We all know baking has become really popular over the past couple of months as people around the world try to fill their quarantine days with creative pursuits they may not have had much time for before. Banana bread is the latest obsession. It evokes comfort and warmth. And when it’s made by you, in your own kitchen, it’s even better.
But why is it popular right now? Maybe we’re looking for something just a little quicker than homemade bakery-worthy bread — and yeast is out of stock at the store, anyway. Maybe we just want to indulge in a dessert, and banana bread sounds much better for you than, say, three-layer chocolate fudge brownies with toasted mini marshmallows and melted toffee drizzle… you know, just as an example.
Plus, banana bread is thrifty. We’ve all had bananas that get too brown before we’ve had a chance to enjoy them. Mashing them up for banana bread gives them new life and reduces waste. It also makes us feel good. Hey, just mashing them in the first place is pretty satisfying.
Chrissy Teigen’s version is so popular at the moment that people are having trouble finding its secret ingredient, vanilla pudding, in the store. But there’s nothing wrong with going the classic, non-pudding route. It’s easy to make, you know it will taste good, your kitchen will smell amazing and the result keeps for months in the freezer.
You can add any number of mix-ins, too. Have you got blueberries that are going soft? Repurpose those, too, by throwing them in the batter at the last minute. Add some chopped walnuts or pecans. Chocolate morsels. Shredded coconut. Lemon zest.
Banana bread is one of my specialties, but the recipe I use is not my own. It’s this one from James Beard. You can see the well-worn printout of it that’s pasted in my cookbook. I don’t change a thing (that note about the baking temperatures was because of an oven we used to have — the heat was always a touch off).
Yes, you need baking soda for banana bread. Sorry, you just do. The mashed bananas are heavy and you’ll need something to get the bread to rise. That’s also why you need buttermilk, or something acidic like lemon juice along with the milk — the chemical reaction with the baking soda creates the bubbles that make the cake rise.
Oh, did you catch that? “Cake.” Not bread. Because really, banana bread is too good to be called just a bread. Now go and have fun mixing up a batch.