Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Best Banana Nut Bread EVER. Period.

What can I say? It's a baking kinda week...

I don't generally take my cue from Old Blue Eyes, but Frank Sinatra once admitted to some deeply rooted desires I feel explain a pretty primordial aspect of the human condition that might provide us with some personal insight if we could all be just a little more in tune to them:
"Start spreading the new. I'm leaving today...I wanna wake up in a city that doesn't sleep, and find I'm a-number-one, king of the kill, top of the heap. [Which would therefore make] these little town blues [start] melting away [and] I'[d] make a brand new start of it - in old New York!"
Because let's face it: if you can make it there, you'll make it anymore. It's up to YOU, right?

Ah, clarity at last. And hey, if you don't "make it," then at least you'll have some freakin' amazing meals. See what I'm getting at? Get to New York!
And when you do, you should be asking yourself one question and one question alone: Why haven't I made re
servations at Payard yet?

A sort of mecca for lovers of patisserie-perfection coupled with outstanding service and savory treats that will haunt you for years to come, I have many reasons, mostly self-involved, why I have decided to dedicate today's blog entry to a recipe from my favorite French restaurant in NYC.

Top 5 Reasons Payard Rocks
(self-involved & otherwise)

5. While I can no longer vouch for the present
maître d', when Matt and I frequented the place, it was flawlessly run by a short but incredibly light-footed Frenchman belonging to a 17th generation family still residing on Paris' famed Île de la Cité. He was the type of man whose accent and prerequisite snobbery were contagiously charming. By the end of the first sitting, every woman wanted to be with him and every man wanted to be him - tapered suit pants, wide European tie and checkered shirt and jacket with two slits notwithstanding. He pushed in chairs before you noticed, laughed and joked just long and loudly enough to make you feel privileged, corrected server's pronunciations with an irresistible flourish, gave you sufficient extra glasses of wine accompanied by little gifts of exquisiteness from the chef to make you feel like a movie star, and always seemed to make it across the room just in time to toss his wild, untamed mane of hair elegantly and toast with the regulars at the chef's table. In short, he made Matt's 24th birthday meal unforgettably exciting and was one of the reasons we always looked for an excuse to go back.

4. F. Payard being a
pâtissier first, his restaurant boasts its very own in-house pâtisserie complete with a cafe section where you can enjoy a leisurely cafe au lait and croissant in the early noon, or a decadent concoction of traditional French sweetness in the evening. Never a disappointment. (On a note of unimportant but amusing pop culture - Payard's cafe and its agonizingly decadent chocolate cake were featured on episode 52 of Sex and the City.)

3. Despite Payard's having an international reputation for excellence in desserts and pastry, it is not necessarily the first place people who like good French meals think to go. Yes, it's popular, and yes, it's almost always filled to the brim, but you won't find a month-long reservation wait, nor will you find it chock-full of tourists. It's a great, local find. And their window displays are always to die for.

2. The food is unbelievable. Not only do they offer a very reasonably priced tasting menu, especially when compared to other reputable French restaurants in NYC, but the quality is, I would argue, usually as good as you get at places like the much and deservedly lauded Daniel (where, incidentally, Matt and I celebrated his 25th birthday), but *without* the insouciant snobbery. Always a plus in these shady economic times.

1. Last but definitely not least: This is where Matt and I got engaged in 2006. As if that weren't a good enough reason per se, the night of our engagement I also received a copy of Payard's book Simply Sensational Desserts. That is where I found this little gem of a recipe which I truly believe is the Best Banana Nut Bread EVER. Period.

* * *

The Best Banana Nut Bread EVER.

Makes 1 loaf or 8 servings

Most of you know, I'm not a big baker, so when I find something that works - I hang on and never let go. This recipe is so great, I think, because of the addition of olive oil to the batter, which gives the cake a moist finish like none other I've had. I also like to change the recipe by adding walnuts, but it is just as good without them. Extremely banana-y, which cannot be said for most banana breads, oddly. It can be a decadent snack, a delicious toasted breakfast, or even a rustic dessert when served warm with vanilla ice cream.

1 cup (145 grams) all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp baking powder
Pinch of baking soda
8 tbsp (1 stick) (113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tbsps (20 grams) olive oil

3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar

4 large eggs

1 extra-ripe medium banana, peeled and mashed
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Butter and flour a loaf tin (81/2 x 41/2 x 21/2 -inch).

2. Sift togeter the flour, baking powder and baking soda.

3. Separately, mix together butter, olive oil and sugar at low speed. Increase the speed to medium an dadd the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in the mashed banana. Add the flour mixture and mix just until combined. (Add optional nuts and fold in by hand).

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.

5. Bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes u
ntil the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes and serve.

*Will keep in an airtight container for 3 days, 1 week in the fridge, or 2 months in the freezer.

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  1. I have many an over-ripe banana sitting in my kitchen right now that may get the Payard treatment.

  2. With a stash of 6 (yes, 6) BLACK BANANAS in my freezer, I made my grandmothers banana bread last week. The most satisying part of it (aside from eating it slathered with butter from my CSA) were the exclamations of "mmmm!" and "ooooh that smells good!" that I could hear coming from the hallway in my apartment building (I only assume they were in reference to the soft smells of warm walnuts and banana baking in my tiny oven!)

    I will try this recipie next!