Last week, I bought bananas. As a general rule, I don’t buy the yellow fruit. I used to buy them for Rich so he could enjoy them with his bowl of cereal in the morning, but at some point last year he let me know that he actually doesn’t care much for them. I like them well enough, but it really does bother me to eat a piece of food that’s traveled such a long distance to get to me. You know how I am about even the delicious mango. And then there’s the socio-economic issues: low wages and heavy chemical use in the industry, to say nothing of the history monopolies, colonialism and union busting. (If you’re interested in learning more about it, Peter Chapman wrote a very good book about the history of the United Fruit Company, the largest banana supplier in the world.) And don’t even get me started on the waning Cavendish.
But last week was my mom’s birthday, and this past summer I discovered a banana bread she absolutely adores. She, like me and my sister, doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth; we’re much happier eating baba ghanoush on challah for breakfast than challah French toast. So when I took my parents to Flour bakery for a little snack after a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum over the summer, Mom ordered the banana bread, noting it was one of her favorite baked goods — sweet but not too sweet, moist and soft but still sturdy. And she loved it, proclaiming it the best banana bread she’d ever had. A perfect afternoon snack, — or, in my mom’s case, a perfect birthday cake.
So on Sunday, I bought yellow bananas. I set them on the counter until they ripened to mottled, baked-good-worthy status by Wednesday night, just in time to make the bread and mail it for Mom’s birthday on Monday.
This recipe calls for a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. I had two slightly smaller sized loaf pans, so I filled one pan about ¾ high, and baked the leftover ¼ in the other loaf pan for us to munch on. Side by side, they reminded me of the movie Twins; mom got the Arnold loaf and we kept Danny DeVito to munch on.
Although the recipe calls for two tablespoons of sour cream or crème fraîche, I used Greek yogurt instead. I toasted the nuts for about 8 minutes in my toaster oven set at 350 degrees. Keep an eye on the nuts as they go from perfectly toasted to burnt in a matter of 30 seconds.
Flour’s Famous Banana Bread from Joanne Chang’sflour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
Makes one 9-inch loaf
1 ½ cups (210 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (230 grams) sugar
½ cup (100 grams) canola oil
3 ½ very ripe, medium bananas, peeled and mashed (1 1/3 cups mashed/about 340 grams)
2 Tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream (I used Greek yogurt and had no ill-effects)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup (75 grams) walnut halves, toasted and chopped
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (If you use a handheld mixer, this same step will take about 8 minutes.)
On a low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Don’t pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn’t deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding it should take about 1 minute. Add the bananas, crème fraîche, and vanilla and continue to mix on low speed just until combined.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and the nuts just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible, and the nuts should be evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hours, or until golden brown on top and the center springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, and then pop it out of the pan to finish cooling.
The banana bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or, it can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks; thaw overnight at room temperature for serving.