It's challenging to precisely remember the world of cooking / cookbooks before the Food Network and celebrity chefs. The Food Network launched late in 1993 (may not even have been available in Canada yet...) and at first it featured many chefs whose names I do not recognize. BBC's The Naked Chef (aka Jamie Oliver) began in 1999 (again, not sure when it was picked up on this side of the pond.)

Given that context, it may be easier to understand the success of Ann Hodgman's "Beat This!" Cookbook. It was reprinted 10 times between 1993 and 2011. She followed that with two more cookbooks (did not know that..) and some children's fiction. The book's premise was that she was tired of hearing people saying they had the best recipe for... So she set out to find best recipes that were "unbeatable".

The book also generated some buzz because Hodgman included the infamous Nieman-Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. Infamous because of the story / myth that a woman was charged $250 for the recipe and in revenge began to give it away to others for free. (Presumably, in hard copy since the Internet / WWW was in it's infancy.)  Nieman-Marcus refers to the story and shares the recipe here. Shockingly it is not the same as the Hodgman recipe!!?? This NYT article reviews the myth, and shares the newer NM recipe as well as the Hodgman one with oatmeal.

So, the book is filled with "bests". IS this the BEST banana bread? I don't know. It's the only one I have ever made, though my collection includes several other recipes that claim to be "the best".

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter loaf pans. (See Notes, below).

2 cups sugar
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter at room temp

Cream the sugar and butter until light and whipped creamy.

6 very ripe medium bananas
4 large eggs well beaten
1 TB fresh lemon juice
2 tsp grated orange rind

Mush the bananas a bit with a fork. To the sugar / butter mixture, add the bananas, eggs, lemon juice and orange rind. Beat until uniformly blended.

2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Sift together the dry ingredients and fold lightly but thoroughly into the banana mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until the loaves are firm in the middle and the edges begin to pull away from the pans. Cool the loaves on racks for 1/2 hour before removing them from the pans. This freezes very well.


Notes and Tips...

  • Pans -  this recipe makes either two 9 x 5" loaf pans or six little loaf pans (about 2.5 x 5 inches). I always make six - freezing at least half of them. They come in handy as a wee treat or a hostess gift. Technically, the recipe can be halved for one 9 x 5".
  • Butter at room temperature - click here for info and tips about butter - especially if butter is not yet at room temp.
  • Bananas - I either do not have very ripe bananas on hand, or I am making banana bread precisely because I am staring at very ripe bananas. But what if I have very ripe bananas and no time to bake? Ripe bananas can be frozen right in the peel, or with the peel removed. I let them thaw before using, or briefly microwave thaw them. If that process gives off excessive liquid, I drain some of that off before using. (Smoothie lovers may already know the trick of placing 1" chunks of bananas on a tray, and then storing them in a freezer baggie once they freeze solid - that way no need for ice.)
  • Grated orange rind - I always wash and dry citrus (actually all fruits). When zesting I make sure the orange is thoroughly dried. Remember the tip - zest upwards.
  • Cake flour, sifted - it is important to measure the flour and then sift. "Flour, sifted" is not the same as "sifted flour". In the case of the latter the flour is sifted first and then measured. ATK has done the testing for us. They warn, for example, that a cup of all-purpose flour, unsifted, will weigh 5 oz. On the other hand, when the flour is sifted first and then measured using the scoop and sweep method, the actual weight of the flour will be only 4 oz and the baking project will be flawed. Watch their short video. Noteworthy that expert bakers always measure ingredients by weight.
  • Baking time - since I use 6 small pans they will not need such a long bake time. I begin checking them at 25 minutes and every 5 minutes after until a toothpick comes out clean
  • For KB Recipe Attribution Practices please click here.

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