I remember chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies… chocolate cut-out bats with silver ball eyes at Halloween… braided cranberry-orange bread at Christmas… butterhorns at Easter… birthday cakes and birthday pies and cheesecake… But I cannot for the life of me recall my mom making banana bread. Ever. Maybe we all got to the bunch before they went over-ripe. I just don’t know.
Banana bread is no stranger in my kitchen, however. A lot has to do with my middle daughter who has a rare chromosome disorder called Trisomy 14 Mosaicism. She’s four and she’s just getting the hang of chewing — we think. For a long time food had to be mashed, soft, almost pureed, and please — no chunks! Tired of feeding her oatmeal, applesauce, and yogurt day in and day out, I figured out that if I made quick breads that were soft and moist, she could eat them and get some sort of nutrition at the same time. So while bananas often made her gag (there’s a bit of chewing involved), banana bread was not a problem.
Now, I’m not one of those people that finds a recipe and sticks with it come hell or high water. If I find a new recipe, I give it a whirl. Oftentimes I end up coming back to my original, but it doesn’t hurt to try, right? So with banana bread, I started with Betty Crocker and gave Better Homes & Gardens a test drive, too (this was before I fell down the rabbit hole into the world of Christopher Kimball & Co.). Not bad. They worked. No one complained. But two years ago my husband gave me the Complete America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook (2001-2010) and I found their banana bread recipe. A bit of yogurt, a lot of nuts, and flour-streaked batter. Hmmm… with the slight modification of omitting the nuts on most occasions (chunks that I’d rather not have to pick out of my daughter’s bread, though I believe that’s called “sharing”), I haven’t turned back since. However…It seems that the ATK chefs get bored or something, because I recently saw this recipe for Ultimate Banana Bread. And now Julia Collin Davison is inviting me to make it, take a picture, and share my experience with her. What was wrong with the other recipe? I wonder. Is this one truly “Ultimate”? Since my oven was already going to be on, I figured now it’s my turn to test this out. A head-to-head competition: America’s Test Kitchen vs. America’s Test Kitchen. In my head I can see this episode play out: Bridget and Julia going at it in a friendly bake-off. Yvonne and Becky help. Adam tests loaf pans. Jack makes Chris taste-test overripe bananas. Or baking powder. Winner gets a day off. And a big chocolate cake. Could the folks at America’s Test Kitchen trump themselves?
What I found out is that the old method in their previous recipe is easier and quicker — very appealing (pun intended if you like it to be). Three bananas, a quarter cup of yogurt for extra moistness and flavor, an hour in the oven and it comes out beautiful. Tasty, too. It’s a good banana bread–better than most, actually. (For the record, I left the nuts out so my daughter could eat it and to make it a fair contest between the two recipes. But the extra nuts in this recipe make for a tasty bread, too!)
This new, ultimate recipe was more labor-intensive. Heat and drain the bananas (five of them) to release their juice (who knew that bananas had juice? — reserve the juice, heat the juice to reduce it, add to bananas and mash… Mix it up with other ingredients… lay another sliced banana on top… sprinkle with sugar… bake for 55 to 75 — 75?!?! — minutes… Yikes! Add in the dishes to wash and you have yourself half a day gone for a loaf of banana bread! But, my dear friends, this is banana bread like none other I’ve had before. It’s gorgeous (even with bamboo skewer holes in the top). Fragrant. Delicious. The reduced banana juice and caramelized bananas must be genius! I suppose six bananas helps, too. But hands down, if you’re looking for banana bread that tastes like bananas, this is the winner. Ultimate Banana Bread. I’m not even going to share the old recipe. If my mom was still around to try her hand at banana bread, I’m sure she would agree. There really is no contest.