There are a lot of good reasons to make banana bread: You have a pile of sad bananas on top of your fridge that have reached their life’s expectancy. You like things that are unquestionably delicious. It’s raining and you need something toasty and cake-like to go with your coffee. You’re into recipes you can make with one bowl, and feed a dozen. You’re going to be wildly busy this fall and are hoping to pack your freezer with all sorts of wonders that that can be warmed up whenever the craving strikes, even if you’re not around to enjoy them.
There are very few reasons, however, to reinvent banana bread, even when one’s original recipe is just shy of six years old, an eternity in blog years. I mean, is there anything new to add to banana bread? Even if there were, should banana bread be mussed with? The answers are, of course, no but due to a confluence of events — and yes, 24-hours-from-fruit-flies bananas were one of them; freezer-packing was another — I found myself making an updated banana bread last week and it was so lovely that it deserves a new mention.
A few months ago, my editor asked me if I had a recipe for a whole-grain breakfast-y banana bread and I snapped back “BUT YOU SAID THE BOOK WAS DOOOONE. You promised!” Just kidding! Kinda. Ahem, what I was actually about to say was, “haven’t you seen my jacked-up banana bread recipe? It’s so wonderful because it has…” And then I looked it up again and guys (gasp!), there’s bourbon in there. You’re welcome. But seriously, I may love bourbon enough to argue that it should be a food group but I just cannot pull off a bourbon-spiked cake for breakfast and still make it through the day. (Whiskey in my coffee, however, is apparently no bigs.) And you know, it’s full of white flour and refined sugar and melted butter and it’s absolutely, unquestionably wonderful but when it comes to breakfast, I like to pretend that that I’m not feeding us cake but something wholesome and that recipe makes it hard to pull off.
And so, I got to fussing. I always do. The white flour became whole-wheat flour. The butter became coconut oil in one batch, olive oil in another. The white sugar became maple syrup. The bourbon took a nap. But then I did something I’ve been wanting to do for so long, I wish I hadn’t waited because it’s not going to be the same again without it: I made it crackle.
When we talk about food, we often talk about texture: plush cakes, juicy roasts, caramelized onions that sigh against the walls of a quiche and peaches that melt into butter. But we so rarely talk about the crackle of a shattering lid of creme brulee or the edge of a thin, curly slice of bacon. A few months ago ate a muffin that crackled from what I learned was, get this, millet. Like the bird feed! (Not that I’ll ever share it with the birds again after trying it in breakfast cake.) In banana bread, the millet creates a texture as satisfying to eat as bubble wrap is to pop. So go on; you know what needs to be done.
One year ago: Apple Pie Cookies
Two years ago: Beef Chili + Cheddar-Sour Cream Biscuits
Three years ago: Snickerdoodles and Date Spice Loaf
Four years ago: Black-and-White Cookies and Summer’s Last Hurrah Panzanella
Five years ago: Chocolate Babka, Red Velvet Cake and Cream Cheese Noodle Kugel
Six years ago: Flower Cupcakes
Crackly Banana Bread
The crackle comes from uncooked millet, a seed that can be cooked like a grain in pilafs, but here is left crunchy. It’s sold in health food, speciality stores and many larger ones (found mine at Whole Foods). If you don’t have t and don’t want to seek it out, however, the recipe absolutely works without it and makes a delightful, wholesome spin on banana bread with no less deliciousness than the original.
I suspect a gluten-free flour mix would work well here, but didn’t test it out in my kitchen. If you’d like to play around a mix of whole-grain flours would make a lovely partial swap too (perhaps some rye, buckwheat or barley flours).
Miss the bourbon and butter? You might like my Jacked-Up Banana Bread too!
3 large ripe-to-over-ripe bananas
1 large egg
1/3 cup (80 ml) virgin coconut oil, warmed until it liquefies, or olive oil
1/3 cup (65 grams) light brown sugar
1/4 to 1/3 cup (60 to 80 ml) maple syrup (less for less sweetness, of course)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) white whole-wheat flour (or flour mixture of your choice, see Note up top)
1/4 cup (50 grams) uncooked millet
Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In the bottom of a large bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon until virtually smooth but a few tiny lumps remain. Whisk in egg, then oil, brown sugar, syrup and vanilla extract. Sprinkle baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves over mixture and stir until combined. Stir in flour until just combined, then millet.
Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool loaf in pan on rack.
Do ahead: Loaves keep well in the freezer, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for a month or more. Ours kept at room temperature for a record week, becoming more moist each day.