Recipe Review

America’s Test Kitchen’s Banana Bread Recipe Is *Definitely* Extra, but Is It Worth the Fuss?

updated Jan 21, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

America’s Test Kitchen is known for its meticulous dissection of classic American recipes, and their banana bread recipe is certainly no exception. Their cooks left no crumb unturned in their quest for the ultimate banana bread, managing to turn the humble breakfast treat into a multi-step affair that dirties a lot of dishes. I took to the kitchen to find out whether the extra effort was worth it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

How to Make America’s Test Kitchen’s Banana Bread

It takes just one glance to realize this recipe is unlike any other. You’ll start by microwaving five large, very ripe bananas for five minutes. You’ll then strain the cooked bananas, stirring to push all the moisture out of the fruit. After about 15 minutes, you should be left with a milky banana liquid.

Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and simmer until syrupy. Combine the banana syrup and mashed, cooked bananas in a large bowl and whisk in brown sugar, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a separate bowl, then gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture until just combined. Stir in toasted pecans, if desired. Transfer the batter to a standard loaf pan and sprinkle the top with coarse turbinado sugar. Bake until deeply browned and a cake tester comes out clean.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of America’s Test Kitchen’s Banana Bread

In all honesty, I’m conflicted about this banana bread. On one hand, this is what banana bread tastes like. It has a rich banana flavor, a tender crumb, holds a nice slice without crumbling, and gets even better when toasted the next day. The contrasting crunchy sugar topping had me in banana bread nirvana. That is, until I looked at the pile of dishes in my sink.

This recipe calls for the most bananas of the bunch, so you know the bread will be full of flavor with a squishy (in a good way!) texture. But while cooking, mashing, straining, and reducing the bananas does extract flavor (and is a smart strategy for underripe bananas), it isn’t necessary if your bananas are adequately freckled, because their sugars are already intensely concentrated. There wasn’t a significant enough difference in banana flavor to justify the time and dishes required for this step.

ATK leaves the addition of pecans optional, but I added them to get the full experience of the bread. However, the crown jewel of this bread is the crunchy sugar topping, which I’m now convinced no banana bread should be without.

Credit: Patty Catalano

If You Make America’s Test Kitchen’s Banana Bread

  1. Choose your bananas wisely. Five large, very ripe bananas are essential to the moist texture and bold banana flavor of this bread. Wait to make the bread until they are mottled with spots and release an intoxicatingly sweet aroma.
  2. Skip right over the complicated banana reduction. If you start with very ripe, sweet bananas you can skip right over the most complicated part of this recipe without any significant difference in flavor or texture.
  3. Consider the turbinado topping essential. You must top this bread with turbinado sugar. If you don’t have any on hand, a sprinkle of granulated sugar is the next best thing.

Overall rating: 6/10

America’s Test Kitchen’s banana bread is full of sweet banana flavor and capped with a crunchy crust that makes the extra effort almost worth it. In the end, the extra steps and dirty dishes make this recipe too complicated and time-consuming for me to consider making again.

Have you ever made America’s Test Kitchen’s Banana Bread? Tell us what you thought!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

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