Well guess who visited me here in State College? My momma! The weekend has been spent so far exploring the corners of my apartment. And by that I mean we haven’t done much except enjoy each other’s company. In fact, I got my mom hooked on HBO’s Girls before she came, so we watched the remaining two seasons she hadn’t watched yet. AKA it has been an amazing couple of days. We can’t wait for episode two of season four tonight!
We’ve got wine, cheese, and cans of Diet Coke to keep us sustained…as if we would ever be legitimately hungry. My mom and I are just hungry for life! Or chocolate cake.
We did, however, have a hankering for banana bread. And we have hands down the best banana bread recipe ever. Not kidding. We don’t play around with banana bread around here. I think one of the worst disappoints is biting into a dry piece of banana bread that has walnuts in it. Yuck. Or if it just tastes like sugary bread with nothing in it to remind you of bananas at all. What’s the point? Ours is super soft and full of flavor with a nicely browned, crunchy top. I can barely put it down while I type this.
The only trouble with banana bread is that you have to keep bananas around until they’re rotten. As a clean freak, I have a real problem with that. So we wanted banana bread, but what were we to do? We came across a tip (in reality my mom came across the article because she’s the fastest Googler on Earth) on how to ripen your bananas in a flash. We tried it, and it’s incredible. Curious about how it works? Read on!
Fruit ripening is actually a pretty complex process. It differs between fruits and among biological factors. Technically ripening is triggered by genetic factors. Ripening transforms inedible fruit to edible fruit. Chlorophyll degrades, pigments such as carotenoids form, carbohydrates change, and volatile aromas are produced. That’s why pears that smell like pears and peaches that smell like peaches indicate the best choice at the grocery store.
The carbohydrate change is twofold. First, pectin, an indigestible structural fiber degrades and causes the produce to lose its structure. That’s why fruit softens as it ages. The second change has to do with the taste. The primary carbohydrate in fruit is starch. As the fruit ripens, the starch breaks down and changes to sugar. That’s why a ripe banana tastes so much better than a green banana. That’s also why banana bread made with super ripe bananas tastes so good!
There is another process that contributes to ripened produce. Senescence, triggered by both genetic and environmental factors, causes loss of vitality and freshness (such as crispness in apples), wrinkling, etc.
When you have ordinary bananas for eating lying around that aren’t ripe enough for baking, what are two girls to do?! Well friends, roast them! Peels and all. This does a few things. First, some of the starch breaks down to sugar due to the heat. Some of that sugar caramelizes creating an even nicer sweet note. This makes up for some of the starch that isn’t broken down by the heat (I may even like the roasted bananas better than the over-ripe bananas). Second, water evaporates in the oven which also happens during the ripening process. That’s why bananas shrink as they over-ripen. Third, rapidly evaporating water and intense heat breaks down the structural fiber and softens the banana.
There you have it folks! Get to making this excellent banana bread while you impatiently wait for Girls to return this evening.
The Best Ever Banana Bread
From Darlene Dixon (my grandma’s cousin and an excellent cookbook-er from northern Minnesota whose cookbook recipes form the backbone of all of our family reunion potlucks on my mom’s side of the family)
Makes one 9×5” loaf*
½ cup shortening
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed bananas (about three bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour milk**
2 cups flour
1. If your bananas are not rotten, you will have to roast them and cool them before using them in the recipe. Heat your oven to 300⁰F and roast your bananas for 30-40 minutes depending on the size. You’ll know that they’re done when they’re pretty black and soft. Roast the bananas on a piece of parchment because often the bananas will leak their “juices”, and this will make it easier to clean up.
2. Cream together the shortening and sugar—about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, baking soda, and salt. Scrape the bowl and add the bananas in chunks once cooled. Beat the mixture until the bananas are well incorporated and in small chunks. The mixture will look super separated and gross (See second picture above). Don’t worry, it will all come together.
3. Add the sour milk and flour in four parts each, interchanging between the two. Start with the sour milk and end with the flour. If the mixture still looks slightly separated, add one or two more tablespoons of flour.
4. Grease and flour your pan while you preheat your oven to 325⁰F. Fill the pan to about ¾ full and bake for about an hour-65 minutes. Be sure not to overbake because the banana bread will get so dry and all of the banana volatiles will disappear! My trick to this is slightly underbake it. When a toothpick comes out almost clean, I take the bread out of the oven.
5. Wait to slice until slightly cooled and serve with butter. This bread freezes well for a few months and keeps at room temperature for a couple days (although truth be told we’ve never had it around for longer than a couple days because it disappears somehow…).
*Personally, my loaf pan seems to be a bit smaller than a 9×5” loaf pan because I always have mix leftover—enough for a second mini loaf. I add chocolate chips to the mix for the second small loaf after filling the large pan. That way you get the best of both worlds from one recipe! My smaller loaf pan is about 5×3”.
**Sour milk can be made by putting 2 tablespoons of vinegar in a cup measure and filling with milk to 1 cup. Leave it sit for about 20 minutes before using. If you’re using skim milk like I always have on hand, the banana bread will be better if you put a couple tablespoons of heavy cream in the cup before filling with milk for the extra fat.
P.S. We all know what banana bread really looks like when you slice it up because you just can’t wait!
UPDATE: I’ve done this several times since this post. Some bananas have more water than others. If you see a huge puddle of clear juice around the bananas and seeping from them, stick them in the oven again for another 20 minutes. That should evaporate the water and concentrate the sugars. If the banana is green at all, this trick won’t work. There will be too much water in the bananas. You should look for completely yellow bananas.