Patricia S. York

Hello readers, and welcome to The Dutch Oven, a mixture of tips, answers, and information about our wonderful Southern culinary culture. What you learn here should produce one, or all, of these comments: I should try that! I didn't know that! I can do that!

Q:  How can I get perfect banana bread every time? I often get different results from the same recipe.

 

Gluten-Free Banana Bread (Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Lydia Degaris Pursell)

A:  Let’s first start with some basic baking tenets:

Be sure to measure ingredients accurately. Unwittingly (and we have all done this!) using the wrong amount of an ingredient can be a huge factor in any baking endeavor.

And while we are on the subject of measuring, always spoon flour into a measuring cup - never scoop directly out of the canister! Use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients, and glass cups for liquid ingredients.

Mix wet and dry ingredients together only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Over mixing can lead to a heavy, gummy, or dense bread.

Disposable baking pans are rather thin, allowing the exterior of the bread to bake more quickly than the interior. If the top of your loaf is getting too brown before the center is done, cover it with aluminum foil, and finish baking.

Now to the heart of the matter! The most important factor in making banana bread is, of course, the banana, and this is where personal preference comes in to play. While some bakers insist that you need to wait until the banana is overripe, almost black, and ready for the compost pile, other bakers prefer spotted-brown, freckled, bananas, and still others only use pure yellow fruit. Each degree of ripeness will bake a fabulous loaf, but here are some things to keep in mind:

A yellow or freckled banana can certainly be mashed and baked into a delicious loaf, but try dicing the fruit and stirring into the batter. The pieces of fruit will hold their shape while baking, and your bread will have lovely banana nuggets throughout.

The taste of your bread may be altered when you use overripe fruit because the level of sugar increases as a banana ripens. (Have you ever noticed a really dark banana oozing with syrup?) This also adds more moisture, so baking with overripe bananas may also produce a heavier bread, which can lead to a gummy, wet-bottomed loaf. If you want to bake with overripe bananas, place the peeled fruit in a wire-mesh strainer, and let some of the liquid drain before proceeding with your recipe.

Ready to start baking? Take your pick from some of our best banana bread recipes, including this delicious gluten-free version, pictured above.

What is your sure-fire method for perfect banana bread? Do you ever freeze bananas and bake with them later? Leave your comments and questions below, or send them to testkitchen@timeinc.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

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