(My) Best Banana Bread
There are some things that mothers have a monopoly on in the kitchen. I’m sure you know what I mean–they have those recipes that only they make in their way, and it cannot be replicated nor outdone by any other recipe. It’s different for every mother, but they’ve always got that something. For my mom, it’s bran muffins, cilantro chicken salad, “ozette” bars (a peanut butter-oat bar my siblings and I used to scarf down before and after swim practices), and (previously) banana bread.
Yes, I’m sorry mom, but your banana bread recipe has been ousted. But mind you, this is no small feat! I’m pretty sure my mom has used the recipe out of her big Betty Crocker encyclopedia of cooking for as long as I’ve been alive, but really it is a banana bread to contend with. Ever since I’ve had an interest in cooking I’ve scanned through countless banana bread recipes, trying to find one that could compete with hers. I bring out my fancy looking baking books and execute the recipe exactly as directed, only to find a banana bread not quite so moist, not as flavorful, with a crumb not as smooth.
Part of this is just because what your mom makes is what you’re used to. Of course you’re not going to like a fancy, doctored-up banana bread if the version from your childhood that your mom made was the exact opposite. But still, mine wasn’t beating hers, by a landslide. I figured it was that “mom” thing and that I might as well give up and enjoy her betty crocker banana bread loafs whenever she made them and that would be that.
That is, until I was left with three rapidly decaying bananas my housemate was unable to eat. After researching recipes to the high heavens, I decided to give it another try. I ended up carrying out the original recipe for “Best Banana Bread” from Cook’s Illustrated–not their “ultimate” banana bread with however-many-five-or-six bananas it calls for (I did, by the way, try this recipe out in the long history of trying to beat my mom’s. It didn’t impress me). I added in toasted walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top, but otherwise I didn’t alter the recipe. The cinnamon sugar was a remnant from my mom’s version that I just can’t shake. It just makes banana bread that much better.
What I was left with was … well, better than my mom’s. That says a lot. It’s my favorite banana bread I’ve ever had: sticky moist, sweet and satisfying, a “hearty and smooth” crumb (as Cook’s says), and a real, underlying banana flavor. This is the recipe I’m going to turn to every time I have a few past-their-prime bananas to cope with, and who knows? Maybe even one day this will turn into “my” recipe that my kids (eek! far far in the future) won’t be able to beat.
Best Banana Bread
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
As noted below, toasted nuts, and a cinnamon-sugar topping are completely optional (although I think you’d be crazy to skip out on the cinnamon-sugar part). Feel free to add in anything extra–I love a good 1/2 cup of bittersweet chips thrown into the batter. Also, as always noted, make sure your bananas are really, really, really ripe for best results. It’s better to wait than end up with so-so banana bread.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped coarse (optional)
3 very ripe bananas, soft, darkly speckled, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 (3/4 stick) tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of regular (not nonstick) 9-by-5 inch loaf pan, or grease and flour bottom and sides of nonstick 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside. Combine first five (flour through walnuts, if using) ingredients together in large bowl; set aside.
Mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with wooden spoon in medium bowl. Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients with rubber spatula until just combined and batter looks thick and chunky–it might look at first like there is too much dry ingredients and not enough liquid, but don’t fret! It will come together, just keep folding gently but consistently. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan; sprinkle cinnamon-sugar topping evenly over top. Bake until loaf is golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 55 minutes to an hour. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature (or cold, I like that especially).