"Or, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Some of food's greatest dishes are born out of a necessity to get rid of stuff that's past its prime. French toast, for example, or cobblers. Anything pickled and anything stewed. But today I'm going to talk about the humble, the unsung, the delicious, banana bread; and my particular history with it.
Now, it wasn't that we only made banana bread when we had mushy bananas. No, no. Those bananas often went into the freezer for smoothies later. We really only had banana bread when there were mushy bananas, and my grandpa was staying with us, as he did for six months out of the year when I was a kid.
Gruff, salty, and taciturn, my grandpa wasn't exactly the warm-and-fuzzy type, but he loved the hell out of us. And between the goofy denture jokes, his willingness to let us clamber all over his camper-trailer, and the various affectionate pokes and pinches he subjected us to, my brother and I knew it. He also, much to Little Liz's delight, bought us all kinds of crap food on a whim: oatmeal creme pies, Ding-Dongs, those off-brand sugar wafers that taste like cardboard coated in wax.
The great irony in all this? My grandpa (Rozzy, to us) was a fantastic baker. Breads, cookies, cakes—you name it, he could bake it. But in his usual repertoire, there was always banana bread. Two loaves: one without nuts for my brother (who didn't like them) and one with, for the rest of us. We never got sick of it.
So why should you care about it? First of all, it's stupid-easy to make, and if you bake at all, you probably already have everything you need in your pantry. Secondly, you can eat it anytime: for breakfast, toasted with a little cream cheese; for an afternoon snack; for a sweet treat after dinner. But most importantly, of course, it's moist and tasty.
Fast-forward to last week: in the Liddabit Sweets kitchen, we decided to have a little friendly baking competition. Subject: banana bread. I scoffed. I had an ace in the hole! The classic recipe! No one could touch Rozzy's banana bread. So I waltzed in last Thursday, with a smirk and a recipe scrawled on an envelope, dictated to me by my mom.
And what did I do?
I messed with it.
I thought, oh, I'll replace some of the butter with olive oil, that'll be interesting. And add a lot more salt...get some shaved chocolate in there...
Of course, it was subpar. It came out dry, and too salty, and not chocolatey at all. I lost Battle Banana Bread, and I believe it was solely because I had the temerity to mess with a classic.
That being said, I really do believe everything's better with chocolate—so I'm leaving that variation in. But I'm never touching the rest of the recipe again. Rozzy clearly knew best.
About the author: Liz Gutman co-owns the Brooklyn-based candy business Liddabit Sweets, which means she spends a lot of time around chocolate (and a lot of time eating it). She moved to New York in 2001 to go to, wait for it, acting school. But when the acting life wasn't for her, she wound up in the French Culinary Institute's pastry program while working at Roni-Sue's Chocolates in Manhattan's Lower East Side. She befriended Jen King, aka the other half of Liddabit, at FCI and founded Liddabit in May of 2009.