The year I finished school—for good, with no more plans for extra degrees anywhere near on the horizon—my brother and I celebrated with a trip to Boston over Labor Day weekend. It was the first of three such vacations, as we’d later go to California and then D.C. (and maybe Montreal this August!), and neither of us had ever been to New England, unless you count New York City or that high school trip I took to Baltimore by way of a week in Philadelphia.
So it’s hard to say if the newness of it all—traveling as an adult no longer a student, traveling on credit card rewards points that pay for your hotels and airfare, traveling on borrowed time from work because, after all, you’re employed full-time now—deserves most credit, but, whatever the reason, we loved Boston.
The public transportation was cleaner than I was used to. The streets were more historic—filled with brick buildings and interesting architecture and a long winding Freedom Trail that we walked one hot afternoon. We spent a day in Cambridge, visiting Harvard and watching new students wander around tree-lined streets. We bought souvenirs from a random artist peddling drawings of the Boston scenery.
And, also, there was the food.
I may not have had a food blog where I could post photos back then, but I still took them: of the bakery cases (and the bakery cases), of gelato at Faneuil Hall, of a box of Mike’s Pastries, tied up with string. One night, hungry and facing long waits at the restaurants in the North End, we ended up eating thin, chewy pizza from a small café-style place where we’d seen it on someone else’s table. If I tried to find that place now I couldn’t, but the pizza I will never forget.
On the day we were to fly home, we rode to the airport, checked our bags and found ourselves with several hours of wait time. That’s when we made one of the best decisions of the trip: we pulled out our weekend Charlie tickets and beelined for Flour Bakery + Café in Fort Point Channel, on Farnsworth Street. Adam got a brioche, I think; I ordered a macaroon. We ate them just before heading back to Logan International, where I wouldn’t want to eat another thing, lest I lose that sweet, sweet, satisfying taste in my mouth.
So when Monday, going through old food magazines on my day off work, I found Joanne Chang, pastry chef/owner of Flour, featured in Gourmet, I knew what I had to do. Tearing her banana bread recipe out of the glossy folds, I pulled three saved bananas out of the freezer and headed to the store for three more.
The golden, hearty loaves that resulted were the perfect snack that afternoon (and breakfast the past few mornings), moist and sweet. You could say they are the definition of comfort, at once familiar and yet unique, easy to love—just like the bakery, and the city, that they came from.
Adapted from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Cafe, as seen in Gourmet, August 2003
To her basic recipe, I made only a few small alterations, doing without walnuts and subbing sour cream/heavy cream for the crème fraiche that my store was out of. After a bit of stirring, pouring and baking, what resulted was two hearty golden loaves, slightly cracked on top and with a crust made for holding in your hand. I made one with chocolate chips and one without, and my taste testers varied on which was preferred.
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups coarsely mashed very ripe bananas (6 large)
1/8 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (9- by 5- by 3-inch) metal loaf pans, then dust with flour, knocking out excess. (I actually used one metal and one glass, and the glass pan was a touch smaller; it all still worked out.)
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until very thick and pale, about 10 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add oil in a slow stream, mixing; then mix in bananas, sour cream, heavy cream and vanilla. Take bowl away from mixer and fold in flour mixture, gently but thoroughly.
Divide batter between loaf pans, spreading evenly, and bake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
Cool loaves in pans on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack. Turn loaves right side up and cool completely.