Last September, when Erlend moved out to New York, I suddenly found myself inheriting his half of household chores. It was a lot to take on and the apartment quickly became littered with my clothes, blog props, and other random crap. No matter how much I cleaned or planned ahead, there was always more to do. It was tough, especially after a long day of work.
One of the hardest parts was re-learning how to cook for just one person. Most recipes exist to feed families, and most groceries are packaged and portioned for bulk and larger groups. Vegetables and produce are particularly tricky — I usually ended up with way too much for one person, and any extras I tried to save languished quickly in the fridge. It was wasteful, expensive, and unsustainable.
So I'm trying to be better about that sort of thing. I've scoured my cookbooks and the internet for recipes that can easily scale down to feed just one person. I buy less at a time and shop more throughout the week to keep my food as fresh as possible. And I've started picking foods with a longer shelf life and foods that could easily be re-purposed even though they're no longer at their prime.
Bananas are one such example; I'll buy a small bunch at the start of the week, and eat a banana every day for breakfast. What's left at the end of the week is usually a little too spotted and mushy for my taste. But that's okay! That just means it's time to make banana bread.
A good banana bread recipe is something that every baker, however novice or advanced, should have in their repertoire. Not only does it help prevent unnecessary food waste, it's a delicious classic.
Throughout the years, I've experimented with various banana bread recipes but haven't quite committed to a favorite just yet. However, this recipe, from the highly lauded Violet Bakery Cookbook, is a solid contender. With no additional spices and a generous portion of banana in its ingredients, this is a banana bread recipe that is BANANA through and through. There's also a ton of liquid like oil, buttermilk, and even a dash of rum in the batter to keep the bread as moist as possible. I'm especially in love with the sugar crust, which brûlées wonderfully in the oven to give the loaf a wonderful, unexpected crunch.
Some baker's notes:
- For the best banana bread, use bananas that are so spotty and ripened that they almost look more black than yellow. In a pinch, you can ripen bananas faster by pulling them apart from their original bundle and placing them all together in a brown paper bag. Roll the bag to a tight close, put it in a warm place, and wait a few days — the banana skins emit a kind of gas that speeds up the ripening process, and you're basically taking all that gas and sealing it in to create a hyper-ripening environment. Congratulations! You just scienced the shit out of your bananas.
- The original recipe uses an odd, 10 x 4-inch pan size that I couldn't find anywhere, not even online. Maybe it's a weird British thing? I don't know. Eitherway, I initially tried baking the recipe in a 9 x 5-inch pan thinking it would be fine — NOPE. Disaster. Overflowed everywhere, wouldn't set, the works. Luckily, Erlend got me this beautiful but oddly sized 12 x 5-inch loaf pan for Christmas that did the trick perfectly. Even with the larger capacity, it still seemed like a lot of liquid in one pan! In the end, I'm going to recommend using two 9 x 5-inch cake pans for this recipe. If you want to be all specialist about it though, you could probably get away with baking the loaf in this loaf pan or this biscotti one.
- It can be a little difficult to tell when the cake has finished baking, especially since the top crisps up faster than the rest of the cake. Be sure to use a cake tester like a wooden skewer to insert into the very center of the cake before declaring the loaf done. If the top is starting to brown too quickly, feel free to cover loosely with aluminum foil and finish the brûlée process with a chef's torch.
- 6 (around 18 ounces) very ripe bananas, unpeeled
- 1 1/2 cups (7.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2/3 cup (5.3 fluid ounces) vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup (2.65 fluid ounces) whole buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon dark rum
- 1 1/2 tablespoons demerara (or other coarse) sugar
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 355 (F). Prepare two 9 by 5-inch loaf pans (or one 12 x 5-inch loaf pan by spraying generously with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Reserve a lengthwise half of a banana. Place the rest of the bananas in a medium bowl and use your hands to break them up into smaller chunks. Use a fork or a potato masher to mash these banana chunks until you have a chunky mixture. Set aside.
- In another medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Whisk together until the ingredients are fully combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar and 2 large eggs. Beat on medium speed for around 2 minutes, until fluffy. Lower the mixer speed to its slowest setting and add 2/3 cup vegetable oil, 1/3 cup buttermilk, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon dark rum. Beat on medium-low speed for around 2 minutes, until well combined. Lower the mixer back to its lowest setting and add the mashed bananas (from the 2nd step). When all the bananas have been added, sprinkle the dry ingredients (from the 3rd step) over the mixture and beat on the mixer's slowest setting until just combined. At this point, it's okay to stop the mixer even if you still have one or two flour streaks left — you can finish mixing these in by hand, with a rubber spatula. Be careful not to overmix, or you'll end up with a dense, heavy cake and it'll be the worst!
- Transfer the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top of the batter with an offset spatula and place the reserved banana half on top. Sprinkle the banana and the rest of the cake top with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon of demerara sugar.
- Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a cake skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, with minimal crumbs. Once the loaf is done, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely in its cake pan.