27 March, 2010

apple banana bread

For my wedding shower my aunt asked all the women attending to submit two of their favorite recipes and put them all into a book for me. The most precious one is probably the recipe for doughnuts, written by a great aunt in barely-legible handwriting. My mother-in-law gave me her recipe for banana bread, which is very good, but also very rich - too rich for my everyday tastes. So I immediately tried to make it a bit healthier. I've played around with this recipe a lot and it almost always turns out good. At first, I substituted the shortening with flax meal. You can use flax meal instead of any other fat in baking, just by tripling the volume. I added some apple sauce to make sure it didn't get too dry, and it worked splendidly. I was quite proud of my ability to work flax meal into a bread, but I changed my mind about that after discussing it with my organic chemistry professor.

Let me take a minute to tell you about this woman because she is wonderful. She was born in India but moved to America to get her PhD in Organic Chemistry. She has been teaching here for years and is quite innovative in her methods. After I took her class she asked me to be a leader for a small study group, several of which she puts together every year in order to provide her new students with help from those who have already done well in this notoriously difficult class. Every week the group leaders meet with her to discuss the topic of the week and she always brings food. Sometimes just sliced apples and cheese, but often her own homemade bread and Indian dishes. Over the years we've really developed a friendship and every once in a while I can convince her to sneak away from the eternal line of students outside her office to have lunch with me. Food is often a topic of conversation between us, and I have learned so many interesting things about the chemistry of cooking. Including what happens to all those good fats in flax seeds when you heat them up.

Everybody has heard of trans-fats, but most of us has no idea what that really means. Fats are a chain of carbons and hydrogens strung together with alternating single and double bonds. You have to kinds of chains, "cis" and "trans".

The reason that the trans-fatty acids are bad for you is that they cause these chains to get all kinked up and to form larger fat molecules when several of them get together. Those larger molecules are known as low-density lipoprotiens. That's LDL, the "bad" cholesterol.

Okay, you made it through the chemistry lesson. The point is that you get a lot more good out of sprinkling some raw flax meal on top of your oatmeal or yogurt than you do when you bake with it.

And finally here's the recipe. It's not too sweet, just right for breakfast or an afternoon snack with a cup of tea. Even my mother-in-law likes it!

Apple Banana Bread Recipe:
I used a granny smith apple, but not a very tart one. Also, you can peel it if you like but I don't think it's necessary.

1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2 ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped or broken up with your hand
1/2 cup apple, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat the oven to 350˚F
Blend oil and sugar together with a hand mixer, then add the egg.
Break the bananas into small pieces as you add them to the bowl and blend them in. You may have to mash them up a bit with the end of the mixer or a fork.
Blend in the flour and baking soda.
Fold in the walnuts and apples.
Bake in an oiled loaf pain until an inserted tooth pick comes out dry, about 50 minutes.

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