My dad has a joke he makes whenever someone his age has a birthday: “Don’t buy any green bananas.”
I buy green bananas every week, but I’m only 41. The thing about buying green bananas is that eventually they become yellow bananas, perfect for snacking or slicing on to your yogurt and granola. And then those yellow bananas become speckled bananas, perfect for making banana bread.
If you’re a banana bread enthusiast, your bananas really can’t get dark enough: which makes them the perfect fruit to keep around. Black bananas make an even better banana bread than speckled bananas; that’s because they’re sweeter. As it happens, I also had some very ripe Comice pears. It was a perfect opportunity to give my banana bread some flair.
Here’s the thing about banana bread: NEVER try to make it healthy. If you’re making it, make it as rich and decadent as you can (in other words: use butter). As someone who tries to exercise and eat salads during the week, I firmly believe treats should be treats. Otherwise, you’re living in a constant state of punishment.
Once you’ve made your banana bread batter decadent, the next step is to make it interesting. My strategy is to Google “banana bread” + whatever other ingredients I happen to have around. At this particular juncture, I had ripe pears (see above) and pistachios (my favorite nut of the moment). And so I came upon this random recipe from Delicious Magazine UK.
The recipe doesn’t mention pistachios, but it does mention pecans. It also is written in grams and calls for something called “golden caster sugar.” There are no spices to speak of, unless you count vanilla as a spice. So I decided to take matters into my own hands: adding both brown sugar and granulated sugar, a hefty pinch of salt (never trust a baking recipe that doesn’t havae salt), and then heaaping teaspoons of cinnamon, cardamom, and freshly grated nutmeg. I also used a combination of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour.
The most important lesson here? Taste the batter (yes, there’s an egg in it, but you eat Caesar salad don’t you?). If it’s not sweet enough, add more sugar; if it’s not zippy enough, add more salt and spices. When that batter makes you got “hot damn!” you’re there. Now just bake until a tester comes out clean.
That took longer than expected. And because my pears were so ripe, the resulting banana bread was very damp. But, as someone pointed out on Twitter, I could just call it a “pudding” as one does in the U.K.
This banana bread isn’t classic by any means, but you better believe it has flair. The pears give it this unexpected juiciness and acidity; and the pistachios give it a nice textural shift. The spices make it warm and inviting, and the sugar and butter make it feel like a real treat, not a fake treat.
So give it a try, but take it in your own direction. Don’t like pears? Add apples. Don’t like fruit? Why are you making banana bread? No matter which direction you take it, make it your own and I’ll be proud of you. Just be sure to use bananas because making banana bread without bananas is weird.
Banana Bread with Pears, Pistachios, and Cardamom
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted; PLUS, more softened butter for greasing the pan
- 3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large free-range egg
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 ripe comice pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
- 1/2 cup green pistachios
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease your loaf pan (standard size) with the softened butter, making sure to get it into all of the crevices.
- Add your melted butter to the mashed bananas in a large bowl. Whisk in the brown sugar, granulated sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla extract until no longer gritty. Whisk in the egg for 30 seconds. Gently whisk in the remaining dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Fold in the pears and the pistachios.
- Pour the batter into the greased loaf tin and bake for an hour, starting to test after 45 minutes by inserting a wooden skewer (or a piece of dry spaghetti) into the center of the loaf. If it comes out wet, keep cooking.
- Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then carefully remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Nancy Silverton’s Banana Bread
Ghee and Cardamom Scented Upside Down Banana Cake (A Brown Table)
Mom’s Banana Bread (Ben Mims, Saveur)