An Engineer’s Guide to Banana Bread
We noticed that, now more than ever, the urge to bake has set in for many of us. Maybe it’s the lines at the supermarket or the empty shelves making us want to hoard pantry staples. Or maybe we’re all avoiding thinking too hard about our new reality as homebodies.
Whatever the case is, at BFW/Marcum, we couldn’t just ignore the baking sensation sweeping the nation. We figured we’d ask a few of our employees for some baking tips—a little fluff piece to add some levity to the situation at hand. What we received shocked us, both in its madness and its deliciousness. The following recipe has been copied verbatim the way we received it from one of our engineers who specifically requested we not name them.
Banana Bread Recipe, Mk XXVII
Before I simply start reeling out a list of ingredients, I feel the urge to start way before the average person would begin a recipe. To be honest, building banana bread is more than just a paint-by-numbers process. To make it great (that is, moist, cooked through, and perfectly browned) you first need to understand the politics of the banana. After all, if you’re unaware of the origins of your raw materials then who are you, really?
Why Our Bananas Are Disgusting
In contemporary times, we’re working with subpar materials for our banana bread right out of the gate. Worst yet, the buck stops at the banana itself—the star of the whole show! Buy organic, buy it for 10 cents apiece—it doesn’t matter. You’ll always be getting something the banana industry knows as the “Cavendish banana”. A bland, relatively uninspired yellow cousin of the totally delicious but now-extinct “Gros Michel”. Look it up.
Why’d it go extinct, you ask? We only grew the one type. It got sick one day, which made all of them get sick, and that was that. There’s a basic tenet we engineers live by that we maybe should have imparted to the farmers of the 1960s—never put all of your eggs in one basket. You might be wondering, like I always do, why even bother with banana bread, then? The answer is a simple principle of my industry—you make do with what you have and you make sure the rest of the process makes up for any inherent shortcomings. With that said, let’s dive into what you need to get this thing started.
List of Materials
As I said, you’re starting this project instantly needing to compensate for the poor choices of past banana cultivators, so let’s ensure we use the best-of-the-best in this recipe. Now, I’m not going to simply sling ingredients at you—we need to break them down and understand them—this is called materials analysis.
Quite frankly, I’m sick of talking about bananas. But let me say one last thing—when your bananas get brown and gross, then you’re about halfway to their peak flavor for banana bread. As bananas decompose (call it ripen if you’re squeamish) they sweeten. If you aren’t squeegeeing banana goop straight from a black banana peel into your bowl, then you haven’t given your bananas the time they need.
Not all flour is created equal. For banana bread, you need all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour has a gluten protein content that ranges between 9.5-11.5%. Don’t get me started on the positive correlation between ash content (of which all-purpose flour has about .55%) and protein content. For the layman, the lower percentage of gluten protein makes all-purpose a good choice for any baked product that uses an external leavening agent.
This is the aforementioned leavening agent. Baking soda, otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate, is a chemical compound (NaHCO3). Baking soda reacts to the acid in the bananas and the heat of baking to produce carbon dioxide, thus causing your banana bread to rise. While I’m no chemical engineer, I dabble. This is the acid-base reaction of the baking soda and banana comingling process:
NaHCO3 + H+ → Na+ + CO2 + H2O
Any old sodium chloride will do. (Editors Note: It is here where owner Chris Farmer when approving the article said “Any self-respecting baker knows you use Kosher Salt)
Get yourself a good quality butter from a local dairy. I like to go with a cultured butter for the added flavor. Whatever you do, don’t get that cheap, pale stuff—it should be light orange, telling you it’s full of great butterfat from happy, grass-fed cows. Whatever you do, don’t use margarine!
You might see a lot of recipes for banana bread that tell you to use white refined sugar. I don’t know about you, but I like my banana bread to have a little flavor other than “sweet”. Brown sugar is sugar but with a little molasses added in. It’ll give you a richer flavor.
Without Further Ado, the Recipe
If you read Roman numerals, you might’ve noticed that this is the 27th iteration of this recipe. That’s because I’m an engineer—every time I’m finished with something, I see everything I did wrong and hope no one else notices (they don’t).
I’m a firm believer in the kitchen scale. I personally use a Mettler Toledo Precision Balance that measures down to the third decimal but I won’t fault you if you go to Target and get some kind of Martha Stewart or Chrissy Teigen thing for $25. I’m going to post the recipe in both grams and cups but I will frown at you if you use the latter, so don’t even tell me.
How You Bake Says a Lot About How You Do Everything Else
Look, you could throw a couple of bright yellow bananas into a loosely mixed concoction resembling the ingredient list I gave you and have yourself a passable loaf of banana bread at the end of it all. However, I didn’t get where I am by cutting corners, or by not asking “why” at every single one of those corners.
The truth is, I did all of the hard work for you. I’m the mastermind of this recipe, so you just have to build it. If you don’t want to follow my specifications, then it’s on you when the whole thing falls apart.
Only in the kitchen can I say that last part—as much as I’d like to give a client or two that same warning I simply can’t. I’m an engineer by trade. That means I’m personally responsible for what people do with my plans. That also means you can trust me because I’ve split every hair on this thing’s head. If you follow this recipe to the letter, you’re going to have the best banana bread you’ve ever tasted. I am about to email this to BFW/Marcum’s marketing people. I hope they appreciate its genius.