Banana bread is, I daresay, the bane of otherwise happy and successful bread bakers everywhere. What should be tender and slightly sweet and very banana-y is often too dry, too wet (yes, that’s way worse than too dry), too dense, too fragile and/or does not actually taste like bananas.
I’ve probably made all of these variations in my lifetime, so if I’m doing any finger pointin’, it’s at myself.
It’s puzzling, quite frankly, how cranky banana bread can be.
To overcome the most frequent complaint — it’s too dry — folks have tried numerous additives: apple sauce, instant pudding, butter, yogurt, lots of butter, sour cream, vegetable oil, mayonnaise. They all work. Some better than others. Yogurt, good. Mayo, eh.
But one day cream cheese popped in my head, and, well, I just couldn’t let it go. Like the theme song to “Hawaii 5-0,” which I barely manage to erase from my brain every week around Saturday afternoon, only to have to firmly re-rooted Monday night.
Dadadadah-dahhh-dahhhhh, dadadadahhh-dahhhhh. Dadadadah-dahhh-DAHHHHH ….
Mostly, I wondered whether cream cheese could push banana bread right up to the edge of cake, while still remaining more or less on the bread side of things. Something you could serve for either breakfast or dessert without skipping a beat.
The result: I don’t care whether it stepped over the line to cakedom — it’s just really, really good.
Now, this is not dieter’s banana bread. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. But you probably figured that out already, what with the cream cheese and all. But I will say that each serving has less than 1 tablespoon of cream cheese, so it’s not any worse than spreading cream cheese on a regular slice of banana bread. Unless you still spread cream cheese on this banana bread. Then all bets are off. But that’s between you and your personal cardiologist.
And before you ask about low-fat cream cheese substitutions, I’ll say, I just don’t know. I find reduced fat cream cheese unpalatable (unlike, say, low fat yogurt). But, food is all a matter of personal taste, so if you like the reduced fat versions, you just might find it works in this recipe.
Oh! I almost forgot. For the banana-bread baking veterans, you’ll no doubt notice that a rather large number of bananas is called for in this recipe. That’s because I use a technique I semi-remember seeing on PBS, where a certain test kitchen devises an ingenious method for concentrating the banana flavor by making a reduction of banana juices. Their recipe sits behind a pay wall on their website, so I can’t confirm that I got it perfectly right to their standards, but I think I semi-remembered it closely enough, as this bread actually does taste banana-y.
Cream Cheese Banana Bread
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 60 minutes
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole white wheat flour (or use all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 overripe bananas (lots of brown spots – black’s okay, too!), sliced into 3” pieces
4 oz cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 small normally ripe banana, thinly sliced into rounds
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the first five ingredients, set aside.
3. Place the overripe banana slices in a microwaveable bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cut a vent hole in the wrap, and microwave on High for 4 minutes.
4. Pour heated bananas — they should be nice and mushy — into a strainer placed over a small sauce pan. Let drain for 10 minutes. Press bananas with the back of a spoon to release as much liquid as possible and then move to a medium mixing bowl. Allow to cool slightly.
5. Heat the banana liquid to a good simmer over medium-high heat. Let banana liquid reduce to about 1/4 cup. This should only take a few minutes.
6. Meanwhile, mix together bananas, beaten eggs, cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the banana liquid when it’s ready. Whisk well to combine. The mixture will be thick and slightly lumpy.
7. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture and combine, leaving a few flour streaks visible (you don’t want to over mix the batter — the remaining flour will be readily absorbed).
8. Pour into prepared pan and level. Top with the slices of normal ripe banana as decoration, avoiding the center of the loaf (the weight of the slices might interfere with the rise). Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Turn out onto cooling rack to complete cooling. Bread will be easier to slice when room temperature. If you can wait that long.