Banana Bread at its Best

Banana Bread

Bananas are like pears.  They are delicious when perfectly ripe — not under-ripe, not over-ripe but captured in that narrow little slice of time when they are JUST ripened.  At least that’s the way I feel about these fruits.  I am completely turned off by over-ripened bananas and pears.

When we buy a bunch of bananas, it is not surprising that many of us blink for a mere second and then glance at our countertops to see something dark, dreary and seemingly inedible.  We ponder how they got that way without us noticing.  And then we make banana bread.

So having a good banana bread recipe is something of value.  I used to think that banana bread was fool-proof and, I would whip up any old recipe.  But I soon tired of banana bread that resembled a brick.  So, I wondered why so many recipes had that result.  Clearly, quick bread has a tendency to be heavy as we don’t go through the painstaking steps we use in cake making (lighter, sifted flours and creamed fats) or bread baking (raised with yeast).  Yet, I really don’t think a bit of lightness and good flavor is too much to ask without sacrificing the simplicity of a quick bread.  So, I did a bit of experimenting.

Many recipes use vegetable oil, since it does not require any creaming.  Yet it doesn’t add  flavor, so I like to stick with butter.  To avoid the creaming step, I melt the butter and simply whisk it into the sugars.

I add a bit of lemon zest for flavor as it contrasts nicely with the bananas. Chopped walnuts and a very light cardamom-spiced-sugar topping add a bit of crunch.

I also theorize that it is helpful, not only to add the dry ingredients near the very end, but to add the soured diary product (yogurt or sour cream) last.   Why do I think this?

  • COOKING FUNDAMENTALS:  Baking Soda or sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), is an alkaline (basic) chemical that requires an acid for activation.   Baking soda (which is also one of the ingredients in baking powder) is the key to lightness in quick breads. It is a chemical leavener, as opposed to yeast, which is biologic. It “lifts” the batter by generating carbon dioxide (CO2), which forms bubbles, elevating the batter.  However, if you mix baking soda and the soured cream too early in the process, it will generate the CO2 too early.  CO2 that evaporates into your kitchen air won’t do a thing to lighten your batter.  So, I like to mix all the liquid ingredients except the soured cream, which is acidic and activates the baking soda. Add the dry ingredients (including the baking soda) and then fold in the soured cream at the end with the nuts.  I tried it both ways and found the late addition of the soured cream did lighten the texture (see photo).

Banana Bread

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Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Serving Size: 12
Yield: 1 loaf

1 1/2 cups flour, all purpose
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar, brown
1/2 cup sugar, white
1 1/4 cups bananas, ripe
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare pans.  A non-stick loaf pan (e.g., Demarle Flexipan loaf pan) works very well if you want to easily remove the loaf from the pan before slicing.  If using a traditional pan, butter and flour sides.  I prefer to use Demarle or metal pans rather than glass.

2. Whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.

Melt butter (stovetop or microwave) and place in mixing bowl.    Add 1/2 cup brown and 1/2 cup white sugars and whisk.

Whisking Sugars with Melted Butter

Add bananas and mash with a masher/ricer.  This type of masher will rice even slightly-firm bananas into chunks small enough for baking.

Masher/Ricer

 Whisk in eggs, lemon zest and vanilla.

3. Fold in dry ingredients mixing just until the lumps of flour disappear.  Gently fold in nuts and sour cream.

4. Place into loaf pan.

5. Mix 2 tablespoons sugar with spices and sprinkle evenly on top.

6. Bake 350 F for about 50-60 minutes or until it is raised and lightly colored.  Time will vary depending on the type of pan used.  Of course, convection bake will shorten time as well.

7. DO-AHEAD INSTRUCTIONS:  Make and bake bread through step 6.  After bread is cool, wrap tightly and freeze.  When ready to use, thaw (still wrapped) at room temperature.

NOTES:  If you like more flavor in your banana bread, you can add cinnamon (1/2 t) or cardamon (1/4 t) to the batter mix.

This recipe is also suitable for muffins or mini-muffins (simply reduce baking time).  Again the Demarle muffin flexipans work great. No need to butter or line with papers.

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