Seeking out nostalgia: Breakfast banana bread

by piecurious

I’ve written before about my lack of baking-induced nostalgia.  The kitchen of my childhood was not filled with aromatic breads and pies.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t seek out these misty familiarities in the foods I eat.  An alluring slice of Italian bread dipped in a spicy olive oil can transport me back in time to the kitchen of my non-existent Italian grandmother as she pulls a fresh loaf from the oven, the scent of the olive trees in the backyard breezing in through an open window.  A deliciously crunchy baguette can weave me through a false memory of picnicking on a summer’s day along the Seine, a checkered scarf around my neck, the smell of a well-aged cheese under my nose and the lingering tingling of a rhubarb chutney on my tongue.

Nostalgia is a fleeting and blurred sensation, our memories inevitably having become milky and obscured with time.  Our imagination, however, often steps in to fill the gaps in the same way that it allows us to feel like we’ve existed within the frame of a film or the storyline of a novel.  On particularly dull and rainy days, when I find myself distracted by faint rumblings of uncertainty, I sometimes recall fabricated memories of meandering down the streets of 19th century England from Dickens’ Great Expectations.  On a balmy summer’s day when I’m feeling unusually whimsical, I might find myself daydreaming of the 100 Years of Solitude spent in time-warped and magical Macondo.

Food, like many other things, is capable of inspiring nostalgia and awakening dormant memories of people and places, real or imagined.  And it is often through food that I seek to induce these sensations that can, at least momentarily, become all-engulfing.  It begins with an idea—a vision, of sorts—followed by a journey of experimentation, and ending with something edible and appetizing, most likely composed primarily of flour, although in this case it’s banana.

I did not envision this bread being savoured.  I did not want you to lean back in your chair with your eyes closed, overwhelmed by a series of complex flavours.  This bread is not something to be thought of.  Its presence is intentionally muted—you will notice there is no cinnamon or other spice to entice your sensations, leaving you free to dust off the blurry images in your mind of times and people past, while simultaneously leaving you feeling nourished and whole.

This is a bread you eat during the stillness of an early spring morning, toasted with melted butter and maybe even a drizzle of honey, perched on a window sill while the rest of the city sleeps.  Or even out of a brown paper bag, crouched on a dusty, pine needle ridden forest floor during a solitary afternoon hike.

Chunks of fresh banana are roasted from within, imparting a mild sweetness. The whole wheat flour and bran provide texture and earthy wholesomeness,  while the teff and flax offer a satisfying, yet gentle crunch.  Oil, buttermilk and a high ratio of banana to flour ensures the crumb remains moist, but not too delicate.  This is not to be thought of as a cake or a dessert.  But rather a comforting inner thought companion.

Breakfast Banana Bread
(Makes one 9” x 5” loaf)

Like with all the recipes I post here, I tried numerous versions of this banana bread before sharing the recipe.  I had originally intended to make the bread for the last Daring Bakers’ Challenge, but had yet to come up with a version that satisfied the vision I had of it.  In previous versions I had omitted the bran, used less whole wheat flour and less banana, used yogurt in place of the buttermilk, millet instead of teff, and frozen, rather than fresh bananas.  I have always suspected using overripe frozen bananas to dilute the flavour, rather than enhance it.  I far enjoyed using overripe fresh bananas instead, particularly because you have greater control over the consistency of the banana, and if you leave the mash chunkier you will find the bread punctuated with sweet roasted nuggets of banana, appearing like unexpected gifts.

1 1/2 oz wheat bran
5 oz buttermilk
4 oz olive oil
17 oz overripe banana, not frozen

5 oz eggs (3 large)
5 oz light natural cane sugar

7 oz unbleached all-purpose flour
5 oz whole wheat flour
1 tbsp (3/8th oz) golden flax seeds
1 tbsp (1/2 oz) teff grain
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat your oven to 375F.  Lightly oil and flour a 9” x 5” loaf pan.  In a bowl, stir together the buttermilk and wheat bran, then set the bowl aside.  In another bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  Cut the bananas into slices, then mash them using a fork, leaving them slightly chunky.  Add the bananas and oil to the wheat bran and buttermilk.  In another bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar.  Add the bran mixture to the eggs and sugar.  Fold in the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix.  Bake for 50 minutes (rotating the pan half-way through) or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.