It’s February 23rd, National Banana Bread Day, and there’s only one thing for us to do: Bake a loaf, with lots of chocolate chunks.

We prefer making ours with overripe bananas [photo #3]: brown peel = more pronounced flavor. Our friend Beth swears by using frozen bananas (we haven’t tried that yet).
 
 
BANANA BREAD IS A QUICK BREAD

A quick bread. also spelled quickbread, a is bread made with a chemical leavening agent (baking powder or baking soda—the difference).

The name refers to the fact that since the bread is made without yeast, it doesn’t need time to rise before baking.

Since the “quick” chemical leaveners activate as soon as they are moistened, no kneading or rising is required.

Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, popovers, soda breads and sweet breads such as banana bread fall into the quick bread category.

So do zucchini bread, carrot cake and other nut and fruit loaves, coffee cakes made without yeast, pancakes and waffles. It’s the chemistry of the preparation, not the sweetness, that defines the category.

Is carrot cake a quick bread? If you make it in a loaf, yes. If you make it as a layer cake, it’s a cake (it’s the same with banana bread and banana cake).

Why ask why? Well…in the 19th century, the descriptive language was looser. Often, the terms cake and pie were used interchangeably.

That’s why Boston Cream Pie is a cake, and cheesecake is a pie.

But feel free to call a loaf of carrot cake by its proper quick bread name, carrot bread.
 
 
THE HISTORY OF BANANA BREAD

Thanks to PJ Hamel of King Arthur Flour for her research.

 

Banana Bread With Walnuts
King Arthur Flour’s banana bread recipe, below (photo courtesy King Arthur Flour).

Ripe bananas
[2] An excellent ripeness for banana bread (photo courtesy Dole).

 

The U.S. supply of bananas comes from Central America. There weren’t many bananas in the U.S. until the turn of the 20th century.

The fruit ripened and rotted too quickly to travel far by ship. If it was found anywhere, it was in parts of the country closest to Central America.

The advent of refrigerated transport at the turn of the 20th century was a boon for lots of perishables. Bananas arrived in cities nationwide and quickly became a breakfast staple.

At the time bananas were also used in desserts, but often just as a garnish atop cake or pudding.

In the 1930s, two events converged that placed new focus on the banana.

  • First was the Great Depression. From the fall of 1929 throughout much of the 1930s, every scrap of food was precious. No one threw anything away—even a mushy, overripe banana.
  • Concurrent was the availability of chemical leaveners. Manufacturers of baking powder and baking soda began to mass-produce their products, making chemical leaveners available nationwide for the first time.
  • These events encouraged cookbook authors to create recipes for banana quick breads: a delicious way to use those overripe bananas. By the early 1930s, banana bread recipes were everywhere. (Puddings and other banana desserts followed.)
  •  
    As P.J. Hamel researched recipes, she discovered what banana bread recipes over the decades have in common: bananas, sweetener, a chemical leavener, fat and flour.

    Beyond that they can differ wildly, reflecting trends of their decades: everything from a sprinkle of sesame seeds or a dollop of apricot jam, crushed pineapple, wheat bran or grated orange peel (not to mention nuts). Here is more of her research.

    Our favorite addition, chocolate chunks, came later. Here’s our banana bread-chocolate chunk recipe, which includes a cup of chocolate chunks or chips.

    For a twist, mix both dark and white chocolate chunks/chips.

     

    Ripe Bananas
    [3] Very ripe bananas are great for baking.

    Overripe Bananas
    [4] Even if your bananas are this dark or darker, get ready to bake! If you have any concerns, just give the peeled banana a sniff. Don’t pay attention to the mushiness: Everything gets mushed in the batter (photo courtesy Delicious Adventures, which offers these 5 tips for overripe bananas).

     

    RECIPE: KING ARTHUR FLOUR BANANA BREAD RECIPE

    Thanks to King Arthur Flour for this banana bread recipe [photo #1], which uses honey plus apricot jam or orange marmalade.

    Prep time is 20 minutes, bake time is 1 hour 10 minutes.

    Ingredients For 1 Loaf (18 Slices)

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, light or dark, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium or 2 large bananas [photo #2])
  • 3 tablespoons apricot jam or orange marmalade, optional but tasty
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Optional: 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan; or a 12″ x 4″ tea loaf pan.

     
    2. COMBINE the butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl, beating until smooth. Add the mashed bananas, jam, honey and eggs, again beating until smooth. Add the flour, then the walnuts, stirring just until smooth.

    3. SPOON the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top. Let it rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.

    4. BAKE the bread for 45 minutes, then gently lay a piece of aluminum foil across the top to prevent over-browning. Bake for an additional 25 minutes (20 minutes if you’re baking in a tea loaf pan).

    5. REMOVE the bread from the oven; a long toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean, with at most a few wet crumbs clinging to it. The tester shouldn’t show any sign of uncooked batter. If it does, bake the bread an additional 5 minutes, or until it tests done.

    6. ALLOW the bread to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Remove it from the pan, and cool it completely on a rack.
     
    TIPS

  • Be sure to use ripe bananas. The peels should be bright yellow—with no green showing—and beginning to turn brown. For a more pronounced banana flavor, use extra-ripe bananas—ones whose peels are mostly black-brown.
  • For easy mashing: Peel the bananas, cut them into chunks and place them in a zip-top plastic bag, leaving about 1/4″ open at the top of the bag for air to escape. Gently knead/flatten/squash the banana chunks with your fingers.
  • For a reduced-sugar version: Cut the brown sugar in half, to 1/3 cup. For an even greater reduction, use just 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Each version will retain its moist texture, and will taste fine—simply less sweet with more pronounced banana flavor.
  • For a gluten-Free version: Use King Arthur Flour’s Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour. It substitutes for conventional flour 1:1. No additional other changes are needed.
  • To make banana bread French toast: Cut a several-day-old loaf into 3/4″-thick slices. Dip the slices into your favorite French toast batter, and cook in a skillet or on a griddle. For added crunch, crush 2 to 3 cups of cornflakes in a wide shallow dish, and dip both sides of the battered banana bread slices into the flakes before cooking.
  •   


    THE NIBBLE Blog – Adventures In The World Of Fine Food

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