Needless to say, I was intrigued by this assertion, so I gave it a shot. And she’s telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I am not a huge fan of bananas in general and banana bread in particular, but this one, oh! this one is different. Yes, it does have a slight banana aftertaste (which Rose says intensify when you toast it) but it mostly tastes intriguingly sweet and the delicate crumb structure has a pleasant way of melting in your mouth.
Rose says she eats it with lemon curd and also with peanut butter. I like it just as it is, especially when it’s freshly baked but I bet it would make a most delicious French toast.
I will try a sourdough version to see the difference and also because I always have so much ripe levain on hand that I feel I am constantly swimming upstream as fast as possible to avoid being carried down the wild yeast rapids. But this yeasted version will make a regular appearance on our breakfast table from now on, especially around the holidays where some family members like an alternative to sourdough.
This bread is best when made over 24 hours to give the sponge time to develop enough aromas.
For the sponge (for the big loaf on the picture, I doubled the amounts)
80 g unbleached all-purpose flour
103 g water @ 70 to 90º F/21 to 32ºC
20 g honey
0.8 g instant yeast
For the final dough
207 g unbleached all-purpose flour
2.3 g instant yeast
20 g dry milk (preferably non-fat)
18.5 g almond oil (not roasted) (Rose actually uses softened unsalted butter but some of us need to watch their butter intake, so I usually do not use any)
1 very ripe medium banana, lightly mashed
6.6 g salt
Method: (can be mixed by hand or with a mixer. I tried both and thought the mixer came out ahead)
For the sponge
- In a large bowl, combine flour, water, honey and yeast
- Whisk until very smooth to incorporate air, about 2 minutes. The sponge will have the consistency of a thick batter
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature at least one hour and 24 hours maximum (I went for the 24-hour option which has)
For the final dough
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour (reserve about 60 g if mixing by hand), yeast and dry milk.
- Sprinkle this on top of the sponge and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to ferment 1 to 4 hours at room temperature (during this time, the sponge will bubble through the flour blanket, which is actually pretty cool to watch)
- Add oil (or butter), mashed banana and salt to the bowl and stir (with wooden spoon or with your hand) until all the flour is moistened
- Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a lightly floured counter
- Knead for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible to keep it from sticking
- Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. It will be very sticky
- Cover with the inverted bowl and allow to rest for 20 minutes
- Knead for another 5 minutes until very smooth and elastic. It should be still tacky enough to cling slightly to your fingers. It still too sticky, add some of the remaining reserve flour, or a little extra
- Using a dough scraper, transfer the dough to a slightly greased bowl, push it down and lightly oil the top. Cover with lid or plastic wrap
- Allow to rise, ideally @ 75 to 80ºF/24 to 27ºC (which is pretty hard to achieve in the cold season, so the best way might be to place the bowl in the cold oven with the oven light on), until doubled (for 1 ½ to 2 hours)
- Using a dough scraper, scrape the dough onto a floured counter and press down on it gently to form a rectangle. Try to maintain as many air bubbles as possible
- Fold the dough from all sides into a tight package (or give it 2 business letter turns) and set it back in the container
- Let rise again until doubled (1 or 2 hours)
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and shape it into a loaf. Place it into a greased 8½ by 4½ inch-loaf pan, seam-side down, cover it with a large container or cover it lightly with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until the center is about one inch above the sides of the pan, (1½ to 2 hours) or until it keeps the indentation of your finger when pressed (I baked the bread in a pan the first time around but didn’t like the way it looked, so this time I free-shaped it. To make a feather, you first make a batard, then you elongate and curve the ends)
- Preheat the oven (make sure the dough isn’t in it!) to 475ºF/246ºC one hour before baking, placing a baking stone or baking sheet on the lowest-level shelf with a cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet on the floor of the oven
- Quickly but gently sit the pan on the baking stone, pour one cup of water (Rose uses 1/2 cup of ice cubes but I always use cold water) into the skillet and immediately shut the door
- Turn the heat down to 450ºF/231ºC and bake for 15 minutes (Rose bakes this bread at a lower temperature but in my oven at least, this wasn’t a good idea. So this time, I adjusted the temperatures back to what I usually use. You may want to check the loaf after 20 minutes or so to make sure it isn’t browning too fast (if it is, lower the temperature slightly and tent foil over the loaf)
- Turn the heat down to 430ºF/221ºC and continue baking for another 15 minutes or so, until the bread is medium golden brown and an instant-read thermometer reads about 190ºF/88ºC inside the loaf. Halfway through the baking turn the pan around to ensure even baking
- Remove the bread from the oven and set it on a wire rack. If a glaze is desired, brush with melted butter
- Un-mold (if using the pan) and let cool for about one hour on a wire rack.
Sorry, no crumb shot today as I am saving the loaf for breakfast tomorrow. I’ll try to remember to take a picture then. I am curious to see how it came out…