April 17, 2010

Musing on bananas

Remember when I wrote about tinkering with a banana cake involving chocolate and cinnamon? Well, I've turned it into banana bread. The original version is rather rich, with a buttery chocolate cinnamon-sugar topping, which I was having some misgivings about, but it looked like a good base for a milder, less complicated bread, which is what we have here today.

While sturdy, meaning it doesn't crumble to pieces when cutting off a slice, this bread has a very soft texture, is full of toasty walnuts, and the edges are just brown enough without being too dry. Tenting the pan with foil during baking time keeps the browning under control. Otherwise, you may end up with a really dry edge.

I would recommend baking the bread the day before you want to eat it, because the banana flavor is more pronounced by the next day, however tempting it may be to tear into it before then. The mild flavor could also mean that the bananas were just a little too green. Even though they weren't quite as ripe as they should have been, I was determined to make the bread and mashed them as well as possible. The result was still satisfying, although a ripe banana definitely tastes more like banana than a slightly green one does.

The only change I would make (besides using riper bananas) would be to add more cinnamon. One teaspoon was not enough. It was barely detectable amid all the other goodness going on. I've accounted for that change in the recipe below with another teaspoon. Two should do the trick.

Some day, when feeling the need for indulgence, I may post the original cake version this recipe is adapted from, pared back a bit to adjust the richness. We'll see. The bread is good, especially when you want something mildly sweet, homey, and simple.

Banana Walnut Bread
Inspired by Gourmet, February 2008

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup ground flaxseed
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 ¼ cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 large)
½ cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375° F with a rack in the middle. Butter and flour a standard loaf pan.

Whisk together the flour, flaxseed, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until pale and fluffy, then beat in eggs one at a time until well blended. Beat in bananas, yogurt, and vanilla; the mixture will look curdled. Add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Fold in walnuts.

Transfer batter to prepared pan, smoothing top. Bake until bread is golden and a wooden pick or thin knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. You may need to tent the edges with foil if it browns too quickly. Cool bread in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely, right side up.

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