Black bananas mean two things: either pop them in the freezer to make smoothies later or mash ‘em up and make banana bread. This week I decided to do the latter. You see, I’ve been on a bit of a bread making spree lately.
This bread making spree is due in part to my desire to make as many things from scratch as I can (e.g. vegetable stock, éclairs). Mostly, though, it’s due to a new cookbook that found its way into my hands, thanks to my dear friend Erica’s mother Anne. The cookbook, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, was written by Jeff Herzberg and Zoe Francois who previously published another cookbook called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
“Five minutes a day?” you question. “You gotta be kidding me.” No, I’m not kidding you. All of the breads in the book follow the same basic bread-making pattern: on day one, mix together the ingredients for two to four loaves of bread and then tuck the dough into the refrigerator overnight (that’s right—skip the kneading!). Then, over the next one to two weeks, pull out portions of the dough and cook your loaves as you need them.
With black bananas and a new bread cookbook in hand, everything was set—right? Well, not exactly. I was a bit skeptical about this recipe because it is a yeast bread rather than the usual quick bread with its characteristic moist texture. Sure, this new recipe used 60% whole wheat flour and a lot less sugar than traditional banana bread, but what if this banana bread turned out all doughy and was simply banana-flavored bread rather than the ubiquitous Moist Banana Bread? Please note: My doubt was not unfounded. I had this experience with this cookbook’s Chocolate Espresso Bread. Every time I ate a bite of it I wished I was eating chocolate bars, chocolate truffles or chocolate cake instead this doughy, chocolate-flavored bread. Not a good thing.
Thankfully, amazingly, miraculously, the yeast banana bread turned out rather well. It was moist like traditional banana bread, the raw sugar on top of the loaf had developed a nice crispiness and it was a good deal healthier than traditional banana bread. But the real thing that clinched my liking of this bread is what happens when you put it in the toaster: the exterior firms slightly, the bread is warm when you sink your teeth into and the house is filled with the aroma of freshly baked banana bread. Yep, that wonderful freshly-baked banana bread aroma every time you slide a piece into the toaster—and no one has to know you baked it a few days ago.
4 cups white whole wheat flour
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ tablespoons granulated yeast, or 2 packets
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼ cup vital wheat gluten
1½ cups lukewarm water
½ cup neutral-flavored oil
½ cup honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups very ripe banana puree
2 cups walnut pieces
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water) for brushing on top crust
Raw sugar for sprinkling on the top of the loaf
Make the Dough:
1. Whisk together the flours, cinnamon, yeast, salt, and vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
2. Combine the liquid ingredients with the banana and walnuts and mix with the dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). You might need to use wet hands to get the last bit of flour to incorporate if you’re not using a machine.
3. Cover (not airtight), and allow the dough to rest at room temperature until it rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used immediately after its initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate it in a lidded (not airtight container) and use over the next 7 days.
Shape the Bread:
5. Lightly grease an 8½ x 4½-inch nonstick loaf pan. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 2-pound (cantaloupe-size) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
6. Elongate the ball into an oval and place the loaf into the loaf pan; your goal is to fill the pan about three-quarters full. Allow the loaf to rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 1 hour 45 minutes (60 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).
Bake the Bread:
7. Preheat the oven to 350* F for at least 5 minutes.
8. Just before baking, use a pastry brush to paint the top crust with egg wash, then sprinkle it with raw sugar. Place the pan on the stone or on a rack in the center of the oven. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, until richly browned and firm.
9. Remove the bread from the pan and allow it ti cool on a rack before slicing and eating.
*This recipe makes two 8½ x 4½-inch loaves. I made a half batch, which made one loaf of bread (obviously!).
*Check out Jeff Herzberg and Zoe Francois’ website to learn more about their method of making bread. Also, I recommend browsing through their actual cookbook rather than relying on recipes online because in their book they offer many great tips on how to bake bread, what types of flour to use and modifications you can make to their recipes.