Chocolate Banana Bread
October 14, 2011
Banana bread, like zucchini bread, is an old standard answer to the perennial question ‘what the heck am I going to do with all this [specify type of surplus produce or overripe fruit]?’. I actually prefer my bananas with just the tiniest hint of green still on the peel, so I’m definitely not going to be eating bananas once the dark spots take up more surface area than the yellow. And there’s actually one other item that I occasionally need to get rid of via an alternative route: dark chocolate. Since chocolate can have so many different flavor characteristics, sometimes I find a new brand or variety that is just too strong or bitter for my palate, but I don’t want to waste it. So chocolate banana bread is the perfect solution to this dual conundrum.
Baking is already challenging at higher altitudes, but I also like to make my breads low fat, which imparts a second element of difficulty. And I make them somewhat high in fiber, adding up to a triumvirate of baking challenges. To be honest, I’ve had times where my quick bread just doesn’t cook in the middle, and I either have to keep baking it until it’s pretty dark brown on the top, or just accept the fact that I’m going to have some very (very) moist-centered bread. But there are a few high altitude modifications that I’ve made over the past year which make quite a difference, and my successes definitely outnumber my failures these days. The main tweaks I’ve made are reducing the amount of baking powder and sugar, adding a little extra liquid, and increasing the oven temperature by 25 degrees.
I’ve also experimented a bit with different flours. I apparently still like to bake on the edge, so instead of using any white flour, I’ve been using King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour, Whole Wheat Pastry flour (available from several companies) or some combination of the two. Because banana bread is somewhat dense anyhow, I really don’t feel that the more robust wheat flour has an adverse affect on the texture. (I do know what really dense, heavy whole grain bread tastes and feels like – I’ve bought some in the past, and rather like it, but my husband doesn’t really care for it, and he loves my banana bread).
Depending on whether my desire to eat more natural foods or my desire to hold calories down is stronger that day, I either use all fair trade organic sugar, or a mix of sugar and either erythritol or baking Splenda. I prefer the erythritol to the Splenda, as it’s a sugar alcohol which is, according to some research, a more preferable alternative. I go back and forth on the artificial sweeteners, but I have such a hard time getting past the fact that sugar has 720 calories per cup. So I use stevia in my daily double dose of coffee (with a bonus cup on weekends), I occasionally have a diet soda, and I sometimes bake with some fakes. I continually strive to be more of a purist with food, but I haven’t found it practical to be rigidly all-or-nothing. So there’s my sugar confession.
As for fat, I don’t use any oil or butter in this bread, just applesauce, yogurt, and milk. (And it’s still a very moist bread). The fat all comes from the chocolate and the flour, so it’s significantly reduced over the fat in a quick bread made with oil.
Chocolate Banana Bread
(recipe for 5400 ft altitude – lower altitude substitutions below)
1 cup sugar
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup applesauce
5 Tbsp skim milk
2 Tbsp non-fat yogurt
3 oz dark chocolate
2 tsp less 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
Divide the chocolate in half. The first half you will cut into thin filaments (for lack of a better term), which will melt into the bread a bit. Use a paring knife to cut thin strips off of the chocolate starting at one end. Once done, cut those in half crosswise. Using a larger knife, cut the second half of the chocolate into small chunks that will be more like chips in the bread.
Mash the bananas with a fork, then add the applesauce, milk, yogurt, chocolate, and vanilla, and stir well. In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients together, and mix well. Then add 1/4 of the dry ingredients at a time to the wet ingredients, stirring just enough to mix the dry ingredients in completely. Pour into a bread pan sprayed with cooking spray (or greased), and bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Check by inserting a toothpick or knife – it’s done when it comes out clean(ish). Remove from the pan, and place on a cooking rack.
For lower altitudes: use a full 2 tsp baking powder, 2+1/4 cups sugar, 4 Tbsp milk, and bake at 350 degrees
Lower sugar substitution: 1/2 cup sugar + 1/2 cup erythritol OR 1/2 cup baking Splenda (add 1/4 cup nonfat-dry milk if using the Splenda)