If your local grocery stores are anything like mine they’ll often run amazing deals on slightly bruised or ripe fruits and veggies. Some of you may turn your noses up at the thought but for something like banana bread where you need dead-ripe bananas it’s an awesomely cheap solution.
I managed to score two massive bags of ripe bananas (almost 5 lbs) for $1 each. The bananas still looked quite good; they had only started to develop some brown freckles but they weren’t smooshed or bruised at all. Once I got them home I actually had to wait a few more days before I felt they were ripe enough for making banana bread.
5 lbs of bananas was way too much for one banana bread so I only used one bag of bananas for that and saved the other bag for banana pudding which I’ll show in another blog entry.
I decided to try Cooks Illustrated’s Ultimate Banana Bread recipe that claims to make a “moist, tender loaf with over-the-top banana flavor.”
Ultimate Banana Bread
Why this recipe works: We added banana flavor without introducing too much moisture to our banana bread recipe by microwaving the fruit and draining it. We then simmered the banana liquid in a saucepan until it reduced and incorporated it into the batter. We used brown sugar instead of granulated and swapped out oil for the nutty richness of butter. Toasted walnuts gave our banana bread recipe a pleasing crunch, and a sixth banana sliced thin and caramelized on top of the loaf gave our banana bread an enticingly crisp, crunchy top.
Makes one 9-inch loaf
Be sure to use very ripe, heavily speckled (or even black) bananas in this recipe. This recipe can be made using 5 thawed frozen bananas; since they release a lot of liquid naturally, they can bypass the microwaving in step 2 and go directly into the fine-mesh strainer. Do not use a thawed frozen banana in step 4; it will be too soft to slice. Instead, simply sprinkle the top of the loaf with sugar. The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8½ by 4½ inches; if you use a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, start checking for doneness five minutes earlier than advised in the recipe. The texture is best when the loaf is eaten fresh, but it can be stored (cool completely first), covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.
1 3/4cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 large very ripe bananas (about 2 1/4 pounds), peeled (see note)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl.
2. Place 5 bananas in microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife. Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer placed over medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cup liquid).
3. Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.
4. Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in walnuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Slice remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Shingle banana slices on top of either side of loaf, leaving 1½-inch-wide space down center to ensure even rise. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over loaf.
5. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Cool bread in pan on wire rack 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I never realized until trying this recipe how much water bananas release. Honestly when I drained the microwaved bananas I was surprised at the amount of liquid that collected at the bottom of the bowl. It was nearly 1 cup of water!
As for the “over-the-top” banana flavor? Hmm…I don’t know about that. I don’t think this banana bread was significantly more banana-y compared to other banana breads I’ve eaten in the past. It does taste good and it is very moist though so I’ll save this recipe for future use.
I actually made the banana pudding right before the banana bread, and I had used a loaf pan for the pudding so I had to use a 8x8x2 baking dish for the banana bread. That’s the reason why it looks more like banana cake instead of a loaf. Since I used such a shallow dish I reduced the total baking time to 45-55 minutes because I knew that the bread would bake faster in a shallow dish compared to a taller loaf pan.