Do you know what the world needs? It needs another banana bread recipe.
I’m serious. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got some frozen bananas in your freezer right now. Maybe one of them even fell out on your bare foot this morning, when you were gingerly trying to remove a large bag of frozen peach slices, your brave attempt at holding on to summer and the farmers’ market bounty for as long as possible. You looked at that banana and you sighed, because there were at least two more in there, and you knew it was high time you did something with them.
Well, thank heavens you came here. Because this is one hell of a good recipe. It’s perfect for those sad, lonely, black bananas, lingering forlornly beneath the peas that have frozen into a solid lump and the half-used bag of spinach that you really should throw away because its gone all freezer burn-y and you know that after 10 months of not using it, you probably won’t start any time soon. This banana bread recipe is more like banana cake-bread. A lot denser than normal banana bread, and richer, but still in that comforting, familiar loaf shape. Which, as we all know, provides a fantastic surface on which to spread, say, cream cheese. Highly recommended.
The recipe comes from two sources: Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook and my mother. The original recipe in the book is Bette Duke’s Whole Wheat Banana Bread. But my mother, who is a brilliant cook and baker, made a few changes, and it’s her version that I make.
I could write reams on my mother’s culinary prowess – and one day I will – but suffice to say that she started cooking very young and practically grew up in her Russian grandfather’s bakery in Philadelphia. She cooks and bakes more by feel and “I don’t know, add enough until it looks/tastes right” than anything else. In other words, the kind of cooking and baking to which I aspire. Aspire, as I sit there carefully measuring every last cup and teaspoon in each recipe. But armed with recipes like this, and others my dear mama is showing me, I’m breaking out of my careful little baking mold. So when the recipe says “plus a little more” or “just eyeball here,” go ahead and do it. It’ll turn out fine.
Perhaps the biggest change made in this banana bread recipe is that, while the original is called “whole wheat banana bread,” the version I make has not a whit of whole wheat in it. Perhaps whole wheat would be good in banana bread, and maybe one day I’ll try it (I do have a big sack of whole wheat flour in my pantry, after all). I guess I just can’t imagine the combo of whole wheat with the rich, creamy, banana flavor. I’ll post both options though, and if you make the whole wheat version, let me know how it turns out. I’ll do the same, because those bananas in my freezer really have been calling to me…
(Adapted from “Whole Wheat Banana Bread” by Bette Duke, in New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill)
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (plus a little more, depending on how vanilla-y you like things)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sour cream (plus a little more – an extra spoonful or two, or make it a heaping 1/4 cup – unless you use frozen bananas, in which case stick with the 1/4 cup)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (we just change this to all-purpose, and do a total of 1 1/2 cups a-p flour)
3/4 all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium) (We throw in an extra 1/2 to almost whole banana besides this, but not mashed – break it up into small chunks and mix those in separately. The mashed banana becomes part of the batter, but the banana chunks are suspended in the bread, like little treasures)
Optional – we also add walnuts, but not just any old walnuts. We take a big handful or two of walnut pieces and sauté them in butter and brown sugar. Keep breaking them up so they don’t all clump together, and let them cool a bit.
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9×5x3 1/2″ loaf pan, or three to four smaller loaf pans.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar together. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until the batter is light.
3. Stir the baking soda into the sour cream. Beat the sour cream and baking soda mixture into the batter.
4. Sift together the flour (both whole wheat and all purpose if using, or just all purpose) and salt. Alternately add the flour mixture and the mashed bananas to the batter and mix until combined.
5. Turn the batter into the prepared loaf pan(s). Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. A large loaf pan takes about 1 hour, the smaller ones will take less time, depending on the size of your loaf pans (start testing at about 30-35 minutes). If the top begins to brown too much before the loaf is done, tent it loosely with some aluminum foil. Cool on a wire rack.