How to Bake: Favorite Banana Nut Bread

Last week, we talked about making quick breads using the muffin method.  As you recall, with the muffin method, the liquid ingredients are mixed together, the dry ingredients are mixed separately, and then the dry and liquid ingredients are combined with a minimum of stirring. 
 
The other major make-up method for quick breads is the creaming method.  In the creaming method, the butter or shortening is creamed with the sugar to entrain air in the batter and make the bread light and tender.  We will demonstrate the creaming method with today's recipe.
 
This is our favorite banana bread.  It's tender and since it has two cups of bananas, it's very moist with plenty of banana flavor.  Try it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or with peanut butter or cream cheese.  This, like most quick breads, is better after it chills.
 
Here's the recipe:

3 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
2 cups mashed ripe bananas  
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare two 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans by greasing the interiors and dusting with flour. 

Whisk the flour in the bag until it is light and then gently spoon it into the measuring cup.  If you are using a scale, you should have about 11.6 ounces of flour.  If you dip and scoop from a packed bag of flour, you could end up with 50% more flour.  Add the other dry ingredients and whisk the salt and leaveners throughout the flour. 

Mash and measure the bananas.

Cream the shortening with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the sugar in a stream while the mixer is running.  Continue beating for a total of about five minutes.  The mixture should have increased in volume substantially as more and more air is entrapped.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat until foamy. 

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milks, stirring after each addition.  Do not over mix--over mixing will develop the gluten in the flour and make the bread tougher. 

Fold in the bananas and nuts. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Bake for one hour or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. 

Cool the breads in the pans for ten minutes them remove them from the pans to finish cooling on wire racks. 

Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator or slice and freeze the bread for later use.  This quick bread like most other quick breads is best if stored overnight before slicing and serving. 


Understanding Baking:  Why it Works

Since we wanted lots of banana in this bread, we made the recipe as light as possible.  It uses air incorporated into the shortening and sugar mixture and both baking powder and baking soda for leavenings.  The combination of the three leaveners plus eggs makes it possible to add two cups of bananas and nuts without being weighty. 

We like to use butter in our baking both because of its flavor and because it is not hydrogenated.  In this case, because we were making the bread as light as possible, we used shortening.  Shortening does a better job of aerating batters than butter.  Air is entrained in shortening during manufacturing and there is no water.  (Butter is 15% water.)   Added to most shortenings is an emulsifier that separates fat and water molecules and disperses them evenly throughout the batter for a moist, tender texture.   When shortening is beat with sugar, the sharp sugar crystal cut into the shortening creating pockets for air.  Beating in eggs makes the mixture even foamier.

(You can use butter in this recipe but it won't be quite as light.  If you use butter, cut back on the milk slightly to compensate for the water in butter.) 

Baking powder is a combination of several different leaveners, including baking soda, that react with each other to create carbon dioxide.  Your baking powder is probably “double-acting”, that is, it reacts initially when moistened and again when the batter heats up.   

Unlike baking powder, which is chemically neutral, baking soda is alkaline.  Because it is alkaline, it reacts vigorously with any acids in the batter to create carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide bubbles leaven the batter. 

Baking soda will not create gas and will not leaven the batter unless there is an acid present.  In this recipe, we used buttermilk.  The soda reacts with the acid in buttermilk to create gas.  Because we balanced the amount of buttermilk with the amount of baking soda, we neutralized the acid and maximized the gas creation.  Since most of the tang of buttermilk is from the acid, you won't taste the buttermilk in this recipe.   This is an example of an ingredient being used as a leavener, not for flavor.