Friends, I ask you: do you also have partners who always insist that you keep the kitchen stocked with something that they swear up and down to desperately need, but then never actually eat, leaving you up to your eyeballs in the duly supplied item? For me, or Max, rather, we're talking bananas. Bananas, bananas, bananas. I don't like them and every time Hugo is offered one he takes a big bite before spitting it out theatrically (every time!), and frankly, between you and me, I think Max mostly eats them out of a sense of duty because he thinks they're healthy. But he always asks me to buy some before the weekend when he's due home and then I see them descend into spotted blackness like clockwork when he leaves again.
However, I am not complaining. Because as we all know (don't we?), even those of us who don't like bananas can learn to love banana bread.
I mean, was ever a more perfect baked good invented? You can freeze old bananas and just defrost them when you're in the mood to bake (or when you need to clear out your freezer). You don't need anything special to make banana bread - if you've got even a pretty minimally stocked pantry, you probably have everything you need for banana bread. And it is gussied up in so many delightful ways. Ginger, coconut, chocolate - all of these things make banana bread sing.
Best of all, you're never really done discovering that banana bread contains multitudes. I mean, just the other day, I stumbled across Dorie Greenspan's version, which features a whole cup of cocoa powder along with chopped chocolate and buttermilk and other delicious things and in one fell swoop, I went from trying to figure out how to use up a glut of plums to making a beeline for the freezer to unearth some blackened bananas so I could get to work.
Cocoa banana bread is the kind of thing that makes you scratch your head and wonder where it's been your whole life. (I kind of feel that way about most things from Dorie's kitchen.) It's very dark and gorgeous, it's rich and damp, it's wonderful. The cocoa and buttermilk make for a light, devil's food-like crumb, but the banana weighs it down just enough to transform it into something satisfyingly plump. The loaf is enormous (taking over an hour to bake through) and it slices into these wonderfully hefty pieces that are actually very easy to eat. Of course, it's nicest when the loaf is still warm, so you have little pockets of melting chocolate to poke with your tongue. But no one will turn down a piece of this the next day, when the banana flavor settles and flattens amiably and the little chunks of chocolate go faintly chalky again and the crumb turns velvety soft.
So like clockwork tomorrow, I'll be buying more bananas for my husband's return. And I'm actually pretty grateful he keeps leaving them behind.
Dorie Greenspan's Cocoa Banana Bread
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes one 9-inch loaf
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1/2 cup store-bought chocolate chips
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, then place on two baking sheets stacked on top of each other. (This will keep the bottom of the bread from over-baking.)
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
4. With a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for about a minute, until softened. Add the sugars and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the mashed bananas.
5. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Still on low speed, add the buttermilk, mixing until it is incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.
6. Bake for 30 minutes. Cover the bread loosely with a piece of foil to keep the top from getting too dark, and continue to bake for another 40-45 minutes (total baking time is between 70-75 minutes), or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
7. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edges of the bread and unmolding it. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.