Friday, May 28, 2010

Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread

I love banana nut bread. With a passion. I make it so much that I got tired of searching the internet for a recipe every time I had a couple of bananas about to go bad, so a while ago I pulled out my copy of Shirly Corriher's Bakewise and created my own recipe. And it's pretty freaking amazing, if I do say so myself.

Background information

First of all, a little lesson about bananas. Normally when one eats a banana its skin is a nice bright yellow, its fruit is firm and off-white, and it's got a nice banana flavor. These make sucky banana bread. They are about 25%  starch and 1% sugar (by weight), and full of nice healthy cell structures. This make for a tough banana bread that's not very sweet and with an undeveloped, non-homogeneous flavor.

What you want are bananas like these:

Very ripe banana



Actually, those are a little less ripe than I normally use (you can still see yellow), but I was craving banana bread and couldn't wait any longer. Good clue that your bananas are ripe enough? You try to peel them and this happens instead:

Very ripe banana


Yeah that's right, it split clean off.

What makes these bananas so different than their out-of-hand cousins? When bananas ripen, their cell walls break down, converting nice firm bananas into squishy puddles of banana guts. As these walls break, their contents spill out, and previously-separated chemical compounds are combined, joining into more and tastier compounds. (Call me crazy, but I tend to find that an overripe banana tastes more like banana than ripe one). Another important change, especially when making cake (technically, banana bread is cake, not bread), is the conversion of starch to sugar. Starches, as we've very briefly touched on before, are long chains of sugars. During ripening, enzymes in the banana break down these long chains into their individual sugars, greatly increasing the sweetness of the fruit, while decreasing the cake-toughening starch. It goes from 25% starch, 1% sugar to 1% starch, 20% sugar (the rest of the sugar is used as energy for the process). Yum!

Enough with the science, onto the recipe!

Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread
  • 1/2 stick (4 Tbs; 2 oz) butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 3 super duper ripe bananas
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup milk (usually)
  • 3/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted and cooled (pecans work as well)
  • 3/4 cup regular chocolate chips (lower to 1/2 cup if using mini chips)
I like to follow the basic creaming method for my banana bread,  adding the bananas in between the eggs and flour. For those of you who don't watch quite as much Good Eats as I do, here's the basic method:

  • Beat the butter with the sugar over low speed until the butter is basically obliterated and the sugar is nice and fluffy (this is called the creaming step, hence the name of the method).
  • Add eggs one at a time, making sure you thoroughly incorporate the last one before you add the next one.
  • I like to add my salt and vanilla after the eggs, to insure they are nice and blended.
  • Add bananas one at a time; you should have no problems getting these babies to blend.
  • At this point you might be saying to yourself "oh noes, why does my batter look terrible?!?!"
Broken emulsion

  • Don't worry about that, you haven't done anything wrong. The bananas just contain too much water, and your emulsion broke. Flour to the rescue!
  • Add flour, one cup at a time, and blend thoroughly, but not more than necessary. Some sciency chefs cringe at using power tools here, because it can create too much gluten, causing your bread to be chewy. I don't know if it's the high sugar or if there's something in the banana, but I've never had problems with tough banana bread. Just don't overmix and you should be fine.
  • Oh, I also like to add in 1 tsp baking soda as you add each cup of flour. That way it gets blended together and you don't have to go to the trouble of sifting it first.
  • If, while adding the flour, the mixture becomes too thick to mix, add the 1/4 cup of milk. I don't usually have a problem and just add it at the end. Very rarely, you won't even need it at all, it just depends on how much moisture your bananas contain. At the end of all this your batter should be the consistency of cake batter.
  • Lastly, stir in your chocolate and nuts. Toasting the walnuts is imperative, as it makes them taste so much better
Pour the whole thing into a well-greased bread pan and bake at 300 for 50 minutes. I've found that if you bake it at the traditional temperature of 350, it browns too fast and is hard to cook the middle.



OMG so good
Banana bread


One last anecdote before I go to polish off the rest of this batch. My dad claims he does not like chocolate chips, so one time I made a double batch and added chocolate chips to only half. I noticed to very weird things: firstly, despite his claim, my dad ate more of the chocolate kind than regular, and secondly, the chocolate chip banana bread tasted more like banana than that without chocolate. There must be something in the chocolate that brings out the flavor of banana to a huge degree. Just some food for though.

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