Moist, moist, moist! Freshly baked banana bread based on a recipe of a true bread artist is something to behold. Utterly aromatic, comforting and delicious, what can taste better or be a better gift on the Hugging Day (today), or the Hunt for Happiness week (this week)? There are thousands recipes of banana bread, but this particular one stood the test of time in our family.
|Photo of Peter Reinhart credit: Ron Manville
The recipe comes from Peter Reinhart, one of the world’s leading authorities of bread, author of nine books on bread baking and multiple James Beard Award winner. To call his book ‘Crust and Crumb’
a bread-making bible in our house wouldn’t be an exaggeration (fyi
, his most recent ‘Bread Revolution’
is currently undergoing lots of testing chez nous
). Every recipe from it is a hit, so when it came to banana bread recipe few years ago, Reinhart’s book was undoubtedly our first reference.
My grandfather in law was pioneering in bananas import to Quebec about a century ago in hunt for his own happiness. I’m not sure if an idea of making banana bread from some of his perished goods ever crossed his mind, but the fact remains: bananas were then very expensive. The first recipes of banana bread started appearing in the cookbooks around the Great Depression when some entrepreneurial housewives hustled on recycling overripe bananas into baking goods and popularizing baking soda and baking powder. The two latter ingredients were chemically leavening breads rather than natural yeast. Banana bread spearheaded the revolution of breads from other leavens. Quick breads became a new American staple.
Here’s Peter Reinhart’s Banana bread master formula: ‘Banana bread is the standard by which quick-bread artists are judged. The criteria for great quick breads are simple: They must be moist; They must be delicious. The way to accomplish this is by using plenty of ripe fruit and the proper proportion of supporting ingredients. Tenderness is produced by fat, which means butter, though canola, corn, and other oils can be substituted if cholesterol is a concern. The rest is just flavor blending, the eternal balancing act among sugar, fat and starch.’
The exact banana’s condition is crucial for the bread’s quality. The more overripe is the banana, the more flavor, aroma, sweetness and moist texture it will add to the bread. That said, the slightly greenish or perfectly all-yellow banana will not add any flavor to the bread.
Example.These are no-goes (the last one is close, but still not enough blackened):
The naturally overripe banana will have much more of brown and black spots.
For the successful loaf bananas have to be absolutely, perfectly OVER-RIPE! There are two ways to speed up banana’s over-ripe: by hot or cold temperatures.
1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Place unpeeled bananas on the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool completely before peeling and mashing.
2. Place bananas in the freezer for 3 hours. Or, heck, if you are in Montreal right now where the frostbite has reached its peak, just put them outside for an hour. Let bananas thaw completely and discard any liquids before peeling and mashing.
This is how the banana will look like after:
Yes, ROTTEN would be the right word. Which brings me back to the ‘Rotten’ episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘The Mind of a Chef’
series featuring Chef Chang and Christina Tosi (from Momofuku Milk Bar) making a wondrous banana cream pie from limp blackened thawed bananas.
True: ‘some foods are better rotten…’ to attain the best results in the recipe.
I hope you’ll have a blast making this bread. Keep it in the fridge, so you can slice it and toast it and have an incredible breakfast, snack or dessert at any time you feel like going bananas.
BANANA BREAD (Peter Reinhart’s Master Formula)
Yields: two large or three small loaves
3 ½ cups (16 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (0.5 ounce) baking powder
½ tbsp (0.64 ounce) baking soda
1 tsp (0.25 ounce) salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs (6.65 ounces) at room temperature
2 tsp (0.2 ounce) vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) ripe bananas, mashed (3-4 bananas)
1 ½ cups (9 ounces) walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
Vegetable oil cooking spray
Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Spray two 9x5x3 loaf pans with non-stick spray.
Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy – about 2 minutes.
Mix in eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Mix in vanilla and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/3 of buttermilk, then 1/3 of mashed bananas. Continue in this manner until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Stir in walnuts.
Fill the pans 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 45 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake for additional 15 minutes, or until baked through. The safest way of knowing if they are finished is to test them with a probe thermometer. The internal temperature should be 180-185F.
Let the loaves cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn them out carefully on a rack to cool for at least one hour before slicing.
Adapted from ‘’Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers’’ by Peter Reinhart, The Speed Press 2006