Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I’ve been on a mission to create the world’s greatest banana bread. It all started a few weeks ago when the husband came home from work and ever so innocently told me someone brought in the best banana bread ever. I smiled and replied, “Ohhh, really?? That’s cool.” But what I was really thinking was, “Are you freaking kidding me?! I’ll show you the best banana bread ever.” It was totally like that episode of Friends when Monica tells Chandler her new co-worker is the funniest guy ever. And, much like Chandler, I let a completely innocuous statement send me into a tailspin. Because baking is MY thing and there was no way I was going to let some other person (who I’m sure is perfectly lovely and most likely not as insanely competitive as me) steal my thunder. And thus began my quest to create the greatest banana bread that has ever existed ever.
I started my mission, which I dubbed Operation Banana Bread, by making a few of the internet proclaimed best recipes. I tried Violet Bakery’s, Bon Appetit’s, Guittard’s, and even one from the bakery I used to work at in LA. And while each of these recipes were good…….they weren’t the best. Or at least not what I was going for. And every time I gave my husband a slice to try – he agreed. Good, but not better than the other banana bread. So I continued on with Operation Banana Bread and decided the way to make the best banana bread was to combine my favorite part of each recipe into one amazing recipe.
Each of the recipes I tried gave me an idea of what I wanted to include in my banana bread recipe. I loved Bon Appetit’s idea to use all dark brown sugar. Partly because I just LOVE dark brown sugar, but also because it’s provides a gorgeous caramel-esque base to the banana bread. The Guittard recipe called for whole wheat flour in addition to the all-purpose, which adds a slight nuttiness that helps ground the banana flavor. The recipe from my old bakery in LA was probably the most unique in that it included both orange and lemon zest. I adored the slight citrus note it added and so I decided to add a bit of orange zest to my recipe. Not enough to overpower the other flavors, but just enough to give my banana a hint of that extra something special. And finally, from the Violet recipe I took the idea to add in a splash of rum…..because it’s rum which is always fun to add to recipes. But really because it pairs so beautifully with the orange zest.
So I had most of my basic components down: use all dark brown sugar, swap in some whole wheat flour for part of the all-purpose, and add in a bit of orange zest and rum. I just needed to finalize the last few details. I knew I wanted to include a dairy component to keep the bread moist and after testing sour cream, mascarpone, and creme fraiche – I finally decided on the creme fraiche. It added a little more fat to the recipe and still provided a slight tang, but one that was a little more muted than the sour cream. The last thing to add to my banana bread recipe was a pinch of cinnamon. It rounds everything out and, to me, banana bread just isn’t the same without a little cinnamon.
With my newfound, epic banana bread recipe in hand, I set to baking…….and I had one more ace up my sleeve. The husband LOVES nuts in his banana bread (hates chocolate in it, but loves nuts) so I threw in a handful of coarsely chopped toasted pecans. The banana spread smelled incredible while baking. But would it taste incredible?? I pulled the loaf from the oven and patiently (or as patiently as you can with stakes as high as these on the line) waited for it to cool. I cut a slice and immediately knew when I tasted it – this was IT! The BEST banana bread ever. When the husband got home from work that day, I was ready for him with a slice of banana bread in hand. I made him try a piece……and stared intensely at him while he did…….and after a bite, he FINALLY agreed. This was the best banana bread. Definitely better than the other one. Victory was mine! And with that Operation Banana Bread came to an end.
So now you guys know how to make the best banana bread ever and I’ve got the recipe below to help you out. A recipe that was a labor of love…..let’s be honest, who am I kidding here?? This was a labor of my overly competitive, type-A personality. But in the end, I came out with a truly delicious banana bread recipe. And for someone who’s NEVER cared this much about banana bread in her life or thought she’d spend so much time developing a banana bread recipe that’s kind of a cool thing.
The Best Banana Bread
- Yield: one 9x5-inch loaf
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ½ cup whole wheat flour
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into one-inch pieces
• ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon orange zest
• ¼ cup crème fraiche
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon dark rum
• 4 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 ½ cups)
• ½ cup toasted and coarsely chopped, pecans
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper making sure to leave at least a 2-inch overhang on each side. This will help the banana bread to slide easily out of the pan once baked.
Place the butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, until it smells nutty and fragrant and is a light brown color. Pour the browned butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and set aside to let cool for at least 10 minutes.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
Add the brown sugar and orange zest to the bowl with the browned butter and beat at medium speed until everything is well incorporated. Then add in the crème fraiche and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy (about 1 – 2 mins).
Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add in the vanilla extract and rum and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy again (about another 2 mins or so).
Drop your mixer speed to low and add in the dry ingredients. Mix only until they are partially incorporated. Then add in your mashed bananas and mix until everything just comes together.
Remove the bowl from your stand mixer and, using a rubber spatula, fold the nuts into the batter.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and, using a small off-set spatula, smooth the top. Bang the pan on the counter a couple times to get rid of any air bubbles and then bake for 55 – 60 minutes or until the bread springs back lightly when gently pressed (if you press on it and it stays indented you’ll want to give it a few more minutes). If you notice the top getting too brown, you can tent it with some foil while the bread finishes baking.
Let the banana bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then remove from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. I know it’s hard to wait, but you definitely want to let it cool before slicing!