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posted: 3/10/2010 12:01 AM

Our love for banana bread defies rumors of baking's demise

On baking

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  • Banana bread.

      Banana bread.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer


For all those forecasting the extinction of home baking in America, I reference the list of 10 most requested recipes for 2009. American classics hold five of the coveted spots with Banana Bread honored as most requested recipe of 2009. Nice win for this old-fashioned culinary icon.

It's really no surprise that Banana Bread tops the list during these challenging economic times. Bananas often find themselves ignored despite ripening in plain sight on our kitchen counters and we've renewed our efforts to reduce kitchen waste.

So today we look to save money and rescue those bananas from certain doom. And I start with a recipe from Dorothy, a regular reader.

Dorothy sent me her banana bread recipe with a request for tips on avoiding dense texture and pockets of unevenly baked batter that often plague quick breads.

Most banana bread recipes fall into two categories: cake-style and quick method. The approaches differ in how and in what order the ingredients combine together and, most importantly, rely on different mixing styles to create the texture of the finished bread.

Cake-style recipes begin by creaming butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, followed by beating in eggs; then dry ingredients come on board taking turns with mashed bananas.

For the quick method, flour and sugar mix together first.

In Dorothy's recipe shortening melds with the dry ingredients creating a crumbly texture. Liquid ingredients then stir into dry similar to a biscuit method.

I baked Dorothy's banana bread recipe and for comparison a cake-style version from my cookbooks. It didn't take long for me to uncover why bakers experience inconsistent results with the same or similar recipes. Ingredients being equal, success or failure hinges entirely upon the mixing technique.

Banana bread is an anomaly in that it is neither bread nor cake. More like a muffin, problems quickly arise when the batter is over mixed and gluten strands take control. Gluten forms from flour and moisture, creating a rubbery muddle that resists leavening's power to lift the batter.

In banana bread recipes, blending ingredients until smooth and uniform creates either tough loaves that never rise or those with thick gummy bottoms. The secret to success lies in a very gentle touch to both mixing the batter and mashing the bananas.

Here are my other secrets to baking great banana bread:

• Whisk all dry ingredients together very thoroughly. This will evenly distribute the leavening.

• Mash the bananas with a fork by hand until the fruit becomes creamy yet still lumpy. Drain frozen bananas.

• Gently mix batter by hand with spatula. Finish with scraping from bottom to top of bowl. Small pieces of banana should be visible.

For more intense flavor I increased the amount of banana from Dorothy's original recipe and added rum extract for the fun of it.

After trying this recipe you'll ignore that basket of yellow fruit on purpose so you have an excuse to bake this banana bread again.