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My friend Pam is a multi-talented woman. She enjoys a stunning alto solo voice; cooks like a fiend; entertains largely and comfortably; cultivates a wry wit; is an avid reader; makes a devoted wife, mom, church member, and friend; plays a mean piano, and –the thing I might most envy– is the epitome of organization. What most people don’t know about Miss Pam is she’s also a fine gardener who loves and generously shares the bounty of her craft. While summers here in the front range are late and short with cool nights, she still manages to get a crop or two in each year despite two black Labrador retrievers romping all over her big backyard. Best sous and husband Dave and I are often the recipients of her largesse when the weather warms and the other day Pam’s husband Lee drove over for a visit toting some of her rhubarb along as a gift to us. As rhubarb keeps pretty darned well in the fridge, I didn’t worry about using it quickly. Needing a snack on the not-too-sweet side yesterday, though, I soon heard that rhubarb calling my name, whispering, “bake, bake, bake…” and pulled it out to see just exactly how much she’d sent. To be on the safe side, I chopped it up and measured it to find I easily had a cup plus. Not enough for a pie or a cobbler, there was plenty for a simple cake or quick bread if I included another fruit in the mix. With a side-eyed sniff at the counter, it was apparent the partner needed to be bananas. Then again, I’d never heard of rhubarb and bananas. You? Turns out: It’s a match made in heaven.
I had, a few weeks ago for pinochle group, made a luscious version of British Columbian gardener and cook Sabrina Currie’s Rhubarb Snack Cake. Playing around, as baking expert Dorie Greenspan would encourage, I made the cake with half white and half wheat flour (something Sabrina indicated would work) and used apple in one half and strawberries in the other half with the rhubarb throughout. (I had a guest who couldn’t eat strawberries.) That day, too, I was short on rhubarb–gifted from a neighbor. (Rhubarb is currently $8 per pound at the store.) What I didn’t manage to do was cut the sugar –hard to do with rhubarb– but I was on to something. The printed recipe remained taped on my cabinet, a good sign I wasn’t done with it yet. If I managed to cut the sugar enough, what began as a cake would feel more like a quick bread as in “banana bread.” No problem with that.
When Pam’s rhubarb sang its tart song, my mind did go straight to strawberries again. I mean, that’s the go-to for rhubarb marriage, right? And I had big, ripe strawberries in the fridge. Those berries were ready, willing, and able. But I was about to have to pitch or freeze the dark and increasingly fragrant bananas, so they instead headed up the list of unusual suspects much to my later happiness. We’re on a low fat diet for a couple of weeks around here (doctor’s orders for best sous and husband Dave) and Sabrina’s 9×5 loaf cake only called for 1/2 cup of fat — and it was olive oil, all the better for increasing health. I’m a big butter baker but when I need to, I’ll run fast with olive oil.
What is the Difference Between Quick Bread and Cake? (Hint: Method, sweetness, amount of fat and sweetening.)
Baking healthier baked goods is not an easy task but can include increasing whole grains, nuts, and fruit; decreasing animal fats, sugar, and sometimes eggs; and enjoying smaller portions. With those ideas in mind, what I’ve by then been thinking of as bread came together just fine, thanks. This time, I did cut the sugar in half, relying on the ripe banana’s innate sweetness to go the distance. It’s not overly sweet, as I’ve said, but is soooo tender, making it a fine treat for breakfast, snacking, or just sneaking an extra skinny slice for the second cup of tea. Could you add a little ice cream or whipped cream and turn it into a more serious dessert? Of course, but try a dollop of plain yogurt drizzled with a wee stream of local honey or maybe a dusting of cinnamon when you try this:
Rhubarb-Banana Olive Oil Bread
- 1 cup each: unbleached all-purpose flour (120 grams) and whole wheat flour (113 grams)
- ¼ teaspoon each: kosher salt, ground cloves, and ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar (100 grams)
- ½ cup each: no-fat Greek yogurt and light sour cream or use all yogurt
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (100 grams)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup each: rhubarb (120 grams) cut into small dice and mashed bananas ( 227 grams – about 3 small bananas)
- PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 F and place rack at center. Grease a 9”x5” loaf pan well.
- STIR TOGETHER the flours, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Set aside.
- BEAT TOGETHER the eggs, sugar, yogurt, sour cream, olive oil, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.
- ADD THE YOGURT MIXTURE to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
- STIR IN THE RHUBARB AND BANANA. The batter will be quite thick.
- SPOON BATTER INTO THE PREPARED LOAF PAN and smooth the top.
- BAKE FOR 50-55 MINUTES or until skewer comes out clean when stuck into the center. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Holding the pan at each end with mitts or potholders, bang the pan a few times solidly on the counter. (Run a small knife around edges if the cake doesn't appear loose as you bang it.) Turn out onto rack and cool completely.STORAGE: Store well-wrapped at room temperature for 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to a week. Freeze, double-wrapped, for 2-3 months.
TIPS AND CHANGE IT UP:
Olive oil: If you have a choice of oils in your cupboards, taste them to decide which to use in your bread. Use the milder oil.
SKEWER OR TOOTHPICK?
above: While recipes for baked goods often indicate using a toothpick stuck in the middle (or more places) to determine doneness, I like a good bamboo skewer instead — particularly for larger breads or cakes. I wash them and use them several times before they’re ready for tossing. Of course they’re useful for grilling small things like shrimp or cherry tomatoes, too.
DO EGGS REALLY NEED TO BE AT ROOM TEMP? MANY TIMES, YES.
above: The right sized room temperature eggs (2 ounces per large egg) really do make a difference in both mixing and baking baked goods, particularly if you are first creaming butter and sugar. For many quick breads, you can probably get away with cold eggs (no creaming) but I’m still firmly in the room temp eggs group as everything mixes up a little better.
If you’ve forgotten to get yours out of the fridge to warm up, just place them in a cup or bowl of really warm water for a few minutes. You’re good.
And, by the way, if you need to beat an egg in a cup before adding to the mixture, it’s beaten enough when it will run through the fork (or tiny whisk) you’re using to beat it.
above: Should you have a little extra rhubarb, simmer it in a small pot with water and sugar to taste, until the rhubarb is tender–perhaps 10 minutes. This might be 1/2 cup rhubarb with a tablespoon or two of sugar and water to cover. You can adjust the sweetening after it’s cooked, too. A piece of cinnamon stick cooked along with the rhubarb is tasty, if you like. It’ll then be lovely spooned on top of ice cream, yogurt, or even toast. You can do it with other fruit, too, but other fruit is easy to eat out of hand — isn’t it? Rhubarb isn’t! This is “stewed rhubarb.”
CHANGE IT UP: Chopped strawberries or diced apples work well in place of the bananas. Use all white flour if that’s your preference. Add 1/4 cup sugar for a sweeter bread. Top with sliced almonds for fun.
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LIFE GOES ON:
We walked our dear Tucker to the rainbow bridge this week. After nearly 14 years in our family and on the blog, these last twelve months he’d slowed down, lost a good deal of weight, and suffered over a sad, wracking, frequent cough along with a finicky, undependable digestion. Our vet, several weeks ago had sadly said, “probably cancer.” He never lost his devoted and comforting lean, his optimistic outlook, that quirky sense of humor, smiling eyes, or desire for chicken –or anything else I was cooking. As we left the vet office after Tucker quietly crossed the river, a young couple with a tiny Golden Retriever puppy sat waiting for what must have been a happy first visit. We lost it.
We have perfect memories and are grateful for them.
The week our boy Tucker, our 4th golden, became so ill, best sous and husband Dave also ended up in the hospital for a few scary days. He’s recovering well now and was, of course, my best taste-tester for this basic but fun bread. My sister Helen, too, was hospitalized those same days and she, as well, is getting better at home. Thanks, God! Yes, it’s been a time and I’m a little late with blogging. ‘s ok.
Today finds me navigating the beginning of managing the feeding of several homeless families who will be living at our church for the next two weeks. After that, they’ll move on to other local churches until October when they’ll return to First Congregational Church of Colorado Springs unless they’ve moved on to their own homes! This is a volunteer effort in which I’ve been involved for nearly 25 years in one place or another and continues to be a centerpiece of making my practicing progressive Christianity a reality. Interested in learning more about this program of Family Promise or want to donate?
Bake on and enjoy each summer moment,