I began to cook (and bake) in college, pre-internet. My only sources for recipes were my mom, cookbooks, and friends. This banana bread, adapted from a friend’s recipe, was one of the first things I ever baked that didn’t come from a boxed mix. Still one of my all-time favorites, I’ve tweaked the recipe slightly, but remain true to basics of the original version.
My mom didn’t much like to cook and baked only “stupid cakes.” The only cookbook I had in college was Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook, a classic with a banana bread recipe that is dry and uninteresting. And then Meg came into my life.
Meg was vivacious, she had flair, and she knew her way around the kitchen. We lived next door to each other, in rather ramshackle student houses. Our kitchens were good-sized and we had a food co-op nearby with inexpensive food sold in bulk, mostly in barrels and boxes. During long winter days and nights, we cooked together and Meg shared recipes with me. I began to see that long winters aren’t so bad if you keep the oven on and talk to friends as you cook.
From the first time I made it with Meg, I adored this banana bread. As I moved east, went to law school, and began to work and raise a family, the recipe was always with me. In the now-battered black notebook where I first wrote it down, the page for this recipe got stained and the ink smeared in places. It’s still readable though – and that’s all that matters.
Fast forward to my current life. The moist banana bread, studded with chopped nuts and chocolate chips, is now a family tradition. My son Liam turned the recipe into muffins and my husband’s eyes light up whenever he spies a loaf of this banana bread cooling on the counter.
The ingredients are simple. The central one, of course, is bananas – the riper the better. Mushy ones with dark skin are the best because they have intense flavor and are easy to mash. Even though yoou may consider them overripe for eating, they are perfect for baking. If yours are a bit underripe, pierce them with a fork in a few places and microwave them for a few minutes.
The unusual parts of this recipe are the combination of white (all purpose) and whole wheat flours and hot water, added to the wet ingredients alternately with the flours, salt, and baking soda. You can substitute white whole wheat – which wasn’t available when I got the recipe back in the day – for traditional whole wheat, but don’t use all white. For add-ins, as long as you keep the total to 1/2 – 1 cup, feel free to substitute granola and/or raisins for the chips and/or the nuts.
The banana bread comes together quickly. Melted butter and sugar mixed with mashed banana and eggs make up the wet ingredients.
Then you add the dry ingredients alternately with hot water.
And finally the add-ins, the chocolate chips and chopped nuts. I used bittersweet chips and pecans in this loaf. Sometimes I use semi-sweet chips and walnuts.
The loaf takes a while to bake (70-90 minutes) and fully cool in the pan before unmolding (2-3 hours.) But that just means it’s a great recipe to make the night before you want to serve it. Leave the bread cooling in the pan on the counter, lightly covered, when you go to sleep and cut it in the morning. The loaf keeps well for several days covered in foil and it freezes well if wrapped tightly in plastic or foil.