One of my (many) favourite things about India is the abundance of fruit. Every day, farmers from the villages make the trek from their orchards and fields into the big cities before sunrise and set up their carts in markets and along the sides of roads, promising the very freshest produce. This is a far cry from the American South, where peaches canned in syrup and flavoured gelatin “salads” have been known to pass for fruit, much to my chagrin. Here in Delhi, we buy fresh fruit in smaller quantities daily, rather than going to a grocery store once a week like we do in the US. Usually everything gets eaten, but this morning I realized that there were three bananas in the kitchen that had become a little too ripe, so I decided to make banana bread for my family.
Here’s where it gets interesting: I had no recipe, no measuring cups or spoons, and no conventional oven. The internet connection was down and my mother— whom I’ve watched make banana bread approximately one million times in my life— was fast asleep since it was 2:30 am in Atlanta. I did, however, have a toaster oven and 23 years of baking knowledge/street smarts, so I could probably throw together a recipe, right? Right. Or so I thought, until I actually got started, at which point my thought process went something like this: Do I need baking soda or baking powder? How many eggs? Is maida going to act the same as the whole wheat pastry flour I use at home? Oh god, how long do you even bake banana bread for?
All I knew about banana bread is that the best way to make it is to soak the bananas in coffee first and that the batter tastes amazing, so I started by making a cup of strong instant decaf (which was all I could find). I only had a little more than a cup of flour and a little less than a third of a cup of butter on hand, so I used those as the keystones of my recipe. Obviously two eggs would be too many, so I just added one. The only sugar we had at home was raw, unrefined cane sugar (called shakkar or gur), which tastes similar to brown sugar, so I used that. I omitted the vanilla that I’m pretty sure comes standard in banana bread recipes— although I did add some ground cinnamon and cloves. I knew that baking soda could be subbed for baking powder but not vice versa, so I chose to use the soda (is there a rule about when to use which?). The recipe actually turned out decently, not that you can tell from my blurry phone pictures (sorry!). The bread was moist but not very sweet, so next time I’d add a little more sugar or maybe some honey. I checked to see if the loaf was done every ten minutes after the first twenty (I know, I know)— it ended up baking for about 50 minutes total. As you can tell, this was the result of a lot of guestimating, as we used to say in grade school math classes. Here’s the recipe rounded out to real measurements.
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar (I used unrefined cane sugar)
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup black coffee, cold (I used instant)
1. pour coffee over the mashed bananas and let sit (you can soak them for a couple hours if you have time)
2. Set toaster oven to bake at 175 degrees C (350 F).
3. Mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves in one bowl. Cream sugar and butter in another, then add the egg and bananas. Stir until blended well, then pour into the flour and mix until just blended.
4. Grease pan (I used a small square CorningWare dish), pour in mixture, and bake for 50-60 minutes. Let the banana bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then take it out and serve.