A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Banana Bread

Recently I've been working on a banana bread recipe. For years I've been using recipes that produce banana bread that is:

- Too sweet. Especially that bland, white sugar dessert-timey sweetness. Gaah.

- Too cakey. If the bananas are too well-mashed and the flour too white and delicate, the banana bread will be moist but homogenous and flat, with small little brown lines of cooked banana matter that look like parasites. I like banana bread that is chunky and rough-looking but tender.

- Not salty enough. Really. Banana bread can handle more salt than you might expect.

- Not buttery enough. Lots of recipes use vegetable oil only, which is good for moisture but bad for flavor.

- Unhealthy. This sounds silly as I plead for more butter and salt in my banana bread, but really: I want some whole grains in there. But at the same time I don't want an oaty brick. So there are several tensions to resolve here.

Carver's, a brewery/restaurant in Durango, Colorado, serves grilled banana bread, which remains my banana bread ideal. It's warm and thick and buttery and falls apart when you eat it. It is nothing like the banana pound cakes most cookbooks try to pass off as banana bread.

So here's the recipe I've developed over the past month, with copious notes.

Bowl One -- The Dry Ingredients

Whisk together the following:
- 1 cup graham flour. Graham flour, I have discovered, is magical. The miller takes apart the whole wheat and mills the bran and germ separately from the endosperm, then mixes them back together, and somehow this is completely different from regular whole wheat, which is milled all together. I guess it makes sense -- it behaves more like white flour with tiny pieces of bran that toast up all delicious and almost crispy. I love it. So yes, try graham flour. Otherwise, use whole wheat flour.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup oats. Use steel-cut oats instead of rolled oats, or else pulse some rolled oats in the food processor for just a few seconds. Rolled oats seems to get tough instead of crunchy.
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (One recipe I used to use calls for almost 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and you can actually taste it in the bread, all metallic and wrong.)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 scant teaspoon salt. Really, try using that much. It brings out the buttery and banana-y flavors really well.

Bowl Two -- The Wet Ingredients
This part is kind of like a cake: you cream together the butter and sugar, then add eggs and the other business.
Beat until soft:
- 4 tablespoons butter at room temperature

Beat in, in this order:
- 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Bowl Three -- The Bananas
You will need two bananas of very advanced age. I only make banana bread with bananas that are too gooey and thin-skinned and black and nasty to consider eating raw...and I tend to eat very ripe bananas raw. These should be only a day or two from the compost heap.

Do NOT mash the bananas with a fork. Put them in a Pyrex cup or a small bowl, and with a thin spatula or similar implement and an up-and-down motion, cut them into pieces of roughly 1/4 to 1/2 an inch. They should be chopped and messy, not a bowl of goo.

So now you have three bowls. First, fold the dry ingredients into the wet bowl with as little mixing as possible -- just moisten all the flour. Then, fold the banana chunks in. Finally, fold in:

- 1/2 cup walnuts, broken up with fingers if not pre-chopped

Scrape gently into a greased small loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for an hour.


Kris said...

You're right,it's a very delicate balance. Too wet, too dry, too heavy! I made some banana nut muffins last week and they were dry because I overcooked them by just a minute or so. I will try your version.

Stephanie said...

This is a great recipe! It's going to be my default banana bread from now on, I think. I can't wait to make it again. I only wish I had a small loaf pan... I may double the recipe next time to fill my large loaf pan.

Eva said...

Stephanie, I'm so pleased this worked for you. I plan to try doubling the recipe now, too.