What is it about Sydney-siders and banana bread? I think we are slightly obsessed by it. It’s such an unprepossessing looking cake. That’s what it really is – cake – but it’s been cunningly renamed as a bread so we can feel okay about ordering it for breakfast – toasted under a grill and with a dab of even more butter on the side – it becomes in a magical thinking, delusional kind of way, healthy for us. Perhaps it really is healthy… after all, it does have bananas in it and they are packed with potassium, right?
In the great banana drought of 2011 after cyclone Yasi wiped out most of Queensland’s banana crop, bananas became like gold – kids were weeping in supermarkets for their parents to buy them a banana. There were no slowly rotting bananas in the fruit bowl to whip into a super, healthy loaf of banana bread.
I had some frozen pre-cyclone bananas in my freezer and when I turned them into banana bread, they were seized on like manna from heaven. It was a sorry state of affairs – the cafes really felt the pinch because at $13 to $15 per kilo, bananas had suddenly become a luxury item and what is the worth of a Sunday brekkie out without the option of banana bread on the menu? Of course, the big commercial bakeries kept churning out their overly sweet, artificially flavoured loaves – but really who can eat them? Not even all my powers of magical thinking can make me believe that is a healthy option.
Cyclone Yasi and the great banana drought are now a distant memory. I presently have a tonne of over-ripe bananas that I’ve thrown in the freezer to await being turned into bread, which is kind of fortuitous because it also November, school fete season, and I will have to make loaves of banana bread for the school fundraiser at the end of the month.
That is the thing about banana bread – you can throw your revolting over-ripe bananas in your freezer, skin and all, until you have time to bake. Banana bread is probably even better eaten a day or so after it is made, so the flavours have time to settle. It freezes beautifully so you can make it in advance and it is eternally popular, so your school fundraiser can’t have too many loaves of banana bread to sell.
I use a David Herbert recipe which I got from his ‘Perfect’ column in The Australian newspaper. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked for this recipe. David’s recipes, particularly his cake recipes, are some of the most rigorously road-tested recipes I know. They really are almost always perfect. The great thing about this recipe is that you just throw it all into the food processor.
My food processor isn’t large enough to make two loaves at the same time, so if I’m baking two loaves (which I usually do – eat one, and freeze the other), I just process them one after the other without washing the processor. While this recipe is practically perfect, I add some ground cardamom, just because I really love cardamom in banana bread. Like any kind of banana cake, the only real secret is to use the most disgustingly over-ripe bananas you can find and magically turn them into manna from heaven.
Disclaimer: I don’t personally eat banana bread for breakfast, I think it’s at its best as an afternoon snack with, of course, a nice cup of tea.
- 1½ cups (210g) plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ teaspoon of ground cardamom (optional)
- 125g unsalted butter, roughly chopped and softened at room temperature
- 1 cup (250g) sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 very ripe bananas mashed with a fork (if the bananas are very large, I only use two)
- 100ml buttermilk or regular milk soured with a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Preheat the oven 170C. Grease medium-sized loaf tin and line the base with baking paper.
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until just smooth. Don’t over-process. Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and smooth the top.
- Bake in a preheated oven for about 55-60 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden brown. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.
- Cool in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Serve dusted with icing sugar. Flavour improves on keeping.
Makes one loaf