Saturday, July 04, 2009

Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate

Banana-nut breads are some of my very favorite things, and after much trial and error, I lucked into the perfect recipe some years back. It is everything banana bread should be: a short list of ingredients, an easy technique, dense and perfectly moist, simultaneously creamy and nutty, with the ideal level of banana flavor. And no matter how many times I have made this recipe (probably close to a hundred), I always get the same impeccable quality. The weather never affects the outcome (bring on the humidity), and neither does the quality of ingredients (generic butter, here I come).

I had no interest in reinventing the wheel, and so I halted all experimentation with ingredients and virtually turned my nose up at all other recipes. I know better. As a matter of fact, I can't count the number of times I have tinkered around with perfection on some of our other favorite recipes, only to have The Carnivore throw up his hands in bewilderment and make noises about why I am incapable of leaving well enough alone. Especially when my tinkering results in an inferior product, as it does all too often.

So, like I said, no new banana bread recipes.

I meant it this time.

Well, until recently, that is.

You see, Orangette, who also has a addictive-like weakness for banana breads, would often post about them, listing no fewer than four different recipes in her index. And I trust her. Dearly. She has steered me wrong only once (and it was nothing more than a difference in heat-level preferences that caused me to flick one of her recipes straight into the recycling bin), so every time she waxed poetic about a new banana bread recipe, I felt that old temptation coming on.

I held strong for as long as I could. "No new recipes," I would mutter, quickly clicking away from her site. But then her much-anticipated book came out.

Oh, how I enjoyed reading it. This Homemade Life arrived in the mail on the day of release, looking splendid in its beautiful, pale-green jacket; thick with recipes and exquisite little line drawings, rich with intimate descriptives of both her life and her food. I cried when her father died and rejoiced when her wedding plans came together. I tried to drag out the reading so that it would never have to end, but alas, it didn't help that I just couldn't put it down.

We are the best of friends, Orangette and I.

Well, except that we've never met and she has no idea who I am. Those facts notwithstanding though...

Anyhow. Her book included a banana bread recipe that I simply couldn't shake from my mind. The ingredients included dark chocolate, mind you, which will someday be my downfall, I am sure, along with crystallized ginger (which just sounds so, well, sophisticated and elegant - two adjectives that draw me in even though they in no way apply to either me or my life). And so it was that I found myself unable to keep from buying a small packet of said ginger and pulling some frozen bananas from the freezer.

I possess woefully little self-control in matters such as this.

The only stumbling block came in the complexity of the recipe. The ingredient list was just so tediously long, and the instructions had so many steps, and, oh, I don't know, but it just all made me so tired looking at the page. And then I pulled a piece of the crystallized ginger from the bag and popped it into my mouth and thought, "No, oh no, this will never do." The flavor was too strong, the texture not right for a quick bread, the whole concept just a little too hoity-toity for good, old-fashioned banana bread.

And then, Eureka. What if I took my favorite idiot-proof, crowd-pleasing banana bread recipe and threw a cup of dark chocolate chips into the batter? Was it really so easy? Could I, by adding a little (okay, more like a lot) dark chocolate to my tried-and-true recipe, make The Best Banana Bread even better? Oh, yes.

Yes, I can.

I made two loaves on the spot, one to take to a gathering the following day and one to enjoy at home, and I am happy to report that this bread takes a backseat only to the Creme de Menthe Brownies for Most Compliments at a Potluck. It is so perfect, in fact, that my mother (the busiest woman in the world) snuck over to my house two days in a row to have a slice of this banana bread.

Dense and moist, flecked with crunchy pecans and toothsome bits of dark chocolate, ever-so-slightly sweet, rich and decadent, this is, honest to everything, the best banana bread I've ever eaten. And I've eaten a lot of banana breads.


Note: the riper the banana, the better; and frozen bananas work wonderfully
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (that is one and a half cups)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (such as Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet)
  1. Stir butter, sugar and eggs together in a large bowl.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients (the flour, baking soda and salt) together, and fold into the butter mixture.
  3. Stir in mashed banana, nuts and chocolate.
  4. Bake in a 9x5 loaf pan at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes, until browned and domed on top, and a knife inserted into the middle comes out mostly clean.
  5. Cool completely, then refrigerate before cutting in order to get cleanly-cut slices.
  6. Serve warm or cold, plain or with butter or cream cheese.