Nancy Silverton’s Banana Bread: The Superlative Killer

I am currently reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (a nice light read while studying for the New York bar) and I’m actually really enjoying it. One of my favorite characters is Lawrence Boythorn, a boisterous giant of a fellow who is described by one character as: “Always in extremes; perpetually in the superlative degree.” He sits at the table with a canary on his head and according to the novel’s heroine, Esther: “To hear Mr. Boythorn presently expressing the most implacable and passionate sentiments, with this fragile mite of a creature quietly perched on his forehead, was to have a good illustration of his character, I thought.”

This, I think, perfectly describes my writing on this site. I can, at times, be very extreme in my condemnations (“Per Se,” for example) or disturbingly enthusiastic in my exhaultations (I should be ticketed, now, for every superflous “delicious”) but all the while–despite the heavy thunder–there is a canary perched on my forehead. One must take all my superlatives with a grain of tweet tweet tweet.

Tonight, then, as I began Nancy Silverton’s banana bread recipe, I rubbed my hands together anticipating the superlatives I would use.

“Delightfully unexpected!”

“Unusually sublime!”

“Most likely to succeed!”

The recipe, it seemed to me, was the strangest I had ever read for banana bread. It started, naturally, enough, with bananas:

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These had been ripening for a week, and the time had come to put them to work.

Now I peeled them and mashed them and–would you believe it?–they measured out exactly 1.25 cups, the precise amount Nancy calls for:

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Whisk that together with two eggs and vanilla:

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Set that aside.

Now for the strange stuff. I told you this recipe was strange, right?

Here are all the weird elements lined up:

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Most conspicuous of them all, in my opinion, are the poppy seeds. Who puts poppy seeds in banana bread? Nancy Silverton, that’s who.

The vanilla bean is my own addition. It’s been sitting there since Condoleezza’s rice pudding and I figured I would put it to use in a stroke of banana bread genius.

As for the other bottles: there’s nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves. Sure, normal for PUMPKIN bread, but banana bread? Do you see how exciting this all is?

So I put it in the mixer with the paddle attachment attached:

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If you look carefully you can see my vanilla bean scrapings resting on the butter in the upper right.

This beats for 2 minutes on a low speed until softened. Then you add the sugar:

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Not just white sugar, no. White sugar’s not good enough for Nancy. Nancy wants brown sugar too. How intricate is this recipe!?

[Tweet tweet tweet.]

So you mix it all together and then you add 1.5 cups of flour and the banana/egg mixture, alternating back and forth until you get this:

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I took a taste and let me tell you it tasted absolutely–(superflous superlative warning)–delicious. A really wonderful complex cluster of flavors. Bravo, Nancy.

And then for the final touch. Are you ready for this? You slice a new banana all the way down lengthwise and create two wedges that you lay on top of the bread like so:

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This was painfully difficult. I destroyed two of Lauren’s newly purchased bananas in the process. She doesn’t know I did this. Let’s not tell her, ok?

But it does look pretty. And then you bake it for 50 minutes.

Here’s where we encountered some problems. Nancy says to bake until the bread is browned and firm to the touch. I took it out of the oven. The bread was brown. It was not firm to the touch. I put it back in. I waited some more. I took it out. The outsides were really brown. The inside was still not firm. I stuck a tester in, it came out wet. I put it back in. I took it out. The outsides were on the verge of being way too cooked so I blew the whistle and turned the oven off. Here’s our finished product:

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Looks great, huh? The center is mushy, yes, but the outsides are perfect. And the banana slices really do make an impression. Get it? Make an impression?

I quickly and eagerly cut myself a slice:

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After all this hard work, after all this fussiness how great would this bread taste? How glorious the flavor?

Eh.

It tasted fine. The flavors were all present but somewhere in the background and you could hardly taste the bananas. It’s almost as if all the elements cancelled each other out. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it tasted interesting–I’m really glad I made it–but was it worth all that work? Probably not. Superlatives be damned, this bread was just o.k.

12 comments

  1. Wow, the banana bread really does look pretty (love the spilt bananas down the center!) but too bad it turned out only “Eh.” Not even a “Meh?” I’ve tried a couple of different banana bread recipes, and the best one I’ve found is from…Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, circa 1974. lol. Sometimes if I want to jazz it up I add a bit of maple syrup, but otherwise, simplicity rules :-)

  2. The glass pan might have been the cause of your baking woes. Have you thought about picking up a heavier, darker metal one instead? I think Cook’s Illustrated recommended a simple supermarket brand so I bet you wouldn’t even have to spend very much to get a better result.

  3. I blame your bananas. I won’t bake banana bread unless mine have gone almost completely black and disguisting.

    Update us on how it tastes tomorrow or whatever the day after tomorrow is. (jet-lag/holiday weekend = braindead)

  4. This “Banana Split Bread” looks attractive, but the ingredients are pretty boring. My personal choice is the recipe from Molly O’Neil’s excellent “New York Cookbook,” it features sour cream or yogurt in the batter, along with 2 bananas, some melter butter and all brown sugar, giving it a rich banana taste and a fine crumb. Try try again… :)

  5. I love the Banana Tea Bread recipe in the NYT cookbook. Firmer and good flavor. Not so much work either.

  6. Somewhere along the way I missed the amount of sugar to be used for the banana bread. If you would post it I would be willing to try the recipe.

  7. Hey Lillian, I don’t feel like I posted quantities of anything in that post…mostly because the bread wasn’t so great. My suggestion is to find a different (better) recipe (maybe some of the ones posted in the comments?) and just use Nancy Silverton’s decorative touch of slicing the banana on top. But if you really want the sugar quantity I can go look it up :)

  8. Might I suggest a banana bread recipe entitled Hawaiian Banana Bread? You can do a search for it, but don’t let the name fool you. There are no pineapple chunks, Macadamia nuts, or other “strange” ingredients present in this recipe. I make this recipe frequently, adding mini chocolate chips to the batter. I then bake the bread in mini loaf pans, and the finished product is divine.

    When you do the search for Hawaiian Banana Bread, make sure to include “sift ingredients three times” in the search. I would love to hear your feedback on this recipe, because I trust your incredible foodie instincts. I know you will not dissappoint me. If you are just too busy to complete the search and actually find the recipe, then email me and I will be happy to send it to you.

  9. Want a killer banana bread recipe..send me an email and I’ll hook you up.

    Signed,

    A passionate young Chef

  10. After years of banana break baking I have stumbled upon an easy trick to improve texture and flavor. Add tsp. or so to about 1/2 c. sour creme, let sit for a while before adding to wet ingredients, alternatelly with flour into batter.

  11. Have made this recipe several times but never as a banana bread: instead used a muffin tin & so didn’t run into the underbaked middle coupled w/ overbaked outside problem. Also skipped the decorative banana on top b/c that would be a storage problem (usually bake in bulk & then freeze the muffins). Everyone who tried them agreed that they were different, but v. good.