Caribbean Banana Bread

Have you ever been asked about your stance on banana bread? The options are pretty much always plain, nuts, or chocolate.

Why is this? Why limit yourself to these simple, obvious ingredients?

Why not add whatever you want?

Don’t get me wrong: classic banana bread is wonderful. But sometimes you want to shake things up, sometimes you want to try something new, sometimes you realize your shredded coconut is – shoot! – past its expiration date and you could either throw it out or test your immune system’s ability to defend itself against expired coconut (what even happens when coconut “expires”? It just seemed dry to me)…

banana bread

This recipe starts with a good staple version from The Kitchn, and then amps it up. In the easiest way possible. Because I was bored. And hungry. And maybe a teensy bit lazy (what, can’t a girl crave some banana bread with minimal work involved?). A little rummaging in my cabinet lead to a Caribbean-inspired bread that really just tastes like dessert. And happiness. Why wouldn’t you want to add to banana bread?

You can go crazy with this recipe. Banana bread is hard to mess up. Once you get the basics (flour, eggs, sugar, bananas, etc.) then you can play with it (walnuts, pecans, toasted shredded coconut, chocolate chips, toffee bits, raisinettes, butterscotch chips, the possibilities are endless!). I added ~3 extra cups of ingredients to this recipe and it was perfectly fine. So get creative, work with what you have, and report back to me on how it goes!

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CARIBBEAN BANANA BREAD

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar (brown or white; I used half and half)

2 large eggs

2-3 bananas, super ripe

¼ cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ cup chocolate toffee bits

1 ½ cups chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted

¾ cup shredded coconut, toasted

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Instructions adapted from The Kitchn.

1. Heat the oven, prep the pan, and toast the coconut and nuts: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Grease the loaf pan with butter or baking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, spread the shredded coconut and nuts evenly over the top, and toast in the oven while it preheats (~10 minutes, but watch them closely and pull out once the coconut turns golden). 

2. Melt the butter: Melt in the microwave. Or, if you have room temperature butter, you can use that for a fluffier cake.

3. Combine the butter and sugars: Whisk together the melted butter and sugars in a large bowl until combined. (Or cream in a mixer until fluffy.)

4. Add the eggs: Crack the eggs into the bowl and whisk until completely combined. The mixture should be smooth.

5. Add the milk and vanilla: Whisk into the batter until combined.

6. Mash in the bananas: For chunky banana bread, peel the bananas and add them directly to the bowl. Using a dinner fork, mash them into the batter. If you want a smooth bread, mash the bananas separately until no more lumps remain, and then whisk them into the batter.

7. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt: In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Use a spatula to stir the dry ingredients into the wet batter until they are just barely combined and no more dry flour is visible.

8. Fold in the nuts, coconut, chocolate toffee bits, etc, if using: Scatter everything over the batter and gently fold them in.

9. Pour the batter into the pan: Use the spatula to scrape off all the batter from the bowl. Smooth the top of the bread batter.

10. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes: Place the pan in the oven. Bake until the top of the cake is caramelized dark brown and a tooth pick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Baking time will vary depending on the age of your bananas, how many things you add, etc. — start checking around 50 minutes and then every five minutes after.

11. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes: Set the loaf, still in the pan, on a cooling rack. Let it cool for 10 minutes so it solidifies and gets easier to remove from the pan.

12. Remove from the pan and cool for another 10 minutes: Place your (clean!) hand gently on top of the loaf and flip it over into your hand. Set it back down on the cooling rack to cool for another 10 minutes before slicing. Leftover bread can be kept, covered, at room temperature for several days or wrapped in foil and frozen for up to 3 months.

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Easy, delicious, and unique. Use any ingredients you have on hand – the only things that really matter are the ripe bananas. Recommandation d’experts: spread some butter on a freshly cut piece of this bread for a perfect, decadent treat. Besides, what are a few more calories anyways?!

caribbean banana bread

Good-Luck-on-Quals Brownies (or, Seven-Layer Bar Cookies Baked into Fudgy Brownies)

Do you think they got the "good luck" message?
Eleven students in my department recently took their qualifying exams (“quals”). Quals consist of five very open-ended, difficult questions written by five different professors. You have three days and three hours to complete the take-home exam, using any books, notes, the Internet, etc. that you want – you just can’t discuss the questions with anyone. Remember open-note exams in college? And how they were often more difficult than close-note exams? Well this is like that… but a million times harder. You have to pass quals to become an official PhD candidate, and you only get two chances. Yikes!

I’ll be taking this monstrous exam in a year, but this time around, I got to be on the “good luck” committee! Which doesn’t exist. I invented it. But it ought to exist. Because who doesn’t want a good luck brownie when they’re going into a three-day exam?!

While all the quals kids suffered, you can 1) be thankful that you are not in their shoes, and 2) consider making this recipe of fudgy, sugary ridiculousness. These brownies were inspired by a recipe from the book “Bake it in a Cupcake” by Megan Seling, which my best friend gave me for my birthday. This cookbook contains a bunch of fantastic desserts baked into various flavored cupcakes for double the awesomeness. I adapted the Seven-Layer Bar Brownie Cupcakes and made a tray of brownies instead. I increased many of the ingredients, added toffee bits to the brownies, and went bonkers over the crazy increase in baking time. These brownies are almost like fudge on the inside, they’re so gooey and sugary.

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SEVEN LAYER BAR COOKIES

6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) butter, melted
1 1/5 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup toffee bits
1 ¼ cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 ¼ cup chopped pecans
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

BROWNIES

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken or chopped into small pieces
1 1/8 cup (2 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

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1. Make the seven-layer bars first. Preheat oven to 350F, spray a 9”x13” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Stir the melted butter & graham cracker crumbs together until all crumbs are moist; press them into the bottom of the pan. Evenly layer the rest of the ingredients, in the order listed, over top of the crust. Pour the condensed milk over the top and bake for some crazy amount of time. The book says 25 minutes; mine took 35+. You want the edges to be bubbling and the coconut starting to turn golden brown, but the inside of my bars was still a bit gooey at this point so I ended up cooking an extra 10+ minutes. Cool completely before cutting (but be sure to sample the corner while it’s warm, accompanied by a glass of milk!).

2. Make the brownie batter once the seven-layer bars are cool. Place the chocolate and butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 90 seconds, stopping halfway through to stir the butter and chocolate together. Continue stirring until everything melted together – you can microwave a tiny bit more as necessary, but be really careful you don’t burn the chocolate. It’s much better to stir and wait for the chocolate to melt slowly. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the granulated sugar until it’s well-mixed. Stir in the eggs, one at a time until the mixture is smooth. Add the salt and vanilla and stir for 30 seconds, until they’re both well-mixed. Mix in the flour until just combined – don’t overstir!

3. Finally, assemble the brownies. Cut up the seven-layer bars into 1.5-2 inch squares (it doesn’t matter how neat these squares are) and move to a different plate/container. Wash the 9-inch by 13-inch pan, dry, and spray again with nonstick cooking spray. Pour about half the brownie batter into the tray, gently place squares of the seven-layer bars on top so they’re almost touching each other, and pour the rest of the brownie batter on top. Bake for goodness knows how long. I think I ended up baking for 50+ minutes. Keep testing the brownies with a toothpick. The edges and top will be very crusty, but the inside stays oh-so-gooey, so pull them out when there’s just a tiny bit of dough sticking to the toothpick. Allow them to cool before cutting (you can refrigerate them after 15 minutes if you want to speed this step up).

If everyone fails quals because they OD on sugar, this recipe never happened