Over the course of my soon-to-be twenty-nine years on this planet I have eaten many slices of banana bread. I have eaten other foods in that time too—but none of them have brought me as much joy as banana bread. This is perhaps why, despite not yet having reached thirty, I resemble Robert Paulson. Unlike Paulson, I cannot claim hormonal imbalance for my gynecomastia. People are less forgiving when the giant blob in front of them is that way because of his avarice.
One benefit to this constant eating of the bread that is not really a bread but is a cake, is that I have gone some way to perfecting the method for the perfect slice of banana bread. When one sits down to eat a slice, washed down with a honeyed tea or, if one wants to really go to excess and make themselves more Threadingham than Poppy, a hot chocolate topped with cream and chocolate sauce, then these are the rules to follow. Seven rules, all of equal importance, separate a good slice—and loaf—from perfection.
- Bake one’s bananas. Some consider an overly ripe banana important to a good banana bread; for ripeness means flavour. However, if one bakes one’s bananas until the skins are black, flavour will come regardless of ripeness. Further, a baked banana will begin to break down, adding more liquid to the mix, preventing a dry, stodgy slice. A more flavourful, aromatic banana bread one will not find anywhere else.
- Use more medium eggs, not fewer large eggs. Whether it is the egg white, the egg yolk or a mixture of the two, more egg in general contributes to a spongier, moister slice. Two large eggs is not enough, three large eggs is too much. Medium eggs are a mixture’s best friend.
- Add vanilla extract to your wet ingredients. You may not notice the addition of vanilla in the final slice—but once you have added it, you will certainly notice its absence in all future attempts.
- Cinnamon is king. Cheese and onion, egg and peanut butter, banana and cinnamon—some flavours are simply designed to complement one another. A perfect slice of banana bread will invariably contain more than a pinch of cinnamon. Banana bread without cinnamon is passable, but only those containing the spice will come close to perfection. For the best results, fold three quarters of your cinnamon into the batter and layer the remaining quarter on top before placing it in the oven.
- One should fill one’s baking tin only half way. In all perfect banana bread recipes self-raising flour is the flour of choice. Filling higher than half way risks the mixture rising over the edges of the tin making it vulnerable to blackening, burning and cracking. Raising out its container also leaves the banana bread aesthetically displeasing. One tastes with one’s eyes just as much as one’s mouth.
- Grease, flour and lay parchment in one’s baking tin. The last thing one wants after baking the perfect banana bread is to have it stick to the tin and fall apart when removing it. Sometimes accidents are unavoidable, but one can always minimise the risk by taking proper greasing precautions.
- Allow the banana bread to cool completely. Some wish to tuck in as soon as it is removed from the oven, unable to resist the warm, sweet-smelling fruits of their labours. Resist. The bread is still cooking and will continue to do so for some time. Watch a documentary, pre-emptively work off the calories, care for your loved one. Do anything but cut the bread before its time. One would not eat a chicken still pink, nor should they eat a still cooking slice of banana bread.
Banana bread is a serious business, and its methods of baking should be treated with the appropriate seriousness. These rules go a long way in ensuring that outcome. It will take a special, determined mind to adapt to these rules. But once they do, then never again will they eat a slice of banana bread and react with an: ‘Oh, that wasn’t as good as I was hoping’.