Banana Bread – Gluten-ful and Gluten-free

Sliced banana bread
Sliced banana bread

Banana bread is comfort food.  I know people who love it.  I know people who like it.  But I’ve never seen anyone say no to a slice of banana bread.

I fully intend, every time I buy a bunch of bananas, to eat them before they get brown.  Because, really now, who wants to go back to the grocery store every couple of days to buy more?  Exactly! So, while I’m running around going to work and living life, the bananas sit on my counter giving off more and more ethylene and turning first a spotty brown and if I leave them long enough, they go right to black.  What does one do with brown and black mushy bananas?  Bake or freeze.   Sure, you can just throw them in the freezer with the peel on.  There’s really no reason not to since they’re already in their own packaging.  But  I peel them and freeze them in bunches of three so when I want to make this bread, I just need to dump them in the bowl.  Zap them in the microwave for a few seconds and you have mushy bananas once again.

Getting there bananas
Getting there bananas

There are a ton of recipes out there but this is the one I like the best.  It’s Chef Christine Cushing’s interpretation of her father Tony’s banana cake recipe.  Yes, banana cake.  Not banana bread.  I really don’t know the difference or if there is one really.  The recipe calls for a 9-inch round cake pan.  I make it in a loaf pan and bake it for longer – about 50 minutes instead of 40.  I babysit it after 45 minutes, spearing it now and then with a thin blade or long toothpick to see if it’s “done”, meaning dry-ish crumbs stick to the blade/toothpick rather than wet batter.

The best part about this recipe is that all you need is one bowl and a potato masher.  I also like the grapeseed oil.  It makes for a moist but not greasy banana bread.

I’ve also used the same recipe and tossed in some with chocolate chips.   I would skip or greatly reduce the amount of cinnamon called for should you decide to go the choco chip route.  I find it doesn’t really have that deep chocolate satisfaction nor does it have that earthy, hearty feel of cinnamon when the two are mixed.  It’s cinnamon OR chocolate.

I use the same recipe to make banana bread with wheat flour and gluten-free bread.  If gluten is an issue for you, you can certainly create your own mix of flours for baking.  As much as I like to make things from scratch, shortcuts happen.  This is a good one.  I bought Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free One-to-One Baking Flour.  It already has the xanthan gum (the binder) built in.  It worked perfectly.

So is there really a difference between using wheat flour and gluten-free?  Yes, yes, there is.  More in a bit.

Here’s your RTI:

Remember:

Ripe bananas are best.  That means they are spotted brown on the outside or black.  You can also use ripe bananas you’ve got hanging out in the freezer.

You don’t have to mix this that much.  Little lumps of banana are fine.

Tools:

  • A bowl
  • A potato masher
  • Measuring cups
  • Flexible plastic spatula (to get all the batter out of the bowl and into the loaf pan)
  • A little bowl to crack your eggs
  • A loaf pan
  • Parchment paper
  • Cooling rack

Ingredients (recipe is Tony’s Famous Banana Cake, from Chef Christine Cushing’s collection):

The “How”:

  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a hand-help potato masher, leaving them chunky.
  • Crack your eggs separately into a small bowl.  It’s annoying.  It dirties another dish.  Just do it.  Among the annoying and “I told you so” moments in life, are those times when you’re trying  to dig out this teeny weeny and stubborn piece of egg shell from within the albumen’s gloppy grip.  Do it.  Yup, you’re welcome.
  • Add the sugar, eggs, and grape seed oil.
  • Continue to mash and stir with the potato masher until the ingredients are blended.
  • Sift the dry ingredients onto a piece of parchment paper and pour into the banana mixture (I put them in a hand sifter and sift right over the bowl.  It works just as well as far as I can tell)
  • Using the potato masher, blend gently until the flour is worked through.
  • Stir in the walnuts (or your chocolate chips).
  • Pour into a 9-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper. (I put the mixture into a 10-inch loaf pan lined with parchment paper)
  • Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until golden and the tester comes out clean. (I bake it for 50 minutes or so or until a toothpick or knife comes out the cake with only dry-ish crumbs clinging to it)
  • Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes.
  • Flip on a wire rack and cool completely.  (I let the loaf cool for a bit, then flip it over into my oven glove, peel off the parchment and gently lay it on the cooling rack or cutting board)
  • Wait!  Step away from the cooling rack.  I always want to cut this right away and try it as though I could really tell how it tastes when it’s all 350F degrees of hotness.  Wait till it cools.  It will crumble less and slice better.

I doubled the recipe to make two loaves; one made with wheat flour and the other with gluten-free baking flour.

So which worked out best?

They’re both delicious.  BUT, when you have a slice of each sitting  in front of you for a taste test, the loaf made with wheat does taste better.  Sorry gluten-free people!  It’s nothing personal.   I’ve happily made it for my gluten-free friends and eaten it myself.  Too much gluten is not my friend either!  The gluten-free version tastes really, really good. It doesn’t hold its shape as well when sliced and is a bit more crumbly (but you’d never know it if you didn’t have the wheat version to compare).  But I find in the wheat version, the taste of the bananas comes through more and the texture of the bread itself is smoother.  It’s as though there is less to interfere with the banana cinnamon taste.

Speaking of bananas, I’ll need to find a perfectly ripe bunch, to make my favourite dessert of all time – my mother’s banana cream pie.

 

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