Violet Bakery's Banana Bread

Bananas are back at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and I've already consumed my weight in Dwarf Brazilians and Rajapuris. (Exclamation points simply aren't adequate in terms of punctuation.) Even when the Brazilians are extremely ripe, their intensely sweet flavor still maintains a backbone of acidity while the texture retains a structured creaminess. As a snack, on pancakes or oatmeal, or in baked goods, this fruit elevates the game of any dish. I feel a twinge of angst each week when I look for Vista Punta Gorda Ranch's stand since they disappeared last year without a trace. Never leave us again, Farmer Andy...or I'll come find you.

I happened to have some very ripe Dwarf Brazilian bananas on the counter and had to decide what recipe would do them justice. I pulled out a few of my go-to baking books, assessed the ingredients, and ultimately went with The Violet Bakery's Banana Bread. I've had success with Claire Ptak's recipes and the combination of buttermilk and dark rum sounded like an excellent match for my precious banana haul. Turns out that was a good assessment. This bread smells so caramely and fantastic when it comes out of the oven that it was hard to stop myself from eating it right away. It also has a perfectly moist texture as well as an excellent balance of supporting flavors that allow the fruit to shine.

Original vs. Adapted

Rum

I didn't have dark rum I didn't see my dark rum and ended up using light rum instead (pictured). I made the banana bread a second time with the dark rum and, though it looks about the same, the smell seems especially fantastic. As I write this, the loaf is cooling on the rack and it's proving difficult to resist taking a slice.

Sugar

The cookbook's recipe calls for quite a bit of sugar and my bananas were already super sweet so I rolled back the sugar by about 20%. Very glad I did. Even my sweet-loving husband thought it was just right. If I were using the Cavendish bananas from the supermarket, I'd still cut back at least 10% of the original 200 grams of brown sugar. No matter the variety, make sure the bananas are extremely ripe and mashable.

In terms of the topping, the recipe calls for sprinkling 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar across the top so that the sugar can caramelize while baking. Claire suggests that she sometimes uses a kitchen blowtorch to move the caramelization process along at the end. I don't care for the mouthfeel of loose sugar and don't have a blowtorch so I cut the 3 tablespoons down to 1 and found that it still made a nice crust. That being said, if I ever get a blowtorch I'll probably increase the sugar so that it can be caramelized.

Bananas

The Violet Bakery Cookbook recipe calls for 6 bananas but doesn't specify a weight. The bananas that I get from the farmers market are a bit shorter than most supermarket varieties but they also seem to be denser so I had to guess on this one. I upped the quantity from 6 to 7 which resulted in 12 ounces of flesh. The moisture content of the bread was spot on with a wonderful banana flavor so I plan to stick with this amount in the future. The moral of this story is that I recommend relying on weight over quantity. I've included relevant notes in the instructions.

Pan Size

The recipe calls for a 10x4 pan but I only had 9x5 and it worked out fine.

Vegetable Oil

I've been using almond oil for quick breads in lieu of grapeseed oil and am happy with the results. I wrote a slightly longer bit that explains the context for my oil choice in How to Make Mayonnaise from Scratch. For the record, I'm not a nutritionist and I don't play one on the Interwebs.

Recipe Tips

Ingredient Temperature

Your buttermilk and eggs should be room temperature. Don't make fruit-laden bread work any harder than it needs to when it comes to cooking all the way through.

Internal Bread Temperature

Cake testers generally don't come out clean with particularly wet or fruit-heavy baked goods so I rely on temperature, sight, and smell as a gauge for when the bread is done. That being said, I'm no cake whisperer so temperature is really the most reliable approach. At the end of baking, I measured around 205 degrees on the outer edges and about 190-195 in the center. Tartine's Pumpkin Tea Cake also comes out nicely with a center temperature of 190-195.

Overmixing

The more you mix the batter, the more you strengthen or develop the gluten structure which ultimately toughens the crumb. Fold the batter, pat down the lumps, fold again, poke around for flour pockets, then stop as soon as it comes together. I expand upon this in the instructions.

Bananas at Vista Punta Gorda Ranch - Santa Monica Farmers Market

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from local California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.

Tools

  • 9 x 5 loaf pan
  • Scale / I've owned this scale for many years and would buy another one if it ever went to measuring tool heaven.
  • Thermapen / Expensive, yes, but it's a fantastic digital thermometer. Fast, accurate, nimble, and a snap to clean. I use mine daily so the investment was worth it.
  • Whisk (or here)

Ingredients (Recipe adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook)

  • 7 very ripe small/medium bananas (12 ounces of flesh) + 1 very ripe small banana for the topping
  • 150 grams (2/3 cup) almond or neutral vegetable oil
  • 180 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon dark rum
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 75 grams (1/3 cup) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 210 grams (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon flake-style salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (for topping)

Instructions

  • Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the baking pan with butter, then line the bottom with parchment paper that has been cut to fit. Set aside.
  • Move the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat to 355 degrees°F.
  • In a medium/large bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar, vanilla, rum, and buttermilk. Once that's well mixed, add the eggs and whisk to incorporate.
  • Thoroughly mash the bananas with a fork, then add to the oil mixture and stir to combine. Note: Make sure to set aside the 8th small banana - that's for the topping.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  • Sift the flour mixture, then whisk again. Note: Some of the salt may catch in the mesh. Just dump it back into the pile before the second round of whisking.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture in three additions. When each addition is about 50-75% blended, add the next. Do not fully incorporate each addition or you may risk overmixing the batter. Stop mixing as soon as the dry bits are incorporated. See "Recipe Tips" above.
  • Scrape the banana bread batter into the pan and smooth the top.
  • Thinly slice the remaining small banana lengthwise into 3 pieces and then place them in a single layer on top. Note: Don't press the slices into the batter, they'll sink on their own.
  • Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar evenly over the top.
  • Bake for 40-60 minutes until the top of the cake starts to develop a crust and the internal temperature is around 190-195 when measuring the center of the bread. See "Recipe Tips" above.
  • Remove the pan from the oven, gently run a paring knife around the edge, then let the bread rest in the pan for 15 minutes.
  • Invert the pan, peel away and discard the parchment paper, then cool on a wire rack.

Storage

Wrap the cool bread in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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