Banana bread brilliance

On a recent trip to Australia we were intrigued to see almost every cafe had their own version of banana bread.

It became quite a ritual each morning to sample a different banana bread at a different cafe. We felt we were becoming connoisseurs.

Once home again I began to experiment with various versions.

There are many recipes for this moist cake-like banana bread - however I wanted one with modest amounts of butter and sugar and masses of bananas.

We ate a lot of my banana concoctions and several still remain in the freezer, all delicious but not quite perfect. And last week I was successful. I finally baked the banana bread I wanted.

As I perused the recipe books I was fascinated to see how diverse the recipes were. One called for 500g sugar (about 2 cups) which is an alarming amount.

However, as I began to experiment I was delighted to note that the more I reduced the sugar, the more pronounced the banana flavour became. The amount of butter varied, too, but not so much -125g was the usual amount called for.

This is a very versatile recipe - baked in a loaf tin it becomes banana bread and is delicious toasted (but I never, ever butter it). It can be cooked in a 21cm round cake tin and served as a cake either just as it is or iced with lemon icing. And spoonfuls of the batter baked in muffin tins make scrumptious muffins. Cooking times will need to be adjusted to suit.

Choose very ripe, sweet, soft, fruity, bananas for this recipe. Very ripe bananas can be kept in the fridge or the freezer until you have enough to make the banana bread.

Although the skins turn black and look unappetising, the fruit inside is unaffected by the cold. One local supermarket sells ''salad bananas'' - very ripe and just perfect for banana bread.

Photo: Peter McIntosh
Photo: Peter McIntosh

Amazing banana bread

This slices well without crumbling, stays moist and freezes well.

If making as banana bread, coat a 13cm x 24cm deep loaf tin with baking spray and line the base with baking paper.

If making as cake, coat a 21cm round cake tin with baking spray and line the base with baking paper.

Makes 14-15 slices

Ingredients
270g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
80g butter, melted
140g dark cane sugar
3 large eggs, size 7
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g very ripe bananas, weighed without skin, mashed (4-5 large bananas)

Method
Preheat the oven to 170degC on bake.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves into a large bowl and stir well to combine. Set aside.

Put the melted butter, dark cane sugar, eggs and vanilla extract into a medium-sized bowl and beat together for several minutes on high speed until thick and creamy. Reduce the speed and gradually add the mashed bananas, beating until well combined. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and stir in the banana mixture a third at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Tip into the prepared tin (either loaf tin or cake tin) and smooth the top.

Bake until golden brown - it should be firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean (about 50-55 minutes). You may need to cover the bread with baking paper for the last 15 minutes of cooking if it is browning too much.

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Slide a knife between the side of the tin and the bread to loosen it. Invert the tin on to a wire rack, remove the baking paper, turn right way up and leave to cool.

To serve the loaf
Cut into thick slices and toast if you wish. Cuts into 14-15 slices.

To serve as a cake
Ice with lemon icing or leave plain.

I quite like it without the icing as the banana flavour is more pronounced.

Cuts into 16-20 slices.

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