According to Yahoo.com's recipe search data, banana bread was the most popular recipe in 2014. It's easy to see why as there's no better way to rid yourself unsightly brown bananas than to transform them into soft, sweet loaves adored by children and adults alike.
To celebrate the momentous achievement for banana-kind my friend Rachele and I decided to conduct a recipe showdown between the most popular banana bread recipes on the internet. It wasn't easy baking, tasting, re-tasting, and re-re-tasting the bread, but we powered through so that everyone could benefit from our extensive and extremely important research.
The three recipes were chosen based on a combination of criteria:
1. Recipe had to declare itself the 'best'
2. The comments/ ratings from readers had to be overwhelmingly positive
3. It had be relatively high on the Google search results for 'Best Banana Bread'
With those three criteria in hand, we ended up with recipes from Bon Appetit, The Food Network, and Simply Recipes.
We baked the recipes following the instructions exactly no matter how many commentors chimed in with their delicious tweaks and changes. Once the loaves were cooled and sliced we first rated each one ourselves based on the flavor, texture, and how easy the recipe was to follow. Then we had a panel of friendly banana bread lovers rate them on flavor and texture and order them from favorite to least favorite.
Here are our notes and - most importantly - our results. May the best bread win!
Commenters on many of the recipes we read suggested adding extra bananas for a tastier loaf, so when we saw that this recipe contained with a whopping 4 large bananas we knew it had to be added to the list.
Along with our high hopes we had a few doubts when it came to the ingredient list and the mixing method. First off, part of the butter is replaced with relatively expensive mascarpone cheese. It's a bold move asking for a fancy $12+ ingredient in a recipe that is beloved for it's deliciously basic, almost frugal qualities. Secondly, the recipe requires a mixer to which meant it would have to be extra flavorful in order to gain an edge over the more cost effective recipes that simply call for a bowl and a whisk
Texture: The loaf baked up dark brown and incredibly moist thanks to all of the bananas. You could even see ripples of banana running through the crumb in each slice, a big plus. Soft and delicious, this one scored big with us and all our tasters
Flavor: Strangely, although this bread had the most bananas, it was the least banana-flavored of the bunch. Replacing all of the white sugar with brown sugar gave the bread a golden almost caramel flavor and the mascarpone added some richness. It was the banana bread for people who don't like bananas. The generous portion of salt balanced the sweetness and despite it's non-banananess the flavor won all of us over. It was a more sophisticated dessert compared to the other banana breads layers of interesting flavors.
Recipe Ease Of Use: Neither of us were sold on having to use a mixer for this banana bread, and although the flavor was top notch we felt that was more attributed to the brown sugar and salt than to the costly mascarpone. Sorry mascarpone, we wanted to love you.. we really did.
This is from Chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery in Boston and was shared on Foodnetwork.com much to the delight of all the banana bread loving commenters. It has everything you'd expect in banana bread: bananas, white sugar, pinches of cinnamon and salt. Plus, although it calls for creme fraiche it suggests sour cream as a substitute which pleases those of us who love throwing together banana bread with what we have on hand.
Texture: Soft and cake-like, but a little less moist than the other two loaves.
Flavor: This loaf had a more traditional bread banana flavor profile. In the days following the taste-test session we found that although we enjoyed the Bon Appetit loaf plain or topped with ice cream for dessert, this loaf was best at breakfast with a smear of butter. None of the testers could deny that it was a tasty loaf, better than many of the recipes out there, but it didn't quite stand up to the standards of greatness set by the other two chosen recipes in terms of flavor.
Recipe Ease Of Use: The instructions call for sifting the flour (ugh, sifting) and beating the eggs with a whisk for 10 minutes until light and fluffy. When you agree to follow a recipe to the letter, 10 minutes of vigorous whisking is the kind of step that makes you wish they had just called for a mixer. On the bright side you can always justify the banana bread as an post-workout-treat
This recipe embodies how the majority of casual home-bakers throw together banana bread: 2 - 3 ripe bananas depending on how many you have on hand, more or less sugar depending on how sweet you like it, suggestions for add-ins like chocolate or nuts, and everything all stirred together easily with a fork or a whisk. It's the kind of instructions you would imagine your grandmother giving you when you asked for her favorite banana bread recipe which made it a must-bake for this showdown.
Texture: Soft and moist, this one fell right in the middle between the super moist, almost bread pudding texture of the Bon Appetit loaf and the more cake-like texture of the Food Network loaf.
Flavor: This bread was pure bananas when it came to flavor. No hints of cinnamon or sophisticated twists here, just banana-y goodness. It was the most banana flavored banana bread most of us had ever tasted. Part of this can be attributed to the recipe, and part of it is catching the bananas at their most flavorful. Despite popular belief that bananas are best for baking when they're almost black, they are actually more banana flavored when speckled with spots but still yellow like these ones.
Recipe Ease Of Use: Easiest recipe to use by far! The loaf ended up squatter looking than the other two due to the lack of whisking or beating air into the ingredients, but with the flavor unaffected nobody cared.
And now, the moment we have all been waiting for! The recipes ordered by the scores given from our tasters:
First place: Bon Appetit
Second Place: Simply Recipes
Third Place : Food Network
First and second place were extremely close, and we almost felt it would be more fair to declare them both the top recipe seeing as they produce very different loaves which are each delicious in their own way. But that doesn't fit in with the ruthless winner-takes-all way that my recipe showdowns work, so BA snagged the number one spot.
To finish off our quest I took our findings and put together a banana bread recipe that compiled all of the qualities we loved from these three to create something soft, moist, and flavorful with only a basic ingredients and no mixer required! You can find my recipe on the Globe and Mail's website along with the option to dress up the banana bread for a dinner party dessert with whipped cream and home made butterscotch.
Long live banana bread!