Saturday, January 2, 2010

Chocolate and ginger

Oh, my dear little blog, you must really be starting to question my devotion to you: I can only imagine what you might be thinking: I mean, really, Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, Thanksgiving long past, and all you have to show for it is a loaf of banana bread?! The state of affairs must have really gotten out of hand! Seriously, though, where are the mountains of cookies and pies and fabulous spreads on bright red tablecloths? 

To which I can only answer: I am guilty as charged. In my defense, this is no ordinary loaf you see up there, but I’ll get to that later. Surely, there were moments I could have shared with you lately, but somehow I couldn’t think of a way to make them blog-worthy, or on a subject that had absolutely nothing to do with cookies, since I think I’ve covered that for the time being. Plus, in the flurry of packing my suitcase with sweaters and warm socks and heading north to Mendocino, I forgot my camera, so I’ve been puttering around at home with only my iphone to document various kitchen travails.* Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time to be sad about this mishap because of how busy I’ve been. In the whirlwind of holiday baking—between the rugelach for gift-giving, the pain d’epices (spice bread), and the apple and pear galettes my mother and I churned out for the Party—I’m afraid I’m also a bit tuckered out. Once all the crusts were rolled out and filled with fruit, then baked and cooled and consumed with healthy doses of billowy whipped cream, I just needed a few days to catch my breath. The situation was so dire that my French rolling pin and I decided to part ways for while (even though, I might add, we had just barely met, when I saw something long and skinny peeking out of my stocking). At the very least, a trial separation will ensue until the New Year gets well under way.

In the meantime, I'll make banana bread. I don’t know what everyone else does on New Year’s Day, but I can think of no better activity than waking up early to a quiet kitchen to bake—folding and whisking and measuring until left, finally, with a batter golden and thick and just faintly reminiscent of that soft yellow fruit. Later, you are greeted by a bread flecked with pieces of chocolate chips and ginger, as though it came out the oven already adorned with jewels. I am not talking about the kind of baking, mind you, that requires chilling and Cuisinarts, but of another order entirely, the kind that requires only a handful of tools and a couple of mixing bowls. In my case, while wearing an apron with sunflowers on it, watching the rose parade on TV.
I’ve never been one for resolutions, but I’ve had no trouble resolving to start the day more often in the company of ginger and chocolate and a preheated oven. I’m even thinking of starting a new tradition; instead of an elaborate brunch with Benedict and hollandaise, I say save those eggs to make a lightly-browned loaf that stars the pulp of a soft spotted fruit. Bananas aren't exactly pretty in their ripened, bruised stage; mashed like a potato they look homely at best, but they can certainly do wonders for your average cake. Mixed into a basic quick bread batter, they make a bread with a moist and delicate crumb. In response to a pile of gold and silver presents with bright-colored ribbons, this bread is the brown paper package tied up with string. One look at a slice and it’s no going back: studded with chocolate and flecked with golden bits of candied ginger, it makes a mean afternoon snack and even better breakfast, toasted so that the chocolate gets all melty and the edges all crisped up from the heat. So good.

For years I made banana bread using a recipe clipped from Bon Appétit, which was credited as being “low-fat.” It has buttermilk, but we often substituted yogurt and also added lemon zest, walnuts, and a few drops of lemon with the mashed banana. I still love this recipe, regardless of its nutritional value, but I can’t help but fall for this very grown-up version, still wholesome enough to be considered bread but also undeniably cake-like. I think it’s rather handsome with the deep crevice on the top, quite sufficiently “poofed,” as my Dad would say. 

Anyhow, the recipe is from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, which I highly recommend for both the prose and for the recipes. I’ve made this one at least three times, and it never fails to please, even if you don’t approve of chocolate for breakfast. Yesterday I only had three tiny pieces of ginger, and I didn’t want to go to the store to buy more, but the flavor still came through. In case you were wondering, Peet's Coffee carries The Ginger People brand of candied ginger that I favor, if largely because of its cute label and rounded glass jar. I also think you can use a bar of chocolate chopped up instead of the chocolate chips, but either way make sure to use a good quality brand; I used Guittard semi-sweet last time. But really, when it comes to bread and chocolate, you can't go wrong. 

You may also find the recipe here, for those that don’t own the book. Molly credits a fellow named Glenn, via her friend Kate, for introducing her to the chocolate and crystallized ginger additions, and although I don’t know Glenn, I am ever-grateful to him for dreaming up a trio that I won’t soon forget.
* As a result, the photos are bit lackluster for this post, but I did my best under the circumstances.

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