My office shares a small kitchen with the other offices on our floor. It’s a tiny but magical place, where drinks and snacks and sandwich fixings are free, plentiful, and replenished every week. There are always several different kinds of fresh fruit, including a basket of bananas. Recently, I started noticing something: even if there are old spotty bananas left on Friday afternoon, the basket is always filled with flawless yellow bananas come Monday morning. So where do the Friday bananas go?
In the compost bin, that’s where. Every week, the ugly but still perfectly edible bananas are thrown out to make way for the pretty new ones. I found this out myself on a recent Monday, when the admin who normally stocks the kitchen was a little late making the rounds. I went into the kitchen to turn on the electric kettle, and there was a bunch of brown bananas in the basket. I came back in two minutes later for my tea, and they were in the bin.
Well, no more. I am the banana rescuer. Whenever there are leftover bananas on Friday, I’ve started bundling them up and taking them home with me. Some of them get eaten as-is, but the majority get tossed in the freezer, peel and all, for a day when I feel like making banana bread.
There are approximately 2.6 bazillion banana bread recipes in the universe. I’m not pretending to break new ground here. But I have learned, from hard experience, that there are two things that make for really good banana bread: use the squishiest, ripest bananas you can find, and a lot of them. When I bring my already-splotchy bananas home from the office, I’ll leave them in a paper bag over the weekend, until their peels are almost completely brown, before freezing them. My friend Shaw swears that the best banana bread he ever made was with a bunch of forgotten bananas that were so ripe, their skins turned black and they started to ferment. Shaw also doubles the amount of banana in any banana bread recipe; I don’t go quite to his extreme, but I’ve found that using 5 bananas in a recipe that calls for 4 only makes it better.
The benefit of using so many ripe bananas is that you can then dial way back on the added sugar. Over the past couple years, I’ve found myself wanting less and less sweetness in my baked goods, and using pungently sugary bananas is a great way to compensate. To use up my most recent banana windfall, I made two banana loaves: a whole wheat loaf sweetened with just a touch of maple syrup, and a chocolate loaf fortified with cocoa and sweetened with brown sugar. I was lazy about mixing, so that the breads came out with large yellow pockets of banana throughout. I didn’t have a problem with this, but if you do, just mash your bananas into oblivion.
Whole Wheat Banana Bread (makes one 9×5 loaf)
Adapted from Simply Recipes
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
5 extremely ripe bananas, peeled
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil or olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and flour a 9×5 loaf pan, or line the pan with parchment paper. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Place bananas in a large mixing bowl, and use a potato masher or fork to mash into a chunky paste. Add honey or maple syrup, oil, egg, and vanilla, and mix until combined but still chunky. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined–a few streaks of flour are fine. Fold in walnuts (if using).
Transfer batter to the prepared loaf pan, and even out the top. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and transfer pan to a cooling rack. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to finish cooling. Slice and serve just warm or at room temperature.
To store leftover banana bread, wrap the loaf or individual slices in a layer of plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil. Wrapped this way, the bread will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Variation: To make chocolate banana bread, replace 1/2 cup of the whole wheat flour with natural (unsweetened) cocoa powder. Use 3/4 cup packed brown sugar in place of the honey or maple syrup, and 3.5 oz (1 bar) chopped dark chocolate in place of the walnuts.