My mom has never been a big baker. Especially when it comes to making things from scratch. All cakes came from a box. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them all. My favorite were the yellow cake and devil’s food cake from Betty Crocker. I tried a Duncan Hines yellow cake mix once I was an adult and was not impressed. I’m a Betty Crocker girl all the way.
The one thing she did bake from scratch was banana bread, using a recipe she got from a friend. Now she uses none other than Betty Crocker’s recipe. Banana bread is the perfect thing to bake this time of year. The oven warms up your kitchen, makes your house smell like a bakery, and you’re left with a delicious treat. I’ve been using the same recipe since I started baking myself, but along the way I’ve made a few adjustments.
By the way, did you know bananas weren’t introduced to the U.S. until the early 1800s? Cuban red bananas were sold only in the ports of New York and Boston until the 1830s, and gradually gained popularity as a tropical exotic fruit. The modern day banana bread as we know it wasn’t introduced until the 1930s! There, some banana related trivia for you. You’re welcome.
In a bowl, sift together 2½ cups of cake flour and 1 teaspoon each of baking soda and salt. Honestly, I never sift unless there’s cocoa powder involved. I just throw everything in a bowl, stir it with a whisk, and call it a day. I do this first so I can use the same whisk to mix my wet ingredients.
The original recipe called for all-purpose flour but I love using cake flour. Cake flour is finer and has a lower gluten content so it results in a softer, moister banana bread. In Japan, flour generally refers to cake flour. It’s used for baking as well as dredging meat before frying and making tempura batter. Stores also commonly carry bread flour, but rarely do you ever see all-purpose flour.
This is a good time to toast 1 cup of walnuts in a frying pan or oven if you want nuts in your banana bread. Toast them early on so they can cool while you prepare the wet ingredients. Toasting them makes them really crunchy and aromatic. I’m sure other nuts like hazelnuts or pecans would work as well if you’re not a fan of walnuts.
Cream together ½ cup of softened butter and 1 cup of sugar in a separate bowl.
If you’re like anything like me, which means patience is not one of your virtues, you’ll try to cream your butter and sugar when your butter isn’t soft enough. Then this happens and you get frustrated. Make sure your butter is soft. I eventually got the job done after ditching the whisk and using a spoon and some elbow grease.
Mix in 2 eggs, adding one egg at a time and mixing after each addition.
Mash the bananas with a fork in a separate bowl and add it to the wet ingredients. You want very ripe, spotty bananas for this. I found these on sale for half price, but I usually have ripe bananas in the freezer that I can defrost any time. You need 1½ cups of mashed banana.
You could use a blender or food processor to pureé it but I personally like having little chunks of banana in my banana bread so I mash mine with a fork.
Combine ¼ cup of yogurt and ¼ cup of milk in a small bowl and stir it into the wet ingredients. Many banana bread recipes require buttermilk, which gives baked goods moisture and fluff. The problem is, buttermilk doesn’t exist in Japan. Buttermilk is a necessary acidic ingredient to activate the baking soda. My mom always used whole milk, but milk isn’t acidic so it can leave the banana bread with a slight taste of baking soda. If you look online for buttermilk substitutions, you often find websites telling you to add some vinegar or lemon juice in milk and letting it curdle. That method’s never worked for me, so I often substitute buttermilk by mixing yogurt and milk at a 1:1 ratio. Sour cream and milk also work too.
Finally, stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Make sure to use vanilla extract, not vanilla essence. Vanilla essence is a synthetic chemical with fragrance added to it. Vanilla extract is the pure stuff. You can also use vanilla paste or a vanilla bean for an extra kick of vanilla. I think banana bread is a girl-next-door kind of snack so I save my fancy vanilla for fancier, shmancier desserts.
After I added the vanilla I realized the bowl I was using was too small so I poured my wet ingredients into a bigger bowl, and then added the dry ingredients. Only mix until you don’t see any lumps of flour.
If you’re adding any mix-ins, whether it’s chocolate chips or walnuts or blueberries, you want to toss it with a couple tablespoons of the dry ingredients (or just flour). This helps to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the pan, and get evenly distributed. Fold it into the batter using a spatula. I used a whisk and suffered trying to get the walnuts out of the whisk.
You need one 9 inch loaf pan for this. You can butter your loaf pan, or use a little parchment if you have a non-stick pan and you’re lazy.
Pour your batter in, smooth the top, and bake at 325°F (160°C) for 75min. It might seem like a low temperature, but if your loaf pan is a dark metal pan like mine, the pan absorbs more heat so the exterior of the banana bread tends to brown before the banana bread is actually done. If you’re using a light metal pan, bake yours at 350°F (175°C) for the same amount of time.
I like to check for doneness using a spaghetti. Is that weird? One too many times I’ve used a toothpick, pushed it in too deep and burned my fingers trying to get it out. Spaghetti is much longer, making it the perfect tool to check something thick like a loaf of banana bread.
Let your banana bread cool for about 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before you slice.
Who are we kidding here, we all know the best time to eat any baked good is while it’s still warm. Slice it up and devour!