My experimental loaf of banana bread supercharged with ½ cup of home-made banana rum liqueur and an infusion of the juice from 5 bananas (reduced down to approximately a ¼ cup)  just placed third at the Oregon State Fair. Given how many banana breads are entered in state fairs, I think I’ve finally landed on an anything-but-pedestrian banana bread recipe (see “Rum Banana Bread” below).

I’ve baked more than fifteen loaves of banana bread this past year, with the recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated American Classics being my go-to source of inspiration. But then, King Arthur released its 2018 Recipe of the year: Whole Grain Banana Bread—and now, Cook’s Illustrated has fought back with a new banana bread recipe from their outstanding new Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book.

Cut to the chase: if you are in a hurry, go with King Arthur’s 2018 Recipe of the year: Whole Grain Banana Bread but I suggest you substitute ⅔ cup of melted butter for the ½ cup of oil. I also use a full 2 cups of the King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour instead of one cup of that and one cup of unbleached white flour.

For banabrea cook off, Dr. Paul's banana bread loaf and two slices

Substitutions to the King Arthur Recipe

— I much prefer using butter instead of the vegetable oil that the recipe calls for. Head’s up: King Arthur says you need to use ⅔ cup of melted butter to replace the 1/2 cup of vegetable oil. The first time I did this, I assumed I should use 1/2 cup of butter to replace the 1/2 cup of vegetable oil. WRONG!

—If you are adding walnuts, try roasting them in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes at around 325. It brings out more flavor, but under-roasted is way better than over roasted!

—I use 2 cups of King Arthur White Wheat flour [226 grams] instead of the 1 cup White Wheat Flour and 1 cup of All Purpose Unbleached Flour that the recipe calls for.

I’ve been blow away by how much I like the King Arthur White Wheat Flour, given that I am not a fan of whole wheat flour. King Arthur flour isn’t cheap, but it does go on sale every couple of months at Safeway, Kroeger, Fred Myers and other large retailers. Some Walmarts also carry it. I wait until it’s on sale before I buy it, and then stock up.

Banana bread batter in a loaf dish with slices of banana lining the sides, with the baked bread below it.

A nice touch suggested by Cook’s International: Line the sides with slices of bananas.

Other Substitutions to Consider:

Lower Sugar—You can lower the amount of brown sugar from 1 cup [213 grams] to ¾ cup [160 grams appx] without messing things up. I could hardly tell the difference.  Or try 1/2 cup [107 grams] of brown sugar, but make sure your bananas are plenty brown and ripe.

Diabetic?—From the reader’s comments for this recipe at the King Arthur Website “I’m diabetic, for the brown sugar I used Truvia brown sugar blend,” and “I substituted Splenda Brown Sugar for regular brown sugar,” “ I substituted Splenda for the sugar and substituted one half of the all purpose flour with half a cup of almond flour. Turned out tasting just like the banana bread I grew up eating”.

Gluten Free—King Arthur says you can substitute Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour. I haven’t tried this, so you’re on your own.

Only Use Ripe or Gross Bananas!

Never confuse bananas for eating with bananas for banana bread. Bananas that are perfect for eating are newborns when compared to the level of ripeness that’s optimal for banana bread. Here are the bananas I used in my last batch of banana bread. They were okay, but don’t fear bananas that are far more ripe than these.

The best way to ripen bananas more quickly is to put then in a paper bag for a few days. Adding an already ripe banana to the bag will help influence the less ripe bananas to become ripe faster.

The best way to keep bananas from ripening too quickly is to store them in a refridgerator.

Four extra ripe bananas with a far amount of dark blotching on the peels.

Rule of Thumb: If you look at a banana and don’t instantly think “That’s gross!” then it’s probably not ripe enough for banana bread.

All Bananas Were Not Created Equal

When I was getting ready to make banana bread for the State Fair, I decided to try bananas from several different sources, including organic bananas from Ecuador, organic bananas from Mexico, and regular bananas from two different grocery stores.

Much to my surprise, there was a startling difference in the flavor of the different bananas, and it wasn’t the organic bananas that won the day–although the organic bananas from Mexico did taste better than the organic bananas from Ecuador.

So if the love of your life cherishes banana bread and you did something dumb and need to come up with a make-up loaf or you are making a marriage-proposal loaf, for heaven sake, buy bananas from multiple sources and go with the ones that taste like actual bananas instead of something that is now yellow but was picked way too early to have developed much banana flavor.

Ingredients

For the banana bread bake off, a grid with pictures of the 12 ingredients in the winning recipe

Step By Step Guide

Here’s a step by step guide for how to make the banana bread by the ever entertaining PJ Hamel from the King Arthur blog.

How To Know When Banana Bread Is Done?

Really good banana bread is so moist it can be a challenge to know when done. King Arthur says to take its temp, with 205 degrees being the sweet spot. (Along with my inexpensive kitchen scale, I pretty much live and die with one of these amazing digital thermometers—they are only $16 at Amazon). I use mine constantly.

If you don’t have a digital thermometer, make like Daryl Dixon and stab your loaf with a paring knife. If it comes out moest but clean, you’re good to go. Unfortunately, terms like “moist but clean” are so subjective I can never really tell if a knife or toothpick is “clean just right,” or “clean too done.”

Why Weigh Instead of Measure?

When my wife first got our cheapo digital kitchen scale I thought “WTF? What’s wrong with a measuring cup, and what good can a scale be that costs less than $20 be?” Well, over the past year, I’ve come to love the thing. It’s taken me to several first places and best of divisions at two county fairs and the Oregon State Fair.  I even weigh the amount of banana in the banana bread given how King Arthur recipes allow you to change from volume to weight with the click of a radio nob.

The scale my wife got us is a Mira and it’s less than $20 on Amazon. It’s easy to zero out your scale after you put the bowl on it, and then zero it out before adding each new ingredient that you need to measure. That way, you don’t have to wash more bowls than is necessary; what’s not to like about that?

Rum Banana Bread

After making more than fifteen loaves of banana bread, they started to taste boring. So I’ve experimented with different additions to supercharge my banana bread, and here’s what I’ve found works best. I begin with the King Arthur 2018 Recipe of the year: Whole Grain Banana Bread including the substitutions I mentioned above (especially butter for oil). Then I do the following:

  1. Banana Liqueur: I’ve started to make homemade banana liqueur for my banana bread. Here’s a recipe for banana liqueur from Serious Eats that I like, HOWEVER, be sure to leave out the sugar, because the sugar in the banana liqueur will make your banana bread way too sweet.
  2. Ten Bananas instead of Five: In the new Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, they suggest microwaving five well-aged bananas in a bowl. Strangely enough, this will cause about a half of a cup of banana juice to come out of the bananas. (You can get the same effect by freezing the bananas for a day or two, and then defrosting them in a bowl.) Discard the five bananas, as they will be pretty well spent. Mix the banana juice with ½ cup of your homemade banana liqueur (or with just ½ cup of rum if you didn’t make banana liqueur). Then cook this down in a saucepan for about ten minutes or more, until you’ve seriously reduced it to around ⅓ of a cup. Add it to the batter. If the batter seems too moist, add a few extra tablespoons of flour. Given that you will be adding 5 or so other bananas to the batter, my version of the banana bread calls for a total of ten good-sized bananas instead of the usual 5.
  3. Butter Rum Flavoring Oil: If you have some butter rum flavoring oil that just happens to be sitting around, you might try adding a ¼ teaspoon to the batter.

These are the things I do to help take my banana bread to the next level; hopefully they will inspire you to come up with your own unique ideas. For instance, maybe try using amaretto instead of banana liqueur, or maybe something else. Just make sure you cook it down before adding it to the batter so your batter doesn’t get too thin.

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