Thirty Minute Thursdays: Banana Bread

 This Thirty Minute Thursday post is a little deceiving in that the recipe I am sharing with you well exceeds the thirty minute mark – it’s as easy as pie to throw together, but being banana bread, the baking time alone gives you a near 1-hour set back. It also may deceive you, as I’ve been talking for the past year or so about finding The Banana Bread Recipe and how I wouldn’t post any recipe until I had perfected it, and so you may assume that this, then, must be The One. Alas, this is not the case. In fact, this banana bread is not even going into my make-again pile. Why bother telling you about it then?

Well, first of all, I don’t have any other recipes at the moment from Rachael Ray’s cookbook, so unless I share this one with you, we’re going another week without a Thirty Minute Thursday post. Second of all, I like throwing in some needs-improvement recipes here and there, and think that in a colossal, weekly cookbook review it’s absolutely appropriate to talk about the not-so-shining aspects of a recipe collection. And, lastly, it wasn’t really bad. I mean, I’ve made far worse in my experiments with banana bread over the past year. The banana flavor is excellent and it’s really not so bad for you (re: I still wouldn’t eat it for breakfast), but it’s just dry. I don’t know about you, but just about the last thing I want to bite into is a dry piece of cake or sweet bread. The recipe suggests serving it with a glass of milk; maybe they secretly make that suggestion because they, too, know that a refreshing beverage is needed to help soften up the cake in your mouth.

I don’t mean to be harsh. Like I said, the banana flavor is good and people didn’t so much complain. I also should admit that this is technically a Chocolate Chip & Nut banana bread, and I omitted those 2 ingredients because I can’t get anyone in my family to eat nuts in baked goods and a decent number of relatives also don’t eat chocolate; it’s entirely possible that the fats, sugars, and flavors in general from these 2 ingredients played a key role in keeping the bread moist. Then there’s the fact that I subbed in whole wheat flour, which does produce a denser, less moist product, but with quick breads I’ve never before had a problem with the switch so I assumed this time would work, too. So it really may not be such a bad recipe – it could actually be entirely my fault that it didn’t turn out as planned. Regardless, rather than eating the extras on their own I’m planning to turn them into banana bread pudding tomorrow night, which I do have high hopes for. I have left over higher-fat milks and creams from birthday baking that I need to use up, so I’ll be killing two birds with one stone, even. I’ll update this post with that recipe (and pictures, of course!) if it goes over as well as I’m hoping it will.

(Chocolate Chip) Banana (Nut) Bread, hardly adapted from Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals
Yield: 1 loaf*

The Ingredients
4 tablespoons butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
2 large overripe bananas, mashed**
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
(1 cup chocolate chips)
(1 cup chopped walnuts)

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Meanwhile, cream the butter, sugar, and eggs until light and fluffy. Fold in the mashed bananas and set aside. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt if using. Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients along with the chocolate chips and walnuts, stirring until smooth but taking care not to overmix.***

Transfer the batter to the loaf pan and bake for about 55 minutes, so that a toothpick or cake tester in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan.

*Rachael Ray says this is 4 servings; I say 12. I actually got 24 slices by cutting it down into 12 and then halving each one vertically to get half slices – I’ve found that, particularly at parties, people are more inclined to sample smaller portions of a dessert rather than commit to one large portion of a single item. But, use your better judgment based on what you’re baking the bread for.
**Whenever making banana bread (or really any baked good that calls for bananas), freeze  overripe bananas and then thaw before baking. It softens them up better than simply mashing them fresh does, creating a better consistency in the final product.
***This batter is alarmingly thick – think almost cookie dough more than quick bread batter. I have a feeling this was the first sign of a soon-to-be dry bread, but I didn’t want to tamper with the recipe on my first go around (except for, you know, removing 2 ingredients and changing the flour altogether…ahem…). If you’re equally concerned about the consistency, consider adding some milk or even yogurt to the batter to thin it out a little bit, maybe ¼ cup or so.

If this banana bread doesn’t do it for you, I have one up my sleeves that’ll blow you away. It’s almost there: it passed the first stage of testing and now just has to be tweaked and tested for repeatability. Trust me, as soon as I have a reliable recipe that I know can be replicated, this is one you won’t want to miss. Think healthy enough for breakfast yet indulgently delicious enough for dessert, proof that you can absolutely have the best of both worlds.

Update: I baked and sampled a bread pudding made from a combination of this banana bread and a mildly lemon-flavored quick bread that we had in the freezer (I didn't have enough of the banana bread for a full batch of bread pudding) tonight for dessert, and it was absolutely phenomenal. Like I said in the post, I was also using up half-and-half and whole milk, and the fat content of those certainly helped compared to a low-fat version that I would have absolutely attempted under more normal circumstances. I also might try to go for some egg whites or egg substitute rather than three full eggs, which also contributed to the fabulousness of this dish. Regardless, it was the easiest thing to throw together and it tasted out of this world. It was soft but not mushy and the banana and cinnamon flavors were both exactly where they should be, intense but not in a way that would turn you off. I threw ingredients together based on a few different recipes I've had lying around, so I'd imagine that it'd be pretty easily adaptable. If you're interested, here's what I did:

Whisk together 1 cup half-and-half, 2 cups whole milk, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla and a scant 1 teaspoon (maybe 3/4) cinnamon; set aside. Cube roughly 1 loaf worth of quick bread (for me it was a slightly less than 1:1 ratio of banana:lemon bread, with the lemon bread being very mild by itself) that has been allowed to dry out slightly. Arrange in a pan along with slices from 1 banana, and pour the milk and egg mixture over it. Flatten so that all of the bread pieces are able to soak into the mixture, and set aside while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees, approximately 10 minutes. Before placing in the oven, sprinkle with additional cinnamon and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (though brown sugar would also be delicious!). Bake on the bottom rack for 30 minutes, covering with foil part-way through if it looks like it's browning too quickly (I covered mine after about 15-20). Remove from the oven and let rest for approximately 10 minutes.

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