Banana Bread

This is Marie, sharing my own recipe for banana bread, arrived at over years of fiddling and originally derived from (I think) something in the Joy of Cooking. I really like banana bread, but only if it is moist and dense and richly banana-flavored. I made quite a few loaves that looked and tasted like bricks, using various recipes that people swore were great, before deciding to mess around with the recipe until it was actually right. One thing I discovered is that the texture I wanted really required Crisco, not butter. Another was that many recipes call for far too many bananas. Lastly was that salt is actually required, as it keeps the batter from getting too dry. So the commentary on bread that comes below the recipe is mostly what I learned while teaching myself how to bake. So if it’s written on a beginner level, that’s why – I developed this as a beginning baker.

The recipe:

Dry ingredients:

2 2/3 c flour
¼ to ½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder

Wet ingredients:

2 large eggs
1 1/3 c sugar
10 tbsp Crisco
3 small or 2 large bananas

Add nuts of your choice if you like them.

Key to the photo: in the measuring cup are a ½ and ¼ measuring spoon with a copper oval; those are both baking powder. The ½ with no oval is the baking soda. The 1 tsp spoon with the oval, which is only half full, has salt (sorry, I hadn’t a third set of spoons for this image to have fully accurate measurements). The green and yellow measuring cups contain sugar.

The eggs should be farmer’s market or organic if you can get them. I’ve tried reducing the amount of Crisco and not had good results; this appears to be the minimum amount. Feel free to sub applesauce if you are trying low-fat versions and let me know your results! The bananas are at the very earliest range of acceptable ripeness. Normally I’d have let them sit another day but it was Sunday and the bread would otherwise not get done as it’s not practical for me to do any baking on a weeknight. Alternate: if you wait until the fruit is actually black it gives a kind of fermented edge to the loaf and you need to add a little moisture to the dough.

The dry ingredients I blend with a fork into my large Pyrex measuring cup. Make sure they are well blended so the baking soda doesn’t fizz when it touches the wet ingredients. Blend the eggs, sugar and Crisco together in whatever order suits your fancy, but they should be thoroughly creamed, and bananas should be last. You can either put the fruit in before or after starting to mix in the flour mixture, as that is added in stages, but the texture of the final product will differ slightly depending on which way you do it so try both ways before settling on one. In this case, I mixed the dry ingredients into the wet in three stages, ending with bananas. It’s best to break up the bananas into chunks and roughly mash them before mixing them in; try for a chunky paste that doesn’t have big enough pieces that you risk bits sticking to the side of the pan, as the chunks will pull out of the baked loaf when you remove it. But I like some texture; if you don’t, mix in the bananas thoroughly with the wet ingredients before adding flour. Make sure you don’t add too many bananas, as that will result in a wet center of the loaf that collapses on itself partway through baking, even using small pans the way I did in the image. If you have small to medium size fruit you may need to eat a chunk or two instead of mixing it in. This recipe works best in small to medium sized pans.

The dough should be very firm and keep its shape well. You can have pretty pointy bits on your loaves if you feel the desire to shape it with a spoon before it goes in. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes (325 if you have an oven that runs hot), keeping a very close eye on it near the end of the baking period. The crust should develop cracks or fissures. Test when the cracks in the crust look like they are beginning to dry out. The crust will get brown at different rates depending on the whims of the individual batches; don’t rely on color for doneness, but rather on how moist the dough looks. Remove when a toothpick comes out almost clean but with a crumb or two still on it. Do not overbake.

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