Kevin lodged a vague request for something banana-y and breakfast-y a couple weeks back. Normally, I am thrilled to have a request and act on it as quickly as possible, but such jump-to-it-ness simply isn’t possible when it comes to banana -based baked goods. Unless, of course, you store bananas in your freezer, an excellent practice and one that I am not organized enough to accomplish. So, I did the next best thing: I snapped up a bunch of bananas at the store. And then I waited.
When purchased, the bananas’ peels were a sunny hue, blemish-free and even tinged with whispers of lime green. In short, these bananas were completely unsuitable for baking. It wasn’t until a week later, when the bananas had softened on the kitchen counter, taking on a deeply freckled complexion, that they were ready. By that time, of course, I wasn’t in the mood to bake my regular old banana bread.
For inspiration (lest the bananas go to waste!), I turned to a couple of new cookbooks I picked up recently in the bargain bin at the bookstore—The Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker ($5.99!) and Nigella Lawson’s Feast ($7.99!!). I flipped to the index of Lawson’s book first, scanned the “B” section and quickly paged to a recipe for Banana Breakfast Ring. The recipe itself looked rather basic, but its headnote caught my eye. It read (and I do hope that you read the following aloud in Nigella’s lovely accent or, at the very least, invoke the accent as you read to yourself silently): “There’s just something about this gently fragrant, very plain pale cake that makes it the perfect breakfast slice. Eat still warm, with maybe some maple syrup drizzled over or smeared with Nutella if you must . . . .”
This note is so thoroughly Nigella and I loved it for that, sure. But it was the Nutella that made my eyes widen and my pulse quicken. I snapped the book shut and exclaimed: “Brilliant!”—which is the most British exclamation I could summon. At this point, my regular-old banana bread wasn’t sounding too bad anymore—so long as I purchased a pot of Nutella and lavished it upon every single slice. At that rate, I thought to myself, I may just need to pick up two pots of Nutella.
For good measure, I decided to skim The Modern Baker’s index anyway—and I’m glad I did. There, a recipe for Cocoa Banana Muffins leapt off the page. This recipe was communing with Nigella’s recipe’s headnote—except this recipe was just putting the Nutella (or the chocolate, at least) in the banana muffins. Double brilliant!
And so it was that the speckled bananas were put to use and that Cocoa Banana Loaf was born. And about the loaf—it’s wonderful, not to mention beautiful, especially when showered with powdered sugar. I think of banana loaves as falling along a spectrum that ranges from decadent and cake-like to wholesome and quick-bread-like. This loaf, tall and dense and fragrant, lies decidedly at the decadent and cakey end of things. Although I didn’t select Lawson’s recipe in the end, I think she would approve of the results.
Cocoa Banana Loaf
Adapted Slightly from Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker
Yield: 1 9- or 10-inch loaf*
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
2/3 cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder, sifted after measuring
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 medium, very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork to make 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup sour cream
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- or 10-inch loaf pan.
Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir well to mix. In a separate bowl, stir together the mashed bananas and sour cream; set aside.
Combine the butter, sugar, and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and place on mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about a minute, or until well mixed and a little lightened in color. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating smooth after each addition.
Decrease the mixer speed to low and beat in half the flour mixture. Stop the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to scrape down the bowl and beater. On low speed, beat in the banana mixture. After the batter has absorbed the banana mixture, beat in the remaining flour mixture. Stop and scrape down the bowl and beater again. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to give a final mixing to the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the loaf is well-risen and firm to the touch. Test the loaf with a toothpick or the point if a thin-bladed knife – it should emerge with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool the loaf in the pan on a rack.
Once the loaf is cool, turn it out onto a board or serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.
* I used a 9-inch pan and didn’t have any volume problems. A commenter used a 9-inch pan, though, and have volume troubles. So, if you’ve got both pan sizes on hand, err or the side of the larger pan. (Thanks, Judy!)