I’ve never had a fondness for banana bread because I find them bland, not worth the calories and unexciting. It seems completely contradictory to begin a post about banana bread and then declaring that I don’t fancy any. There’s an explanation for that.
Most Asians, and that includes me, have a predilection for lighter, sponge-like, fluffy baked goods-think Hokkaido Milk Buns, Japanese-style chiffon cakes and steamed baos. So, you can understand why I’ve never favoured the dump-it-all-in type of banana breads that are more dense, rustic and frankly, tragic. Also, growing up savouring many varieties of local bananas from temple offerings, desserts and kuehs, I’ve never found ‘traditional’ banana bread to have enough banana flavour as they usually only have two bananas which are of the Cavendish type, the most bland of them all.
Enter the genius of Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery. Her technique of whipping the sugar and eggs to aerate the batter like a chiffon cake is brilliant as it not only makes a lighter banana bread with a tighter crumb, it also manages to squeeze in the most number of bananas which naturally sweeten the loaf. It keeps incredibly well and tastes even better the next day, just like most oil-based cakes. I adore the recipe so much that I’ve made countless banana breads from it and sometimes even put my own spin on it to jazz things up.
For this dramatic variation of Flour’s Famous Banana Bread, I was inspired by my trip to South India last December and so I snuck in some jaggery, Old Monk’s Rum and a touch of allspice powder to echo the flavours of the rum. Jaggery does bake up slightly denser than regular caster sugar and so, if you’re not keen on its flavour, add 230 grams of sugar instead of 180grams with the eggs. For the crumble topping, add as many as the ingredients you have. The original recipe asks for 75 grams of walnuts to be mixed in with the batter but I like my nuts not to interfere with my ‘cake’ layer. Another Srilankan-inspired variation I made was with the exact crumble topping but with kithul palm sugar, arrack and ground nutmeg. That version was so well-received by my Srilankan relatives. I make tiny tweaks to the regional recipe and make sure that the banana flavour is still obvious. If you manage to get your hands on some good local bananas like Pisang Raja or Pisang Merah, then use them instead as the flavour and aroma is amplified and superb! The buttery crumble is something I always have in my freezer as I add a generous sprinkle of it on my blueberry muffins and loaf cakes. The crumble recipe makes more than required so you can half it.
This is my absolute favourite banana bread recipe because it’s consistently good, cuts so beautifully and tastes even better the day after its baked. The original recipe is also great. If you’ve always searched for the perfect banana bread recipe, then I’ll strongly recommend you give this one a go. Let me know if I’ve helped end your search for the best banana bread. I’m forever in debt to my dear friend, H, for pointing me towards this recipe and ending my decade long search.
Jaggery Banana Bread with Cashew Crumble
- +For the crumble topping:
- 150g all purpose flour
- 100g butter
- 50grams sugar
- 1/4 tsp fine salt
- 1/2 cup cashews, lightly toasted, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp demerara sugar
- 2 tbsp unsweetened coconut threads or flakes
- 210 grams all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 50 grams jaggery
- 180 grams caster sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 100 grams (1/2 cup)canola or any neutral vegetable oil (I use rice bran or grapeseed)
- 340 grams peeled and mashed ripe bananas (abt 3-4 bananas)
- 2 tbsp sour cream or creme fraiche
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp old monk rum (optional)
+For the banana bread batter:
- To make the crumble topping, in a mixing bowl, whisk in the salt into the flour to evenly distribute salt granules.
- Add all the cubed butter. Using your fingertips, press and rub butter into the flour until mixture looks like bread crumbs. Add sugar and continue to press and rub until you have large crumbles.
- Spread crumble on a try and freeze, uncovered for an hour. Store frozen crumble topping in a freezer-safe bag and freeze till needed. This makes more than needed for the recipe and can be done 3-4 days ahead.
- For the banana bread batter, into a pan, add 1 tablespoon of water and jaggery. Melt the jaggery over low heat. Once jaggery is completely melted, strain and keep aside.
- Position your rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 160 degrees C/ 325 degrees F. Butter and line a 9×5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper that is with overhanding sides.
- In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, allspice powder and salt. Set aside.
- Using a standmixer and the whip attachment, on medium speed, beat the sugar and eggs for about 4-5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Using a spatula, scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the sugar is mixed in.
- Switch to low speed and very slowly drizzle in the oil from the side of the bowl. Do not pour in all the oil at once. The oil needs to be slowly incorporated into the mixture without deflating it. I find a measuring jug with a spout the best tool for this.
- After all the oil is emulsified well with the batter, add the vanilla, rum, melted and cooled jaggery, sour cream and mashed bananas. Continue to mix on low speed until just combined.
- Fold in the sifted flour, all spice, baking soda and salt until just combined. There should be no visible streaks of flour but do not overmix.
- Pour batter into prepared pan. Scatter some of the frozen crumble, chopped cashews, coconut threads and demerara sugar just enough to cover the surface of the cake.
- Bake in a preheated oven for 55-70 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. You’ll be able to smell it!
- Remove from oven and cool in tin for about 30 minutes. Using the overhanging sides, gently lift the banana bread and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into it. Enjoy!
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