Published July 1, 2010.
Any 10-year-old can make the typical dry, bland banana bread. But if you want to make a moist, tender loaf with over-the-top banana flavor, you need to think like a mad scientist.
Banana breads make great use of overripe fruit, but the banana flavor gets lost in the oven. And depending on how ripe those bananas really were, the crumb varies from cottony and tough to dense and damp.
Our ideal banana bread is simple enough—a moist, tender loaf that really tastes like bananas.
During our initial tests of existing recipes, we discovered that double the dose of bananas in our favorite test recipe was both a blessing and a curse. The abundance of fruit made for intense banana flavor, but the weight and moisture sank the loaf and gave it a cakelike structure. Looking to add banana flavor without moisture, we tried a variety of unusual techniques. Tasters quickly dismissed loaves made with banana chips (too dry), roasted bananas (too time-consuming and too wet), and simmered bananas (too jamlike). After significant trial and error, we remembered a method for removing moisture from waterlogged eggplant: microwaving it. We placed our bananas in a glass bowl and microwaved them for a few minutes, then transferred the now-pulpy fruit to a sieve to drain. We then simmered the banana liquid in a saucepan until it reduced and incorporated it into the batter. The concentrated liquid infused the batter with ripe, intensely fruity banana flavor. Furthermore, the extra moisture helped create a crumb that was tender through and through, without being framed by overly crusty sides.
A few minor tweaks completed the recipe. The molasses notes of brown sugar better complemented the bananas than granulated sugar. Vanilla worked well with the banana’s faintly boozy, rumlike flavor, as did swapping out the oil for the nutty richness of butter. We also added toasted walnuts to the batter for a pleasing crunch. As a final embellishment, we sliced a sixth banana and shingled it on top of the loaf. A final sprinkle of sugar helped the buttery slices caramelize and gave the loaf an enticingly crisp, crunchy top.list of recipes