pantry and fridge):

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) very cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons very cold butter flavored shortening cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 cups buttermilk

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt

Add your butter cubes to the flour. Once I cut the cubes, I typically put the butter and shortening into the freezer for 10 minutes to make sure it’s well chilled. This is especially true on a warm day. The key to making your biscuits flaky and tender is to have the butter very cold when it hits the hot oven.

The butter and shortening should be cut up like this.

The butter and shortening should be cut up like this.

Cut the butter into the flour. I like to use the pastry blender pictured below. Before I had one, I found the best tool for this job is two hands. Just get in there with your fingers and rub the butter and flour together until it looks like wet sand. There will still be many pea sized butter pieces, but that’s ok.

Love this pastry blender.

Love this pastry blender.

This is what the mixture looks like once the butter is cut in.

This is what the mixture looks like once the butter is cut in.

Here you can see some pea sized butter pieces. That's good. That's where you want it.

Here you can see some pea sized butter pieces. That’s good. That’s where you want it. You can click on any of these photos for a larger view.

If the room is warm, or you used your hands, it would be a good idea to put this flour-butter mixture in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. You’d be surprised how quickly the heat from your hands can soften and melt your butter.

Next, make a well in the center of the bowl, and pour in the buttermilk. Stir until it JUST  combined. Do not overmix. You will be sorry.

Overmixing will result in a tougher biscuit.

Overmixing will result in a tougher biscuit.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface, dust the top with flour, and knead 4 or 5 times to bring the dough together.

There's still some dry spots here, but it'll all work out with a couple quick kneadings.

There are still some dry spots here, but it’ll all work out with a quick kneading.

Once you bring the dough together (again, work it as little as possible), pat it out into a 1 inch thick round on your work surface. You may want to re-flour your work surface to ensure the biscuits don’t stick when cut.

You may want to re-flour your work surface once you knead. This stuff is sticky.

It doesn’t need to be a perfect circle. Just try to pat it out evenly.

Begin cutting rounds with a 2 inch biscuit cutter. Re-flour the biscuit cutter between each cut and place biscuits on a parchment lined baking sheet.

I neglected to re-flour my board, and a couple biscuits were sticking. They still turned out fine!

I neglected to re-flour my board, and a couple biscuits were sticking. They still turned out fine!

Line them up about 1/4 inch apart from eachother on the sheet like this.

Line them up about 1/4 inch apart from each other on the sheet like this.

Rework the scrap dough as little as possible, and pat into a 1 inch round again. Make cuts, and place remaining biscuits on the pan. Throw away remaining scrap dough. It will be too overworked if you try to make a third cut. Today I got 14 biscuits. Sometimes I get 16. It just depends on the day I guess.

Bake the biscuits in a 425 degree oven for 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through cooking time.

When the biscuits are GB&D (golden brown and delicious), transfer to a cooling rack and cool for 5 minutes.

Let them sit for 5 minutes so you don't burn your mouth.

Let them sit for 5 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth.

You can serve them once the 5 minutes are up, or cool them completely and store in a plastic container at room temperature for a couple days.

YUM!

YUM!