Monday, April 18, 2011

Banana Bread: A Bread Flour Experiment

I am a procrastinator of the highest order.  I put things off because in my world things usually sort themselves out.  I don't like wasting energy, mental or otherwise, if things are all going to come out in the wash in the end.  On a personal level this usually works out for me but I also think this quality is unfair to those around me. 

It's hard on my husband to deal with if he sees a pressing need knowing that I'm not going to do anything about it until it is crunch time.  I will probably handle it with my usual non-chalant, no urgency manner, which adds to the stress of those around me.  It can be irresponsible when  the pressing issue is something related to my children.  I forget to be an advocate at times.  I wait too long and sometimes the results can be damaging. 

Without being too revealing this is weighing on me heavily these last few days.  This is my nature, it is who I am, but I am apologetic for it.  It is something I suspect I am capable of changing and so I will begin to work on that. 

Case in point:  the browning bananas in my fridge. I bought these bananas two weeks ago with the intention of this post.  They sat on my counter as I ate one for breakfast each morning until they began to brown.  I had intended to make banana bread last Thursday but I didn't have any eggs and I didn't want to go to the store (why go pick up eggs today if I have to go back next week for a big shopping?).  Last Friday (as in two Friday's ago) we left town and I stuck them in the fridge before I left to ward off the fruit fly invasion.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was a long time ago but I'm finally done procrastinating.

Recently I've discovered bread flour.  I always knew it existed but I'm really narrow minded when it comes to products for the kitchen and I'm also pretty cheap.  I'm ashamed to say that but it's true, just ask my husband.  As far as flour goes it's always been all purpose for everything.  I now keep a box of cake flour in my cupboard and recently picked up a huge 50 lb. bag of bread flour at Costco.  I do bake a lot of bread afterall!

You might be asking yourself what the difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour is.  Here is the answer: 

Bread flour is a high-gluten flour that has very small amounts of malted barley flour and vitamin C or potassium bromate added. The barley flour helps the yeast work, and the other additive increases the elasticity of the gluten and its ability to retain gas as the dough rises and bakes. Bread flour is called for in many bread and pizza crust recipes where you want the loftiness or chewiness that the extra gluten provides. It is especially useful as a component in rye, barley and other mixed-grain breads, where the added lift of the bread flour is necessary to boost the other grains. 

All-purpose flour is made from a blend of high- and low-gluten wheats, and has a bit less protein than bread flour — 11% or 12% vs. 13% or 14%. You can always substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour, although your results may not be as glorious as you had hoped. There are many recipes, however, where the use of bread flour in place of all-purpose will produce a tough, chewy, disappointing result. Cakes, for instance, are often made with all-purpose flour, but would not be nearly as good made with bread flour.

 Let's compare.  Here is one of the first photos of a loaf of bread I posted here on my blog.  Notice how dense it is?  Delicious but dense.

Now here is the last loaf I posted.  Yes, it's a different recipe but do you see how light and fluffy it is?  With actual air pockets, much more like the bread you would buy from a commercial bakery.

It truly does make a huge difference.  I am hooked. 

Several weeks ago (when I bought those dang bananas) I was throwing the idea around of using bread flour in a quick bread.  How different would they turn out and which one would I like better?  I decided I had to give it a try.  

Let's take another look at that picture at the very beginning of the post. The loaf on the right is the bread flour loaf and the one on the left is the all-purpose flour loaf.  The bread flour loaf rose slightly higher and was less "heavy" both in taste, texture, and appearance.  I like how it tastes slightly better, it isn't a huge difference, but it is enough for me to say that if I am baking bread of any kind, I will be using bread flour.  I really anticipated this to be a much more dramatic difference so I'm glad I did this little science experiment. My recipes will now reflect bread flour when I think it will yield a better result.

Banana Bread
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Place oven rack in its lowest position. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms only of 2 loaf pans 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2.

Mix sugar and butter in a large bowl. Stir in eggs until well blended. Add bananas, and vanilla. Beat until smooth.

In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add half of dry ingredients to banana mixture and mix until just combined.  Add in buttermilk and mix until just combined.  Now add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Pour into pans. Bake for 1 hour, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans. Cool completely before slicing.

Servings: 20
Yield: 2 loaves
Cooking Times
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Oven Temperature: 350°F

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