Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Banana Bread Bakeoff!

Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella is hosting her first baking event this month and she had the brilliant idea to have a Banana Bread bakeoff! How fun! 

I was super excited to participate because I've had 6 frozen, brown bananas in my outside freezer that keep reminding me they were smartly frozen for such a day when I would want to make bread with them! I swear I heard a collective sigh of banana relief when they were plunked down on the counter to defrost. 

I decided to use a recipe that I attempted before from The New Best Recipe book for the editors of Cooks Illustrated — it comes from America's Test Kitchens. I've tried lots of recipes from their various books and have always had success. The funny thing is their baking times seem to be off. Last time I made this bread it took ages longer for the tester to come out clean, despite the fact that the outside had browned eons earlier. My kitchen has since had an upgrade and now includes a professional range with a confection option, so I figured this would help me out a lot, and that it might eliminate the extra baking time. Not so! Both loaves are still in the oven, quite brown and yet not producing a clean skewer! UGH! 

The recipe has several variations on the traditional, and since I'm a chocolate lover I always go with the version that includes dark chocolate shavings. Since I had six bananas I baked two loaves, and I decided to get creative with the second one. Instead of using just a chocolate bar, I chopped up a Heath Bar and threw that into the mix! Hopefully it will turn out yummy! My boyfriend is getting the regular chocolate loaf, and I'll be stuck with the Heath one, so if it doesn't turn out well, I'm the only one suffering. 

Chocolate or Heath Bar – it's a toss up! 

Things were going well; I had whisked my dry ingredients together, mushed up my squishy bananas, added the yogurt in and then just as I was melting the butter and reaching for the eggs, I **GASP** discovered that I had no eggs!!!!! I live in the boondocks, I don't have a neighbor to which I could beg an egg or two off of. So I was doomed to make a trip to the store. There is a great organic farm right down the road that I tried to go to, but they weren't open today so it was off to the grocery store. What a pain! 

After I returned, I finished up with the wet ingredients and then set to folding the two groups together. I like a batter that requires me to work it the old fashioned way. Don't get me wrong, I adore my KitchenAid, and if I had to give it up it would be like losing a limb. But there is something nice about doing the work all by yourself. So fold, fold fold, fold and fold some more later my bread batter was already to slip into the oven. Off it went to have some hot, steamy fun in there.

And now it's all done. It just took an extra 15 minutes is all! Oh well, as long as it tastes good, that's all that matters in the world of baking! I still haven't tasted it yet because it's cooling and I wouldn't want to interrupt it while it chills out for a bit. 

And now I have tasted it – and it was well worth the effort of driving to the store for eggs! Yum! 

Eww… it's a wonder how they make such yummy bread!

After the slaughter! 

I'm always amazed that they come out looking like this when they 
have been so brown and icky! 

Mush mush! 

I prefer pecans to walnuts! 

Have fun in there! 

What a lovely loaf! It's a bit more brown then I would like, 
but I didn't want to the center to be mushy!

Yum Yum Yum! 

Banana Bread
From Cooks Illustrated "The New Best Recipe" book

Makes one nine inch loaf
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour (plus more for dusting the pan)
1 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped coarse (I prefer pecans) 
3/4 sugar 
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan; dust with flour taping out the excess.
  2. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and walnuts together in a large bowl; set aside.
  4. Mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter and vanilla extract with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl. Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. DO NOT overly mix this batter. You want to just fold it together until you can not longer see the flour. Otherwise you will over develop the gluten and the bread wont rise as well. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  5. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. The bread can be wrapped in plastic wrapped and be stored at room temperature for 3 days. 
Chocolate/Heath Bar variation
  1. Follow the recipe, reducing the sugar to 10 tablespoons and mixing in 2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated (a heaping 1/2 cup), into the dry ingredients.

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Anonymous said...

Beautiful bread! Thanks for posting the recipe. I have wished I had upgraded to the convection oven many times since we remodeled our kitchen, thinking it would have sped up my baking time. Guess I can stop fretting about that now. Thanks!

Lorraine E said...

That looks marvelous!! It looks almost like a "cookies and cream" loaf with the chocolate shards. Thanks so much for your entry :)

Anonymous said...

mmm! banana bread is one of my top five fav foods! this just makes my mouth water!

Anonymous said...

love your comments..."have fun in there"! so cute!

Jen said...

I love heath bar-- what a good idea to put it in the banana bread. Did it stay crispy or did it get soft once the bread baked?

P.S. Georgetown Cupcake has been fully stocked the last few times I've walked by, even in mid-afternoon...

Shauna said...

What a great idea to add a health bar!! You should enter this recipe into another contest!!

This contest's winner gets a $50 gift card to Sur La Table! Plus, all the extra traffic you get is always a good thing!

Steph said...

This is my favourite banana bread recipe. Just enough butter flavour, but not overwhelmingly so!