My search for the perfect banana bread has lasted years. Over time, dozens of recipes have disappointed me: the too heavy, the over-the-top rich, the cardboard dry, the overly dense, the excessively banana-tasting (yes, there is such a thing), the so-packed-with-grains-it’s-not-even-enjoyable-anymore, the flat-as-a-shoe, the tasteless, and the ho-hum. I have struggled to find the right additions: nuts or chocolate or nothing at all? And then there has been the everlasting issue of timing: some banana breads burned after 45 minutes, while others were not even cooked through after an hour and a half.
But now, my search is over. I have found the one. The one with a tender and moist texture that makes you want to eat it as is, without any toppings or spreads, but that toasts well, too; the one that rises to an airy texture and is cooked to perfection after 60 minutes; the one that includes just a short list of basic ingredients and works even when a third of the all-purpose flour is substituted with whole wheat flour; the one that has just a slight caramelized sweetness to it, making it versatile enough to be eaten on any occasion, from breakfast to dessert. Not surprisingly, it comes from David Lebovitz.
I bake banana bread routinely because I eat it for breakfast almost every day. I slice a piece of the bread, put it in my toaster to give it just a little crunch, and then spread some peanut butter, Nutella, or jam over it. It’s a quick and easy breakfast that’s nourishing enough to get me to lunch without feeling hungry.
Because of this passion for banana bread, in the last few years every time I’ve made it, I’ve tried a new recipe. They weren’t all that bad, but I was still waiting for that quintessential recipe—the one from which I would never want to stray. This is the one. I have made it at least five times already and it’s just as perfect and flavorful every time. It’s so good that I have yet to eat it any other way, but it’s definitely a recipe that would be equally good served as an afternoon coffee cake with tea, or, even better, as an indulgent treat slathered with cream cheese frosting.
The Perfect Banana Bread
The bananas you choose to make this bread must be very ripe: the skin should have black speckles on them and be soft to the touch. If your bananas are not ripe enough yet, let them sit on your countertop for a couple of days. Your bread’s flavor will increase tenfold.
It may seem strange to add a shot of super-strong espresso to the batter, but as David Lebovitz says, coffee and bananas make a great couple. Since coffee is a tropical fruit, as are bananas, the combination makes sense. Don’t worry, it won’t taste like coffee; the addition will simply impart a deeper flavor to your bread.
You can be creative in your choice of additions, the important thing is not to add too much to make sure you won’t weigh your bread down. I’m giving you different suggestions below, but don’t hesitate to make your own combination.
Makes one bread or one 9-inch square cake.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon allspice (or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter, or canola oil
1 large egg white
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup banana puree, from about 2 very ripe medium-sized bananas
1/2 cup buttermilk (see note) or sour cream (regular or low fat)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 shot (about 3 tablespoons) of strong espresso coffee, cooled (or mix 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder with 3 tablespoons of hot water)
- 3 tablespoons cocoa nibs OR
- 3 tablespoons cocoa nibs and 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts OR
- 1/3 cup chocolate chips OR
- 3 tablespoons white chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons chopped pecans
Butter a rectangular bread pan or a 9-inch (23 cm) square pan (I use nonstick spray instead of butter). Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Sift together in a bowl the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and allspice (or cinnamon). Mix in the sugar.
In a large bowl, mix together the butter, egg white, egg, banana puree, buttermilk or sour cream, vanilla and espresso.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and stir in the wet ingredients with a spatula until almost mixed. Add in your choice of additions and stir until just combined, but don’t overstir: stop when any traces of flour disappear.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake the bread for 60 minutes or the square cake for 40 minutes. The center must feel lightly-springy and just done.
Cool on a baking rack and enjoy with a good cup of coffee.
Storage: This cake will keep well for 3-4 days, or can be frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap, for a few months.
Note: I like to use buttermilk in this recipe but I very rarely have it on hand. Making your own buttermilk is really easy: Measure 1 1/2 teaspoons of white vinegar in a measuring cup. Add enough milk to reach the 1/2 cup mark. Mix, let rest for 5 minutes and voilà, you have just the right amount of buttermilk you need, no spoiling. (The basic substitution ratio is 1 tablespoon white vinegar for 1 cup milk).
Recipe Credit: Adapted from David Lebovitz.