The romantic baker

The other day I got up early to rise a batch of bread. My daughter, who is 8, heard me and joined me at the kitchen counter in the early hours of the morning while everyone else was asleep. We scooped and weighed flour, measured water and sourdough starter, and she began mixing the dough with her hands. After a few turns, she looked up at me and said, “It’s just so cool that flour and water become the yummy loaves that I love so much!” And I think that means I win at parenting? Just kidding – but seriously, it was a good moment.

Usually when I’m baking it’s in the early morning hours or the late night and I’m alone. I turn off my podcasts and listen to the rhythmic sounds of the kneading, slapping, and folding dough. I’m in my body. And then, often, I slip into my mind. My favorite daydream is one where I assume the mindset of my kids at their height of play and pretend I’m a famous alchemist mixing things and transforming them. Because isn’t bread the simplest and most magical alchemy in our world today? Flour + water + salt + hands = delicious sustenance. 

The granolas that I concoct are the same thing. While I start with a base recipe, I create flavors and re-create memories. A favorite drink? A childhood memory? It comes down to seasonal ingredients paired with complementary spices and textures.  When my love affair with cooking began, I always said I’m not a baker. Baking requires precision, which I don’t exactly excel at. Cooking is my artistic and creative expression to the world. Some of us use a canvas, some of us use words, images, etc. To be an artist is to “tinker” – a smidge of this, handful of that, pinches here and there. Going off the roadmap and letting yourself be led by the senses is what drew me to cooking. And after years of baking bread, I’ve found this also in baking. While I do start by measuring my ingredients, a truly good loaf of bread is in the sight, feel, touch of creating it. I add more water or more flour because of the way the loaf looks based on my touch, based on my senses.Ideas, but also feelings and memories, form the flavor profile that go into making a batch of granola.

And finally, cakes – oh the cakes! I never thought I’d really enjoy baking cakes and I do have a certain approach to cake baking: I pay particular attention to ingredients often using whole grain flours to create texture and flavor in the base. But my mind is always turning on how I can incorporate an herb or a vegetable. How can I blend the flavors blooming all around me on the farm to create unique flavors that you may never have experienced in cake form. And the cakes I bake for people? So much of my love of them goes into that cake I bake for them. I often recall a meal, dessert, or a drink we shared together. I think about the things they love and I try to fold it into the cake batter or frosting. I love creating cakes for people, rather than the baking itself. 

So, my point? While baking is a science, I prefer to think of it as a love affair. It allows me to connect with my body, my mind, my spirit, and my heart – and for a moment, someone else, too. 

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The Best Banana Bread

Music: Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise. At first a bit fruity, simple, and more “Pop” than you’re looking for. But once you get a taste, it’s deep, soulful, flavorful, and intense. The perfect call when you need a little something to help you get through the day.


The perfect ripeness for perfect banana bread. So, I’ve made a lot of different recipes of banana bread. Once, I even added coca-cola thinking soda meant coke. I was 19, don’t judge. But BJ and I love banana bread. Really love it. BJ will toast it and schmear with butter, meanwhile, I have gobbled my pieces and am picking the crumbs from the plate.

Anyways, back to the recipe…I’ve tried a lot. Most call for two bananas and if they are old school recipes, vegetable oil…eeewwww. I got the Cook’s Illustrated bible (The New Best Recipe, 2004 edition) a few years back and it is by far the best banana bread. Why??


Simple. Three bananas and yogurt! It is really moist, but still has a ton of flavor. I keep the bananas pretty chunky and add a good amount of yogurt (more than it calls for) and yummmmmmm. The only other banana bread to compare was a whole wheat honey banana loaf I made once. I guess since I mentioned it, I now have to make it!

With fall upon us, banana bread is a go to baking recipe for us all, so enjoy my fave. And look forward to some more comforting fall foods ahead 🙂 Oh yea, sorry for the lack of pics of the finished product…did I mention that we LOVE banana bread?!?!

Banana Bread
Cook’s Illustrated

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour (unbleached, all purpose), plus more for dusting the pan
  • 1 1/4 cups walnuts, chopped (I use pecans because their my fave)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 very ripe, darkly speckled bananas, roughly mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (if more happens to fall in, it’s okay 🙂
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 TB butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tspn. vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9x5x3 bread pan and dust with flour, tapping out any excess.
  2. Spread nuts on baking sheet and toast until fragrant about 5 to 10 minutes. Cool.
  3. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and nuts; set aside.
  4. Mix the wet ingredients: mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla.
  5. Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients, until batter is just combined and looks chunky. Scrape into prepared bread pan.
  6. Bake about 55 minutes; until loaf is golden brown and toothpick comes out clean when inserted.
  7. Can be wrapped in plastic and stored for 3 days.