Janice SmellaQue’s long perfected Banana Bread
During the early stages of COVID, the number one searched online recipe was for banana bread. When I looked at most of the recipes that came up, none of them fit my criteria of what banana bread should be. Ha! Call me picky. Call me judgemental! Call me when you have a decent recipe!Jump to Recipe
As I researched recipes, tested recipes, asked for peoples favorite, I realized I needed to define what the perfect banana bread was to me. I also had the added bonus of many learnings along the way.
Janice’s definition of the perfect banana bread
- Obvious banana flavor
- Not greasy, I hate seeing a giant grease outline through a paper bag
- Small to medium sized crumb
- Made with common ingredients (use of all purpose flour instead of cake or bread or oat flour)
- Not overly sweet – it’s not a cake
- Rise to the banana bread in the loaf pan (it’s pure as aesthetics, but nobody claims to have baked banana bricks)
Learning 1 – Too much baking soda makes banana bread turn green or blue
Remember your elementary school volcanoes when you mix baking soda and vinegar together for an eruption? In much smaller quantities, the baking soda still has a chemical reaction with acid. Low and behold the acidic component is in bananas, so any excess baking soda that doesn’t help the banana bread rise will react, hence green or blue banana bread slices the next day.
Oh and too much baking soda leaves a metallic aftertaste. Not a desireable trait for banana bread.
Learning 2 – Role of baking powder and baking soda and the actions of both together
Baking soda reacts with acid (in this case brown sugar and bananas) to produce carbon dioxide and residual salt. Other acidic baking ingredients are buttermilk, sour cream, chocolate, honey and citrus juices.
Baking powder is a quarter amount of baking soda with a corresponding amount of weak acid for reaction and cornstarch to keep the base and acid separate. The acid will dissolve in water, so, as the banana bread bakes in the hot oven and the acid and water commingle, carbon dioxide will release and enable the banana bread to rise.
Learning 3 – Will adding more baking soda or more baking powder, will your banana bread rise higher?
Steam is often not discussed in baking but steaming is really what creates the expansion of bubbles and increase in volume to make baked goods light and fluffy. Simply, batter is wet and your baked good is dry, so all of the moisture mixed into the batter will be driven off to rise.
Its mind boggling, but rising agents like baking powder and baking soda do NOT make baked goods rise. They simple create the bubbles for steam to expand and grow in the baked good. Therefore, adding more rising agents like baking powder and baking soda will NOT enable greater rise. You need the steam for your baked good to rise. Further, too many carbon dioxide bubbles will eventually collide and break, preventing great rise.
Wow! This learning was a huge game changer for me! So much, that I read and re-read my own notes constantly when developing recipes!Jump to Recipe
Learning 4 – More ripe the banana, the stronger the banana flavor
Seems obvious, but as bananas ripen, the special chemical compound that makes banana flavor, is concentrated when bananas ripen. So, when looking for bananas for banana bread, find the bananas that are virtually black in color, as those are indeed, the ripe bananas for baking.
Learning 5 – Mashing bananas immerses the banana thoroughly through the batter
If you want to be lazy, mashing or beating the bananas is not the step to skip. Otherwise, your banana loaf is blotchy because the bananas won’t uniformly immerse into the batter. True story, see the picture below.Jump to Recipe
Learning 6-10 – Baking or nuking bananas does not develop stronger banana flavor, but will enhance the sweetness
If you don’t have ripe banana’s handy and running to the store at 9:30pm doesn’t seem worth it, there’s tips all over the internet to bake the bananas in the skin in a hot oven or perhaps nuking the banana in the microwave. I tested three batches of banana bread with varying degrees of ripeness including cooking greenish unripe bananas from the microwave.
Conclusions from my test cooking show:
- Cooking bananas is not the same as ripening bananas. You will not obtain more banana flavor by warming or cooking the banana
- Cooking bananas in the oven or microwave will convert the banana starch to sugar for more sweetness
- Greenish bananas will still retain the banana fiber, so don’t be surprised if there are banana fiber strands on your mixing beaters
- Cooking bananas in the oven or microwave seems to extract liquid from the bananas that is worth adding back into the banana bread for moisture content (remember steam enables the bread to rise)
- Cooking bananas in the microwave is best low and slow (reduce the power on the microwave) otherwise you will discover the new game of “Exploding Bananas” developed by yourself truly
Learning 11 – Over mixing the batter will lead to a more homogeneous mixture with a denser crumb
This recipe uses the muffin method of combining wet and dry ingredients. When it comes to quick breads and muffins, what happens when you over mix? My experience says that your crumb becomes more dense. I suspect over mixing traps more of the water with the gluten in the flour which prevents the bread from steaming and rising – this is just a guess. If you’re a food scientist who has more insight, please contact me. I’d be interested in the chemistry! For comparison purposes, here is a comparison of my same recipe (left is the proper muffin method, right is the same method but over mixed).
Learning 12 – Skipping eggs
Ha! This learning was by accident, even as I was trying to break my own recipe. What would happen if I forgot to eggs? Fortunately for banana bread, not a lot! I think the fiber inherent in bananas combined with the structural components of gluten in flour allows the loaf to still build structure and still have adequate fat content that others are unlikely to notice. I wouldn’t recommend skipping eggs from the recipe but no need to worry if you forget.Jump to Recipe
Learning 13 – Butter makes my quick bread greasy
When the butter melts in oven, the water content develops into steam, but in my recipe where the butter fat is not whipped or bound with something else, I think the fat sits on the surface of the quick bread. Its a personal annoyance for me specifically, despite my love for butter, but a personal choice for you.
Learning 14 – Higher temperature baking does not mean additional caramelization
I had it in my head, that with the same amount of sugar and at higher temperatures, I would see more caramelization on the exterior of the banana bread. My favorite pieces are the ends with the crispy outside. I cooked the same quick bread recipe at 325F, 350F and 375F. No photos of the differences are available, but I surprisingly found 325F just took longer to cook and 375F seemed to make the bread drier, but not more caramelized. Why mess with temperatures, 350F it is.
Lesson 15 – Too many bananas?
In an effort to increase the banana flavor and maintain moisture content, I increased the amount of bananas or used whipping cream or pudding (Have you ever googled Hawaiian banana bread? The recipe suggesting to use pudding was a fail for me). Five loaves of under cooked banana bread later, you really can have too much of a good thing.
Lesson 16 Always toast your nuts
It never occurred to me that not everyone toast their nuts when making quick breads. Do it! You’ll never go back. Toasting nuts, warms and extracts the oils in the nuts to their full potential. Its another flavor add to your banana masterpiece!
Janice SmellaQue’s long perfected Banana Bread
- 2 cups 297g flour
- ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 ½ cups 440g 3 large bananas
- ½ cup 84g brown sugar not packed
- ½ cup 104g granulated sugar
- ½ cup 109g corn or vegetable oil or melted butter
- 1 tablespoon whipping cream or yoghurt or sour cream
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup chopped toasted walnuts optional
- ¼ cup chocolate chips optional
- Preheat oven to 350F
- In medium bowl, mix dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, walnuts and set aside
- In a stand mixer, beat bananas until liquid about 2 minutes.
- To the mixer, add sugar, eggs oil, whipping cream and beat until homogenous
- Using a rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients to banana batter. Stop folding when flour is streaky. (Texture will look like runny oatmeal).
- Pour batter into greased loaf or parchment laid loaf 9 x 5 x 3 pan.
- Bake for 55-65 minutes until toothpick comes out clean from the middle.
- Cool on counter before slicing