I think banana bread might be the most underrated and under-appreciated baked good I can think of. It has all of the hallmarks of the perfect dessert: it's easy to make, portable, adaptable, and delicious. Easy to make is important, especially for new bakers. If you're a novice, I'd highly recommend you start with anything one-bowl and low-fuss, like banana bread (beer bread is also an excellent choice, may I add...). Banana bread comes together quickly and with only a bowl, a fork, and some elbow grease. It's also very forgiving: the only way I have ever messed up banana bread is by way under or overcooking it (solution: immediately put it back into the oven, until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). You can't stir too much or mash the bananas too little. Banana bread is the hippie of the baked goods world: it just goes with the flow.
I also love banana bread for its sturdiness. It is a tender and fluffy baked good, but is protected by a hearty crust, so it travels very well, whether you're carrying it across the street or shipping it across the country. And it's always a crowd pleaser, especially if it contains booze (and/or chocolate, which is optional, but hardly necessary, here).
Oh, and it uses up old bananas. Talk about turning trash into treasure.
Speaking of booze, banana bread on its own is fairly neutral-tasting, since it's not too sweet, and banana is a great foundational flavor for enhancing a lot of others. Why should you care, you ask? Well, simply because that means you can add almost anything to banana bread and it will taste good. Of course, by "anything", I mean within reason - think of add-ins you would enjoy in a cookie: dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, swirls of nutella, peanut butter, or cinnamon sugar....the sky is (almost) the limit. The original recipe here didn't call for any add-ins, but of course I couldn't resist throwing in some walnuts for texture. You could use pecans instead, and I've also made this with chocolate chips before and it's pretty incredible.
But what I love most about this recipe is the addition of bourbon. It doesn't taste boozy - and all the alcohol will burn off in the cooking process - but the bourbon adds and deep and sophisticated flavor that rounds out the sweetness very well. The recipe also calls for an array of spices that, combined with the bourbon, make this taste like a very "adult" dessert, like a bread version of bananas flambee (just add ice cream). It's very sophisticated comfort food, full of unexpectedly complex flavors and just the right amount of spicy heartiness to perfectly straddle summer and fall.
Did I mention you could also add chocolate? Try a 1/2 cup of semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips if you wish.
Everyone who has tried this banana bread raves about it, and it is nearly un-screw-uppable, so what are you waiting for? Give it a try.
Spiced Bourbon Banana Bread
3-4 very ripe bananas, mashed (I had large bananas so used 3)
1/3 cup melted butter (salted is preferred but unsalted is fine)
3/4 cup + 1 Tablespoons raw (turbino) sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon bourbon
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup pecan or walnut halves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Coat a 4"x8" loaf pan with nonstick spray or butter and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, use a fork to mix together the bananas and butter. Add the sugar, egg, vanilla, and bourbon and mix until combined. Then add the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda and salt. Mix to thoroughly incorporate. Add the flour and, when almost incorporated, add the nuts and (if using) chocolate chips, mixing until flour has disappeared into the batter and add-ins are evenly distributed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle sugar over the top, then garnish with the extra nut halves. Bake for 40 minutes. Then, tent (cover lightly) with a piece of tinfoil to prevent the top from over-browning or burning. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before removing and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes one loaf. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to five days, or freeze for three months.
Psst: I know I haven't done this in awhile, but it's worth noting that this is a great recipe for beginning bakers. See all of my recipes for beginners here.