“Ultimate” banana bread?

banana-bread5

‘Ultimate’ is a fraught word. When someone claims something is the ‘ultimate’, I can just see the pitfalls open up and a line of other ‘ultimate’ versions ready to fight for the title. For something as simple as banana bread, the word ‘ultimate’ becomes even more complicated.

Everyone has an opinion on what makes a banana bread the ‘ultimate’ of its kind. Research on the internet reveals a panoply of secret techniques / ingredients / you name it. All for what is basically a cake made with mushy bananas.

Some say the secret is really ripe bananas (but, there are even disagreements about the right degree of ripe: whether we are talking a few black spots, or black all over and squidgy and, you know, the word ‘rotten’ starts to come to mind). Some say it’s how the bananas are mashed / pureed / chopped. Still others say the secret lies in the other things in the batter – type of flour or sugar, baking soda versus baking powder, vanilla / cinnamon / nuts / chocolate, even yoghurt / butter / oil / sour cream.

There are ‘quick’ recipes, ‘quick’ and ‘ultimate’ recipes, ‘best’ recipes, ‘quick’ and ‘best’. Recipes with icing, recipes without icing, recipes with cinnamon sprinkled on top, and recipes made with coconut oil. I half expected to find a recipe for raw banana bread (now I’m curious, is there such a thing as raw banana bread?)

Finally, some swear that the secret is for mum, or grandma, or that special friend who runs that bakery, to make the perfectly imperfect banana bread that brings back childhood memories.

Phew! Are we overwhelmed yet?

banana-bread2

I am. This is one reason I’ve never made banana bread. Then, I saw a recipe for ‘ultimate’ banana bread on Salt and Serenity and remembered we had a bunch of bananas that were getting close to the ‘spotted leopard’ stage of ripe. Given the confluence of events, I was coaxed into the kitchen and into the banana bread arena. And that is how Mr Gander came to have his first slice of banana bread from our oven.

(As you can probably tell) I’m a little nervous about the word ‘ultimate’, but if you like a banana bread that is moist, dense, packs a punch of fulsome buttery banana flavour, and is sweet enough to complement (not overwhelm) the banana flavour, this is a good recipe. Unlike classic banana bread recipes, this one packs a hefty 5-6 bananas into each loaf, and is topped with pretty rows of banana slices and a slightly crunchy sugar topping.

We served this on a weekend afternoon, cut into dainty afternoon tea sized bites. What was left of the loaf became breakfast or midday snack at work. On both occasions, the banana bread got the tick of approval, particularly from people who got crunchier bits of the banana and sugar topping. It seems slightly caramelised sugar and banana is a winning combination – an idea for a caramel and banana tart, perhaps?

This recipe takes a while. So pencil in an afternoon, get the stove and oven ready, line up a few mixing bowls, and we can get going.

Baking notes: an important step in this recipe is cooking down the juice from 5 bananas (‘juice’ the bananas by putting sliced bananas into the microwave, or freezing and defrosting them) until you are left with a kind of concentrated banana essence. This is added to the batter to give a stronger banana flavour without the added moisture. Then, sliced bananas are placed on top of the batter and sprinkled with sugar, thus ensuring a crispy topping and a pattern that looks like banana chips.

banana-bread4

Ultimate banana bread

(From Salt and Serenity, which in turned used a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated)

Ingredients

1 cup plain / AP flour
3/4 cup wholemeal / whole wheat flour
1 tso baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 frozen bananas and one fresh ripe bananas 8 tablespoons (1 stick or 114 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces or 155 grams) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 teaspoons castor / granulated sugar

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350F / 175C. Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together.

2. Defrost 4 bananas, mash the bananas, and put banana mash into a wire strainer for about 15-20 minutes, stir occasionally.

Or, if using fresh bananas, place sliced bananas into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in the plastic wrap. Microwave on high until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Place cooked bananas in a wire strainer, and placed the strainer over a medium bowl. Allow to drain for about 15 minutes as above.

3. Cook the banana liquid over medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced by half or more, this took me 10 minutes. Stir the liquid into defrosted or microwaved bananas, and mash until the mixture is smooth. Then, stir through the butter, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla until smooth.

4. Make a well in the flour mixture, pour in banana mixture. Fold with a wooden spoon until the mixture has just combined. Fold in walnuts and pour or scrape the batter until a loaf pan.

5. Slice the last banana diagonally into thin slices. Place slices in a row, like laying shingles, and sprinkle castor sugar or granulated sugar over the slices.

6. Bake the loaf until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. This took me about an hour, but our oven has been temperamental so check your loaf from about 50 minutes.

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25 thoughts on ““Ultimate” banana bread?

  1. tinywhitecottage 11 June 2013 at 12:40 am Reply

    I would call it ultimate too! The bananas on the top with caramelized sugar is what qualifies it as such! 🙂 Looks moist and very beautiful!

    • saucygander 15 June 2013 at 10:40 pm Reply

      Thank you! The bananas on top first caught my eye, and then I couldn’t rest til I had tried the recipe.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. merrymennonite 11 June 2013 at 12:58 am Reply

    That is some fancy banana bread! It looks gorgeous–almost too good to eat. Almost being the operative word 😉

    • saucygander 15 June 2013 at 10:40 pm Reply

      Almost, but that didn’t stop us! 🙂

  3. Anita Flowers - House of Angels 11 June 2013 at 1:30 am Reply

    Wow! I agree it does look worthy of being ‘ultimate’.

  4. […] “Ultimate” banana bread?. […]

  5. Jody and Ken 12 June 2013 at 8:43 am Reply

    Ditto about the bananas on top. I’m also intrigued by the banana “juice.” ken

    • saucygander 15 June 2013 at 10:51 pm Reply

      The banana juice didn’t look like much, but it smelled and tasted like essence of banana. I thought it was an interesting take on banana bread.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. yummychunklet 12 June 2013 at 1:57 pm Reply

    I do love the sliced bananas on top!

  7. Liz 12 June 2013 at 2:12 pm Reply

    that does indeed look ultimate!

    • saucygander 15 June 2013 at 10:52 pm Reply

      Thanks! It took some time but I thought it was worth the effort.

      • Liz 19 June 2013 at 2:40 pm

        Made your bread and it was indeed worth the extra effort (which really wasn’t that much trouble). Hope you saw this: http://wp.me/p2dvv9-Za 🙂

      • saucygander 19 June 2013 at 8:18 pm

        Just did! Can I say I love the pink sugar? I’m seeing Mardi gras / carnivale style banana bread … !

        I may not, officially, be obsessive yet, but I’m probably working on it.

  8. lemongrovecakediaries 13 June 2013 at 3:18 pm Reply

    I like the idea of the slightly caramelised sugar and the banana on top, sounds delicious.

    • saucygander 15 June 2013 at 10:54 pm Reply

      Yes, it was surprisingly good for something so simple. Hence the idea for a banana and sugar tart.

      Thanks for the visit.

  9. […] up was Saucy gander’s Ultimate Banana Bread, which included the extra step of draining thawed frozen overripe bananas, then reducing that […]

  10. Karen 14 June 2013 at 4:17 am Reply

    Oh my goodness, I can see why you call it ultimate banana bread…it looks great.

    • saucygander 15 June 2013 at 10:55 pm Reply

      Thanks! We really liked the stronger banana flavour too!

  11. Anne ~ Uni Homemaker 15 June 2013 at 11:26 am Reply

    Will be putting this on my to-bake list. I’m always looking for new ways to use up bananas. Looks delish!

    • saucygander 15 June 2013 at 10:56 pm Reply

      Thanks, let me know if you do try this!

  12. laurasmess 17 June 2013 at 1:22 am Reply

    Oh wow… I’ve never seen a banana bread recipe that calls for ‘banana essence’ or syrup (I mean the straining process! Using the word ‘juice’ sounds weird!). The finished product looks amazing though. I can imagine that the bread must have been so beautifully fragrant. Love the decoration also. Gorgeous!

    • saucygander 17 June 2013 at 11:03 am Reply

      I agree, essence de bananes (said with a French accent) sounds so much more appetising. I remember our apartment’s corridor smelled like bananas, in a good way, for the whole afternoon!

      • laurasmess 17 June 2013 at 4:21 pm

        Hahaha, YES! French always makes everything sound nicer (“vous sentez comme un poisson” for example!). Mmm, definitely trying this banana cake! x

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