Banana bread is a thing right now. CNN said, “Banana bread is having a moment.” They reported that it’s the most-searched-for recipe across all US states during COVID-19 quarantining, and apparently, the nostalgic, comfort-food aspect of banana bread has mental health benefits. I can believe that!
At Glover Gardens, we’re on the banana bread bandwagon, too, but it’s not a new thing, and it’s not just bananas and nuts. We call our recipe Beyond Banana Bread, because we load it up with other dried fruits. Why that name? Well, Fruit Bread doesn’t sound right, and I sure don’t want to call it Fruit Cake and stir up all the hatin’ that goes along with that. (Although, call me weird if you want, I actually like fruit cake.)
The Beyond Banana Bread Backstory
Our Beyond Banana Bread is a riff on a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. Her recipe is great—as they always are—but we doctored it up the Glover Gardens way.
I got Martha’s Baking Handbook soon after it came out, waaaaaay back in 2005 (and yes, Martha and I are on a first-name basis). Like the bruschetta I posted about earlier this week, Martha’s Banana-Nut Bread recipe was an early win when The Grill-Meister and I were wooing, starting in 2006. My tweaking of Martha’s recipe began almost immediately, as you can see in the notes I’ve scribbled all over the page:
Spices, We Need Spices
As good as it was, Martha’s recipe didn’t call for nutmeg or cinnamon. Say what? We need those fragrant, toasty/earthy sweet-enhancing spices in our banana bread to conjure up feelings of safety, contentedness and harmony. And also, we ratcheted up the vanilla.
No Buttermilk? No Problem!
Another reason to make some changes to the recipe is that it calls for buttermilk. Who has buttermilk at the same time they have over-ripe bananas??? Who has buttermilk, ever??? Not me. I have nothing against buttermilk, but it isn’t exactly a staple at Glover Gardens. So – I always, always, always use the substitute of lemon juice and half ‘n’ half (not milk!), and I think the tartness of the lemon and creaminess of the half ‘n’ half give a better result than buttermilk. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it!
Just Call Us Squirrels
One cup of nuts spread between two big loaves or six small ones? Come on, Martha, you know better! The very first time I made this recipe for the Grill-Meister, he did the mouth-full-mumble: “O wow, it’s great, but needs more nuts”. He was right! I doubled the nuts, and sometimes add even more. Toasted nuts add an exponential richness to the flavor and texture of Beyond Banana Bread.
Bring On the Fruit
The coconut in Martha’s recipe is lovely. You don’t taste it in a standalone way, but it adds a satisfying density and textural element. This got me thinking about other fruits and wondering how they’d be as supporting actors in this banana bread show, so I added some dried cranberries. Yum! Then I tried it with the cranberries plus some golden raisins. Double yum! Then I had a bag of dried fruit and chopped up several of them: apples, apricots, peaches – triple yum! And y’all, these aren’t either/or choices, it’s an additive thing. You can’t have too many different kinds of fruit in Beyond Banana Bread.
Beyond Banana Bread is an Anytime Thing
With all these tweaks and additions, our final version didn’t settle in until a few years ago. It’s a moist, amped up, spice-accentuated, add-ins-maximized version that deserves its moniker of Beyond Banana Bread, or Triple B. Is it for breakfast? Yes. Is it dessert? Yes. Is it an afternoon snack or the reason to take a coffee break? Yes. Is it a replacement for lunch sometimes because you had a slice every time you walked through the kitchen? Yes, yes and yes. It’s that good.
Beyond Banana Bread Recipe
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 tbsp vanilla extract
- 3 very, very, very ripe bananas, mashed
- 1 cup dried coconut flakes (sweetened or unsweetened)
- 2 cups of toasted and chopped walnuts or pecans, or a combination (see note on how to toast nuts)
- fresh-squeezed juice of half a lemon plus half ‘n’ half to make a half cup total
- 2 1/2 – 3 cups of dried fruit, a combination of any or all of the following: cranberries (the sweetened kind), cherries, golden raisins, chopped dates, apples, peaches, apricots
- 1 cup light brown sugar (for topping)
Before you get started, decide if you’re going to make regular loaves (yield: 2), mini-loaves (yield: 6 or 7), muffins (yield: 24) or a combination, then spray the appropriate pans with cooking oil and preheat the oven to 350°.
Stir the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon together well in a large bowl and set aside.
Beat the eggs, sugar and vegetable oil in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a large bowl. Add in the flour mixture and beat or stir until just combined. Add the vanilla, banana, coconut and lemon juice / half ‘n half mixture and beat or stir for a very short time to mix them, then add the nuts and dried fruit and stir together once more.
Spoon or pour the batter into the prepared pans, then sprinkle the brown sugar over the tops. Don’t worry if there are lumps and chunks in the brown sugar; this is part of the charm.
Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, starting to check at the following times:
- Regular loaf pans: 55 minutes
- Small loaf pans: 35 minutes
- Muffins: 22 minutes
Let cool for 10-15 minutes on a wire rack, then remove loaves (or muffins) from pans. When the bread is completely cool, store in sealed plastic bags at room temperature.
- Step 1 is to buy a bunch of bananas about a week before you want to make Beyond Banana Bread. You want those bananas to be really, really ripe. The skin should be brown, not just spotty, but brown. Not sort of brown, or chestnut brown, but dark-brown brown. The color of black coffee. Trust me on this.
- You can also freeze ripe bananas (after peeling) for use in Beyond Banana Bread, but it’s not my first choice.
- This banana bread recipe makes everyone happy, although it appeals differently to different tastes. Some of us like the ends, with their browned, crusty goodness. Others spurn the ends for the moister interior pieces. Still others prefer the muffins, because there’s more top space covered with the sweet crunch of the brown sugar that melts and then hardens as it cooks.
- Beyond Banana Bread freezes beautifully. We make the small loaves in bulk just before Thanksgiving each year, and have them on hand for hostess / neighbor / works gifts, drop-ins, breakfast for a crowd, you name it.
- The nuts are really important in Beyond Banana Bread, and they MUST be toasted. Toasting the nuts brings out their flavor as well as their texture. If you’ve never done it before, it’s easy: preheat the oven to 300°, spread the nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and roast for 10-12 minutes, turning them midway through to ensure even toasting.
- You really can use any dried fruit. My favorite addition, after the must-haves of dried cranberries and golden raisins, is chopping some of the different fruits from a bag of Mariani dried mixed fruit.
- Use more brown sugar if you want more of the crunchy sweet topping. Or leave it off for a slightly more defensible argument that Beyond Banana Bread is healthy. Well hey, it is! It packs a riot of dried fruit, which has fiber, antioxidants and poly phenols (which has anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-obesity effects). The nuts have antioxidants and vitamins, too! And we heard from CNN at the beginning of this story that there are also mental health benefits from banana bread in general.
- You can eliminate the brown sugar topping and do a glaze instead. We never do, because we’re so happy with our sweet crunch, but it is quite good. Just do the Pillsbury Basic Powdered Sugar Glaze, either the plain one or the spice.
- Beyond Banana Bread is beyond good with coffee. At any time of day. ‘Nuff said.
- This is not a seasonal recipe. You can make an argument for Beyond Banana Bread in any month. It’s warming and comforting in the winter, it’s tropical-like (with all that fruit) in the summer.
- Beyond Banana Bread is also good with a libation, like an Old-Fashioned, an Irish Coffee, a mix of equal parts rum, Bailey’s and Frangelico, or a Bourbon Milk Punch.
That’s all for now, folks. Stay safe and enjoy your Beyond Banana Bread.
© 2020, Glover Gardens