Monday, July 4, 2011

Ultimate Banana Bread

Oh banana bread, how I love thee... my family never baked much when I was growing up so the few things that we did have hold great nostalgia for me. Obviously this is one of them. Being a quick bread, banana bread is so easy to put together. The best part is that it gives your rotting banana's a new purpose other than retiring to the garbage can. However! This is not the recipe that I grew up on, which was the basic recipe that I am sure most of us know and love. This is a Cook's Illustrated baby. If you are at all familiar with Cooks Illustrated you would know that they like to test things a million times until they come up with the best recipe and technique of making something the best. I trust them very much because of this. Now certain things they come up with mean taking a simple, easy recipe, and making it more complicated. This is one of those recipes.

The usual quick bread is transformed into something a bit more labor intensive in order to increase the banana flavor to a whole new level. They steam banana's in the microwave and take the extracted juice and make it into a reduction of concentrated banana flavor. Crazy, right? I thought so. I had to try it.

Now, I haven't made banana bread in a very very long time, so I can not honestly say if this had more banana flavor then the regular loaf. The flavor was definitely there though. I especially enjoyed the moisture and lightness of the bread. I feel like sometimes with the other loaf, it can be kind of dense and gummy. Sometimes even tasting like baking soda. This didn't have any of this. It was light and moist and  had plenty of banana flavor. If you are willing to take the extra effort because you're a banana bread enthusiast, I would definitely go to town making this bread. If nothing else, the technique is really interesting. I think next time I will make the regular recipe I use and report back to you on how it compares in banana flavor. I'll keep you posted, but in the meantime check this out for yourself.

Ultimate Banana Bread
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

  • 1 3/4cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2teaspoon table salt
  • 6large very ripe bananas (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled (see note)
  • 8tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
  • 2large eggs
  • 3/4cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
  • 1teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2cup walnuts , toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 2teaspoons granulated sugar

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl.
  2. Place 5 bananas in microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife. Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer placed over medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cup liquid).
  3. Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.
  4. Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in walnuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Slice remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Shingle banana slices on top of either side of loaf, leaving 1½-inch-wide space down center to ensure even rise. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over loaf.
  5. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Cool bread in pan on wire rack 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.


    Microwaving ripe bananas for 5 minutes causes them to release “juice.”
    After straining the bananas, you should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid to work with.
    Reducing the banana liquid yields a concentrated liquor, intensifying flavor without making the loaf wet.

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