Monday, June 21, 2010

Bread or Cake?

I have this vague sense of being sucked in by someone’s clever marketing-by-renaming trick when I make or eat banana 'bread'. I have the same feeling about muffins, which in their common modern form (not the traditional yeast-raised ‘English’ muffin) are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. I hasten to add that this fleeting feeling does not interfere with my enjoyment of the said ‘breads’ however.

Without getting involved in a convoluted argument about what constitutes ‘bread’, I would be interested to know your opinions. Is it only bread if it is leavened with yeast - which would make Irish soda bread not real bread? Or does it depend on the amount of sugar – and if so, how much (a teaspoon to start the yeast bubbling OK?). Or the fat (lots of butter in a lot of muffins)? The absence of fruit, nuts, spices …… ? Must it be baked, or are Chinese steamed buns also ‘bread’?. You get my definition drift?

There is probably no debate about bread being a starch-based food – but which starch? There is no debate about wheat being the best source of gluten, or the fact that gluten is what gives ‘bread’ its structure and texture, which makes wheat bread the ‘best’ bread from that point of view - it is the Gold Standard, so to speak. Nevetheless, many folk around the world are happy with, and even prefer, bread made from other grains and seeds such as rye, barley, oats, corn etc.

Bananas are starchy too, so it is not surprising that bananas can be used to make non-cakey banana bread. The trick, it appears, is not to use the mashed fruit, but to use banana flour – and Boy! Would I like to get my hands on some. I tried to find a complete recipe for banana bread using banana flour, but only managed to find general advice about using it to substitute for an amount (about a quarter?) of the wheat flour.

Banana flour is made by drying and grinding the green fruit – not an easy operation for the home cook. It was advocated as a healthy food in several books of invalid cookery in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Mrs Rorer’s Diet for the Sick (1914). The well-known Mrs. Rorer says “banana flour is made from under-ripe bananas, thoroughly dried and ground. It is exceedingly good for diabetic, rheumatic, and gouty patients. It may be made into mush, or gems, or small cakes.”

Another ‘healthy’ (in this case vegetarian) cookery book, Reform Cookery: Up-to-date Health Cookery for the Twentieth Century (1909) by Jean Oliver Mill gives a recipe for Banana Flour Scones, which is the closest I could get to a banana bread recipe today – and they sound absolutely delicious.

Banana Flour Scones
1 lb. banana flour, 2 oz. butter or “Nutter”, 2 oz. sugar, 1 teaspoonful baking powderd, milk. Mix flour – the banana flour sold by the lb. is best – sugar, and baking powder. Rub in butter, make into a light dough with milk. Cut into small scones, and bake in a good oven about 15 minutes.
These scones are exceedingly good, and quite different from those made with ordinary flour. They may be varied by adding a few Sultanas or a beaten egg.

P. S In case you want a reminder about ‘scones’ – go here, and here

Quotation for the Day

Yeah, I like cars and basketball. But you know what I like more? Bananas.
Frankie Muniz


Keith said...

Good post.
So what about damper? It exists in other countries under other names, and I always think of it as a bread. If I mix flour and water and bake it on a rock in the fire I think of it as bread.
If it goes hard is it still bread or is it then biscuit? How about "ships biscuit"?
It is all bread to me.
Regards, Le Loup.

The Old Foodie said...

I agree with you, Le Loup. All of the things you mentioned are 'bread'.
But there is the wider definition of 'bread'meaning the staple food of any community,too - so plantains, or cassava, or coconuts could be considered 'bread'. I generally think of 'bread' as being the culinary item, made with grain.

Elyse said...

To me the difference is in the texture. I don't consider most of the little packaged things you buy in stores and coffee shops "muffins" (or scones, for that matter), I consider them low-sugar cupcakes.

Most of the quick breads, where the confusion seems to lie, are more dense and less sweet than cake, although my husband calls them cake, and insists on eating them with a fork!

Garden to Table

Leaking Moonlight said...

I call it bread when I serve it as a savory.

My husband likes (too) sweet banana bread and eats it like it's a dessert and not like bread.

I do call Irish soda bread a bread because we eat it in slices with savory items.

And thank you for sharing in your blog. I so enjoy reading your posts.

Anon 1:50 said...

I'm in the "yeast=bread, baking powder or soda=biscuit" camp.

Just because a loaf of Irish soda bread is in a bread form and serves as bread, that does not make it so.

Rather like the Supreme Court declaring tomatoes to be a vegetable because "that's the way they're used".

They're fruit.