The reasons that writing good recipes can be so difficult and that cooking is so interesting rests upon the same principle – that the variation of only one ingredient, pan, oven or technique makes all the difference between success and abject failure. The Banana Bread Mystery is one of these instances.
Every time I make this recipe, something I’ve been doing for 20 years or so now, with chocolate chips or without, with cinnamon or without, with nuts or without, it’s always successful. Early this winter when E, our most excellent Shore Coordinator of All Things Important, smelled banana bread wafting from the kitchen into the office (this is both a blessing and a curse) she decided to truck right on home and make some. Upon returning the next day, she reported that the bread had spilled all over the oven and had made a huge mess, culminating in setting off the smoke alarm in her apartment and with her tossing the bread into the trash. This had never happened for me, so I tested it again, and without thinking used a different bread pan. For the first time in the history of the making of this bread, the same thing happened to me. At first I thought it was our ovens, both new, mine an old restaurant stove, hers a new apartment stove. Maybe our temperatures were off, a common issue among stoves. Testing the temperatures between our two stoves did not solve the mystery. I then began to mess with the recipe to less than stellar results…. and gave up, sick of banana bread all together and frustrated with my lack of closure.
And THEN, yesterday, a rainy afternoon with tired children in need of a pick-me-up and bananas at the perfect stage of ripeness, I attempted banana bread again. In my original pan. I apprehensively checked the oven more times than was really necessary in an attempt to one, forgo the mess on the oven floor and two, to watch what was happening with the bread.
It came out perfectly, just as it ALMOST always has done. After measuring both pans with a ruler, I found that they both share the same measurements. One, however, is a non-stick, air-insulated loaf pan and the other a plain Pyrex loaf pan. Then I measured by volume, thinking that the air-insulated pan, the one with the over flow issue, would carry less dough. Wrong. The Pyrex pan, the one that has always produced a perfect loaf, holds 3/4 cup less by volume than the over-flow, air-insulated pan.
And then came my ‘aha’ moment. The Pyrex pan, without insulation is able to create an exterior crust more quickly and thereby give more structure to the bread. The insulated pan delays the setting of crust allowing a floppy mass to spill over the edges and create havoc. Mystery solved!
Crossroads Banana Bread
4 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease one loaf pan, 9x5x2 3/4 inches. In a small bowl, pour the lemon juice and buttermilk over the mashed bananas; set aside. In a large bowl beat the sugar, butter and eggs. Stir in the milk.
Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt into the bowl.
Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before removing.
Makes 1 loaf
Banana Chocolate Chip Cake
You can make a delicious variation of this bread by stirring 2 cups of chocolate chips into the batter. Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 13-inch pan and bake for 35-45 minutes.
Saving the last of the bread for the girlies.