Recipe Review

Why I Wasn’t Smitten with Smitten Kitchen’s Banana Bread

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

I’ve been a devoted reader of Smitten Kitchen for close to a decade, making (and obsessing over) everything from her confetti cookies to her meatloaf. Deb Perelman has published no fewer than four banana breads on her blog, plus a banana bread crepe cake and an upside-down banana cake (which both look equally intriguing). In all the years of cooking and reading Smitten Kitchen, I’ve never baked any of these banana recipes — until now.

With more than 700 comments, Deb’s “Jacked-Up Banana Bread” seemed ripe for inclusion in this banana bread bake-off. It’s a simple one-bowl recipe, but with a few nontraditional twists. Here’s what I thought when I baked off a loaf in my kitchen.

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

How to Make Smitten Kitchen’s Banana Bread

Mix three to four ripe smashed bananas with melted salted butter in a large bowl. Stir in brown sugar, an egg, vanilla extract, bourbon, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the wet banana mixture, then gently mix in the flour. Transfer the batter to a buttered loaf pan. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean and is golden. That’s it!

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

My Honest Review of Smitten Kitchen’s Banana Bread

I thought this banana bread would be the one. This “jacked-up” loaf is mixed in just one bowl, spiked with bourbon, and studded with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. How could it not be the winner?

Smitten Kitchen’s recipe calls for a range of three to four bananas, which I appreciate because you never know how many you’ll have on your counter. I used four per Deb’s recommendation in the headnotes. She also gives a range for the sugar, presumably because the sweetness of bananas is directly dependent upon ripeness. I used 3/4 cup, again per her recommendation. While other banana breads in this bake-off call for two eggs per loaf, Smitten Kitchen’s recipe calls for just one. The structural integrity of the bread might be improved with another egg.

Standard muffin-mixing procedure calls for mixing dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in a second, and then stirring them together until just combined. But it’s not unusual to mix quick breads and cakes in a single vessel, which is what we see here. One-bowl quick breads can still have a tender crumb, as long as the ingredients are combined well without over-mixing. What was unconventional was the instruction to sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the banana mixture before adding the flour, which may have activated the leavening effect too soon. The result is a bread that’s dense and heavy.

A sweet and spicy aroma wafted through my kitchen as the banana bread baked. The flavors of nutmeg and bourbon came through, despite a heavy hand of cinnamon. But the problem was not in the flavor, but in the texture of the bread. Despite being full of my favorite things, this bread ranked at the bottom of my list.

Credit: Patty Catalano

If You Make Smitten Kitchen’s Banana Bread, A Few Tips

  1. Whisk all the dry ingredients together. Instead of sprinkling the baking soda and salt onto the banana mixture before adding the flour, whisk the three together and then fold them in for better distribution and lift.
  2. Add an extra egg. This bread was the squattest of the bunch, with a dense texture. Adding an extra egg, for a total of two eggs, might improve the structure and support the banana bread’s additional height.
  3. Include your favorite flavorings, no matter which recipe you use. If the spices (and bourbon) are sitting in your cabinet, why not use them to jazz up an everyday breakfast bread? The spice amounts called for here give the bread a rich, spicy aroma without overwhelming the sweet banana flavor.

Overall rating: 4/10

This banana bread earns points for ease of assembly and flavor, but is docked mightily for its dense texture that no amount of toasting could remedy.

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

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

Read More About This Banana Bread Showdown