Monthly Archives: April 2008

SHAKE YOUR BUN-BUNS

Señor O was away on business and poor thing had to catch a 6:00am flight back home. I thought it would be nice to surprise him with a so-perfect-you’ll-want-to-take-the-red eye-more-often treat. I set my own alarm to 6:00am, ran to the supermarket because I’d run out of milk, and returned to start on these extra-sticky, ultra-decadent rolls. Make them for someone you love…or for someone you want to love you.

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PECAN CURRANT STICKY BUNS
Makes 12 buns*

NOTE: I made half the recipe and would suggest you do the same if you have a standard mixer, as it is all it can handle. Besides, a half batch will yield 6 enormous buns. You’ll notice I excluded the pecans and currants- I wanted a really basic roll, but I’m sure the original is delicious. Add raisins, walnuts, or whatever dried fruits and/or nuts strike your fancy. Lastly, if using nuts, I suggest toasting them on a baking sheet for 7 – 10 minutes in a 350˚F oven prior to incorporating in recipe.

FOR DOUGH:
1 ½ C. warm milk (105˚F – 115˚F)
2 packages (1/4 oz. or 2 ½ tsp. each) active dry yeast
1/3 C. granulated sugar
5 ¼ C. all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ stick (4 TBSP.) unsalted butter, softened

FOR FILLING:
2/3 C. packed dark brown sugar
2/3 C. dried currants
2/3 C. chopped pecans
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ stick (4 TBSP.) unsalted butter, softened

FOR SYRUP:
1 stick (8 TBSP.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ C. packed dark brown sugar
½ C. granulated sugar
2 TBSP. light corn syrup (*I went with dark)
¼ C. heavy cream

EQUIPMENT
A heavy duty standard mixer with dough hook; 2 muffin pans with 6 large (1-cup) cups each. (*As you’ll see in the photos below, I used a standard ½-cup muffin tin and the buns surpassed the edges – they turned out successfully, in spite..).

MAKE THE DOUGH:
-Stir together ½ cup warm milk + yeast + pinch of sugar in a small bowl until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 5 minutes, till foamy. If the mix doesn’t foam, discard and start with new yeast.

yeastfoam

Good yeast.

-Put flour + sugar + salt in your mixer and mix with dough hook on low speed until combined. Whisk together remaining 1 cup of milk + 2 eggs, then add to flour mix. Add foamy yeast as well. Mix at medium speed for about 2 minutes, till a soft dough forms.

-Add the softened butter and continue mixing, about 4 minutes.

-Rinse a large bowl with hot water, then put dough in wet bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free place (microwave / oven) until doubled in bulk, about 1 ¼ hours.

PREPARE THE FILLING:
-Stir together all ingredients except butter.

MAKE THE SYRUP:
-Butter muffin tins. In a small saucepan over low heat, stir together butter + dark brown sugar + granulated sugar + corn syrup + cream till butter is melted. Bring to a simmer and cook 2 minutes, still stirring. Spray Pam on a tablespoon (this helps sticky stuff like syrups and honey slide right off the spoon) and spoon 2 TBSP. of warm syrup in each buttered tin. Set tin aside.

syrupmix

Syrup ingredients.
syrupintins

Pour while hot: Two tablespoons syrup per muffin tin.

FILL & SHAPE THE BUNS:
-Turn dough out onto a well-floured, clean surface and dust with flour. Rub flour on a rolling pin and extend dough into a 16” x 12” rectangle. With a pastry brush, brush off excess flour, then spread evenly with softened butter. Sprinkle filling evenly over dough.
doughandpin

This dough is sticky – don’t skimp when you flour your work area.

-Beginning with the long side nearest you, roll up the dough to form a 16” –long log. (*As you roll, brush off excess flour). Cut log crosswise into 12 rounds. Place buns cut-side up in tins. Cover with oiled (*or Pam-sprayed) plastic wrap and allow to rise once more, about 1 hour.

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Remember to brush off excess flour as you roll.

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doughintins

-Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350˚F.

-Bake buns until puffed and golden, 30 – 35 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes, then invert and serve warm. (*To avoid sticky syrup overflowing and sticking in the oven, I placed my muffin tin atop a foil-lined baking sheet).
baked
Flip slightly cooled buns over to release cascade of super-sticky topping.

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Sorry for the sensory overload — but they were too good.

 

RICE-A-RONI

I adapted this from Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for Gourmet. It’s confetti-colorful and pulls together a delicious variety of flavors. I’m ranking it right up there with that Turkish rice concoction I put together a while back. Serve it with roasted pork loin for a spectacular weekday night dinner.

1 large head escarole
¾ C. Arborio rice
½ C. pine nuts
extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red peppers, roasted, peeled, and chopped
1/3 C. chopped and pitted dates
3 tablespoons chopped rinsed capers
¼ C. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt + pepper

  • Remove base from escarole and cook in a pot of boiling salted water, about 5 minutes. Drain and refresh, then corsely chop. Set aside.
  • Bring 1 quart water with 1 ½ tsp. salt to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Parboil rice, uncovered, 10 minutes. Reserve 1 C. of the cooking liquid, then drain rice in a sieve.
  • Cook pine nuts in some olive oil over medium heat, stirring, until golden.
  • Add chopped roasted pepper and chopped pitted dates and continue to cook, stirring, about 4 minutes.
  • Add capers, minced garlic, and chopped escarole and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
  • Add rice, mixing well with ingredients, and some of the reserved cooking liquid if rice is too firm. Cook on low heat for a few additional minutes to allow flavors to meld.
  • Adjust seasoning and mix in grated cheese.

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I decided to roast my own red pepper rather than use the jarred variety – just personal preference.

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Grated cheese will melt nicely into rice. Add right before serving.


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Serve with something un-fussy. This pork loin was seasoned with salt and pepper only.

 

 

NOW THAT’S A SANDWICH, DUMAS

syrup
Count-worthy sandwich.

My first restaurant meal as a resident of Massachusetts took place at a popular spot in Cambridge. It was, regrettably, only so-so. Had it not been for the fantastic people we brunched with, the experience would have rated slightly lower.

The menu had the usual eggs Benedict, steak and eggs, French toast, etc. I went for the Monte Cristo and this is where the cucumber begins to turn into a pickle. When the waiter took my order, I said, “Just to be clear, this sandwich is egg-battered and fried like French toast, yeah?” And he said, “No, it’s grilled ham and cheese, topped with a fried egg.” To which I replied, “Well then, that’s more of a croque madame than a Monte Cristo, isn’t it?” Waiter: “No, it’s a Monte Cristo.” I’d already decided on having the sandwich, despite its inaccurate handle, but the Hermione Granger in me really wanted to let this man know that Monte Cristos and croque madames are like the proverbial apples and oranges: “Sorry, but those are two totally different sandwiches.” Mercifully, the waiter didn’t kick me out of the restaurant, and just shrugged his shoulders and continued taking orders.

Right then and there I decided I needed to set the record straight in my own kitchen and create a semantically and anatomically correct Monte Cristo. I did some online research and was surprised at the scanty results that turned up, and even more surprised that no one could agree on the true origins of the that sandwich. I had secretly hoped that Alexander Dumas had snacked on them while writing his novels and liked them so much that he’d named one of his most beloved characters after them…

The fact is there are a variety of versions out there, the majority calling for turkey and Swiss, others ham or chicken and Swiss, and one recipe, from Bennigan’s Grill and Tavern incorporated both turkey and ham, as well as Swiss and American cheeses. The one common thread among these was that the sandwiches were egg-battered and fried, dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and served alongside fruit or fruit compote. I consulted Joy of Cooking as well but found that they go batter-free, which with all due respect, is unacceptable. Given the range of interpretations, I decided I had free rein to assemble a Monte Cristo of my own design, and I was deeply satisfied with it.

THE BIG MC
Serves 2

4 slices firm bread (Pullman, pain de mie, or challah – please, no Wonder et al, unless you want a soggy mess for brunch)
4 oz. ham
4 slices Swiss cheese
butter
vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/3 C. milk
pinch salt

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Maple syrup

1. Butter one side of each bread slice.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs + milk + pinch salt.

3. Heat a large sauté pan on medium-high and add vegetable oil (you’ll have to eyeball this – there should be enough to lightly fry the bread).

4. Dip the buttered side of two bread slices in the egg mixture and allow to soak, about 15 seconds. Place the battered side in the oil and immediately top one slice with cheese and ham. Make sure the heat is not too high: the bread should brown slowly to allow the cheese to melt; there is nothing worse than a hot sandwich with a cold filling. Cover the ham and cheese with the second slice, and flip to continue browning.

5. Cut sandwich in half, sift powdered sugar over it, and serve with warm maple syrup.

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hamandcheese
Cheese first, ham second!

sugar

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RICE REDUX

I couldn’t leave the rice pudding alone. It was such a nuisance to make that I needed to get the most out of it, I suppose, and that’s why I decided to play a little dress-up with it. I poured it into the crème brûlée dish, topped it with a fan of sliced bananas, sprinkled with sugar and gave it a good torching. And, voilà! Ritzy rice pudding with a lovely range of textures: crunchy caramel top, tender banana, and grainy rice pudding. I liked it so much I even considered making rice pudding again today…

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FINGER LICKIN’ GOOD

This is a recipe that the illustrious Jean-Georges Vongerichten created for Food and Wine. We adapted it to canapé size at school and used shredded osso bucco instead of short ribs. It was served atop tostones and garnished with orange suprêmes and chives. Señor O tasted the leftovers and it was love at first bite.

JGV’s slick sauce is ridiculously easy to make and is highly adaptable – I use pork, because it’s the white meat in this household, but I think it would be equally brilliant if used to shellack that other white meat: chicken. It’s finger lickin’ fantastic, natch. The sweet and tangy orange sûpremes made a comeback as a topping, but I replaced the aforementioned chives with cilantro and piled the whole thing onto freshly made corn tortillas to give it some Latin flair.

See below for the adapted recipe, and visit Food & Wine for the original.

3 lbs. pork loin
Kosher salt
1 C. ketchup
1 C. dry red wine, such as Syrah
1/3 C. red wine vinegar
1/2 C. unsulfured molasses
3 TBSP. dried onion flakes
2 TBSP. fish sauce
1 TBSP. soy sauce
1 TBSP. garlic powder
3 TBSP. seeded and minced chipotle chile in adobo
1 tsp. Asian sesame oil
2 ½ quarts water

In a large bowl, mix the ketchup, wine, vinegar, molasses, onion flakes, fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic powder, chipotle, sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of salt. Whisk in the water.

Generously season the pork loin with salt + pepper. Heat on high a pot large enough to accommodate the pork loin and the three quarts of liquid that you’ll be adding.

Add about 2 tsps. vegetable oil to the heated pot and allow to heat through, about 30 seconds. Add the pork loin and sear, browning on both sides.

Degrease the pot and return browned loin. Add the sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow the pork to simmer, covered, until tender (approximately 1 hour).

Once pork is cooked through, remove from the pot and when cool enough to handle, shred. Reserve, loosely covered with plastic wrap or foil.

Bring the sauce to a boil and allow to reduce about two-thirds (about 1 hour). Once thickened, return the shredded pork to the sauce and simmer an additional 30 minutes.

I know – it seems like a long time, but you can either start early or prepare a day in advance. It tastes just as good – and perhaps even better – a day later.

canape
Canapé style.

plated
Home style.

 

BEST BISCUITS EVER

Since childhood, I’ve been obsessed with biscuits. My goal and acme was the biscuits sold at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yes, the Colonel was my inspiration for years of research and dedicated early-morning baking. At age 8 I started collecting recipes for all manner of biscuits – quick, drop, spoon, cream, baking soda, lard, etc. etc. etc. If I saw a biscuit recipe somewhere I’d copy it down and try out. As a result of my curiosity and quest for the ultimate recipe, I have numerous notebooks and scraps of paper proclaiming “Best biscuits ever!” in a wide variety of handwriting styles – from big, loopy third grade script to mature, all-caps block letters. Regrettably, I’ve moved around quite a bit (I’ve lived in at least 23 different homes – no joke!) and my belongings and personal effects are somewhat scattered. I wish I could go back and compare all of my biscuit recipes to confirm that my current one really is the best ever, but I can’t, so my exclamation points and scribbled assurances will just have to do. Rest assured, though, this recipe totally kicks Colonel butt.

Here are, without further ado, THE BEST BISCUITS EVER.
…At least for the time being.
Yields about 6 biscuits.

1 ½ C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ stick butter, cut into 1” pieces
¾ C. buttermilk or plain yogurt

-Sift dry ingredients twice.

-Blend in butter with fingertips.

-Add buttermilk & stir in with fork just till combined.

-Knead 6 times, gently.

-Pat into an 8” x 5 ½” rectangle and cut into half lengthwise, then into thirds crosswise, or use a biscuit cutter.

-Bake 12 – 15 minutes at 425°F with rack in middle position.

-Serve warm with good butter and preserves.
SWEET VARIATION:
-Add 2 TBSP. of granulated sugar to the dry ingredients and proceed with recipe as directed.
-For a sparkly top, sprinkle a bit of sugar on the shaped biscuits before popping them in the oven.

MAKE AHEAD:
-Prepare recipe as directed, but rather than placing biscuits in oven, cover loosely with plastic wrap and slide into the freezer.
-Once solid, individually wrap each biscuit and store in a Ziploc bag.
-Ready to eat? Preheat oven to 400˚F and bake biscuits about 20 minutes.

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These were actually a variation of the standard recipe, utilizing whole-grain flour, which is why they’re brownish in color. Great (and a good source of fiber!), but I much prefer the original version.

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RICE IS NOT NICE

Rice pudding has been on my mind lately and decided today would be a good day to make it. Señor O and I had a pretty heavy brunch on Sunday and today’s lunch was also on the hefty side, so no official meal was cooked today, leaving the afternoon open for a simple dessert.

I’ve only made rice pudding once before, the reason being I was pretty grossed out by it in the past; the texture was all wrong. However, riz au lait was part of my culinary school curriculum and it was during Session 19 of Level 2 that I was properly re-introduced to this dessert. I liked it. Lots.

In preparation for this afternoon’s riz au lait, some research was conducted. Joy of Cooking, Julia Child, Doña Angélica, and a number of random websites all cooked the rice in water prior to combining it with milk. My school’s version mixed them from the get-go, then baked for about 40 minutes. Easy enough.

There was no trouble at school, but of course, there was here. At the end of the designated time I pulled out the rice, and to my dismay, it was still drenched in milk. It hadn’t puddinged at all.

I was not smiling. This was supposed to be a breeze.

I moved the dish to the stovetop and decided to revert to methods I’d read about, namely stirring till most of the milk was absorbed. It was at this juncture that the bottom of the pot began to turn nasty and brown. I poured out the swamp rice into a new glass Pyrex and called it quits. I didn’t have another suitable container if this one scorched, so that would have to be that.

A lot displeased and not a little bit chagrined, I made one last, desperate attempt to save – or at the very least conceal – my rice pudding. I put it into a crème brûlée mold, sprinkled it with sugar, and torched it.

My pyrotechnics did the trick, and the rice was delicious, but I’m still bothered. What was meant to be a single-dish, super-easy to prep dessert turned into a major dish pileup. Next time I’m going stovetop all the way. And I might try coconut milk and pineapples instead of vanilla bean and orange zest.

ricepudding

P.S.
The rice pudding was perfectly delicious a day later. It’s cold and refreshing, all vanilla bean-y and citrusy…which has prompted me to print the recipe:

100 g. arborio rice (about 1/2 C.)
1 L. whole milk (about 1 quart or 4 C.)
1 TBSP. grated orange zest
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 vanilla bean pod, split and scraped
pinch of salt
100 g. granulated sugar, split 50/50 (about 6 TBSP.)
2 TBSP. butter
1 egg yolk

In a saucepan, bring to a boil milk + orange zest + lemon zest + vanilla bean + salt.

Add rice + 50 g. (3 TBSP.) sugar and cover with a parchment paper lid. Finish cooking in a 350˚F oven (45 – 60 minutes — the rice should be tender and the milk absorbed. It may take longer, as in my case, depending on your oven).

When done, add butter + yolk + remaining 50 g. (3 TBSP.) sugar. Remove vanilla pod.

Serve warm or chilled.

 

GIVE US THIS DAY

Bread is the perfect food. There’s no arguing that – it’s even in the Lord’s Prayer: “give us today our daily bread.” I know I’m interpreting that very literally, but there it is, in black and white.

I used to get my bread at Fairway on the Upper West Side and was pretty happy with it. No additives, no less-than-2%-of-the-following-impossible-to-pronounce ingredients. When I moved away from the UWS it was, for the most part, back to the bread aisle at the supermarket. There I would walk past Wonder and Sunbeam, Arnold and Nature’s Own. It got to a point where it didn’t really matter what I bought. All of these breads were wimpy and forgettable.

Tired of blah bread, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I’d been to the library recently in search of a Boston cream pie recipe (coming soon!) and along the way found a recipe for honey whole wheat bread in Greg Patent’s Baking in America. Mr. Patent failed to inform this dimwitted reader that perhaps her standard-sized Kitchen Aid (aka Kiki) would be no match for seven cups of flour. I should’ve known it wasn’t, but if there’s a recipe in a cookbook meant for home cooks, I expect it to work with standard kitchen appliances. My little Kiki started bucking like a bronco, and rather than risk breaking her neck, I turned her off and plunked the dough onto the counter. Now I would truly have to take matters into my own hands – I would have to knead.

Kneading was not easy. I’m too short to really bear down on the dough, so I strapped on some heels, but they didn’t help my situation – the heels provided height but not much in the way of support. Back in sneakers, I stood on my tip-toes and tried my best to work the dough, pretending all the time I was Lady Macbeth, outing the damned spot. Sweat started beading my brow and the bile starting bubbling. “I hate Greg Patent!” I muttered. But I kept going. I was scared because the dough was dry and crumbly and for the first few minutes, my labors did nothing to bring it together. It wasn’t smooth or elastic, just an ill-formed, uncooperative lump. To make matters worse, I kept remembering what my old boss W. told me about dough: “It’s alive.” Surely, I was killing it.

GPdough

What a lump.

I continued to fret while the bread was rising. It wasn’t smooth and beautiful, but heavyset and squat. Into the oven went two loaves anyway and without waiting for it to cool I cut a slice and buttered it. It was dense and a little chewy, bland in flavor, and OK at best.

squatloaves

Squat, toad-like loaves.

I’d decided to make bread despite the fact that I had a date the very next day to meet a real baker at a bakery a friend described as “THE BEST BREAD EVER:” Clear Flour Bakery. Clear Flour specializes in the production of French and Italian breads that are real: no additives, no preservatives. My new baker friend D. gave me a tour, which was awesome: Brobdingnagian mixers, about 50 times bigger and more powerful than my dinky little Kiki, imposing deck ovens, buckets of dough, stacks of beautiful frielings and bannetons (round and rectangular molds for shaping and proofing bread), and the main event: bread. There were baguettes, ficelles, olive rolls made with green olives, focaccia smothered with onions, hearty rolls with studded with nuts and plump raisins bearing the very poetic name of Paris night.

bannetons

bigmixers

Big mama mixers.

There is but a small area in front of the counter at it was packed solid at all times. Everyone, staff and visitors alike, were very kind, though, letting me be all interrupt-y with my camera.
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I bought an assortment and Señor O and I promptly went about the business of eating it. The ficelle was perfectly crunchy and French, as was its larger friend, baguette. I didn’t get to the baguette till this morning and, swoon, it was so perfect in its simplicity and straightforwardness that I was completely swept away. I spread some good European butter on it and ate away. I also treated myself to a Paris night roll with some apricot preserves I brought back from a recent trip to Rome. I haven’t enjoyed breakfast this thoroughly since I can’t remember when. Thank you, Clear Flour for keeping it real.

perfectbfast

 

 

BANANA FANA FO FANA

Banana bread isn’t a particular favorite in my book, mainly because I’ve either bought or experimented with recipes that were disappointing. The commercial variety inevitably taste over-banana-ed, no doubt because they’re chock-full of additives and artificial flavors. Like fake grape products, counterfeit banana tastes like kiddie cough syrups and other over-the-counter cures. My pickle with the recipes I’ve tested is that they’re usually rubbery or dry as a bone.

Enter Nancy Silverton and her glorious book, Pastries from La Brea Bakery. Looking through her recipes I came across banana nut loaf, and thought, “Hey, if anyone can make a good banana nut loaf, if anyone can redeem it, it’s Nancy Silverton.” So I bought some bananas and patiently waited for them to get nice and black outside. Today, when the bananas, at last, were mature enough, I mashed them up and mixed them in with heaps of chopped, toasted nuts and spices.

bananas
Make sure bananas are really ripe.

chopthenuts

DO chop the nuts with a knife – using the food processor will leave behind uneven pieces and nut powder.

Things got off to a good start, because even as I began chopping the nuts, their toasted scent reached my nose, mingling with the heady aroma of ripe bananas; they were perfectly matched. My skepticism over banana bread waning, I caught myself anticipating a sweet reward, and Nancy delivered. What came out of the oven was darkly tanned on the outside and moist inside. The cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg provided warmth as well as refinement – this banana nut loaf is for grown-ups, a far cry from those cheap attempts you may be used to eating.

BANANA-NUT LOAF
Adapted from Pastries from La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton

2/3 c. walnuts
2/3 c. pecans
3 to 4 bananas, very ripe, mashed to equal 1 ¼ c., plus 1 whole banana for garnish
2 extra-large eggs
1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1″ cubes
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
¾ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Scant ¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 TBSP. Poppy seeds
½ c. granulated sugar, plus 1 tsp. for sprinkling
¼ c. + 2 TBSP. Light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 ½ c. unbleached AP flour

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 325˚F. Spread the nut on a baking sheet at toast in the oven until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Shake the pan halfway to ensure the nuts toast evenly. Cool, chop coarsely, and set aside.

Turn the oven up to 350˚F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the banana puree, eggs, and vanilla to combine. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and poppy seeds on low, 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add the sugars and turn the mixer up to medium, mixing another 3 to 4 minutes until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Add the flour and banana mixture alternately in 3 batches, beginning with the flour.

Fold in the nuts.

Pour batter into pan.

Cut two ¼” strips from the additional banana, slicing down the entire length. Arrange the two C shapes on the top the loaf, staggered, with the two ends slightly interlocking with other in the center. Sprinkle about 1 tsp. of granulated sugar over the surface.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until nicely browned and firm to the touch.

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The bananas on top were amazing.

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