Back in my single days when I had just arrived in China, fresh from college and ready to teach English, I hadn’t a clue about baking. I don’t think I had ever baked anything in my life except peanut butter cookies and a failed, stone-heavy yogurt cake. All through college in Toronto I had survived on stir-fries and cheap take-out from the Chinese BBQ place downstairs (they would give you a big styrofoam box of rice with slices of BBQ pork and duck on top, and douse it with a generous ladleful of sauce. The sauce was the best. That $4.25 box of meat and rice could last me a couple of meals, if there was enough sauce to go with the rice).
But when I arrived in China I discovered that my roommate Andrea was a talented cook, who loved to putter around the kitchen and decorated her room with creative paper cutouts – a domestic soul, something I wasn’t really used to among my friends from Toronto. She was from a town and family where, apparently, they taught you to cook. I was a skill-less city girl, ready to rough it in China. I didn’t realize then that I would grow to love cooking, baking, and decorating too (though that took another couple of years, when I got married)!
Andrea taught me to make this banana bread in our tiny little Chinese kitchen. We had no oven, just two flukey toaster ovens. One of them was tiny and would never fit a loaf pan inside, and the other one’s lower element was broken. We had to cover our brownies with foil to prevent the top from burning before the bottom was done. But it worked. And now, I figure that if I can bake banana bread in a toaster oven in China, I can bake anything.
Andrea’s aunt developed this banana bread recipe, experimenting with all the ingredients to get the perfect balance of moistness and flavor. It became a treasured family recipe that Andrea graciously shared with me. It’s a super easy, classic quick bread recipe, one that even I, a total noob, learned in a jiffy.
I’ve made a few changes over the years – I’ve grown accustomed to less sweetness, so I reduced the sugar a bit, and I’ve started making it with part whole wheat flour and olive oil – but the framework of the recipe is the same. Sometimes I like to toss in a handful of dried cranberries, but you can do it just plain or add walnuts if you like.
Andrea’s Best Ever Banana Bread
Makes 2 medium loaves
4 ripe large bananas
1 ½ cups sugar + 1 tbsp
1 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin)
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you can sub part with whole wheat flour)
2 tsp baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, olive oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and 1 ½ cups sugar. Mix together thoroughly.
2. In a small cup, mix the baking soda with some of the flour. Then dump all of the flour, with the baking soda, and salt, on top of the wet ingredients. Stir until everything is well moistened.
3. Butter two medium loaf pans. Pour the batter into the pans and sprinkle tops of loaves with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 60 minutes or longer, until a tester inserted into loaves comes out clean. Depending on your oven, though, you’ll want to check these at 50 minutes to be sure – there’s nothing worse than overcooked banana bread!
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