On Sunday afternoons, my tendencies toward procrastination really reach their peak: Monday (and its associated deadlines) looms near, and yet all I seem to want to do is laze around and watch cooking shows, or, now that it's spring, sit in the sun with a book, intending to read but really just people-watching. Another thing that I like to do on Sunday afternoons is bake. Baking can take a fair amount of time, since you need to be quite precise in what you're doing, and so rather adequately satisfies the requirement of keeping me from doing my work. It's also a fairly low-energy activity, which is important after a long week of intellectually and physically taxing commitments (or after a too-late Saturday night).
My baking repetoire is somewhat limited. As I've mentioned on the blog before, I don't really follow recipes, preferring to wing it when I'm cooking (for better or for worse). But with baking, you really do have to adhere somewhat strictly to a recipe, since your delicious, fragrant cookies/pies/muffins/etc. are the result of a series of complex chemical reactions. Tip the balance of the recipe even slightly out of proportion and you're liable to end up with something that's leaden where it's supposed to be fluffy, or raw where it's supposed to be cooked. In cooking, on the other hand, you can usually take creative license with your ingredients and methods to little detrimental effect. It's kind of liberating.
That being said, there's definitely a place, in my kitchen, for the comforting confines of baking. I find the process to be relaxing: the steps of reading, measuring, and mixing are soothingly methodical, and then, of course, there's the wonderful aroma you get emanating from the oven and filling your house, making you feel right at home. Although I will occasionally branch out and make an elaborate cake or tart for a dinner party, when I'm baking for myself I find that I most often make muffins and quick breads. They're simple and don't take too much time to prepare, and, unlike yeasted breads, their results are reliably predictable. They're also the perfect breakfast food, so when I bake such things I always freeze a few individual portions that I can just grab on my way out the door in the morning.
Yesterday afternoon I made banana bread. It's something I make frequently, because there are often spoiled bananas lying around my house, and I can't stand to see them go to waste. So whenever I see a rotten banana in the kitchen, I throw it into the freezer to save it for banana bread. That way, when I'm ready to bake, I just thaw the bananas I need and I'm good to go. I've made this recipe so many times now that I feel I've perfected it. Although some people are purists, adding only walnuts if that, I go the opposite route, including not just nuts but golden raisins, dark chocolate, and spices, as well. Who says less is more?
Makes 1 loaf
1. Preheat the oven to 350° .
2. In a mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup vegetable oil with 3/4 cup sugar.
3. Add 3 mashed bananas and 2 large eggs; mix well.
4. Into the bowl, sift 3/4 cup all purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. ground cloves. Stir until batter is just combined. Optional: add 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts, 1/2 cup golden raisins, and 2 oz. chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips.
5. Pour batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, using a toothpick to check for doneness. Take the bread out as soon as you think it's ready--you want it to stay very moist.