- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The return of school brings the dread of the first spelling test, the sound of lunchroom chatter, the excitement of new classes and friends, and angst from parents who must all of a sudden get Martha Stewart-creative for the bake-sale fundraiser.

Bake-sale baking is something you either love or hate, but often it’s not a choice. This is an occasion when you need to look within, figure out what you make best, sign up and turn on the oven.

One of the nicest items at a sale is the loaf of bread, ready for breakfast or the freezer. It might be a yeast bread or it might even be a simple banana bread that begins with a cake mix.

It’s tough to duplicate the rich, homemade taste of banana bread when you use a cake mix, but these loaves come extremely close. That’s because they’re jammed with ripe bananas, buttermilk, cinnamon and brown sugar.

Bake one for yourself and one for the sale. These loaves freeze well, too.

Five time-shaving bake-sale winners

No matter how little lead time you receive before you need to whip out loaves, cakes and other goodies to stock the school bake sale, you can prepare these items. They are no-sweat, hassle-free and sure to fly off the table:

• Long fat pretzels dipped in melted white chocolate and/or dark chocolate, then showered with colored sprinkles. Let them cool until the chocolate hardens, then wrap in clear cellophane and tie with a ribbon.

• Make your favorite vegetable soup and ladle it into sterilized (run through the dishwasher) quart jars. Keep these quarts in a cooler packed with ice or in a school refrigerator. Place a “Soup’s on” sign on the table to get everyone’s attention.

• Gather together the measured dry ingredients (in a plastic bag), the chocolate chips, nuts, raisins and oatmeal (all in plastic bags), and arrange these in a pretty basket with the sign: “Chocolate Chip Cookie Kit.” Include the recipe on an index card, showing what ingredients need to be added in the kitchen.

• Make your favorite salsa and ladle it into sterilized pint jars. Keep chilled, and include a bag of tortilla chips.

• Bake vanilla cupcakes and frost half of the batch with chocolate frosting and the other half with a plain buttercream. Shower with colored sprinkles.

Ripe banana loaves

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the baking time is 40 to 45 minutes.

Solid vegetable shortening for greasing the pans

Flour for dusting the pan

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 very ripe medium bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 cup)

3/4 cup buttermilk

½ cup vegetable oil, such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean or sunflower

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch or 10-inch loaf pans with solid vegetable shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, brown sugar, mashed bananas, buttermilk, oil, eggs and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.

Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed. The batter should look well blended, and the bananas should be well pureed.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans and place them in the oven side by side.

Bake the loaves until they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 20 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around the edge of each pan and invert each loaf onto a rack to cool on its side for 30 minutes more. Slice and serve. Makes 2 9-inch loaves


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