Breaking (Banana) Bread

Thanks to a What’s Cooking reader from Reston, Va., my house is perfumed with a freshly baked banana bread.

(Kim O'Donnel)

“My mom sent me home from Christmas with some past-their-prime bananas. Since they've been sitting on my counter for a week, they're now REALLY past their prime, which means I'm making banana bread tonight," Reston wrote. Alas, there was a glitch.

“All the recipes I'm finding online have complaints in the comments (I know, there are ALWAYS complaints), so I'm hoping you or another chatter has a fantastic recipe up a virtual sleeve.”

Right after this week’s chat, I dug through my files for a very trusty banana recipe that I photocopied at my hometown library from an old edition of “The New York Times Cookbook” by the late Craig Claiborne. For more than 20 years, I’ve been toting this batter-stained recipe, a reminder of my college-break baking forays, before cooking school was even on my radar. When I was broke in my 20s, it was an inexpensive treat for both breakfast and mid-afternoon coffee breaks. And it has always given me moist, banana-y results, neither too cakey nor too sweet.

Sure enough, 14 or so years later, this banana bread is just as I remember, yielding a buttery brown crust that develops a luscious crown (this is why I recommend butter over non-dairy Earth Balance spread in this case). On this gloomy, rain-filled day, it’s like catching up with an old friend. Now who wants a cup of tea?

John Harper’s Banana Nut Bread
Adapted from "The New York Times Cookbook" by Craig Claiborne
With KOD updates


½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into dice (I reduced amounts to ¾ stick)
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (KOD add-on)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2-3 ripe bananas
½ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 or 9-inch rectangular loaf pan.

Using a mixer or food processor, cream butter and sugar until light yellow in color and kind of fluffy. Add egg and lemon juice and mix until combined. Incorporate vanilla, if using.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Fold wet ingredients into dry, using a rubber spatula. Don’t worry if it looks dry, and don’t overmix it in fear. Mash bananas in a separate bowl, and fold into batter, until well integrated. Add nuts, if using.

Pour batter into pan and bake until a skewer inserted in middle of loaf comes out almost clean, about 60 minutes. Bread will get golden brown on top.

Allow to cool in pan for at least 15 minutes, then run a knife along perimeter of pan and invert so that loaf can cool on a rack. Allow to cool for at least an hour until slicing.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Baking
Previous: Chat Leftovers: Farm Market Meat Shopping, Afternoon Tea Party | Next: Ball Game-Worthy Oven-Braised Beans


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This banana bread recipe looks a lot better than the one I made earlier this morning.

Beware the recipe in Martha Stewart's Handmade Christmas Special Issue 2008.

The Banana Pecan Loaf recipe on page 116 calls for 1 cup of flour but really should call for 2 cups.

It resulted in a loaf that's flat and greasy.

I had resrvations about it to begin with but it's Martha Stewart, how could it be wrong?! Duh, I know better. Live & learn and spread the wisdom.

Posted by: IslandLady | January 8, 2009 9:47 AM

Thank you so much for this recipe I'll be adding it my collection. I posted some banana bread recipes yesterday (coconut & whole wheat) which are good but I never found a classic that I loved.

So thanks again Kim.

Posted by: Librasmoon | January 8, 2009 9:57 AM

This is my first and only banana bread recipe. I use to make it bi-weekly! The version in my NYTimes Cookbook uses shortening instead of butter. I would also emphasize that fresh lemon juice is much better than the bottle.

Posted by: Elyse315 | January 8, 2009 11:11 AM

I humbly offer this as my usual tried & true Banana Bread:

Mom’s Best Banana Bread

1 stick margarine (try using 1/2 c canola instead, for health)
2 large eggs
3-4 medium ripe bananas
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts

Combine margarine, eggs and bananas. Add salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar. Mix well until all lumps are removed. Add flour. Mix well. Add nuts. Mix well. Spoon into 1 greased loaf pan. Bake at 350ºF for 55-60 minutes.

Posted by: IslandLady | January 8, 2009 11:16 AM

This recipe looks delish. I LOVE the idea of the lemon juice, as I think banana bread usually is cloyingly sweet. The juice would add some brightness and also keep the bananas from oxidizing to darkness.

KOD are you reasonably safe from all the floods, snow and other assorted weather pestilences that appear to be plaguing Seattle? Gosh, it looks awful. Stay warm and dry.

Posted by: khachiya1 | January 8, 2009 1:27 PM

Oh thank you Kim for sharing this! It looks like a real winner! This will sure hit the spot for me.

Posted by: Merdi | January 8, 2009 1:37 PM

Khachiya1 et al: the lemon juice does indeed add brightness and keep the 'nanas from turning black. And because there's less sugar, the natural sweetness of the fruit is allowed to shine through.
Re: PacNW weather: We're okay in Seattle, thanks for asking. It's the folks who live near rivers who've been dealing with terrible flooding and folks by mountain passes dealing w/ avalanche risks. Big mess. Today is a drier day, and for that we're thankful.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 8, 2009 2:14 PM

Try adding some chopped dried apricots to the banana bread dough. It's a great addition along with walnuts.

Posted by: capitolhillmom | January 8, 2009 3:12 PM

I'm really curious about the source of this banana bread. I have the 1961 (original edition, I believe) "The New York Times Cookbook" by Craig Claiborne; I bought it new in 1968. It has 2 banana breads but neither recipe is remotely like this one. Elyse315, what edition do you have?

Posted by: Bburg2 | January 8, 2009 8:21 PM

Does anyone have a rich and moist banana cake they could share please?

Posted by: ORB21 | January 13, 2009 2:17 PM

The banana bread recipe from Flour bakery in Boston was published in Runner's world a few years ago (two?) it is really really good. I took it to work and one of the older partners said it was the best he had ever had. not rubbery at all. low fat due to the technique. check it out.

Posted by: linchan77 | January 13, 2009 8:15 PM

Hi Kim! I made some of this last night and brought it to the office. Rocci says it is the best. Hope you are well. Eliz

Posted by: Elizabeth_Terry | January 14, 2009 11:14 AM

Elizabeth_Terry: Has Rocci asked how many calories are in each slice yet? I feel like I'm having coffee with break with y'all!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 14, 2009 11:25 AM

:-) We decided that 1 stick of butter and 1 egg for the whole loaf meant he could have a slice or 2. I had more than that. It was really good!

Posted by: Elizabeth_Terry | January 14, 2009 6:14 PM

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