Banana Coconut Cocoa Nib Bread

If I post yet another bready-cake recipe (which are they, really?), would you believe that I don’t only eat baked goods and brussel sprouts? I admit, though. I have consumed a rather obscene amount of muffins, brownies, bread and cupcakes the past two weeks. There’s been Charlie’s birthday, which necessitated several desserts in the course of a week, a point in my cycle in which chocolate was demanded, and two boys swapping germs like baseball cards. When I’m homebound with the boys, baking is a trusted outlet. A reliable companion to keep my head from banging against the walls. I get fierce cabin fever after a few days. If I can’t get fresh air, I must bake.

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I didn’t bake this yesterday with intentions to share yet another recipe filled with sugar, flour and butter, but then a few things happened. First, I tasted it. Then, I watched the boys gobble up their slices without saying a single word. Lastly, out of the corner of my eye, I caught Harry exiting his office with a huge smile while holding an empty plate, on his way to retrieve a second piece. I knew what I needed to do. You need to try this bread. Cake in a loaf pan. Whatever it is.

Yesterday morning I spied three very sad bananas on our counter. Usually I throw old bananas into the freezer to use in bread or smoothies at a later date, but with a full day at home ahead of me the decision to bake was obvious. For some reason choosing a banana bread recipe isn’t ever easy for me, though. I have a lot of banana bread recipes that I like, but none that are both fairly simple to execute and make me groan with delight. Plenty are fine, but none are swoon-worthy.

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So, I did what I always do when I’m seeking inspiration. I considered my cookbooks and favorite food blogs to decide who was most likely to provide the best hit. After a minute or two of contemplation, Ding! Ding! Ding! Google: Orangette + banana bread. I’m familiar with Molly’s lunacy for banana bread from reading her blog for years (as well as her wonderful first book). Plus, I trust her recipes implicitly. When this recipe popped up including rum and coconut, my decision was made.

I first tasted liquor in banana bread a few years ago. The recipe called for roasting the bananas in rum and sugar before mixing them into the batter. Charlie loved it so much that we joked he would end up at a friend’s house eating banana bread and politely inquire, “Excuse me. May I have some rum in my banana bread?” That bread was delicious, but it’s a relatively time-intensive recipe and I wanted something simpler.

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After consulting my pantry, I knew plenty of changes would need to be made, but I decided to take a chance. Here’s how this bread was born: I didn’t have shredded coconut, but a bag of coconut flakes begged me to be used. I still don’t have rum in the house after mojitos wiped us out, but spotted Marsala and thought it would be a nice pairing with those flavors. I didn’t have any demerara sugar, so I grabbed turbinado because it’s structure is similar. I felt it would yield that same crystalline crunchy crust. I also played a bit with the other sugars, flours and spices because I do things like that. The best moment of inspiration came while fetching my sugars. I happened to spy Theo’s cocoa nibs (purchased for this, also used for this) and emitted a little yelp of glee. I’m never disappointed with chocolate, coconut and banana bonding, but I didn’t want this recipe to fall completely in the cake camp. The fact that the cocoa nibs aren’t sweet was important to me. I figured the sugars and banana would do enough to cover that base. Does using whole wheat pastry flour and making this a little less sweet keep it a bread?

Whatever it is, this recipe jumped to top of my bananas-in-batter list. It’s got the classic banana bread flavor and moistness, but these amazing bonus textures and tastes. A chewy bite from a coconut flake, a deep chocolate punch from a cocoa nib, a quick crunch from the sugary crust. I am so pleased that this bread goodness not despite all the changes I made, but because of them. This bread resulted because of everything I didn’t have on hand and the one thing I did. If all the ingredients had been present, I probably wouldn’t have played around. I always breathe a sigh of relief when my changes turn out, but today’s results called for celebration. An opportunity to post. I am really pleased to have finally found my go-to banana bread. I hope you love it as much as I do.

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Cocoa Nib Coconut Banana Bread

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s adaptation of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s recipe in HomeBaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World

1 1/2 cups of banana puree (from approximately three large, overripe bananas)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/8 tsp distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon Marsala

1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes

1/3 cup cocoa nibs

1 tablespoon turbinado, demerara or dark brown sugar

—————–

Preheat the oven to 350℉. Butter a standard-size loaf pan.

Puree the bananas (using a blender, food processor, grinder, masher- whatever works to get them smooth!) and measure them out.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.

Using a hand or standing mixer, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vinegar and Marsala. Starting with the banana puree, alternate adding in the banana and flour mixture (about 1 cup at a time). Beat until it’s mostly incorporated but some flour still shows. Use a spatula to fold in the coconut, cocoa nibs and any remaining flour that is visible just until it’s incorporated. Do not overmix.

(The batter will be DENSE. After I made it I was so concerned about the thickness that I read all of Molly’s blogpost comments to make sure there wasn’t an error. Were there supposed to be eggs? Was this batter really supposed to be this hard to spread into the pan? Should I add milk? Was this going to be a disaster? Turns out her warning that it will be thick, was quite true but perhaps slightly understated. Think playdough thick. It was denser than any batter I’ve ever made. Despite your fears, assure yourself that the bread will not bake into a brick.)

Plop the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top, and sprinkle it evenly with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a tester comes out clean. Run a knife around the edges and let it cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Turn the loaf out of the pan to allow it to cool completely.

Enjoy this bread within a few days. Keep it tightly covered between servings to keep it moist. (This bread was just as good the next day as the first, so don’t hesitate to make it a day ahead.)

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