Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Marlene Dietrich’s Banana Bread

It’s my fiftieth taste test of a vintage celebrity recipe! (Read all my past taste tests here.) I asked my readers to vote on which silent movie star recipe I would prepare for the occasion and the winner turned out to be someone who never admitted to acting in silent films.

Marlene Dietrich is pretty much the queen of everything in my book but she always firmly denied ever having appeared in silent films. I covered her silent career pretty thoroughly in my review of her kitsch-tastic Golden Earrings, so I won’t go too far into it here but do enjoy some images of Baby Marlene in silent films.

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In addition to being the Best Thing Ever, Dietrich was famous in the movie colony for her prowess in the kitchen. She whipped up soup, cakes and German and Austrian delicacies, which came in handy when she wanted to win over one of the many German-speaking directors that she worked with.

There is some debate as to what and how much Dietrich ate of her own cooking. However, at a certain point, most people realize that they are debating how much food Marlene Dietrich ingested and depart the conversation. Preparing a recipe attributed to Dietrich, on the other hand, sounds like a lot more fun.

The celebrity cookbooks in my collection are packed with Dietrich recipes, only Mary Pickford and Joan Crawford seem to be more prolific. After reading through them, I decided to try Dietrich’s version of one of my favorite baked goods, banana bread.

I used basic King Arthur all-purpose flour, granulated salt, Crisco vegetable shortening and white granulated sugar. The “soda” in the recipe is baking soda. When combined with cream of tartar, it creates baking powder. I suppose you could substitute just baking powder but most bakers will have soda and cream of tartar on hand anyway.

Calling for banana pulp by the cup rather than by the fruit is probably wise as the size of bananas varies wildly. I used four small-ish organic bananas (maybe six inches long and skinny) to yield a cup. They were completely black and very mushy inside, so their banana flavor was at its strongest.

This is a VERY precise recipe. Here are the highlights:

Sifting the flour: Those sifters with the squeeze mechanism are an abomination. Just use a fine mesh sieve, which has a myriad other uses in the kitchen. I just know a man designed the squeeze sifters because they are hell on those of us who wear glove size extra small.

Will Marlene approve of my sifting skills?

Walnuts: Oops! I measured a few too many! I guess I should just include them because it would be a shame to let them go to waste.

The pan: MANY BREAD PANS SOLD IN THE USA ARE 9″ x 5″! I happen to be a weirdo who owns 8.5″ x 4.5″ pans. (Cool, hefty ones that could probably double as armor in a pinch.) Did this make a big difference in the recipe? It didn’t seem to and the bread did not overflow.

Greasing the pan: Believe Marlene, this stuff is sticky! Be sure to generously grease your loaf pan.

Also, even out the batter in the pan by thinking of Universal junking their silent film archive and slamming the pan on the counter.

I set my oven to 350 degrees and baked for exactly an hour. A bamboo skewer came out clean (that is, no sticky batter, a few crumbs are okay) and I took it out to cool.

Remember about greasing your pan? I had to run a knife along the edge of mine and tap the bottom a bit to get the bread to release. Lesson: more grease next time!

Pretty! Well, not really. My photography skills are a bit meh.
Superfluous bakeware closeup.

Score: 5 out of 5. Dietrich’s reputation as a baker? Rock solid! This is some seriously tasty banana bread. The recipe is fussy but follow it to the letter and you will get some yummy banana goodness.

Many commercial banana breads are greasy but this one, while definitely robust, isn’t damp or oily. Look at that crumb!

LOOK AT IT!!!

And absolutely delicious. Very fruity flavor with the crunch from the walnuts. Just classic banana bread. The crust turned out rather well too, with a sugary crispness to it.

This is one of the most successful recipes I have tried so far and I will definitely be making it again.

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8 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Marlene Dietrich’s Banana Bread”

  1. “…at a certain point, most people realize that they are debating how much food Marlene Dietrich ingested and depart the conversation.”
    It’s the people that don’t realize this that you have to watch out for.

  2. My family is under the impression that I have mastered banana bread, but I have got to try Marlene’s recipe. Maybe on the sly the first time. H’m. First I’ll hide some bananas somewhere and hope I don’t forget about them.

    Can’t wait!

  3. Elieve me, Germans know how to cook and, especially, bake! If she has some great yeast cakes…try them…excellent and yummy.

  4. I love this recipe, I made it in small loaf pans and it turned out really well! I’m not much of a cook, but I decided to try this and was surprised to find it turned out great! Thanks!

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