Nancy Silverton’s Banana Bread: The Superlative Killer

I am currently reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (a nice light read while studying for the New York bar) and I’m actually really enjoying it. One of my favorite characters is Lawrence Boythorn, a boisterous giant of a fellow who is described by one character as: “Always in extremes; perpetually in the superlative degree.” He sits at the table with a canary on his head and according to the novel’s heroine, Esther: “To hear Mr. Boythorn presently expressing the most implacable and passionate sentiments, with this fragile mite of a creature quietly perched on his forehead, was to have a good illustration of his character, I thought.”

This, I think, perfectly describes my writing on this site. I can, at times, be very extreme in my condemnations (“Per Se,” for example) or disturbingly enthusiastic in my exhaultations (I should be ticketed, now, for every superflous “delicious”) but all the while–despite the heavy thunder–there is a canary perched on my forehead. One must take all my superlatives with a grain of tweet tweet tweet.

Tonight, then, as I began Nancy Silverton’s banana bread recipe, I rubbed my hands together anticipating the superlatives I would use.

“Delightfully unexpected!”

“Unusually sublime!”

“Most likely to succeed!”

The recipe, it seemed to me, was the strangest I had ever read for banana bread. It started, naturally, enough, with bananas:

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These had been ripening for a week, and the time had come to put them to work.

Now I peeled them and mashed them and–would you believe it?–they measured out exactly 1.25 cups, the precise amount Nancy calls for:

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Whisk that together with two eggs and vanilla:

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Set that aside.

Now for the strange stuff. I told you this recipe was strange, right?

Here are all the weird elements lined up:

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Most conspicuous of them all, in my opinion, are the poppy seeds. Who puts poppy seeds in banana bread? Nancy Silverton, that’s who.

The vanilla bean is my own addition. It’s been sitting there since Condoleezza’s rice pudding and I figured I would put it to use in a stroke of banana bread genius.

As for the other bottles: there’s nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves. Sure, normal for PUMPKIN bread, but banana bread? Do you see how exciting this all is?

So I put it in the mixer with the paddle attachment attached:

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If you look carefully you can see my vanilla bean scrapings resting on the butter in the upper right.

This beats for 2 minutes on a low speed until softened. Then you add the sugar:

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Not just white sugar, no. White sugar’s not good enough for Nancy. Nancy wants brown sugar too. How intricate is this recipe!?

[Tweet tweet tweet.]

So you mix it all together and then you add 1.5 cups of flour and the banana/egg mixture, alternating back and forth until you get this:

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I took a taste and let me tell you it tasted absolutely–(superflous superlative warning)–delicious. A really wonderful complex cluster of flavors. Bravo, Nancy.

And then for the final touch. Are you ready for this? You slice a new banana all the way down lengthwise and create two wedges that you lay on top of the bread like so:

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This was painfully difficult. I destroyed two of Lauren’s newly purchased bananas in the process. She doesn’t know I did this. Let’s not tell her, ok?

But it does look pretty. And then you bake it for 50 minutes.

Here’s where we encountered some problems. Nancy says to bake until the bread is browned and firm to the touch. I took it out of the oven. The bread was brown. It was not firm to the touch. I put it back in. I waited some more. I took it out. The outsides were really brown. The inside was still not firm. I stuck a tester in, it came out wet. I put it back in. I took it out. The outsides were on the verge of being way too cooked so I blew the whistle and turned the oven off. Here’s our finished product:

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Looks great, huh? The center is mushy, yes, but the outsides are perfect. And the banana slices really do make an impression. Get it? Make an impression?

I quickly and eagerly cut myself a slice:

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After all this hard work, after all this fussiness how great would this bread taste? How glorious the flavor?

Eh.

It tasted fine. The flavors were all present but somewhere in the background and you could hardly taste the bananas. It’s almost as if all the elements cancelled each other out. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it tasted interesting–I’m really glad I made it–but was it worth all that work? Probably not. Superlatives be damned, this bread was just o.k.

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