September 21, 2017

Thomas Keller's Banana Bread

This was the dessert course at the French Laundry. 
Over Thanksgiving, my family and I went to Yountville, California (right outside of Napa).  Yountville's slogan is "Taste life here."  Yountville is a very special town, and I think there is no better place that combines the best in culinary, wine, and hospitality!  Yountville has multiple Michelin star restaurants, great wine, and beautiful accommodations, and you have gorgeous views and a kind small town culture to boot--and, the entire town is very walkable.

One of Yountville's most famous restaurants is the French Laundry.  Getting a reservation there is not easy and requires advance planning. I was out of the country when reservations opened, so my little sister kindly helped score a reservation there.  The menu changes daily, and for the weeks leading up to the reservation, I would look at the menu daily out of pure excitement.

Here is my family with Chef Thomas Keller!
I've been fortunate enough to eat at some incredible restaurants and other Michelin star restaurants around the world, and the French Laundry was by far my favorite.  I feel there are not enough words to adequately describe the creativity and perfection of the food.  For such a fancy restaurant, the team did a beautiful job at making you feel so at home and welcome.  They were incredibly hospitable.  At the end of our dinner, we had a surprise treat: a tour of the French Laundry kitchen with a sneak peak of their new kitchen -- and to make this even more special, we met Chef Thomas Keller!  He spent time chatting with my family and was so kind and down-to-earth -- he and my dad talked about steak restaurants in Palm Springs and golf.  It was such a memorable evening, and I was too excited to sleep that night thinking about what an incredible experience it was and how neat it was that I got to meet Thomas Keller!  The next morning, I went for a run in Yountville, and I saw Thomas Keller out and about. :)  A few nights later, we went to Thomas Keller's Bouchon for another amazing dinner.  Along the way, there were some stops at the Bouchon Bakery, of course.  Suffice to say, it was a delicious trip.

Since that trip, Thomas Keller's cookbooks have joined my ever growing cookbook collection.  His cookbooks are large and full of beautiful pictures and fine recipes.  Now, the vast majority of his recipes are not short and sweet.  However, if you study the techniques and embrace them, you will be greatly rewarded with some pretty spectacular food.  :)  For me, completely mastering his recipes is not my goal.  After all, there is no such thing as perfect food. :)  When I cook, my goal is to make people happy.
Couldn't say it any better. <3 
One thing that I've learned from Thomas Keller is to respect the food.  He has inspired me to think more carefully about what I'm doing in the kitchen, how I'm handling the food, and that each ingredient is very important, so recognize the effort of what you are doing in the kitchen.  Back in the spring, Thomas Keller appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and gave a great demo highlighting the carrot.  I loved this clip!  First, I think this shows how important each ingredient is, and second, it shows how you can creatively elevate anything to a whole new level.

The new French Laundry kitchen! 
This week end, I am going to New York for one of my best friend's wedding, and I am so excited to visit Thomas Keller's Per Se!  And, naturally, there will be a stop at the Bouchon Bakery for a pistachio macaron.

Today's recipe is banana bread, inspired by banana muffins from the Bouchon Bakery.  Now, I know everyone has a banana bread recipe, but I promise you, this one is different.  First, you beat the butter to a mayonnaise consistency.  I never knew you could do that with butter. ;-)  Second, you refrigerate the batter overnight, and this helps richen the banana flavor.  It makes a simple banana bread that is buttery with a tender and light crumb that is complemented with a crunchy walnut strudel.

Thomas Keller said, "A recipe has no soul.  You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe."  Make cooking fun.  As you cook, do it with love, happiness, and gratitude.  

Thomas Keller's Banana Bread
Yields 1 loaf (or 12 standard muffins or 6 large muffins)

1 1/4 cup and 1 tbsp. cake flour (168 grams)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
4.2 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar (lightly packed) (144 grams)
2 extra large eggs
1 1/8 tsp. vanilla paste
1 tbsp. + 2 tsp. creme fraiche
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 1/3 cup walnut struesel topping (recipe below)

Walnut Struesel recipe:
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour (100 grams)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (100 grams)
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/8 tsp. Kosher salt
3.5 oz. cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (100 grams)

For the streusel:
Combine all of the ingredients, except the butter, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on the lowest setting.  Toss in the butter and mix on low speed for about one minute, or until the butter is incorporated.  Transfer to a covered container.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

For the banana bread:
Sift the cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder into a medium bowl and whisk together.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the butter, and mix on medium-low speed until the butter has the consistency of mayonnaise.  Then, add the sugar and mix for 2 minutes, until fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the eggs and vanilla paste.  Mix on low speed for about 20 seconds until combined.

In two additions, add the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed for 15 seconds after each, or until just combined.  Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that have settled there.  Add the creme fraiche and banana and mix on low speed for 30 seconds.  Transfer the batter to a covered container and refrigerate overnight, or up to 36 hours.

To bake the muffins, preheat the oven to 425ºF.  Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray or line a muffin pan with muffin papers and spray with nonstick spray.  Spoon the batter into the pan and sprinkle struesel on top.  Place the pan into the oven, lower the oven temperature to 325ºF, and bake for 40-45 minutes (24-27 minutes for muffins), or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.  Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

Source: The Bouchon Bakery

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