Hello, spring? Why do you keep punking out on me? Once again we were running outside in shorts and now it’s 40 degrees again. I suppose when it’s 110 in August I’m going to look back fondly on these cool days, but for now I want warm breezes and I want to wear shorts. Clearly St. Louis needs to see more of my pasty white legs, so lets get a move on with the nice weather already.
The upside to a cooler day is that I have a good excuse to bake something. Dr. Fiance and I eat a lot of bananas, but sometimes we over-purchase and they start to get too ripe, too quickly. When my bananas start to get beyond the pale, I toss ‘em in the freezer until I can figure out what to do with them. It occurred to me a few days ago that banana bread is the way to go.
After doing a little research I came across a recipe at Cooks Illustrated (subscription required) for the “ultimate banana bread” and so I decided to do something along those lines. One of the most important tips that Cooks Illustrated suggests is to draw out the juice in the bananas, and then reduce it down into a super potent banana syrup. This locks in a lot of great banana flavor without adding too much moisture to the bread. When you freeze bananas, the cell structure breaks down and as they thaw the bananas release their wonderful juice. If you’re using fresh, ripe bananas you can get the same effect by microwaving them for a couple of minutes.
I followed the recipe fairly closely, but decided that I wanted to kick it up a bit, so I added in some cognac. Julia Child throws cognac into everything, so why the hell shouldn’t I? A little booze can make everything better, and it did wonders in this case. Just another level of added richness to the bread. This recipe ain’t for your church bake-sale, for sure. This bread is very moist, but also very light. Using the concentrated banana juice keeps the bread from being sodden, dense and heavy. It’s a beautiful thing.
Banana Walnut Bread with Cognac Recipe
- 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 5 large frozen bananas
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 2 tablespoons cognac
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Place your peeled bananas in a strainer over a bowl and allow them to thaw. As they thaw they will release their juice. Give the bananas a stir every once in a while to release more juice. You should end up with a nice mushy pile of banana solids in the strainer and a cup or so of juice. This should take about a half hour or so, depending on how cold your freezer is.
Preheat your oven with the rack in the middle to 350. Butter or spray a 8.5×4 inch loaf pan with non-stick spray. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl, and set aside.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, then transfer to a bowl. Using the same saucepan, reduce your banana juice over medium heat for five or six minutes until you have around a quarter of a cup. While it is reducing, mix the sugar and vanilla extract with the butter. Add this mixture to the banana mush, and then add in the reduced banana juice. If there are still large clumps of banana at this point, smash them up with a fork. Beat in the eggs to this mixture, then stir in the cognac.
Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just mixed. Fold in the walnuts, then transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top of the loaf liberally with granulated sugar. Bake for 60-70 minutes until a toothpick stuck into the middle comes out dry. Cool on a rack in the loaf pan for fifteen minutes, then tip the loaf out of the pan and cool completely on a rack. Try not to eat the whole loaf in one sitting. But don’t try too hard, banana bread is best when it’s fresh.