Thursday, March 10, 2011

Banana Cardamom Sandwich Bread

Can you imagine a loaf of bread eight years in the making?  Well, imagine no more because you're looking at it.  In the flesh.  It doesn't come from a well-established starter...that's not the reason behind the age.  It all started with a book.  A book that wound up in my pile after an all-out assault on my beloved library. It was summer and that meant spreading out my double-wide quilt that my grandma made years ago on the back lawn...sunblock, mini-cooler for my water bottle, sunglasses, and flip-flops spread its edges.  With a fenced yard to keep in the potential runners, I was good to kick back in the sun and get lost in another world.  The world of bread in Bread Alone (and then The Baker's Apprentice, in quick turn) by Judith Ryan Hendricks was my escape that particular week.  But reading those books left me longing to work the mad-man, wee-small-hours-of-the-morning hours that a professional (bread) baker is inclined to work.  Visions of dark, sleepy streets scented with the smell of comfort from the open back door of a tiny bakery.  Flour-dusted hair and cheeks.  Mixing, kneading, thinking, creating while most of the town is asleep.  Yes, during the time when I was lost in Wyn's (main character) world, my much-cherished hours of sleep were forgotten.  I just knew I wanted to find a bakery and convince them to take me on as a (paid) apprentice so that I could actually live in my world of escape.

Ha!  Three little ones at home.  Two of them under 2 years old.  Dream on, sister.  So I did the next best thing and ordered a copy of the book Wyn works from and is inspired by, The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown from PaperBack Swap.  Um.  YIKES!  Way over my head.  At that time.  I was still scared of the yeasties, so a book full of formulas was like Latin to me.  No clue.  But I read it and made notes in my notebook and was determined to bake a yeasted version of banana bread that was in the book.  Only, it was sandwich bread as opposed to the snacky-breakfasty type of banana bread I was accustomed to.  Years went by and I never worked up the nerve to bake the bread.  The book hung around and took its transfer from working bookshelf to display (and consult) bookshelf.  It was packed away and moved to our new house.
Fast forward another couple of years and a familiarity and comfort with baking bread at home and working with yeast and even a sourdough starter in my fridge.  The time finally arrived when I could look at the Tassajara Bread Book without trepidation.  No fear.  Actually with a pleasant understanding...and cognition.  I wrote down the formula all over again...plugging in the ingredients I'd need to bake this bread so long in the making.  I was able to substitute flours...and swap out the original cinnamon for cardamom...and even pick the sweetener I knew I'd like best in my loaf.  It felt good.  It FEELS good.  This is sort of like a milestone for me.  It marks the fact that I am a baker.  No, not a master baker or a professional baker...a baker comfortable in her own skin and confident enough to offer up her services, if needed.  And I still have that dream of working in an active little bakery in a sleepy part of town.  Crazy?  Perhaps...

Banana Cardamom Sandwich Bread
makes 2 loaves

sponge:
2½ c. lukewarm water
1 Tbs. yeast
2 ripe bananas, mashed well or whizzed in a food processor
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 c. honey
1 c. dry milk
2 c. bread flour 
2 c. white whole wheat flour
grated peel of 2 oranges
1 Tbs. ground cardamom

Dissolve yeast in water.  Stir in bananas, eggs, honey, and dry milk.  Stir in flours, orange peel, and cardamom.  You will have a thick batter.  Beat well with a wooden spoon for ~100 strokes. Cover and let rise 60 minutes in a warm place.  Prepare to have your senses assaulted in a magnificent way.  The smell!

final dough:
1¼ Tbs. fine sea salt
½ c. melted butter
1 c. bread flour
3 c. white whole wheat flour (+ 1½-2 c. for kneading)

Now that some good gluten strands have formed from the dough's rest, you don't want to break them up...they worked so hard to get that way.  So, sprinkle the salt around the edges of your bowl, then carefully drizzle the melted butter over the top of the dough.  Carefully fold in the flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, then turn out onto a floured surface and continue kneading (with the extra flour as needed) until dough is no longer sticky, ~10-15 minutes.
Form into a ball and place in a greased bowl, covered for 50 minutes.  Punch the dough down...or lift it and slap it back down into bowl.  Re-cover and let rise another 40 minutes.
Turn dough out onto work surface (didn't need any more flour at this point) and divide in half.
Flatten each half ever so gently a bit into a rectangle shape, then fold one third of the dough in...and then roll it over so that you have a loaf shape.  Grease two loaf pans and set the dough in the pans, seam side down.  Rub the top of each gently with a bit of oil.
Cover and let rise until doubled in size, ~20 minutes while oven preheats to 350° F.  Mix up some egg wash (1 egg + c. water) and brush over the top, if you like.  I did...gives it a glossy sheen.  Slash the tops and slide into the oven.  Bake for ~1 hour or until deep, golden brown.
Let sit until you can handle the pans and then turn the loaves out and finish cooling on a wire rack.
While you can make an awesome slice of toast or a great sandwich (any type, it's very versatile)...try making some bread pudding or killer French toast with this bread.  We also used it for Bread and Milk...using cinnamon-sugar as the "sprinkler".
This is not Banana Bread as you know it.  Yes, it has bananas in it.  It has "banana" in the title.  But you don't really taste banana when you bite in.  You smell it.  And you smell hints of orange and undertones of cardamom.  The banana just lends a note of sweetness that is complimented by the eggs and butter that enrich it.  Don't go in expecting your grandma's banana bread.  Because you might be disappointed.  Unless, of course, this is the type of banana bread your grandma made.  Mine didn't.  Although, I wasn't disappointed.  Flabbergasted, at first.  In awe later.  Eight years in the making.

*Yeastspotting!
BYOB Miz Helen’s Country Cottage
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