One of the most enduring lessons I learned in my Grandma's farm kitchen is that brown bananas = banana bread. Period. You don't waste them. You make them into something delicious.
I personally have expanded that to include scones and smoothies. But yeah, no. You don't throw away brown bananas. (And I secretly judge people who do.)
But. The problem with banana bread... especially my Grandma's banana bread... are the gooey chunks of banana throughout the bread, and the slimy wet ridge along the top. (The woman could fry the hell out of a squirrel, but her baking left something to be desired.)
|The old way.|
I remember loving the bread's taste, yet trying not to gag on the bits that made the texture so very wrong.
Another issue is that a day later, quick breads start to get kind of wet and weird on the top crust and I just can't.
Flash forward a couple of decades, and I'm making banana bread for my kiddos. And my food texture sensory issues combined with their food texture sensory issues... something had to give.
I summoned my inner Alton Brown. I lit a candle at my shrine to Cook's Illustrated. I got to work.
There were three problems to solve. The first was easy. The second took some tinkering. The third was just application of an established concept. All solutions were simple and transferable to pretty much any quick bread recipe.
(Worth noting I have yet to sort out a gluten free banana bread my textural issues can choke down, but the first hack will work the same regardless of your recipe. The second is generally addressed by most GF recipes due to the challenges inherent to that kind of baking. The third came from a GF recipe to begin with.)
After trying a few, I settled on an old school recipe from a solid, baseline source that's done me right since I first had my culinary monkey-touch-monolith moment. I even had to buy the cookbook again, the first one fell apart from use.
I found the same *recipe online here: BHG Banana Bread
*I find their suggestion of 5 bananas to get that quantity is insane. I rarely need more than 3.
Pretty much any recipe will do. They all seem to have the same general textural problems.
PROBLEM 1: Gooey Chunks
I don't know if I've ever seen a banana bread recipe that didn't suggest mashing the banana with a fork. The resulting texture is uneven, and affects the bread.
My first attempting at fixing this was a potato masher. Little to no improvement.
The solution? Stick blender! (AKA How did I ever survive without this miraculous tool?)
Just chuck all the wet ingredients (remember, sugar counts) into a bowl...
|Seriously. Chuck 'em in whole.|
|Noise reduction headphones optional|
The resulting emulsion is perfectly smooth, and gives the bread a uniform texture devoid of those nasty, slimy, chunky bits.
I also find this emulsion easier to incorporate in general, which means less risk of overmixing the batter, which means less gluten development, which means less random air bubbles, which means more uniform overall texture... all good things.
PROBLEM 2: Unbaked Ridge
I think the extent of this is affected by individual ovens. But in all the ovens I've used, I've yet to see a loaf of quick bread bake up without it being at least a minor factor.
Simply extending the baking time didn't work - the edges of the bread burned before the top cooked through. I thought about the pan, but I already used Pyrex instead of metal so that wouldn't help.
But, that got me thinking... having been reluctantly, medically gluten free for a few years now, I've had plenty of time for some epic gluten free baking fails. And time to do some reading to figure out why.
What I learned is that proteins in GF baked goods take longer to set, which is why they need to be baked in ceramic dishes at lower temps for longer, so the edges are protected while the centers have a chance to coast to completion.
I decided to apply a version of this technique to the unbaked top problem. It worked like a charm.
1) Bake the bread at the usual temp (generally 350) for 5-10 minutes shy of the bake time specified in the recipe.
2) Reduce the oven temp by 10 degrees. At this point I check in 10 minutes, then in 5-10 min intervals, depending on how it's doing. It rarely takes more than an additional 20ish minutes past the recipe time. Once it gets close to done the toothpicks comes out to start checking for doneness. Before it's close you can still see how wet it is.
3) Sometimes, if the top is really being stubborn but the edges are going past done, I turn off the oven and let it coast a little while longer. That does the trick.
|In for ~20 extra minutes at a lower temp - the top finished and the crust did not burn|
One thing I particularly like about this technique is that it addresses the x factor of variable moisture content and slight differences in banana quantity from loaf to loaf. If there's a little too much moisture from the fruit in a particular batch, finishing the baking off this way has a much greater chance of baking off the excess and giving you a good result.
PROBLEM 3: Damp, Sticky Top Crust
Once a loaf of quick bread has cooled, the top goes from delightful to damp and sticky in a hurry. I noticed this is especially true of GF bakes, and one day mused that must be why a particular muffin recipe called for what seemed to me an incongruous sugar topping.
Cut to me making my next batch of banana bread... light bulb moment. Gave it a shot.
Just sprinkle the top of the loaf with a raw sugar (I've used turbinado and demerara). I do a generous sprinkling, it makes for a nice crisp top.
|Much more than this and it becomes tricky to slice.|
Yes, I know sugar is hygroscopic and of course it doesn't stay as shatteringly crisp as when it's fresh from the oven. But the next day (a loaf of banana bread rarely lasts more than 24 hours around here), the top is still reliably pleasant, often still on the crisp side.
These simple hacks have become routine when I bake any quick bread. (Though, the stick blitz step isn't necessary for something like pumpkin or applesauce bread.) I no longer have to throw away leftover bread. It's better from the start and stays better until it's gone... which is faster than ever.
Do you have any sensory friendly recipe hacks that help your family? I would love to learn about them!