A Toasty Tale

“Mise en place or you’re toast,” read one of the posters displayed in a “can’t miss” spot at The Culinary School of Kendall College when it was still in Evanston. I smiled every time I saw it, yet I never really absorbed the message.

Simplifying the translation, “mise en place” is shorthand for having all the ingredients for a particular dish measured, cut, chopped, grated, sliced and diced before you begin cooking. “Mise en place” is basic; it’s standard operating procedure, and any chef worth his or her toque follows it to the letter. But I’m not a chef. What I am is a capable cook who’s impatient and wants to get started, as in “right now.”

So last week, when I was gearing up to make my favorite banana bread for about the zillionth time, I decided to get a head start. It took a few minutes to locate all of the necessary parts of the Cuisinart food processor, and then, like always, I had to dig out the instructions. Somehow, I can never remember that the handle goes in front. I finally wrote that nugget of information on the outside of the instruction booklet to speed the set up, but, of course, I still have to locate the booklet to see what’s on the front cover.

With the Cuisinart up and running, I put the requisite stick of butter in it, along with two cups of sugar, thinking I’d get everything else out and measured while the butter and sugar bonded, so to speak. Imagine my surprise when I checked the recipe and discovered that I only needed 1 1/3 cups of sugar. Two cups of flour, 1 1/3 cups of sugar… I dumped the sugar and butter and started over.

I had more butter, but it was frozen. No problem. I put the stick of butter in the microwave, pushed all the necessary buttons, and went back to the task at hand. Chastened, I adopted a more methodical approach. Or at least I thought I did.

When I was putting the batter into the greased bread pan, I thought it looked a little soupy. I popped it into the pre-heated oven anyway. Two or three minutes later, I realized I’d forgotten to put in the second cup of flour. To be honest, I’ve done that a few times; you’d think I’d learn a lesson. My signature banana bread is, however, one of the most forgiving recipes in the universe. I took the pan out of the oven, mixed in the second cup of flour, and put the pan back in the oven.

This should be the end of the story, only it isn’t. Halfway through the bake time, I opened the microwave, and there was the stick of butter. The smell of the baking banana bread perfumed the air in the kitchen, and when I turned on the oven light to check on it, everything looked perfectly normal, just as it did when I took the banana bread out of the oven.

banana bread with/without butter

banana bread with/without butter

Once the bread cooled, I cut it in half to check the inside. It looked much like any other banana bread, albeit a trifle drier. I cut a slice. Not quite as good as usual but certainly edible. Especially if you added ice cream, the all-purpose remedy. Had I somehow added butter without realizing it? I’ll never know, but in my kitchen, “mise en plas” is now the Golden Rule.

Banana Bread
½ cup sour milk or buttermilk
1 stick butter
3 ripe bananas
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees
Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan
Bake 55-60 minutes

Combine the butter and sugar.
Add the bananas, cut into chunks. Combine until smooth.
Measure the flour and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir with a spatula or wooden spoon, and set aside.
Combine the buttermilk (or sour milk), eggs, and vanilla in a separate container.
Add the dry and liquid ingredients, preferably in alternating batches.
When completely mixed, pour the batter into a greased 9x5-inch loaf pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for 55-60 minutes. Using a toothpick, check to make sure the loaf is completed cooked before taking it out of the oven.
Let the bread cool for a few minutes before taking it out of the pan. Put the bread on a cake rack, and let it cool to room temperature.

Note: I use powdered buttermilk. Follow the directions. Remember to refrigerate the powdered buttermilk after it’s opened. You can mix the powdered buttermilk with the flour and the liquid with the eggs and the other wet ingredients.
I’m not sure why this is a banana “bread” rather than a banana “cake.” The shape of the pan could have something to do with it.

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