If I had to pick a favorite recipe, the one for banana bread would be at the top of the list. A close friend gave it to me, and over the years, I’ve shared it with all of my friends who enjoy baking and even with some who don’t. It’s easy to make and freezes so well that my children contend there’s always one in my freezer.
I’m sometimes surprised at the popularity of banana bread and banana cake, but given that bananas are the top selling fresh fruit, I shouldn’t be. As it turns out, bananas are actually a relatively recent addition to the country’s diet.
Bananas are native to the tropical regions of southeast Asia. According to “The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink” (Oxford University Press, $49.95), there are sixty-seven species and more than two hundred varieties, of which only a few are widely cultivated.
Bananas were brought to Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1516, where they were grown largely as food for the expanding slave population. Once they arrived on the mainland, they grew so well that many people thought they were actually indigenous to the New World.
Bananas weren’t readily available in the United States until after World War I. By that time, the United Fruit company had developed both an integrated network of plantations and a reliable transport system equipped with refrigerated steamships and railroad cars. The timing coincided with new ideas about diet, nutrition, and the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time, and bananas quickly became a staple.
Curious about the difference between a banana “bread” and a banana “cake,” I checked out some recipes. In the 1997 edition of “The Joy of Cooking” (Scribner’s, $30), the cake version doesn’t include a tart ingredient like buttermilk or sour cream. On the other hand, the banana cake recipe in Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff’s “Mom’s Best Desserts” (Storey Books, $10.95) can be made with either, while the Classic Banana Bundt Cake in Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking From My Home to Yours” (Houghton Mifflin Company, $40) calls for sour cream or yogurt.
As to why my recipe is called a “bread,” rather than a “cake,” I can only surmise that it’s because it’s baked in a bread pan. Even so, the generous amounts of butter and sugar called for in the recipe argue for using it as a dessert. Baking it in a bread pan makes it especially easy to slice, and the shape works well on a buffet table.
I always make the batter in my food processor, but it can certainly be done with a mixer. Just make sure that there aren’t any lumps. I bake the bread a non-stick, 9-inch by five-inch bread pan. Spraying the pan with a non-stick coating is a good idea, and I sometimes line the pan with parchment paper.
Three ripe bananas
One-half cup sour milk or buttermilk
Eight tablespoons unsalted butter
One and one-third cups sugar
Two cups flour
One teaspoon baking powder
One teaspoon baking soda
Three-quarters teaspoon salt
One teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350-degrees
- Combine the bananas and butter. Beat-or process- until smooth.
- Add the sugar. Blend well.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Add to the batter along with the eggs and vanilla.
- Add the milk and blend until smooth.
- Pour the batter into the pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean, about fifty-five to sixty minutes (It can even take longer).
- Once the bread comes out of the oven, let it sit for a few minutes before taking it out of the pan. Cool on a rack.
Note: If you want to vary the order of the ingredients when you’re making the batter, it shouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure the batter is smooth before you put it in the pan.