Wednesday, November 17, 2010

0 Recipe #196: Cranberry-Apricot Banana Bread

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Got left-over bananas that're on their way out? Don't throw 'em away. Make banana bread instead. :)

Ah, dessert breads with fresh cranberries. A sure sign that fall's here and winter's just around the corner. :)

Of course, if you'd like to make dishes with fresh cranberries any other time of year, good luck with that. ;) For some reason, they are really hard to find out of season, unlike a lot of other fruits which seem to be stocked year-round, regardless of whether they're actually in season or not. They also aren't always easy to find in the frozen food aisle either. Maybe it's just the supermarkets in this area; I have no idea. Regardless, with a little advance planning, you can easily avert this issue the next time you're in the mood to cook or bake with cranberries in the middle of July: Just buy a few extra bags while they're still in season, & then freeze them for future use.

Almost all of the other ingredients in this recipe -- both fresh & dry -- are basic staple foods & can of course be found year-round. As for the canned coconut milk & extra virgin coconut oil, these ingredients can often be found in regular chain-style supermarkets, depending upon location & product availability.

The nice thing about using natural/organic coconut products for cooking & baking is that they are light, nutritious, & neutral-tasting. Not only does coconut have a very mild flavor & texture, but it's also a very dense, fiber-rich ingredient, & thus, also a very filling & economical one as well. And so, likewise, you'll notice that this recipe calls for very little coconut milk, & even less coconut oil.  (The latter is used only to lightly coat the inner surfaces of a glass baking dish, to keep the bread from sticking to it.) A little goes a very long way, which is also a good news for one's waistline as well. :) Think of it as built-in portion-control.

Since I've already extensively covered the nutritional value & health benefits of coconut in previous posts, I won't repeat myself here. Suffice to say that it's much healthier to consume coconut in its various forms than animal fats (like butter, etc.).

Speaking of which, this recipe calls for extra virgin coconut oil, which is unrefined & expeller-pressed, & thus, the healthiest form of this oil.

And lastly, there's a really cool culinary reason for why I specifically added coconut milk to this recipe: Due to its high-moisture & essential oil content, coconut milk can double as a replacement for both the milk and the butter typically added to most traditional dessert bread recipes. This is not only a more efficient usage of ingredients (in terms of culinary chemistry), but also cuts down on the overall amount of dairy used in this recipe, which many be of particular concern if you're lactose-intolerant or else are just trying to limit/monitor your dairy intake for general health reasons. (After multiple months of post-respiratory illness complications, I've lately been making a concerted effort to cut back on my dairy intake, which has been helping a great deal to keep my throat & respiratory passages clear. Ahhhh, so much better!)

In fact, due to the minimal dairy ingredients listed for this recipe, it'd be easy enough to make it completely non-dairy if you wish: Just substitute 1 Tbsp. coconut milk for the 1 Tbsp. yoghurt. It's as easy as that.

I could go on about the nutritional values & health properties of the other ingredients in this dish -- the cranberries, bananas, walnuts, & oats, etc. -- but I won't, because for one, that'd make this blog post even longer (!), and two, all you have to do is just search this blog or peruse the archives. ;) This blog already abounds with an extensive array of facts & figures on those topics. :-D

In closing, I will just state for the record that this is one of the best banana breads that I have ever created. Seriously. It turned out phenomenally. Light and moist, & full of flavor. When it was baking in the oven, Erik commented on how wonderful it smelled & told me that he definitely wanted to have some. Please note that he's never said this about any of the previous banana breads I've baked. ;) And you know what? The senses don't lie; most of the ones I've made in the past were moist but very, very dense. However, this bread turned out really well. I've finally figured out the secrets to good banana bread, which I'll share with you here:

(1) Follow the recipe steps exactly (i.e., making sure to use the correct proportions of baking soda to baking powder, etc.).
(2) Properly aerate the ingredients (whipping the baking soda into the bananas & sifting the flour).
(3) Do not overmix the batter; and lastly....
(4) Work quickly & efficiently, particularly after transferring the wet ingredients to the dry. Once the active ingredients have mixed together, it's imperative that you immediately pour them into the loaf pan & start to bake the bread. Otherwise, if you wait too long the mixture may start to sink or fall flat.

If you follow the above steps, you will more than likely produce a light & fluffy banana bread that's absolute heaven to the taste buds. The warm bread just melts in your mouth. Ahhhhh. When banana bread turns out well, it's the best! Enjoy!

Happy Autumn,

Cranberry-Apricot Banana Bread

extra virgin coconut oil (for buttering Pyrex glass loaf pan)

Wet Ingredients:
1 c. very ripe bananas (about 3 medium-sized bananas)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. light/lowfat, unsweetened coconut milk (from a can)
1 Tbsp. nonfat, plain Greek yoghurt
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

Dry Ingredients:
1 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 c. oats, finely milled/ground in a food processor (i.e., oat flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground clove
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Nuts & Fruit:
1/2 c. walnuts, crushed
1/2 c. Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, & sliced into wedges & then diced into 1/2" cubes (about 1/2 apple)
1/2 c. fresh cranberries (if unavailable, use frozen or, as a measure of last resort, "Craisins")
1/3 c. dried California apricots, diced

Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Mix in baking soda, so that it starts a chemical reaction & makes the banana fluffy. (You should start to see bubbles upon contact.) Set aside. In an electric mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, honey, coconut milk, yoghurt, & lime juice on high speed until well-combined; mixture should be fluffy & frothy. Turn down mixer to medium speed, add mashed bananas & whisk together until just combined. Don't overmix batter or dough will become gluey, making a dense, hard bread. (There should still be banana lumps in the mixture; be careful not to purée bananas or bread will not become as light & fluffy as it should during the baking process.) Turn off mixer & set aside.

Next, sift together all remaining dry ingredients into a separate, large bowl. This is a very important step. Do NOT skip it; it will help to further aerate the ingredients. Transfer wet ingredients from mixing bowl to this bowl & gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry (i.e., this is called the muffin method) until just combined. Fold in nuts & remaining fruit (apple, cranberries, & apricots, if using). Bubbles should appear in the mixture, which is an indication that the baking soda & baking powder are reacting with the wet ingredients. Immediately pour the batter into a buttered 9" x 5" x 3" Pyrex glass loaf pan & bake for 1 hour, or until top turns golden brown. Test with a fork for doneness; if fork pulls out easily without any batter on it, then it's ready. Cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pan. Serve, preferably warm, & enjoy!

Yield: Serves 6-8.

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