You did it again, didn’t you? You’re suddenly on a health kick and went overboard on the megamarket bananas. And your reward at the end of the week is a pile of brown sludge, oozing a thick syrup all over the kitchen counter.
But hey, I feel you. I do this every week, only to notice when the stench of almost-rancid bananas assaults my nostrils the moment I step into the kitchen. At this point, I have to trash them(and hope Mr. Doyle’s racoons don’t hunt them down) OR turn them into the most epically mind-blowing banana bread anyone’s ever experienced.
Overripe bananas are THE secret to moist, banana-y flavored banana bread. After many failed experiments using standard fresh bananas, Cupcake Jemma led me to success with her Banana Bread recipe I discovered many years ago. I use her recipe, along with Chocolate Covered Katie’s vegan recipe, as the foundation for which I experiment with banana bread.
Warning: I don’t measure ingredients in a traditional way. You can try to follow this recipe, but I recommend you just make one of the recipes above. Read on only for enjoyment, and, for science.
I start by relocating all the pots and pans living rent free inside my oven, to every visible surface of my kitchen table, and set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Let’s do this thing.
I squeeze the banana slugs out of their skins, like toothpaste out of a tube, into a large bowl. They’re soft, a rich yellow color and covered in a sweet-smelling banana syrup. I smash the slugs with an extra large fork. Their bodies squeeze through the space between the prongs. I do this over and over and over again, until the banana slugs become smaller chunks swimming in their own thick syrup.
Make it Sweeter
The banana slug puree isn’t sweet enough. It needs more sugar. Coconut sugar. It’s my favorite sweetener. I open the bag, take a whiff of that warm, nutty aroma, and start to drool a bit. I pour directly from the bag into the bowl until a sugary mountain forms, and watch it slowly sink into the banana slug puree.
Spice it Up
Time for a splash and dash: a splash of vanilla, a dash of cinnamon. All it takes is a good ol’ bend and snap of the wrist. And don’t forget to add the salt.
Salt magically enhances all the flavors in your sweet concoction. According to science, sodium ions suppress bitterness in food, allowing sweet flavors to shine. But it’s also dangerous. I use sea salt. It’s saltier than table salt. It’s pure, unrefined, extracted from the ocean. And it’s all I got. I’m always one tiny baby grain away from turning the whole thing to beach water.
I pour a small pile of fine grain sea salt in the palm of my hand, pinch a ball of it between my thumb and index fingers, and add it to the mixture. I throw the rest over my shoulder for good luck. I’ll need it.
At this point my sweet tooth takes over. I have an overwhelming urge to shove my face into this sweet and nutty lumpy goo. But then I remember that I’m a mature adult, take a deep breath, maintain composure and stick my entire finger in to taste. 🧐 If I’m not satisfied with the balance of flavors here, I’ll add a bit more vanilla, cinnamon, salt, or coconut sugar. Then taste again. 🧐 There’s a problem. What does it need? I’ll add some ginger. Also a spoonful of sugar… a bit more cinnamon too... I’m not going to taste it again, just gonna go for it.
Solid and Liquid Almonds
XL spoonfuls of almond butter makes banana bread luxuriously rich. I use all the strength in my arms to scrape the whisk against the bottom of the bowl, feeling the almond butter fighting to remain independent here. Come. On. Almond. Butter. Just. Mix. In. Already.
A little bit of almond milk adds more of a fluffy cloud factor. Just a couple more ‘bend and snaps’ of the wrist.
I can’t be bothered. There’s a high risk of a rogue egg shell sneaking into the batter, only to reveal itself after the loaf is baked. I don’t need that chaos in my life right now. Baking powder will do just fine. The cornstarch in the baking powder will be enough to bind the bread.
Cornstarch is a thickener, used mostly in sauces. I’ll get that custardy texture in the banana bread, without that godforsaken egg.
More science: baking powder is a mixture of cornstarch, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and powdered acid. When mixed with water, or milk (or moisture), the baking soda and powdered acid chemically react to create the carbon dioxide gas, forcing the bread to rise in the oven, giving it that fluff factor.
But too much baking powder is dangerous. Imagine bread that rises in the oven, but never stops. Like a volcano erupting, it overflows, plops on the oven floor, crisps up and burns. Your house will smell like a Christmas market set on fire.
One teaspoon of baking powder is enough. Use a proper measuring spoon please.
The gluten in all-purpose flour also binds the whole thing together, somehow. Gluten is stretchy, right? Baking is science.
I don’t measure the flour, I just slowly add more and more, gently stirring with a flat object like a wood spoon or spatula, until I get the right consistency. The batter will get thick, somewhere between pancake batter and cookie dough.
(If you do hit cookie dough consistency, you can’t go back. But please add some chocolate chips and/or nuts, maybe almonds, and bake them cookies until golden brown. Let me know how they come out. I need to know, it’s for my scientific research.)
Pan & Get Weird with Toppings
After pouring the batter into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper, I bedazzle it with toppings.
The limit does not exist. I don’t want to see any raw batter on top. Chocolate chips are a MUST. Maybe even some walnuts. Or even better, almonds. Yea, do almonds, it matches the almond butter and milk. Might as well be consistent. Sprinkle some turbinado sugar as well, for that professional looking sugary crunch you see on top of a bakery-baked blueberry muffin. Speaking of, why not add blueberries too? A ripe banana, cut in half on the long side, cut side up will definitely impress. Offset the halves too, for that aesthetic look. Let’s get featured in the New York Times.
I delicately place the whole thing in the oven. I just sit there and watch it go for like 40 minutes straight. Like a kid in the aquarium, waiting for the beluga whale to say hello, I wait until the loaf rises, freeing itself from the toppings suffocating it. It’s not overflowing. Lady luck strikes again!
Once this banana batter dries out on top and darkens a bit, I’ll open the oven door, stick a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, it's done. But it’s usually not. So I pop it back in and test again every 5 minutes. I’ve tested it 3 or 4 times. My neck’s locked in a cramp from sitting hunched over for an hour straight. I can’t wait to eat this thing. After the 7th or 8th test, it’s finally done.
The aromas lifted from the salt’s chemical reaction fills the house. My husband, mom and dog stop staring at their screens and run to the kitchen. I have to hold everyone back, like a security guard at the front of a concert crowd, preventing them from taking a bite and burning themselves
After 30 minutes, it’s ready to eat - still warm, but settled. My mom squishes the bread, takes a whiff before taking a delicate bite. I’m caught up in the romantic wedding of smell and taste: the soft nutty taste of roasted almond topping, the crunch of the sugar, the sweet chocolate, followed by the rich vanilla and cinnamon flavors enveloped in custardy solidified banana goo. My husband and dog eat their slices in one bite. Time for round 2. And just like that, half the loaf is gone. The kitchen’s filled with a shared “Mmmmm.”
The Next Day
I fight a sugar coma getting out of bed. So I take a trip to the megamarket, convincing myself I need to revolutionize my health and lifestyle, and grab a whole bunch of bananas.
Feature image source: here