Inspiration strikes me more as a writer, than a cook. “Write a play about a parrot that saves a family from genocide,” says inspiration. “Thanks inspiration,” I say and go on to win five Tonys.
But as a cook? I’m pretty uninspired, I’d have to say. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a happy cook, a passionate cook, I care about the food I make. But am I inspired to tweak that which I am cooking? Rarely, very rarely. Which is why, when making the banana bread from Molly’s “Homemade Life” for the second time (I didn’t blog about it the first time, but it’s a great banana bread made with butter instead of oil that has candied ginger and chocolate chips), I was surprised to hear a voice in my head whisper, like the voice in “Field of Dreams,” “brown the butter.” Brown the butter? You’re supposed to melt the butter, not brown the butter. “Brown the butter,” the voice persisted. I can’t! That’s not what you’re supposed to do. “BROWN THE FRIGGIN’ BUTTER, MORON!” All right! All right! I’ll brown the butter.
And brown the butter I did.
That’s the brown butter. Have you ever browned butter? Maybe you have accidentally. But if you’ve never used it in your cooking, you should. Brown butter is nutty and complex in a way that plain butter–however delicious–just isn’t. But you have to be careful when you brown your butter: do it on a relatively low heat and monitor it carefully or you will burn it.
As for the other components, the only other important thing when making banana bread is that you have really ripe bananas, like these:
Actually, these could even be riper, but they were ripe enough. You want them ripe–almost all black–because they get sweeter as they ripen and that makes your banana bread gooder. (Note: inspiration did NOT strike at the end of that sentence.)
As for how my inspiration paid off, I can’t really say. Did we taste the brown butter in the banana bread? Maybe. It’s hard to say. I also added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of ground ginger (I left out the chocolate and candied ginger this time, just to taste the banana bread by itself) and, to what degree each of these touches contributed, I’m not sure, but I can say this: this was very good banana bread. We nearly devoured it right out of the oven, and maybe you will too.
Brown Butter Banana Bread
adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life”
inspired by the voice in my head
6 Tbs (3 oz.) unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cps mashed bananas (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (I used whole milk and that worked fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Grease a loaf pan (9 X 5 inches) with cooking spray or butter.
3. Now take your butter, put it in a skillet or a small pot and melt it on a relatively low heat (but not so low that it takes forever). Watch it! Swirl that pot or pan around as it goes and it’ll foam up–wait, wait, wait–then the foam will subside and it’ll start browning. When you start smelling a nutty smell and the butter turns a lovely shade of auburn brown, take it off the heat immediately! Whatever you do, don’t let it burn.
4. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, the sugar, the baking soda, the salt, the ginger and the cinnamon.
5. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork; then add the mashed banana, the yogurt (or milk), the cooled brown butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well.
6. From this point in, it couldn’t be easier: pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir gently with a rubber spatula until it’s JUST combined (don’t overmix). Now scrape it into the prepared pan, smooth the top…
…and bake it in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a tester comes out pretty clean. (Mine took more than an hour, actually, and still wasn’t fully clean when tested, but I stopped so the ends didn’t dry out.)
7. Cool the loaf in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes then tip out on to the rack and, as Molly says, “let it cool completely before slicing–unless you absolutely can’t help yourself, in which case, dig in.”