"In the Midwest, our love of baking is real and it's deep," Shauna Sever writes in the introduction to her newest book, "Midwest Made- Big, Bold Baking From the Heartland." She continues, "Other parts of the country have much more definitive food personalities-we all know what to expect from sweets in the South, the edgy bakeries of Brooklyn, or even dessert in California…”
"Midwest recipes tend to be handed down through generations, most with dynamic immigrant influences...From the Dakotas to Ohio, from Minnesota to Missouri, the Midwest is a veritable quilt of twelve states full of history, values, recipes, people, and places that make up the baking culture of the Heartland."
After living in California for more than a decade, Sever, who was born in Chicago, says she craved "tradition." As a result, a lot of her recipes have deep roots, and whenever possible, she tells their story.
She writes, "Sometimes recipes are so ubiquitous, so deeply embedded in our culture, it's hard to believe there was a time when that recipe didn't exist in the home baker's canon. The ultimate example of this is banana bread."
The minute I read that, I was hooked. I've been using the same recipe for banana bread since my middle-aged children were toddlers, and I was curious to try another. Sever credits Mary Ellis Ames, a legendary home economist popular in the 1930s-'50s, with developing the first-ever published recipe for banana bread, which was included in the 1933 edition of "Pillsbury's Balanced Recipes" cookbook.
Digging a little deeper, she talks about the invention of double-acting baking powder in Calumet City, Illinois, in 1889. The new invention made it possible for home cooks to bake "quick breads" that could be prepped and then immediately baked, in contrast to yeast-raised breads that took hours to rise. Quick breads, as a genre, are often sweet enough to serve for dessert. That's certainly the case with the banana bread.
"The midwestern recipe box tends to sit happily at the intersection of tradition and modernity….," Sever concludes, "Heirloom recipes and family tradition are the backbone of midwestern baking.” As for the Midwest itself, she says it's "...a place that calls you back home, no matter how long you've been away."
The Only Banana Bread You’ll Ever Need
Serves 8 to 10
1 3/4 cups mashed, very ripe bananas
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached, all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar for sprinkling
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 325-degrees F. Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper with a couple of inches overhang on 2 opposite sides.
In a large bowl, stir together the mashed bananas, brown sugar, oil, buttermilk, eggs, rum (if using) and vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and fold until just blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Place the granulated sugar in a small bowl. Dampen your fingertips with water and work them into the sugar until it just begins to look like snow-if you pinch some, it should just barely hold together. Sprinkle the dampened sugar over the batter, aiming to get it clumped up together in spots.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 60 to 70 minutes. Let cool for twenty minutes in the pan, then use the parchment paper to help lift the loaf out of the pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
"Midwest Made-Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland," Shauna Sever (Running Press, $30)