Sunday, November 22, 2009

Light as a banana

Feathers must be the latest fad. Last week while John from The Lost World of Drfugawe was making scrumptious-looking Vermont feather beds, I was busy turning rather sorry-looking bananas into a Banana Feather Loaf, a bread which Rose Levy Beranbaum (in whose Bread Bible I found the recipe) describes as the lightest of all her breads. Needless to say, I was intrigued by this assertion, so I gave it a shot. And she's telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I am not a huge fan of bananas in general and banana bread in particular, but this one, oh! this one is different. Yes, it does have a slight banana aftertaste (which Rose says intensify when you toast it) but it mostly tastes intriguingly sweet and the delicate crumb structure has a pleasant way of melting in your mouth. Rose says she eats it with lemon curd and also with peanut butter. I like it just as it is, especially when it's freshly baked but I bet it would make a most delicious French toast. I will try a sourdough version to see the difference and also because I always have so much ripe levain on hand that I feel I am constantly swimming upstream as fast as possible to avoid being carried down the wild yeast rapids. But this yeasted version will make a regular appearance on our breakfast table from now on, especially around the holidays where some family members like an alternative to sourdough. This bread is best when made over 24 hours to give the sponge time to develop enough aromas.
Ingredients (for one loaf):
For the sponge (for the big loaf on the picture, I doubled the amounts) 80 g unbleached all-purpose flour 103 g water @ 70 to 90º F/21 to 32ºC 20 g honey 0.8 g instant yeast For the final dough 207 g unbleached all-purpose flour 2.3 g instant yeast 20 g dry milk (preferably non-fat) 18.5 g almond oil (not roasted) (Rose actually uses softened unsalted butter but some of us need to watch their butter intake, so I usually do not use any) 1 very ripe medium banana, lightly mashed 6.6 g salt Method: (can be mixed by hand or with a mixer. I tried both and thought the mixer came out ahead) For the sponge
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, water, honey and yeast
  2. Whisk until very smooth to incorporate air, about 2 minutes. The sponge will have the consistency of a thick batter
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature at least one hour and 24 hours maximum (I went for the 24-hour option which has)
For the final dough
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour (reserve about 60 g if mixing by hand), yeast and dry milk.
  2. Sprinkle this on top of the sponge and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to ferment 1 to 4 hours at room temperature (during this time, the sponge will bubble through the flour blanket, which is actually pretty cool to watch)
  3. Add oil (or butter), mashed banana and salt to the bowl and stir (with wooden spoon or with your hand) until all the flour is moistened
  4. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a lightly floured counter
  5. Knead for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible to keep it from sticking
  6. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. It will be very sticky
  7. Cover with the inverted bowl and allow to rest for 20 minutes
  8. Knead for another 5 minutes until very smooth and elastic. It should be still tacky enough to cling slightly to your fingers. It still too sticky, add some of the remaining reserve flour, or a little extra
  9. Using a dough scraper, transfer the dough to a slightly greased bowl, push it down and lightly oil the top. Cover with lid or plastic wrap
  10. Allow to rise, ideally @ 75 to 80ºF/24 to 27ºC (which is pretty hard to achieve in the cold season, so the best way might be to place the bowl in the cold oven with the oven light on), until doubled (for 1 ½ to 2 hours)
  11. Using a dough scraper, scrape the dough onto a floured counter and press down on it gently to form a rectangle. Try to maintain as many air bubbles as possible
  12. Fold the dough from all sides into a tight package (or give it 2 business letter turns) and set it back in the container
  13. Let rise again until doubled (1 or 2 hours)
  14. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and shape it into a loaf. Place it into a greased 8½ by 4½ inch-loaf pan, seam-side down, cover it with a large container or cover it lightly with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until the center is about one inch above the sides of the pan, (1½ to 2 hours) or until it keeps the indentation of your finger when pressed (I baked the bread in a pan the first time around but didn't like the way it looked, so this time I free-shaped it. To make a feather, you first make a batard, then you elongate and curve the ends)
  15. Preheat the oven (make sure the dough isn't in it!) to 475ºF/246ºC one hour before baking, placing a baking stone or baking sheet on the lowest-level shelf with a cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet on the floor of the oven
  16. Quickly but gently sit the pan on the baking stone, pour one cup of water (Rose uses 1/2 cup of ice cubes but I always use cold water) into the skillet and immediately shut the door
  17. Turn the heat down to 450ºF/231ºC and bake for 15 minutes (Rose bakes this bread at a lower temperature but in my oven at least, this wasn't a good idea. So this time, I adjusted the temperatures back to what I usually use. You may want to check the loaf after 20 minutes or so to make sure it isn't browning too fast (if it is, lower the temperature slightly and tent foil over the loaf)
  18. Turn the heat down to 430ºF/221ºC and continue baking for another 15 minutes or so, until the bread is medium golden brown and an instant-read thermometer reads about 190ºF/88ºC inside the loaf. Halfway through the baking turn the pan around to ensure even baking
  19. Remove the bread from the oven and set it on a wire rack. If a glaze is desired, brush with melted butter
  20. Un-mold (if using the pan) and let cool for about one hour on a wire rack.
Sorry, no crumb shot today as I am saving the loaf for breakfast tomorrow. I'll try to remember to take a picture then. I am curious to see how it came out... This Banana Feather Bread goes to Susan, from Wild Yeast, for Yeastpotting.


  1. I usually only like bananas raw, but I'm willing to give this a try!

  2. I don't think you'll regret it. It is truly a very good bread. My first recipe from the book too! Now I want to try others...

  3. MC,
    I love the shape and look of the bread...I will have to try this one...Like you said we always have sourdough to use up...
    Hope you had a great feast....

  4. The bread looks fantastic and bananas in bread sounds intresting.

  5. Thanks, Judd! You too. If you make the bread, please send me a picture.
    Thank you, Stefanie! Isn't it interesting the way different foods behave in different situations? I would never have guessed that a banana would contribute anything to the featheriness of a dough.

  6. MC, I just love the shapes you come up with. This is truly a gorgeous loaf!!

  7. Thank you, Meems! Making it was a lot of fun.

  8. Hi MC,
    dunno if you'll see this message but i made this bread yesterday. It was certainly light but the banana taste was, as often is the case when baking with additions, I find, not present in the final product. Furthermore, the yeast taste is a little too strong for me. I think that's because i left the dough + sponge mix for 2 hrs at quite a high temperature, followed by 6 hrs in the fridge, and the final shaped loaf in the fridge overnight. Do you think if i had followed proofing times, and let it over-ferment (did i?), i would have tasted more banana? Also i wonder if i can substitute more banana for the butter? (btw Almond + banana, that's a great combination!)

    Have you tried a sourdough version? How did you convert? I wonder if i can substitute a starter for the sponge, but taking care to feed it to match the quantity of flour & water in the recipe.

    sorry for all the questions. Thanks in any case for posting this recipe. Now i feel like remaking this straight away!

  9. I'm an avid amateur bread baker and was intrigued by this recipe. Have tried it in a slightly modified form and all I can say is: wow! The banana flavour is not overwhelming but neither is it overly subtle. What I did different from your recipe were the following things:

    - Used sourdough in stead of bakers' yeast
    - Substituted 25% of the AP fllour with bread flour (I wanted a more 'bread-like' texture).
    - Used butter, not almond milk
    - And I skipped the phase where the flour is prickled as a blanket over the polish, didn't see the added value of that.

    For honey I used French chestnut blossom honey which has a really pronounced taste, it was magic in this bread.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for the recipe, this one is definitely a keeper!



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