Great banana bread is a thing of simple beauty
But it doesn't always taste enough like bananas
A microwave and a strainer help get ride of excess moisture
Sugar and extra bananas make a crunchy top
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Our ideal banana bread is simple enough—a moist, tender loaf that really tastes like bananas. We discovered that doubling the dose of bananas in our favorite test recipe was both a blessing and a curse, because the abundance of fruit makes for intense banana flavor, but the weight and moisture makes the loaf very heavy.
Looking to add banana flavor without moisture, we place our bananas in a glass bowl and microwave them for a few minutes, then transfer the fruit to a strainer to drain. We simmer the exuded banana liquid in a saucepan until it is reduced, then incorporate it into the batter.
Brown sugar complements the bananas better than granulated sugar, and vanilla works well with the bananas’ faintly boozy, rum-like flavor, as does swapping out the oil used in standard recipes for the nutty richness of melted butter. Toasted walnuts lend a pleasing crunch, but you can omit them if you prefer.
As a final embellishment, we slice an additional banana and shingle it on top of the loaf. Then we sprinkle granulated sugar over the top to help the slices caramelize and to give the loaf an enticingly crunchy top.
The texture of this quick bread is best when the loaf is eaten the day it’s baked, but it can be stored (let cool completely first), covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to three days.
1 3/4 Cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon table salt
6 Large very ripe bananas (about 2 1/4 pounds) *
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 Large eggs
3/4 Cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 Cup walnuts * *
2 Teaspoons granulated sugar
* Be sure to use very ripe, heavily speckled (or even black) bananas in this recipe. This recipe can be made using 5 thawed frozen bananas; since they release a lot of liquid naturally, they can bypass the microwaving in step 5 and go directly into the fine-mesh strainer. Do not use a thawed frozen banana in step 11; it will be too soft to slice. Instead, simply sprinkle the top of the loaf with sugar.
* * These are optional. If you prefer your banana bread without nuts, do not include this ingredient.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with vegetable spray.
2. If using, toast 1/2 cup walnuts in small skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.
3. Add 8 tablespoons unsalted butter to now-empty pan and heat over medium heat until melted. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.
4. Whisk 1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Set aside.
5. Peel 5 large, very ripe bananas and place in separate microwave-safe bowl. Cover with microwave-safe plate and microwave until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes.
6. Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer set over bowl and let drain, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes (you should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup liquid).
7. Transfer drained liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
8. Transfer drained bananas to medium mixing bowl. Add reduced liquid and mash with potato masher until mostly smooth.
9. Whisk in melted butter, 2 large eggs, 3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
10. Pour banana mixture into dry ingredients. Stir until just combined; some streaks of flour will remain. Fold in walnuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
11. For topping, peel 1 large, very ripe banana and cut on bias into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
12. Shingle banana slices on loaf in 2 rows, leaving 1 1/2-inch-wide space down center. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons granulated sugar evenly over loaf.
13. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes.
14. Let loaf cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before serving.