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Velvet Banana Bread – my blue ribbon winner!


It all started in 2009 when I entered the foods competitions at the Kansas State Fair for the first time, and met a wonderful & talented woman named Colleen Woker.  We met while watching the pie judging and I asked her if she’d won any ribbons in the other competitions. She listed off approximately 241 things she’d placed in, including getting “Best in Show” for her banana bread, which as far as I understand means that her banana bread was so good, that the judges deemed it better than anything else submitted for judging in the foods competitions. I mean, it beat cakes!  CAKES! I was so impressed by her and in that moment, knew that some day I had to get myself a blue ribbon in the banana bread competition.  Little did I know it would become nearly an obsession.

In my quest to win a blue ribbon, I’ve made over fifty different banana bread recipes, and no matter how hard I tried to find the best, most perfect banana bread, the highest I ever placed was 3rd.  I really thought I was doomed to never get my blue ribbon, or even a red one.  This year I had no idea what recipe I was going to make until the day before the competition.  In fact, I had even forgotten to buy bananas in advance to let them get super duper ripe, and all I had was bananas that were still green at the stems.  Not acceptable!

I posted a last minute plea on Facebook for rotten bananas and was given some by two wonderful women (thank you Lacey & Lisa!), enough to make a practice loaf or two if I could find the time.  I decided to take my best good friend, Jackie‘s, advice and replace the pumpkin in my most favoritest pumpkin bread recipe with bananas, which she has been doing for a year.  That recipe has 1/2 cup of water in it, which I’d never ever seen in all the banana bread recipes I’ve read in my search for the perfect one, and I was so scared to try it.  I asked her probably five times, “Do you really put the water in it when you make it? REALLY?” She assured me she did, and that it wasn’t wet or gummy, but really similar in texture to the pumpkin bread.  That sold me, because that soft texture is the ultimate for me in a quick bread.

Despite my deep fears of including the water, and the temptation to replace it with something more exciting like milk or pineapple juice, I gave her idea a go, adding a touch of cardamom, and was absolutely floored by the result.  I had never in my life had such tender, soft banana bread.  And so delicious, sweet & perfectly banana-y with a the perfect balance of spices to set it off.  Unfortunately, it was one of the uglier loaves I’d ever made, and since 25% of the judging score was based on appearance, I lost all hope right there.  Because I knew it was too good not to submit, but also knew it was too ugly to win a blue ribbon. I just hoped it was good enough to win a red.

So many things went wrong in making the official loaf and my spirits sunk deeper and deeper with each obstacle. I kept questioning why I was even bothering.  This wasn’t the regular little banana bread competition, this one was sponsored by King Arthur Flour and the first place prize was a $150 gift card to their catalog, which is much bigger than the usual $9 prize.  This was a big deal, and more people would be entering than usual.  I didn’t have a chance! I was exhausted, would have loved to sleep in the next morning, didn’t want to waste the gas or the effort when I knew it was hopeless, but I’d been in the paper about the being the Banana Bread Queen Wannabe, and everyone on Facebook knew about it.  I had to go.

When I arrived to submit my bread, I noticed that everyone around me had loaves that were the same dark shiny brown, which I found unattractive.  That made me feel a little better, until I looked to see if any of my other three baked goods I’d already turned in had placed, and they hadn’t.  I knew it was going to be my very first no-ribbon year, and I went home defeated, knowing my quest might never end.

But when we returned to the fair as a family two days later, there it was. My ugly brown banana bread sitting front and center.  Next to a blue ribbon.

I squealed. I hopped around.  I squealed and hopped some more.  I think there was a lot of, “I can’t believe it!!”  I gushed my entire banana bread story to the poor couple standing nearby when my freak out started.  They were so happy for me, but everyone else looked pretty perturbed & disturbed by my antics.  I stopped myself several times from running up to random people to tell them I won.  Joshua was grinning and giggling, clearly trying to figure out what had Mom so excited.  I took his hands and we did a little celebration dance together.  When Dennis approached us (he’d been in the bathroom), I wanted to let him discover it on his own but I just couldn’t contain myself and as soon as I saw him I beamed and jumped up and down and waved him over, pointing wildly at the display case where my winning bread resided. He knew instantly of course what that meant, and he hopped up and down with me a little in celebration.  Joshua was so happy to see all the happiness and I was so happy, and Dennis was so happy, I thought all our heads might explode.

It took six years and countless loaves of banana bread, but I did it. The blue ribbon is MINE! Thanks be to God, to Jackie, Lisa, Lacey, and to Colleen for not entering the banana bread competition this year and giving me a chance.  And to everyone who has rooted for me all these years, thank you!!  My quest is complete and I couldn’t be happier to have found my very favorite recipe for banana bread and gotten the blue for it so that I never have to try another recipe again.  I’m so DONE with new banana bread recipes.  This one is definitely my new favorite, and I truly may never make another recipe again.

Velvet Banana Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 cup (8 oz) mashed overripe banana
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 1/8 oz) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups (7 1/2 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, combine banana, sugar, vegetable oil, water, and eggs. Whisk until well mixed. Measure the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and cloves into a separate bowl and stir until combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture, beating until smooth. Mixture will be very very thin and it’s OK to mix until no flour streaks remain, but if you see little lumps of flour that won’t mix out, don’t sweat it, they will dissolve while baking and overmixing will make this tender loaf tough and dry.

Spray the bottom of a 9×5 loaf pan and pour batter in (if your pan sticks, go ahead and grease the whole thing). Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan, and cool at least 15 minutes before slicing. Remove from pan immediately and allow to cool at least 15 minutes on a wire rack before slicing. Cool completely before wrapping leftovers in plastic wrap.

Veronica’s notes: If you aren’t measuring your ingredients on a scale, please use a very light hand when measuring the flour, spooning it gently into the cup and not packing it at all before leveling it.

Also, I only left the sides of my pan ungreased because the state fair judges have disqualified me in the past for greasing the whole pan. According to them, this is a baking sin and the sides of your bread will be much more tender if you grease only the bottom. This works fine with my new nifty galifty USA Loaf Pan because it’s crazy nonstick, but if you have any other not fabulously non-stick pan, you’d better go ahead and grease the sides. I honestly can’t tell a difference in the finished loaf whether the sides have been greased or not, the judges need to chill.

Speaking of loaf pans, be sure to use a large 9×5 as this is too much batter for an 8×4 loaf pan.  If you only have a small loaf pan, make some muffins with the extra batter, but don’t fill your pan more than 3/4 full.

Lastly, if you overbake your loaf a bit (I did on the one photographed, by a couple minutes because I was busy when the timer went off), don’t forget my water trick. It works on quick breads as well as cakes! Spray the sides and bottom well with water, don’t be shy with it, and it will all absorb while cooling and soften those hardened edges right up.

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I won! THE BLUE RIBBON IS MIIIIIIINE!


Excuse the screaming but…

I WON! I WON! I WON! I won the King Arthur Flour Banana Bread Competition at the Kansas State Fair!

I think after six years and over fifty different banana bread recipes tried, I’ve earned the right to yell a little about FINALLY WINNING A BLUE RIBBON!!! The curse has been lifted! LOL!

I know the photo is horrible and you can’t even see my name, but I will have better photos (from a friend who’s going to the fair tomorrow, I forgot my camera and had to use my horrible camera phone) and a recipe for you next week!! In the mean time, I’m going to spend the weekend doing a celebratory dance on the rooftop. Ha!

Spiced Butterscotch & Black Walnut Banana Bread


This month I was assigned to Manu’s Menu for the Secret Recipe Club. Manuela is an Italian married to an Indian, living in Australia with her family, so her blog is a smorgasbord of delicious international recipes, with the majority being delicious, authentic Italian food. She has recipes for many things on my 40 by 40 list, like Lamingtons, croissants, biscotti/Cantucci, & risotto. And what did I do? I’m so predictable. I went for the banana bread because as you know, I have an obsession and I seem to always have overripe bananas on hand. I may have not checked anything off my bucket list of recipes to make, but we’re enjoying some really delicious banana bread in the mean time, so that makes up for it. :)

I took Manu’s recipe for the bread and kicked it up a notch, just on a whim that started because of the butterscotch chips sitting on my desk when I was reading her recipe. We really loved the combination of oozing butterscotch, black walnuts, and subtle spices in a loaf rich in banana flavor.  I went ahead and used the butter called for but next time will try oil as I just really prefer the soft & silky texture that oil gives to quick breads. If only oil had all the delicious flavor as butter!

This was a wonderful loaf and I thank you, Manuela for helping me create it. Buon appetito!

Spiced Butterscotch & Black Walnut Banana Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

2 cups (8 ½ oz / 245 g) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (5 ½ oz / 150 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 eggs
½ cup (4 oz / 113 g) butter, melted
3 large (or 4 small) overripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (2 ½ oz / 60 g) toasted black walnuts, chopped
½ cup (3 ½ oz / 94 g) butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9×5 loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter, bananas, and vanilla. Stir together until just moistened, then add the walnuts and butterscotch chips. Stir together until just combined and spread into prepared loaf pan. Bake for about an hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack. Store tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.

Recipe source: adapted from Manu’s Menu

Cinnamon Freud Banana Bread

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I was assigned to Karen’s blog, Cinnamon Freud, for the Secret Recipe Club this month. She’s a counseling psychology doctoral student who also loves to cook and bake. How genius is her blog name?! I know she must get that a lot, but it’s true. Genius.

So anyway, last month I chose banana bread for my SRC assignment and Debra suggested I do banana bread every month because of my outrageous obsession with it. Although I didn’t intend to take her up on that challenge, as soon as I received my SRC assignment, I looked to see if Karen had a banana bread recipe, because I had a bunch of bananas that were really overripe and needing to be used. And she did – this recipe, in fact.  I made this bread the same day I received my assignment – the quickest I’ve ever done it!

Since she simply called it banana bread, and I have way too many banana recipes on my blog to call it just banana bread, I added her blog name into it.  I couldn’t resist – it’s just so catchy!  :)  My second choice for this bread’s name would be “Dessert Banana Bread.”  This bread has more sugar than normal (which I totally am on board with – the more sugar the better, as far as I’m concerned), making it a bit more indulgent and appropriate for dessert…with a scoop of ice cream and caramel sauce on top, of course. haha! ;)  Oh and I have to tell you this bread is excellent with black walnuts. I made one plain, one with black walnuts. They were beautiful – sweet, dense, soft & velvety, just perfect.  These disappeared FAST – a definite winner!

Cinnamon Freud Banana Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 cups mix-ins (nuts, chocolate chips, etc)
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 loaf pans and set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and any mix-ins you want to add. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until blended, then add the remaining ingredients, beating until combined. Add approximately 1/4 cup dry ingredients into the wet. Mix until just combined. Repeat with remaining dry ingredients.

Spread into prepared loaf pans & bake for 55-70 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

Recipe source: Cinnamon Freud

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I usually keep my recipe posts and baby posts totally separate, but since I haven’t been posting very much period, I just can’t resist including some baby love. :)  Here he is being a cloth diaper and baby leg warmers model. :D

Be sure to check out the other Group C Secret Recipe Club contributions this month by clicking the linky frog below!

Banana Bread Cockaigne

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This month my Secret Recipe Club assignment was Rachel’s blog, The Avid Appetite. Cute name, and her recipes are great too!

If you’ve been reading a while, you know I have a banana bread obsession, fueled by my desire to beat a certain someone in this category at our state fair’s baking competition…which I have yet to do, despite many ribbons in other categories. As a result, I have shared 9 recipes for banana bread/muffins on my blog, and 26 more on my Facebook Fan Page in this album.  If there is a banana bread recipe on my assigned blog for the month, I usually have to fight my inner urge/obsession to make it and usually pick another recipe.  Usually.  But this time, I couldn’t.  It was the intriguing name.

Banana Bread Cockaigne (FYI it’s pronounced kah-kayne, not koe-kayne…big difference).  *Cue the harp music.*  I looked up the definition and it’s a mythical land of plenty, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts, and pleasures are always at hand (such as banana bread, but of course).  In other words, fairy tale banana bread! Therefore the editing on the first photo to make it look like it was living in a fairy tale – lol.

So does the bread live up to its name?  The lemon zest is such an interesting twist on the classic recipe and it does indeed give it an ethereal quality.  I was skeptical but it is a truly wonderful addition to the banana flavor!  I made this bread twice in one week (switching from shortening to butter, adding extra banana, a little oil, and toasted walnuts the second time to increase the flavor, moisture, and crumb) and sent some to work with Dennis to rave reviews. Then he got a romotion, so perhaps it really is fairy tale banana bread. :) Thanks for sharing this delicious recipe, Rachel!

Banana Bread Cockaigne

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 ½ cups (6 ½ oz / 182 g) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (5 1/4 oz / 150 g) granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter (3 oz / 85 g)
¾ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 ¼ cups (9 oz / 255 g) mashed ripe banana
½ cup (1 ¾ oz / 48 g) walnuts, toasted* and chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray an 8×4 loaf pan** with oil; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar, butter, and lemon zest together. Add the oil and eggs and beat until well combined. Beat in the banana. Using a spatula, stir in the flour mixture until almost combined, then fold in the walnuts, being careful not to over-mix.

Spread into prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Remove from pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

*To toast walnuts, spread in an even-layer on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave in 1-minute intervals, stirring with your fingers in between, until fragrant and toasted. Allow to cool before chopping.

**Most loaf pans are 9×5, which is fine to use, but your loaf will be fairly flat compared to the one in my pictures. You will also need to decrease the baking time – start checking at 40 minutes for doneness.

Recipe source: The Avid Appetite

Check out the link below to see the other Secret Recipe Club, Group C posts!

 

Virginia Street Banana Nut Bread

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George Geary (author of 125 best Cheesecake Recipes) presenting Marina with a second place ribbon for her Chocolate Truffle Brownie Cups for Ghirardelli Chocolates 2009

I announced Monday that two signed copies of Splendour in my Kitchen by Marina Castle are up for auction until Thursday night, to help raise a little extra money for Suzie’s gallbladder surgery.  (Click here for more details about half way down-there’s only one bidder so far, so you might get yourself a bargain while helping a good cause.)  This blue-ribbon banana bread (Marina has won many blue ribbons for it, actually) is just one of the many fabulous recipes found within the cookbook.   Though I’ve had the cookbook for a couple years, I just started making this recipe back in August and have been making it several times a month ever since, and lately in triple batches.  This is what I think of as a classic banana bread, but with a few twists that make it extra-special and a real treat.

Photo by Marina Castle

The best thing about this bread is its texture.  I have never had a better texture in a recipe for banana bread-it is so soft and smooth, it’s almost silky.  It is not too heavy or dense as some banana breads can be, but not fluffy as a cake either.  As Goldilocks would say, it’s juuuuust right.  It has a great banana flavor, scented with cinnamon, and the combination of nuts, sugar & butter on top give it dessert-quality decadence.

This recipe is also apparently indestructible.  I’ve been tripling the recipe and baking it up up in mini aluminum pans to sell in my sister’s shop and at the bake sale at work, and I’ve once miscalculated the amounts, and another time completely left the eggs out, and both times it was still good. Not silky smooth, but really good despite the errors.  Hey, I can get down with a forgiving recipe because I’ve had a lot of spazzy kitchen moments lately. LOL!  Anyway, if you’d like to bake up a ton of mini pans for holiday gifts, I’ve included a link for a large batch recipe so you (hopefully) won’t make my mistakes.

Enjoy!

Virginia Street Banana Nut Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture
Large batch recipe–makes 3 loaves or 10 mini loaves

1 ½ cups (13 oz peeled) mashed ripe bananas
1 tablespoon melted butter, divided
½ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (8 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1 cup (8 oz) granulated sugar plus 1-2 teaspoons, divided
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, divided

Preheat oven to 325F and grease a large 9×5 loaf pan; set aside.

Mix bananas, 1 teaspoon of the melted butter, oil, eggs, and vanilla in medium bowl until well mixed. Blend flour, 1 cup sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt and add to banana mixture. Stir until mostly mixed, then add nuts, reserving some for the top,  and pour mixture into a large 9” x 5″ greased loaf pan. Sprinkle remaining nuts & sugar over top of loaf, then drizzle remaining melted butter over. Bake for 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool loaf in pan for 10 minutes. Remove and finish cooling on wire rack until completely cooled.  Wrap well with plastic wrap.  Loaf is the better next day.

Makes 1 loaf.

Recipe source: rewritten from Splendour in my Kitchen by Marina Castle

Kansas State Fair 2012 part 5: The Banana Bread Journey


If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know about my quest to beat my baking nemesis* this year in the banana bread competition.  Well, as you may also know, I didn’t place in the banana bread category at all this year!  But I wasn’t very disappointed.

*I don’t want to share the name of my nemesis here b/c she is actually a very nice woman (I met her the first year I entered the fair, 2009) and don’t want anyone to connect a negative feeling with her name, but I will tell you her initials are CW.  How funny is that?!

How could I not be disappointed, right?  I mean, I baked twenty-four different banana bread recipes.  You can see them all here if you don’t believe me–complete with every recipe I used.

I froze a piece of bread from each loaf.

And at the end of the baking, Haus and I tasted each bread to see which one was the best.

We used grading papers and agreed on one.

Then I couldn’t resist, and baked three more loaves.  With the last loaf, the recipe for which not coincidentally came from my Foodie Mama who has won multiple blue ribbons for it (yes, I was kicking myself for not making this recipe FIRST since I had it all along (hello, obliviox here!) and could have had a much shorter journey to find the best recipe), we decided we had finally found the best banana bread recipe.  And I made it for the fair.

Well, guess who else didn’t place?  Yup, CW.  So that is a big consolation.  If the woman who has won multiple blue ribbons and even BEST IN SHOW for her banana bread didn’t even place this year, could my banana bread really be so unworthy?

While I won’t get my grading papers until Sunday (which means there might be a part 6 to this series next week, if the comments written on the grading papers are degrading enough…because really, only the mean comments are fun enough to share! lol), I have a few insights into why my banana bread didn’t place.

First, I put a lot of butter on top prior to baking.  This created a lighter stripe down the middle where the solids settled, and made it looked like it might be under-baked.  Judges won’t even taste something if it isn’t fully baked, so this could be a possibility.  I know it was fully baked as I stuck a toothpick in it, but they might have judged otherwise based on appearance.

Just some of the banana breads. Mine is third row back, second from the right (it’s kind of dark colored). CW’s entry is right in front of mine, a little to the left.

Second, and you might not believe this since I took so much time to find the perfect bread, but I didn’t buy my bananas early enough! I usually let my bananas ripen for at least a week, preferably two, before making them into bread because the more ripe they are, the more banana flavor you get.  I bought mine only five days before I had to bake the bread so I put them in a paper sack along with a tomato so the gas would make them ripen faster, and they were just barely speckled after five days.

Third, the judges might have been thoroughly fed up with me for refusing to listen to their advice of greasing the bottom only of the bread pan.  The first year they wrote the advice kindly, saying that the crust would be more tender if I greased the bottom only of the pan.  The second year they put it in caps with an exclamation point…or at least I remember it that way but I tend to exaggerate things, even in memory.  In any case, the advise seemed to have turned into a command.  But dude, I did try and my bread stuck and looked totally terrible and mangled by the time it finally came out.  Plus, the crust was totally hard and definitely NOT more tender.  Maybe I need a better pan?

Fourth, I think the judges might have contracted too-much-banana-bread-itis.  There were a lot of banana bread entries this year, possibly more in this category than any other.  And I know from experience that after tasting more than 15 different banana breads, they all start to taste terrible.  I nearly puked while doing my own taste test and started grading all the banana breads with C’s and D’s after a while.  This year no one got a blue ribbon in the banana bread category.  The judges only awarded a 2nd and 3rd place ribbon.  So I think my assumption is a fair one–they got the itis.

So there you go.  There’s probably a lesson to be learned here.  Like maybe don’t work so hard to accomplish a goal that doesn’t really matter?  Don’t lose sleep over something that isn’t going to improve your life because in the end, you might not actually accomplish your goal?  But hey, I had a lot of fun with it, and it’s a story I love to share because people always get a kick out of hearing I made 28 banana breads to find the perfect one.  Now I can add…”and then I didn’t place at all!” which kind of makes the story even better.  :)  I don’t have any regrets.  Well, except that I have definitely lost my taste for banana bread and may never bake another loaf again.  lol

Here’s to celebrating life’s victories…and it’s failures.  Sometimes they are just as fun.

I know you’re ready for the winning recipes and those will start next week!  Thanks for sharing in my happiness for this year’s successes and laughter over  the epic failures.

XOXO, V

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