What I know for certain

We’re in finishing touches territory now over at the new apartment. We have been for weeks. It’s been a strange and uncomfortable time to be focusing on the nitty-gritties of a new home, one with strong, unbending walls that stand on dry, solid ground. But in a way, it has also felt oddly appropriate. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a home a home, and that feels right.

A friend of mine asked me recently if we’re “prepared” for our move, and I was reminded that moving to an apartment right next door doesn’t look like other moves. I’m not even sure if it qualifies as an actual move. It feels like cheating, like swaying our hips an inch to the right and having the nerve to call it “dancing.” No boxes. No packing tape. No moving trucks or crumpled newsprint. Instead, we have a small army of friends who will help us carry our stacks of dishes and maneuver our dressers the few steps down the hall. To those of you in the throes of a real move right now who, halfway through this paragraph, armed yourselves with all manner of rotten vegetables: Ready, aim, fire! We deserve it.

There’s just one tiny drawback to moving into the next door apartment: the next door construction site. For the most part, it’s no big deal. I don’t mind the hammering, scraping, or sanding one bit. It’s the fumes. With the hardworking crew slapping down final layers of paint, and finishing (and re-finishing, and re-re-finishing – don’t ask) the floors, we’ve been treated to a dizzying array of them over this last month. From solvents to stains to sealants, it’s mean stuff. And, because of where the shared walls between our current and soon-to-be apartments line up, the point of entry for these fumes is our kitchen. That’s even meaner. I had planned on having some last hurrahs in there before our move, but it’s hard to hurrah when you’re busy trying not to pass out.

Most recently, it was the particularly toxic fumes from multiple floor coatings of polyurethane that got us. We did what we could: Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. We pushed open all of the windows, circulated the air with electric fans, and set up camp in the room that’s as far as can be from the kitchen, the room that happens to be our bedroom. The climate in here was, well, brisk, but for the most part, all that ventilating did the trick. We dressed in scarves, hats, and wrist worms. There were pizzas delivered, and pad-thai picnics on the bed. I can’t complain.

But sometime last week, I snapped. I awoke in the six o’ clock hour to the distinct aroma of nothing. The most recent coating of polyurethane had fully dried, and by my calculations, I had approximately two hours before the workers would arrive to lay down the next coat. I tore into the kitchen, found a sad and blackened pair of bananas, and my mind went where it often goes when I need something quick, foolproof, and deeply reassuring. Banana bread. There was no time to mess with add-ins like nuts, or chocolate, or even the crumble topping of my beloved standby. Plus, in my kitchen-deprived state, I was itching to try something new. I flipped open my laptop and started clicking. I found a recipe for banana cake that Dorie Greenspan posted on Serious Eats a few years back and, detecting little difference volume-wise between her cake and most banana bread recipes I’ve met, I went for it. I’m going to tell you something now that you no doubt already know: When time is short and you must put all of your eggs (and bananas) in one basket, Dorie Greenspan is precisely the person you want in the kitchen with you.

The banana bread looks rather moody there, I know, but I assure you that it is really quite cheerful. It just happened to be particularly dark and grey that morning, and the fresh fumes that had already begun to seep into the kitchen by this point didn’t give me much time to focus on things like proper exposure. Or to focus, period, as you can see.

I’ve mashed up many a black banana for many a banana bread over the years, but this recipe stands alone. The two ingredients that set it apart are yogurt and butter. I typically favor quick bread recipes that rely on oil for their fat, for the straightforward reason that loaves made with oil are moister and spongier than their butter-rich counterparts. In this oil-less recipe, though, the yogurt picks up the slack. At least I think that’s what’s going on. What I know for certain is that this loaf is as moist as ever, perhaps the slightest bit dense, but in a good way. Meanwhile, the butter is left to do what butter does best, which is simply to be its fabulous buttery self. The flavor of the butter in this recipe is so direct that it caught me off guard. It doesn’t hide behind cinnamon, or honey, or orange zest. It marches right up, and with a firm handshake, announces itself in caramelized edges that smack of tarte Tatin. The beautifully burnished loaf smells of brown butter and bananas which, come to think of it, is exactly how banana bread should smell, isn’t it? Slice after slice, I had the distinct feeling that I was eating banana bread in its truest, purest form. I think of banana bread as a classic, but until I tried this recipe, I’m not sure I ever really understood what that meant. It’s as if all of the other banana bread recipes that I have ever baked were riffs —albeit, often virtuosic riffs— on this one.

Hi, banana bread, old friend. It’s nice to meet you.

Have a good week, everyone.

Banana Yogurt Bread
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe, “Banana Cake Big and Small” (which, incidentally, sounds like the title of my new favorite children's book that hasn't yet been written), posted on Serious Eats.

I’ve wrestled before with the question of where to draw the line between a quick bread and a cake, and I’m not the only one. Honestly, I’m stumped. I baked this recipe in a loaf pan, so I’m calling it a “bread.” But I’d eagerly follow Dorie Greenspan’s lead and bake it in muffin tins or a Bundt pan (double the recipe for the latter) and call it a cake. Works for me, either way. I happened to use 1 cup of all-purpose flour and ½ cup of whole wheat flour because it’s what I had within reach. (The new bag of all-purpose flour was up on a high shelf and, as you know, time was of the essence.) I liked it with the whole wheat, and I’ll bake it again this way. The original recipe calls for 1½ cups of all-purpose flour.

1 c. all-purpose flour
½ c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (about ¾ cup)
½ c. sour cream or plain, whole-milk yogurt (I used yogurt.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and generously butter and flour a loaf pan.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg, and beat for about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the bananas. Mix in half of the flour mixture, then all of the yogurt, then the rest of the dry ingredients. Don’t worry if the batter is a little lumpy.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 55-60 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then carefully turn out the loaf onto a cooling rack. You’ll want to let the loaf cool considerably so that it has a chance to get its bearings and doesn’t tear beneath the knife. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Molly said...

When we moved from the little house we had lived in for 4 years to our condo, it was a little move, just around the corner. My husband couldn't justify hiring movers, so he would pack his little Corrolla with as many boxes as would fit, drive around the block, unload and start the process again. Our little move pales in comparison to your next door move, hands down.

I think I'm going to put this recipe in my banana cake file. There's something about the yogurt -- something new to me in the world of banana breads -- that is pushing me towards that direction.

Sally said...

Thanks for the recipe - although I'm temporarily gluten/sugar free, I can't resist a banana bread recipe... Seems sort of spring-y, despite the current snow!

Catherine said...

I love that first picture! There's something about the soft focus which makes it seem so cosy and comforting. Yogurt in banana bread is new to me, but as I have yet to produce banana bread worthy of praise I'll have to try it out. Your addition of wholewheat flour sounds good too.

Žiupsnelis Druskos said...

Oh you're rubbing it, really!

I have JUST moved (2 months ago), just about finished unpacking the boxes (still got 2 lingering in the closet), fell in love with the kitchen (huge!), and the garden (BBQs!), the bookshelves (you know what they're for..)... only to be told I need to move out in two months.. So unfair!

Room hunting in London is only slightly less frustrated than job hunting. I'm, trully allergic to them both..

Anways, good luck with your move! Banana bread is lovely as ever!

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

I can't wait to try this recipe. I'm also a huge fan of yogurt in recipes. Especially when butter is also on the menu. I'm thinking nutty spelt flour will also be a winner, substituted for the whole wheat. Okay. Can I just leave work and go home and make this recipe already?

Rosiecat said...

You and your early-morning baking! I just love that. And one can never have too many banana breads in her repertoire. There's a niche for every bread, I say.

Rogue Unicorn said...

I swear we must be connected by some cosmic something or other. For the past week and a half my apartment has been engulfed by fumes. Gasoline fumes, to be exact. (Long story) And there's nothing to be done but ventilate, ventilate and ventilate some more.
I love the idea of of children's book called "Banana Cake Big and Small". Let's write it. :)
Happy moving.

tara said...

this is perfection Jess. every word.

Char said...

my skin itchs just from the description from the fumes. sending warm thoughts that all of that stuff is gone soon.

linda said...

moving & or renovation is just plain stressful…good luck & once you are settled all the unpleasantness will be a memory…we will be undergoing home renovation shortly & i forgot about the "floor fumes"…think we will check out & stay with friends during that period…& yes, jess, it feels disjointed to be preparing for renovation while the world is in turmoil & the earth reeks havoc…so thank you for comforting us with this wonderful recipe…i am going to bake these (i love the whole wheat flour addition!) & guess what…i am going to bake mini loaves…did you expect anything else from me…i like to bake the minis & freeze!!

Sharon said...

Banana bread is one of my favorite go-to comfort foods. Check out my blog's recipe box for a tasty version. And good luck with the move! I enjoyed reading all about it. You have my sympathies - no rotten vegetables from me!

Wendy said...

Congrats on your new apartment, And I hope the baking continues to block those fumes!!!

Love reading your posts. One of these days come out to the wonderful Pacific Northwest to stay with us at the Fulton House B & B and we can explore all the wonderful food places in Portland!

Sarah said...

This is a lovely post. Your use of language is stunning. I'm currently in the midst of trying to FIND a new apartment, and honestly it's way more stressful than I ever anticipated. I can't begin to imagine the moving part.

Sprout said...

I like moody banana bread- there's no better kind. Lovely photo.

Clarice said...

Thanks for such lovely writing in the midst of the craziness. Good luck to you. Are you looking forward to your new kitchen?

spicybohemian said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and am so glad I did. You write beautifully! That banana bread looks so simple and straightforward. I'll have to try to adapt it to a gluten-free version so that I can try it. So glad I found you. I'll be back!

kickpleat said...

I've done 2 separate moves that were just down the same block. It's a strange feeling - but one apartment away? Sounds a little like bliss to me - well, except for the fumes and the noise. I've got bananas in the freezer ready to be made into banana bread and I'm so happy to have stumbled here because I want to try a new recipe out. And one with butter, call me smitten.

Molly said...

I'm so excited for your move. And to try this banana bread recipe. A burnished loaf smelling of brown butter and bananas? I'm so there. xo

Jess said...

Hi, all!

Molly - That sounds like a lot of work to me. But still less stressful, somehow, than a more conventional truck-and-movers scenario. I bet it was a lot easier to keep track of your stuff, and reassuring to know that it was being handled with care. About the bread: it was the yogurt that hooked me on this recipe, too!

You're very welcome, Sally. If you would prefer a gluten-free version, you might try Shauna's recipe for banana oatmeal raisin bread. It's also made with half a cup of yogurt. I haven't tried the recipe, but Shauna's a gluten-free genius, and I totally trust her.

Thanks, Catherine. If you've been having trouble with banana bread (horror or horrors!), this one would be a great place to start. (Or, to start again, I guess.) I kind of wish that this banana bread had been my reference point for all of the other banana breads that I have made over the years. As it stands, I feel as if I've gone about things backwards. The first loaf that I ever baked was heavy with nuts and chocolate chips. Then came cinnamon and spice versions, a ginger version, and loaves with crumble topping. Finally, now, I feel as if I've discovered the original!

Hi, Žiupsnelis Druskos. Oof. I'm so, so sorry. I agree: totally unfair. And stressful! I hope that you find a new flat soon, and that it's even lovelier than your current one.

A Plum By Any Other Name - I'm with you on the spelt flour. I actually almost went for it instead of the whole wheat. If you bake a loaf with spelt flour, I'd love to hear how it goes. Please do report back, if you think of it.

It's true, Rosiecat. It's my favorite time of day to be in the kitchen. (And I'm with you on banana bread. No such thing as too many good recipes.)

Hey, Rogue Unicorn. Ha! I think you may be right about that. Gasoline fumes? That sounds dangerous... Be careful! xo.

That means a lot, Tara. Thank you, friend.

Thanks, Char. You and me both.

Yes, Linda, checking out of your home when the fumes are at their most potent is a very good idea. Good luck with your renovations. And of course you're making mini loaves! I knew you would. Tell me, what are the dimensions of your mini loaf pans? You've inspired me, and I think I need to invest in a set. Also, is there some kind of (approximate) rule of thumb that you use when you're figuring out the new, reduced baking time for the minis?

Me too, Sharon. I clicked over to your banana bread recipe, and I notice that you use shortening for the fat. I've never tried that in a banana bread. Does it do something special to the texture?

Wendy, hello! I love it so much that you check in here. I miss you. Yes, yes, yes, Eli and I must get out to Portland. I wonder if we might be able to squeeze in a trip this spring or summer... I'll be in touch. xo.

Thank you so much, Sarah. Transition stress is a special brand of stress, isn't it? It's hard to feel settled when you've got one eye on where you're headed next -- and all the more so when you're not sure where that might be. Best of luck to you!

Ha! Thanks, Sprout.

Ah, the million dollar question. In a word, Clarice: YES! I cannot get over the fact that our new kitchen will have more than one counter, which means that I'll actually have a decision to make when I take something out of the oven. "Shall I put it over here?... Or over there... Or perhaps there..." Well, la di da, right?

[I'm about to max out on the comment field character limit, so I'm going to have to break up my replies. Be right back.]

Jess said...

[And I'm back.]

Welcome, spicybohemian, and thank you for your kind words. I mentioned in response to Sally (see above, second note from the top) that Shauna, a.k.a. Gluten-Free Girl (or, "Gluten-Free Goddess," as I like to call her) has a gluten-free recipe for banana bread that's also made with yogurt. I have a feeling that you could take your cues from Shauna's recipe and come up with a wonderful gluten-free version of this one.

Hi, kickpleat. I was just thinking of you! You and those speculaas muffins, that is. I still haven't gotten around to making them thanks to this on-again-off-again exile from my kitchen. But soon, soon. I can't get them out of my head.

Molly - I was actually thinking that this banana bread might make for excellent moving fuel. We'll need to fortify ourselves, after all, for the long walk down the hall. Can't wait to see you. xo.

Luisa said...

Love the whole-wheat addition and the fact that I've got all the ingredients right here. Banane bread in its purest, truest form sounds pretty darn good to me. Happy moving-down-the-hall! :)

Sweet And Crumby said...

This is such a lovely blog, and I am so happy to have found you through my rugelach search on Google. I must keep coming back because I truly enjoy your writing style and the banana bread sounds heavenly. I just got my first Dorie cookbook this Christmas and am so happy with every recipe...I think I might jump for joy at the thoughts of all the yummy recipes made thus far. Good luck on your "move". ---Geni of Sweet and Crumby.

jacqui said...

I think your image of the banana bread captures your morning perfectly, love it! I once moved to 3 different apartments all within less then a mile of each other in 2.5 years! Next door would be nice though.

Rivka said...

As always, beautiful writing on even such mundane topics as paint and banana bread. Jess, you're amazing. :)

Andrea [bella eats] said...

There is truly nothing like the hominess that banana bread imparts on whatever space you're in. My favorite recipe uses yogurt as well, thick and silky greek yogurt actually, and fresh bits of apple that keep the loaf oh-so-moist. I love the addition of butter here, though, and will surely be trying it out very, very soon. Thank you, Jess, for your beautiful words. And, good luck with you move! xo.

Jess said...

Luisa - I love it when that happens -- when a recipe pops up on my screen, or I flip open a cookbook, and I have everything I need on hand. I always take it as a sign. Enjoy!

Thank you, Geni. I really appreciate your kind words. I just clicked over to Sweet and Crumby and saw your lovely rugelach. I'm so happy to hear that you enjoyed that dough. Isn't it a dream to work with? I think it's been a year now since my last batch of rugelach. Unacceptable! I'd better get on that. Thanks for the reminder.

That's a whole lot of moving, Jacqui! Yikes. One measly move next door is nothing compared to that.

Hi there, Rivka. Such a sweet note, you! Thank you. I hope you know that the feeling is mutual.

Andrea - Apple bits in banana bread? I've never thought of that. I just found the recipe on your site and it looks beautiful. Thanks for the inspiration! (And yes: butter, butter, butter. Butter!)

Amuse-bouche for Two said...

I went right into the kitchen and made banana bread when I saw your post. Banana bread has amazing powers like that.

Jess said...

Very pleased to inspire the latest banana breadery in your kitchen. You're right, Tracy. Banana bread is magic.

Maddie said...

It sounds like some higher power decided your move sounded way too awesome—gorgeous new renovations, no vans, no boxes—and decided to even the playing field with noxious fumes. But you clearly got the upper hand with banana bread! I'll have to stay tuned for the next chapter. :)

Jess said...

I agree, Maddie. We deserved at least a little bit of trouble along the way. Just to balance things out.

Adrian J.S. Hale said...

I was just staring at two spotty bananas on my (new) kitchen counter, wondering what to do with them. I opened my computer to idle the time, and voila! I had my answer. Thanks for your always entertaining posts and wonderful recipes.

Nishta said...

oh dearest, so good to hear your voice, and even better--THIS BANANA BREAD IS DELICIOUS!

Julie said...

I've never been so sold on a banana bread! may have to stray from my usual...

Jess said...

Adrian, Nishta, Julie, hello! So sorry to leave you hanging.

Adrian, you are most welcome. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this banana bread as much as I did.

Nishta, my sweet, I love that you made this! Miss you.

And Julie, I'm clicking over to your site right now to find your usual. Maybe we could swap for a day...

anya said...

Jess, these pictures are stellar and mysterious. I can't tear my eyes off from them. Love.

Jess said...

Oh! Thank you so much, Anya.

gluten free banana bread said...

Thanks for supporting the gluten free family.