Bread of the Month: Winning with banana bread

I give credit to the pandemic for a few good things One of them is a new appreciation of my sourdough starter, Petrie (yes, with an “e”). He has exceeded my expectations, as I have put him to the test, not just with basic bread recipes, but an unexpected array of other baked goods. After what I’ve been seeing, I’ve come to think there is nothing he can’t do (a nice feeling during our helpless days of the last year).

A few recipes made with sourdough starter have, in fact, blown my socks off. One is the most delicious banana bread I have ever tasted. I’ve made many, many different banana bread recipes, always looking for the right balance of flavor and moist texture. Once I tried one with sourdough starter, my search was over.

I have made this recipe numerous times in the last year. It’s a guaranteed winner, not only in the fact that it makes beautiful and delicious banana bread, but that, for sourdough starter “moms,” it is a delightful way of using up some of your sourdough starter as you feed your little fridge friend. Initially, I was concerned about the bread having a tart, tangy taste from the starter, but my worries were erased as I bit into a slice of that first voluminous loaf of moist, banana-y goodness.

The bread, as banana bread does, is also a good use of overripe bananas. I recommend a minimum of three good-sized bananas per batch of banana bread. One practice I follow is to freeze whole, overripe bananas (which eventually fall out of the freezer when you open it and land painfully on your bare feet). Thaw them in a bowl for a couple hours before using. A warning: these frozen, dark bananas are pretty ugly, with brownish-black oily skins and pretty much liquid insides, but they yield some beautiful banana puree for banana bread. Just take a sharp knife and run it down the length of the thawed banana’s peel, open and the insides will slide out into your bowl. Ew!

This banana bread recipe, aptly called Ultimate Sourdough Banana Bread, comes from a blog and website called “The Clever Carrot,” which features masterful sourdough recipes (check out the banana bread recipe here: https://www.theclevercarrot.com/2020/04/ultimate-sourdough-banana-bread/). The recipe instructs a specific order of mixing the ingredients for the optimal result. The one way I departed from the recipe was mixing by hand, when the recipe instructed to use an electric mixer (in my book, another appeal to making banana bread is the level of ease and appliances). The wet ingredient mixture begins with brown sugar and the mashed bananas, then eggs and vanilla and 1/2 cup of sourdough starter.

For the dry ingredients, I was also a bit of a rebel when I saw that the recipe discouraged using cinnamon. I, myself, cannot imagine banana bread without cinnamon, so I went ahead and threw in about a teaspoon with the flour, baking soda and salt.

After mixing the dry ingredients into the mashed banana mixture, cooking oil and a little milk are also added. I do declare here that most quick breads and cakes with optimal moistness in the finished result use cooking oil, rather than butter or shortening. 

In the times I’ve made this banana bread, I’ve used chopped, toasted nuts (like walnuts) and fresh blueberries and even chopped, dried apricots. I’ve also sprinkled the top with sanding sugar. I think the bread lends itself to a ton of versatile possibilities for add-ins and toppings.

While this bread recipe instructs to make one loaf, I found that there is ample batter to make two 8-inch loaves (why not get more mileage from your efforts?). The one loaf rendition yields an extremely large (tall) loaf, which is great, but, for me, I’d rather have more compact slices and (maybe) a bonus loaf to throw in the freezer.

This recipe offers everything one would want in a banana bread — glossy, tender, moist, full banana flavor, a little caramel sweetness from the brown sugar and solid structure for thin (but why?) or thick slices. I believe the sourdough starter (aka Petrie) plays a bigger part than he lets on, with lightness and lift, and my suspicions on that will also play out in future baked treats I will be sharing here this year.

For banana bread — and sourdough starter — fans, check out the Ultimate Sourdough Banana Bread recipe at https://www.theclevercarrot.com/2020/04/ultimate-sourdough-banana-bread/.

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