Messing with the classics – A Modern Banana Bread

sliced on white plate 1I had a friend in seventh grade whose long straight shiny hair I envied. It reached down to her lower back and was a beautiful shade of butterscotch. I had short, wiry, curly black hair and would have given anything for hair like hers. She seemed so exotic to me. As I spent more time at her house I came to appreciate how different our families were. She only had one sibling and her mom was quite involved in all aspects of her life. I had 5 siblings and my mom was busy just trying to keep all our names straight.

One of the strangest things about my friend’s mom was that every week she would buy a huge bunch of bananas and leave them in a pretty bowl on the kitchen table. By the end of the week, they would be ripe and almost black and she would throw the bunch away and buy a fresh one to replace it. No one in their family liked the taste of bananas, yet her mom just loved how they looked, so she continued to buy them.speckled bananasAt the time it never occurred to me that you could make banana bread with ripe bananas. In our house, banana cake came from Sara Lee. Oh how I loved the icing on those frozen cakes!sara Lee banana CakeI only came to discover the joy of homemade banana bread many years later, during my University years, when I worked part-time as a Cuisinart demonstrator. I was given Noreen Gilletz’s book “The Pleasures of your Food Processor” as a gift. And there on page 208 was a banana bread recipe so perfect that it became my gold standard by which I judged all other banana breads for the next 30 years.

My mom was a student of the “more is more” school, and she revised Noreen’s recipe by using 5 or 6 bananas, instead of the 3 called for in the recipe. We dubbed her version, “Banana Brick.” It was wet and heavy.

Little did my mom know that with her addition of more bananas, she was onto something big here. She wanted to intensify the banana flavour but she just lacked the correct technique to do it without ending up with a sodden heavy mess.

Cook’s Illustrated Magazine figured out a way to ramp up the banana flavour without introducing too much additional moisture. They started with five very ripe bananas (versus the usual three in most typical recipes) and proceeded to microwave them to release their juices. The next step was to drain all the juices that had accumulated during microwaving and simmer that liquid in a saucepan until it reduced.

peeling bananaspoking hole in saran

after microwavingstrainingmashing bananas reducing liquid 2This reduced liquid is then added to the batter, a sort of intensified banana essence.adding liquidcracking egg

adding a touch of whole wheat flourmixing batterCooks Illustrated decided to further boost the banana flavour by adding a sixth banana, sliced thin and caramelized on top of the loaf gave this banana bread an enticingly crisp, crunchy top.sprinkling with sugar

top view

I tasted the bread warm from the oven and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I liked it better than my classic recipe from Noreen. But I went back for a second taste after it had cooled for about 6 hours and I was astounded at how different it tasted. All the buttery goodness was now front and center. It was moist, but not wet. The slices, heavy for their size, had the perfect density.

There were several layers of sweetness to this banana bread. It tasted of bananas but the sweetness was not overpowering. The addition of brown sugar to this version added a molasses undertone that helped balance the sweetness.  Cook’s Illustrated called for walnuts in their recipe and not being a walnut lover, I hesitated over this addition. In the end, I added them and their slight bitterness provided just the right contrast with the sweet bananas.

The sliced bananas and granulated sugar on top of the bread caramelized and they added a crunch to the top that was such a nice surprise and contrast to the moist interior. This banana bread continued to improve over the next 3 days, much like a fruitcake. Sometimes it does pay to mess with the classics! I think even Noreen Gilletz would approve.

Click here to print recipe for Ultimate Banana Bread.sliced on wire rack

13 thoughts on “Messing with the classics – A Modern Banana Bread

  1. Linda

    So funny, I just baked my ‘standard’ banana bread last night and eating it this morning. I usally freeze bananas and when thawed they are nice and soft. Your recipe will be my next!

    Reply
    1. saltandserenity Post author

      What a coincidence Linda! If you use frozen bananas, no need to microwave them to release all their liquids. You can just thaw the frozen bananas, strain them and then reduce the liquid. Let me know if you like it.

      Reply
  2. Corrie Gancman

    Who needs the cake, Oy! the icing!! on the Sara Lee cake was the best!!! and yes,
    we did eat a lot of it! I have lots of frozen ripe bananas so, today I’m going to make this delicious looking Banana Bread recipe. Loving the extra Bananas on top.

    Reply
  3. faith feingold

    Great article and recipe Cindy,

    Two things:
    (1) So now I know where we got the “more is more” from.
    (2) The straight butterscotch hair – Isabelle?
    And one more thing – two things – we got that from Dad – right?
    And one more thing – my friend DJ said she loves this recipe too – I told her to leave a comment – let me know if she does?

    Xo
    Faithy

    Reply
  4. faith feingold

    One more thing…
    I remember those sarah lee cakes. I liked the banana one best. Why did we always eat so much frozen food? I think bcs mom liked cold frozen things. Like ice cream – remember the bent spoons that Dad would leave in the freezer for the 10 tubs of Baskin and Robbins!

    Reply
  5. Pingback: “Ultimate” banana bread? | Saucy gander

  6. laurasmess

    Hello Cindy! I just found you via Saucy Gander’s version of this recipe. So glad that I did… beautiful blog! I’ve never tried Sara Lee’s banana cake, but I can’t imagine that it’d be a patch on this gorgeous loaf! I’ve never seen this particular straining technique used on bananas before but it makes perfect sense. I’ll give this a go! Thanks x

    Reply
  7. Petr Chutny

    Thanks so much for the article. I will use try both techniques in granola bars that I am making – currently exploring peanut butter & banana flavour 🙂

    Reply

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