Ruth Reichl's Banana Bread - So Nice I Made It Twice

I have some bad habits when it comes to food. Things like not wanting the various foods on my plate to touch each other, or picking around the things I don’t like in a given dish (true story: I ate traditional Israeli salad at nearly every meal when I was in Israel, and at the end of each meal there would be a sad little pile of discarded tomato bits). One of these habits is buying bananas and then forgetting to eat them until it’s too late and they’ve turned black and gross. And since another one of my bad food habits is having trouble eating anything with imperfections, the bananas wind up getting tossed in the trash.

Well, I’m an idiot, because it turns out these gross, black bananas are actually a commodity. Overripe bananas are, in fact, the key to good banana bread. Once they’re all sad and pathetic-looking, just toss them in the freezer until you’re ready to bake. The mummified bananas will last in there forever, pretty much (although - warning - when you eventually take them out and let them thaw, they will be a terrifying sight to behold).

A while back, I had attending a talk at the JCC with Ruth Reichl, which I wrote about here. One of the standout moments of that evening was the part where Ruth won my eternal love and admiration with samples of her amazing banana bread. I’d had it on my mind ever since, but with my big trip, and the ensuing craziness of trying to catch up at work afterwards, I hadn’t had time.

Finally, this Sunday, I found myself with a couple of spare hours and an uncomfortable case of the Sunday Scaries while I anxiously waited for HBO Go to upload that night’s episode of Game of Thrones (thanks for the password, Mom and Dad!), and decided to try out Ruth’s recipe using some of the banana-fossils that had accumulated in my freezer.

Ruth’s recipe is fairly straightforward, though highly adaptable. As she has said, banana bread is a catch-all recipe. If there’s an ingredient that even seems like it could go into banana bread, someone has tried it. Spices, chocolate, liquors - it’s all been done. I wanted to make a simple, basic one for my first attempt, and I was so glad I did, because this recipe did not disappoint. In fact, it was so good that after Game of Thrones (great episode!) I immediately baked a second loaf to take into the office with me the next day, thereby violating my bedtime and leaving me pretty exhausted the next day. Worth it.

Anyway, the recipe is below. Like I said, the basic model is pretty flawless, but if you wanted to mix it up, options that I think could be good would be: cinnamon, nuts, dark chocolate chips, or maybe even some peanut butter.

Final note: When I made the first batch, the butter was still pretty cold - not frozen, but still pretty solid. On the second batch, the butter sat out longer and was pretty soft by the time it went into the batter. There’s a noticeable difference in color between the two loaves, and the second one definitely had a deeper, more caramelized flavor. I think the butter might be what accounted for that, but it could also be a number of other factors (different bananas, less anxious opening and closing of the oven, etc.).

Ruth Reichl's Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 2 overripe (re: black) bananas
  • ¾ cup buttermilk (side note: if anyone has recommendations for what I can do with a remaining half-bottle of buttermilk, please let me know, otherwise this stuff is destined to become a back-of-the-fridge orphan)
  • 8 tablespoons/1 stick unsalted butter, softened (see note above)
  • ¾ cup brown sugar (I used dark, because it’s what I prefer to bake with generally, and because it’s what I had in the cabinet)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325. Remember that you use your oven for storage of extra pots/pans, turn off oven and allow to cool, remove said pots and pans, re-preheat oven to 325.
  2. Cream the butter with both sugars. Beat in the eggs.
  3. Mush the bananas until they’re reeeeeally disgusting, then add to the butter mixture along with the vanilla. At this point your kitchen will begin to smell like heaven and you will forget all about the gross banana mush.
  4. Whisk your dry ingredients together, then add them to the batter, alternating with the buttermilk.
  5. Pour everything into a greased loaf pan and bake for one hour.
  6. Cool.
  7. Repeat.