There’s no hiding it. When we think of banana bread, we think of comfort food. We think, ‘this is the perfect gift for my brand-new neighbours’. We think, ‘this will help my grieving friend’. We think, darn! I forgot to make dessert for the girls coming over, I’ll just whip up a banana bread.
I mean, it’s no secret that as the world entered a pandemic last year, we also entered a banana bread frenzy! It’s a surprise we didn’t hit our first, global, banana famine with how many people jumped aboard the banana bread boat. And why? Well, that’s easy – we all needed something warming, something to make us feel like the world wasn’t collapsing outside of the four walls of our quarantine, and more to the point, something easy that still allowed us to modestly boast some form of baking skill upon social media.
It’s versatile. Add some chocolate, add some nuts, top it with oats, and serve it with cream. Banana bread can be adapted to meet the taste buds of just about anyone. It can be served hot, served cold, served for breakfast, served for dessert. Really, it has no faults. Not in itself anyway. But when it comes to actually making it, we as humans can cast many faults upon the imperfectly perfect loaf. Luckily, it is a sub-standard, basic recipe, which doesn’t vary much from book to book and almost anyone can achieve an edible, perfectly acceptable load. However, to get it perfect, there are a few vital steps that apply to pretty much any banana bread you make.
So, if you are looking to create the banana bread better than any banana bread anyone else on your street can make, then look no further than following these six, strange but simple tips!
Table of Contents
1. Bag the Brown Bananas!
It makes sense to start with where the entire concoction derives from – bananas! In the simplest of terms – if you want flavour, you want the ripest of ripe bananas! The debate on yellow vs brown bananas is one we have all had with our friends, but when it comes to banana bread, the browner the better! Of course, you don’t want rotten bananas, but bananas really last a lot longer than most people expect.
It seems odd that the ripeness would have such an impact considering all bananas taste like, well… banana? But really, if you eat less-ripened fruit, it tends to have a more bitter flavour, and as it ripens it becomes sweeter and more flavorful, and this is also the case with bananas! This is because as the starch in the fruit ripens, it turns to sugar which is why those brown dots can really make all the difference to the flavor of your loaf.
“What if I have no option but to use green bananas?” I hear you ask. Do not fear! There are a couple of easy tricks to ripen up those bananas quicker to bring out the sugars. If you really need that banana bread but you are stuck with the greenest bunch left in the store, just pop them in the oven at around 300F degrees and wait for them to turn brown. Fruit ultimately ripens on its own from heat and sunlight, as it releases a gas called ethylene which helps convert that starch into sugar, and so all this is doing is speeding up the process in a less-natural way. The heat will also bring out those delicious sugars you are looking for. Once your bananas are browner, just grab them out of the oven and they will be a lot softer – ready to mash up and mix into your banana bread! Alternatively, if you do have a little longer before you start baking, you can leave your banana bags in a paper bag and pop them in a warm spot, and this will slowly ripen them. You may need to leave them a day, or overnight, before you notice any obvious changes, but slowly that ethylene gas will work its magic.
2. Master the Mash!
We all know the most sufficiently modern mixing methods are to throw the ingredients into a mixer and off you go! This makes it even more convenient when working with produce like bananas, as they can be an effort to have to break down when mixing by hand. However, this may be where you are going wrong. Not only does hand mixing your batter (with almost every type of cake) mean that you can fold in the correct amount of air, and therefore a better rise, but it also means that you can ensure that everything is broken down correctly and mixed in evenly.
The flavours of the bananas really escape more as the bananas are broken down. The juices are fully released, and the smoother texture can spread throughout the batter creating a silky, consistent, banana flavor for your loaf. So, your best bet is to separately mash up your bananas using an electric whisk, or a fork. Once you have a smooth paste, then go on to add this to your mixture and you will achieve the perfect blend.
3. Master the Mix!
Not only is it important to really master that mash, but mastering the correct mix really is the be all or end all. In addition to mashing the bananas separately, the order of ingredients prior to adding your mash can really make a difference. Just as you wouldn’t throw in your ingredients for a cake and hope for the best, make sure you follow a process for your banana bread too. Behind baking there is a lot of science that helps us achieve those delicious flavors and beautiful rises, and the same applies to that perfect banana bread.
To help you mix things perfectly, you should start with your wet ingredients and incorporate the dry ingredients, and then finally the mash. Adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients not only requires less mixing, but it means your mixture is less likely to develop pockets of flavour. Mixing the banana separately and then adding it at the end means that it can be slightly folded in, creating a nice airy texture before it goes into the oven, but also meaning that the rest of the batter isn’t over-mixed as you try to break down the banana.
Overmixing the batter could be one of the main causes that your banana bread is too dense and heavy. Whether you opt for an electric mixer, or mixing by hand, I would always recommend folding the mix before baking, just to allow a lighter and even bake. This is also due to the gluten in the flour. The more you mix and break things down, the more gluten development occurs, resulting in a denser, chewier loaf. If you really want to use your electric mixer, your best bet is to mix up your wet ingredients and then fold in those dry ingredients by hand, and then the banana – although I would always recommend solely mixing by hand, if possible, as you will remain to have control over how mixed your batter is and how much air is incorporated, creating a nice, fluffy loaf.
4. Master the Measurements!
Another important way to avoid that dense banana loaf is to make sure you’re adding your ingredients to the correct quantities. Various banana bread recipes will fluctuate dramatically when it comes to certain ingredients, but the key is to follow each recipe to the T.
One of the main ingredients that you may notice differs is flour. Some recipes may call for two cups, some may ask for half of this, but just make sure you listen. The other required ingredients will work around the flour, and so it is important that for these other ingredients to play their part, they are mixed with the correct measurement of flour. Too much flour will create that heavy, dry, and dense texture that we want to avoid. This is because the gluten level will be too high, and you won’t be able to achieve the desired rise or fluffiness. On the contrary, adding too little flour will cause your mixture to be far too wet, also resulting in a failure to rise, but it will also taste and feel far too moist and may not be able to hold its shape or form.
To make sure your flour is correct, make sure your scales are perfectly set to zero before measuring out, or, if using cups, make sure you are scraping the top off the cup once you have scooped your flour so that it is evenly measured. This prevents you from adding any extra flour which will help stop your banana bread from coming out too dense.
Not only does the flour impact the final product but adding any extra flavours can also have the same effect. Whilst classicists would advise you to stick solely to banana, many people love to experiment. Whilst banana bread provides a delicious flavour, it also works as a perfect base for adding people’s favourites. However, adding things like extra fruit, chocolate, and peanut butter – typical add-ons – you are also adding more moisture to your ingredients. It is important to keep this in mind when making the batter. Ideally you should find a recipe that incorporates your favourite flavours, or alternatively you can add them to the top of the loaf. You can also avoid making your mixture too wet by adding slightly more flour if your add-ons have created a very wet mixture, but you need to be careful with this.
Similarly, adding extra spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, increases the dry ingredients, and so you may need to add a slight splash of milk. However, this is less likely as you add spices in a lot smaller quantity than most wetter flavours, and also means that extra flavour isn’t too overpowering and doesn’t take away from that traditional flavour.
Adding flavours like nuts and seeds won’t alter the texture of your recipe, as these tend to remain whole whilst the loaf bakes, and so they only add an extra chunk as opposed to altering the consistency. For a safer option you should go for add-ons like this, or make sure to add your other flavours in small amounts as to protect the consistency but also the flavour.
5. Get Greasy!
We have all been there before – spending hours finding the perfect ingredients, following the most intricate recipe, waiting for the final product to finish baking, and then completely ripping it apart as we remove it from the tin – devastating! Well, luckily banana bread will never be the most intricate recipe, but it will stick to your tin if you’re not careful!
Make sure the first thing you do before mixing any ingredients, it is prepping your tins. You can use a canned oil spray, but for a better flavour you can lather up the base and the sides of the tin with some butter. This means you won’t be left with an oily flavour on the surface of your loaf, but instead you’ll have a nice buttery flavour creating that crispy crust. Sprinkling the butter or oil with some flour will add an extra layer of protection to ensure your loaf slips neatly out when it is ready.
However, if you really want to master the perfect release, your best bet is to use baking paper or parchment paper. It can be easier to line your tin with paper if you use a bit of butter or oil between the tin and the paper to help it stick in place, but if you don’t mind have some excess paper hanging over the edges then you can just pop the paper in and pour your mixture over. When the loaf has finished baking, leave it to cool and then remove it with paper, and then slowly pull the paper away from your banana bread – satisfying!
6. Bring on the Bake!
So, when the ingredients are perfect, the bananas are mashed, the tins are lined and the mix has been lightly sprinkled with a topping of walnuts, all that’s left is the grand finale – the bake! Now, assuming the other steps have all gone to plan, you only really have one chance left to mess this up, so listen carefully!
Firstly, when those tins are being lined with parchment paper, lets also pre-heat that oven. Trust your recipe when it comes to temperature. Most recipes call for a temperature around 350F degrees, so let your oven reach that heat, pop in your loaf, and make sure you keep it at that temperature. Allowing your oven to preheat is extremely important when baking as the immediate heat helps create the rise. Putting a cake in an oven that is still heating up will cause your cake to slowly dry out as it will be overcooked and will also stop the rise – both problems can be key factors towards a dense banana bread.
Like most loaf cakes, they take a lot longer than your usual cupcakes or layered cakes. This is because loaves are deeper, and so for the inside to fully cook you need to be patient. You also need to maintain the same temperature to ensure that the outside doesn’t start to burn before the inside has had a chance to cook. Opposite to this, you want to make sure your temperature isn’t too low, as the heat not only helps the rise, but cooking for too long can dry out your loaf just as much as over-cooking it at a high heat.
Now, not only is the temperature a crucial aspect of baking the perfect loaf, but the baking time is also a significant factor. Temperature and timing come hand in hand. Most recipes will need to bake for about an hour. Baking for too long will dry out the bread, and not baking for long enough will leave your loaf uncooked and inedible. A higher temperature will result in a burnt outside, meaning you will likely shorten the baking time. Opposite to this, a low temperature will cause you to want to bake the loaf for longer, meaning it won’t rise and will dry out.
It is best to check your loaf sooner rather than later. The riper your bananas, the more moist your final product will be due to the sugar levels, meaning that the wetness of your banana bread will vary depending on the bananas used. The outside of your loaf should be a delicious, dark brown. The best way to ensure the inside of your loaf is ready is to slide in a toothpick or a small knife, and if it comes out clean then you are good to go. Moisture is expected, but if your toothpick still shows signs of batter then leave it a bit longer. If you have very small amount of batter coming from the very centre, then you can also remove the loaf. This is because as your bread cools, it continues to bake.
Allowing the cooling process is the final step to really nail that perfect loaf of banana bread. As much as we want to serve it up when its piping hot, fresh out the oven, your patience needs to continue. The caramelised syrup created from the sugars will remain quite gooey whilst the loaf is still hot. These need to be allowed time to solidify before you remove the cake from the tin and begin slicing it up, otherwise your loaf may fall apart.
Your best bet is to leave the loaf for fifteen minutes to cool in the tin, then remove from the tin and leave further to cool on a rack so that air can reach the bottom of the loaf too. It is best to eat your loaf when it has completely cooled. If you really desire that warm banana bread, then you can always reheat the slices once cut, as this means the loaf won’t fall apart as you slice.
Six Steps Summed Up
There we have it – six simple steps to gain the perfect banana bread. Firstly, make sure you have ripe bananas. The ingredients you use really do make all the difference. So, make sure you source the correct products, and measure them out in the correct quantities. Once you have them, focus on the wet ingredients, then gently fold in the dry ingredients, and finally add your mashed banana! Be sure to keep your add-ons simple, as to maintain that classic banana bread flavour, but also to save the consistency of the recipe from being ruined. Too dry, your loaf won’t rise, too wet, your loaf won’t rise. Too much flour results in density, but so does overcooking. Find the correct temperature and have it ready for your loaf, and don’t remove your loaf until that toothpick comes out clear! Once ready, give your loaf time to cool off before removing, and then even longer to allow the bottom to get some air.
The overall tip to take from this article is that patience is a virtue. Whether it’s allowing your bananas to brown, not going overboard with flavourings, allowing your oven to preheat, allowing your loaf to bake or allowing your loaf to cool – all are equally important. Remember, nobody gets it perfect the first time so have fun and experiment! Take your time, allow yourself a few attempts, follow these steps, and you will be the master of the least-dense banana bread you have ever tasted!
Check out our article Can you make Banana Bread without Baking Soda? This discusses if there’s a possibility to bake a banana bread without using one of the main ingredients in making a cake.