Baking is, famously, a different beast entirely from other kinds of cooking. Particularly for bread, it depends on careful ratios and a fair bit of luck and isn’t as amenable to mid-stream course corrections as most other techniques. It’s easy to end up with loaf after loaf of grimly tolerable bread or overly dry cake and not know what to do with it. I decided to challenge myself recently with a foray into one of the easier kinds of baking, with a twist to make it fit within my dietary restrictions.
Breads, cakes, and other baked goods get their signature airy texture from a process called “leavening,” in which bubbles of gas, usually carbon dioxide, permeate the dough and remain trapped there during baking. The most common form of leavening is yeast fermentation, in which yeast (a living fungus) is allowed to feast on sugars in the dough and excrete carbon dioxide into it. The fungus dies during baking, but its effect is profound. This process is time-consuming and can introduce other flavors that are sometimes undesirable, particularly in desserts, so an alternative process is used in “quick breads.” Quick breads use chemical leavening agents, usually sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and an acid, to generate carbon dioxide bubbles much more quickly than yeast can. This dependence on chemistry rather than biology makes quick breads a relatively safe starting point for the novice baker.
And one of the most famous quick breads in American cuisine is banana bread.
Banana bread gained currency in the US in the 1930s, following the invention of baking powder and increasing popularity of bananas in the US in the late 19th century. Apocryphally, this quick bread was invented partly to further popularize baking soda and partly as a response to the then-high price of bananas, to help keep them from going to waste when they become overripe. Variations incorporating other ingredients, such as nuts and berries, followed thereafter.
What’s interesting about quick breads in general and banana bread in particular is that their texture is often intentionally quite different from ordinary bread. Quick breads are often dessert or breakfast staples that straddle the line between bread and cake, meant to be moist and rich and not necessarily to hold together as effectively as ordinary bread. This makes quick breads uniquely amenable to gluten-free variations. In turn, my experience with one gluten-free flour in particular means I’ve been able to combine various Internet sources to come up with a recipe for banana nut bread using masa harina, the nutritious corn-based wonder of Latin America.
This recipe produces one relatively small loaf, which is enough to provide breakfast for four or more people.
You will need an oven, a mixing bowl and three smaller bowls, a whisk or fork, a potato masher, a spatula, and your favorite measuring tools.
- Masa harina, 2 cups
- Walnuts, 1 cup. Use your preferences when deciding how finely chopped, if at all, these should be, keeping in mind that a finer chop will result in more walnuts in the same volume.
- Baking powder, 2 tablespoons
- Salt, ¼ teaspoon.
- Cinnamon, 1 teaspoon
- Ginger, 1 teaspoon
- Vanilla, 2 teaspoons
- Bananas, 4. Underripe bananas will result in a sour bread, and overripe bananas provide optimum sweetness.
- Honey, 2 tablespoons. Substitute granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons. Use less in proportion to the ripeness of the bananas.
- Butter, ¼ cup
- Eggs, 5
- Variations: Feel free to increase or decrease the amount of cinnamon and ginger to taste or add additional spices such as cardamom. Use pecans instead of walnuts.
Common Food Restrictions
- Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten free.
- Ketogenic / Low-Carb: The use of honey and corn makes incorporating this recipe into a low-carb diet challenging.
- Low-FODMAP: This recipe is reasonably safe for a low-FODMAP diet.
- Vegetarian/Vegan: Substitute out honey for sugar, butter for coconut oil, and egg for a vegan-friendly binding agent to make this recipe vegan. It otherwise contains no animal products.
- Preheat oven to 350 °
- Mix the dry ingredients (masa harina, walnuts, baking powder, salt, ginger, and cinnamon) in a small mixing bowl.
- Peel and mash the bananas in the mixing bowl until there are no chunks. A potato masher is ideal for this.
- Beat the egg in a separate bowl and add to the mixing bowl.
- Melt the butter in a separate bowl and add to the mixing bowl.
- Add the vanilla and honey to the mixing bowl and mix well using a fork or whisk.
- Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix well using a fork or whisk. Continue until the only remaining unmixed masa harina is in the crevices of the walnuts and the dough is thick and largely uniform.
- Add to greased bread pan and smooth surface with spatula if desired.
- Bake for 55 minutes.
- Let cool and serve.
This recipe has already delighted party guests and become a welcome part of my breakfast routine. I hope it serves you well.