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Holiday Recipe: Banana Bread

Note: I’ve finally added a “Recipes” category, since there are quite a few of them floating around the blog over the years, so if you want to find all the kitchen-synthesis posts in one place, it’s now possible!

We just finished off a loaf of this not long ago around here; it’s a recipe that my wife makes when we have overripe bananas (and since we have both our college-aged kids at home for now, it goes pretty quickly). Like most such recipes, it comes together quickly. You’ll need shortening (vegetable shortening or butter), sugar, an egg, some lemon or lime juice, flour, baking soda, a bit of salt, and (of course) two or three ripe bananas, mashed up. Past that, there are variations without number (nuts, other fruit, chocolate – see below).

First, you’ll need 1/2 cup of soft (room temperature) shortening. That’s about 100 grams, if it’s vegetable shortening – if butter, it will weigh about 110 grams, since it has some more water in it. Add 3/4 cup granulated sugar (150g) to it and “cream” them together, either with an electric mixture or by hand if you’re feeling vigorous. Mix in one large egg, and then mix in 4 teaspoons (20 mL) of lemon or lime juice. At this point, it would be a good idea to start warming up the oven to 350F (about 177C).

In a separate bowl, mix together 2 cups of flour (250g), 1 teaspoon baking soda (5g), and 1/2 teaspoon salt (2.9g). Figure out first if you want any additions (see next paragraph), because once you mix everything together, you will of course be bringing the lemon juice and baking soda together, and the resulting carbon dioxide will not sit around forever. So add the dry mixture in portions to the shortening/sugar/egg mixture with very light stirring, and then add 1 cup of the mashed ripe bananas (about 300g) and mix that in lightly as well.

At this point, if you desire, there are many possible additions. 1/2 cup of chopped nuts (100 to 120g) will always work well (we’ve used walnuts or pecans). I’ve seen golden raisins in there, or chopped cranberries or cherries, or chocolate chips as well – it all depends on which direction you want to go! Or you can stick with the plain austerity that comes with a bowl full of butter, sugar, and ripe bananas. No matter what you add, remember the light stirring part – the key thing about all “quick bread” recipes (and muffins, etc.) is that you don’t want to work the flour mixture very much to avoid the formation of stretchy gluten. I have been given banana bread that was run through an automatic bread machine (with kneading, etc.), and it was. . .unusual.

Scrape the batter into a bread loaf pan and cook it for at least an hour – depending on your additions, you may need more. The “stick a straw/wooden toothpick/skewer into it” is probably the best test – this probe should come out cleanly, not with stuff still clinging to it. Once done, turn the bread out to cool.

16 comments on “Holiday Recipe: Banana Bread”

  1. Cake Fiend says:

    > 1 teaspoon baking soda (5g), and 1/2 teaspoon salt (2.9g)

    🙂 We can now guess your teaspoon volume!

    (3 of my measuring teaspoons (nominal 5ml each, so 15ml total) of both baking soda and iodized table salt both weigh out to 20(+/-0.5)g each, for a density of 1.3-1.4 g/cm3. (For contrast: Wikipedia indicates a 2.20g/cm3 density for a solid block of baking soda, and 2.17 g/cm3 for a solid salt crystal, and the random sphere packing density is 0.64.))

  2. While a long term follower of your blog and work everyday with medicinal chemists my first comment is on a recipe! My question is why your recipes call for sugar (and quite a lot of it). In the case of today’s recipe, bananas have quite a bit of sugar themselves they don’t need more. We’ve been experimenting in reducing (and in many cases eliminating) added sugar with usually good success. The main challenges are when sugar is used as a binding agent (e.g. maple-syrup used to bind granola clusters [my homemade granola recipe is a holiday favorite]) or when the substitutes for sugar change the chemistry significantly. An example is using date-syrup (absorbs water like crazy) or replace honey with apple-sauce (adds too much water) and it changes the baking times or flour ratios.

    Most of the time our substitutions work well, your palette adjusts to not expecting as much sweetness.

    1. FoodScientist says:

      @ Jon.
      The sugar helps as a humectant/preservative and also helps slow starch granule crystallization.(Like why cooked rice gets hard in the fridge, but soft when you warm it up) The sugar helps lower the water activity while keeping the bread soft pliable. Water activity is just a specific case of “activity coefficients” used in analytical chemistry. Sort of like how blood plasma can dissolve so much stuff together, when that amount of stuff individually in that amount of water would be insoluble.

      I’m a huge fan of adding 1-1/2tsp xanthan gum mixed with 1T corn starch to cobblers and cooked fruit stuff. It makes sure it isn’t either “dry” or watery. You get some very nicely thickened sauce. It’s a real game changer when you try it.

    2. Gene says:

      The physical crystals of sugar are needed in the creaming step to create microscopic air bubbles. If you just mix everything together in a “creaming method” recipe, the texture won’t be right.

      Here’s a good reference:

  3. FoodScientist says:

    This is America. We use 1Tablespoon, not 3tsp. It makes so much sense.

    I usually end up making sauces and hand made yeast based rolls. Cinnamon dinner rolls and the more regular parker house style(my 5yo nephew calls them mouth rolls). For the steak I make hollandaise or something special. This year I made up 1/3c dried morel mushrooms let sit in 3/4c red whine. Finely chop them up and put them in a pan. Pour the wine in (minus any grit or sandy stuff). Add 1ish tsp corn starch, sprinkling onion powder, 1/2C heavy whipping cream, and 2-3 beef bouillon cubes. Boiling for a little and dip steak or anything in it. It’s pretty flavor packed and could be watered down+ more corn starch if you wanted.

    For the hollandaise I normally do 3 egg yolks, 1T water, juice of1/2 lemon, onion salt, cracked pepper. Whisk, put on double boiler and add 1.5 sticks butter a couple T at a time. Add in ~1/3 C white wine and cook until thickened how you like it. It’s pretty tangy and make fatty foods seem lighter, despite being mostly butter.

    One thanks giving my aunt/uncle very nearly got a divorce because he cleaned the turkey roasting pan before the drippings could be used in the gravy.

    1. Barry says:

      When I sauce a steak, I prefer bearnaise rather than hollandaise. The two are much alike, but the bearnaise has tarragon and shallots and vinegar rather than cayenne and lemon in the hollandaise.

  4. rhodium says:

    If you don’t bake you will not appreciate the difference in measuring by weight or volume (however I am not convinced using 3.0 rather than 2.9 grams of salt will make much of a difference here). With my wife unable to tolerate gluten I have learned about so many different flours and starches as wheat substitutes. The flour mixtures are so like the dozen or more reagent combinations one tries out to get that one bond to form. Quick breads have several good solutions, but pizza dough is like adjacent chiral quaternary centers.

    1. John Wayne says:

      Rhodium, if you have a good recipe for making pao de queijo please share! If you haven’t tried making this for your wife I strongly recommend it. It is one of the few nonwheat bread products that I find excellent. I have been playing around with various recipes off the internet and I haven’t found one I really like yet (they are good, just not great.)

  5. Thomas Lumley says:

    For plain banananana bread, I would always add some freshly grated nutmeg. Unfortunately, I tend to measure spices using the ‘until it be enow’ scale rather than by volume or weight, so it’s hard to specify how much.

  6. Drizzt321 says:

    I just bought some bananas at the store recently, I might just have to let 1 or 2 of them get overripe now 🙂

    And I need to do some research on a curry. My mother got me some, and I’ve been wanting to do some, just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  7. bf says:

    Mmmmmmmm, tasty food science and chemistry;thanks😀👍🏾

  8. Alia says:

    Trust this blog to explain why for some cakes you need to do all the kneading and stuff and for others it’s important just to mix the stuff quickly! I’ve seen it so often, those warnings “mix just to combine the ingredients and never use a food processor” and I heeded them but never thought about reasons, it’s just stuff you do when you cook and bake (and trust that it makes sense and is not one of those “family traditions” that stem from the fact that the matriarch of the family did not have big enough a dish). So thanks for that.

  9. Ken says:

    Derek, be sure to tag your recent “Peruvian Roast Chicken” recipe with the “Recipes” tag too! (Thanks for the “recipes” category, BTW; it’s always neat to see how scientists approach cooking.)

  10. Kathryn says:

    I bake my quick breads to 210F. Precision FTW

  11. expert says:

    What a great tips! Thank you for sharing such great information. Very inspirational!persian food

  12. Marcia says:

    Have you seen or tried the recipes re: using banana peel in the bread too? I believe I’ve seen it in both WaPo first, then NYT. Cut off the hard stem and blosom ends, freeze, and puree the whole thing in a blender before measuring. I read it in articles on using food that need not go to waste.

    The WaPo article quoted a local eatery chef who claimed the result was sweeter, and received complements from customers.

    When I try it I will wash the bananas before freezing them.

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