Secret Ingredient Banana Bread
In the heady, butter-and-caramel-scented world of bakeshops and cafe countertops, you can’t get any simpler than banana bread. Every bakery has their own version of the classic crowd-pleaser, claiming theirs to be the best one in town. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I’ve got my own version too. 😋
Now I’m not saying mine’s the best or anything, but let me just say that I baked two last week, and both were gone within a day. Plus, if a recipe inspired by two James Beard Award-winning Boston chef-icons – Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer, then elevated by one of my favourite fellow underground food blogger – More Icing Than Cake — isn’t enough to convince you, please leave. (I’m kidding, please stay and read on; I still love you, and hopefully you’ll be convinced by the end.)
So what makes my banana bread so crusty on the outside, rich and robust on the inside, and so surprisingly savoury it makes every other banana bread you’ve had seem dull and bland? (Your words not mine.) Well, just like those two Bostonian chef-icons found out through sheer culinary curiousity, there’s one secret ingredient that when added to the humble banana bread, instantly elevates it from cafe curio to cult classic. And that secret ingredient is… miso!
Let’s face it, miso is in vogue. People are putting it in caramels, pumpkin pies, and even pasta! Take this miso mushroom pasta for instance, that was featured on Food52’s Top 10 (correction: 9½) October dishes. It’s rich and moist and as one reader puts it, has “O.M.G. incredible flavors”. Some might say it’s the best recipe on the site. 😉
(Disclaimer: I wrote the recipe, hahaha. This here is self-aggrandisement at its finest. And I’m kidding, there are a ton of other crazy amazing recipes on the site that make mine seem barely passable in comparison.)
Anyway, I think one of the reasons miso is having a resurgence right now is because people finally figured out how to use it in desserts! I mean, miso has mostly been used as a savoury ingredient, no doubt due to its funky, fermented flavour and complex soy saltiness. So savoury dishes seem like a natural fit. But if you think about it, in sweets and desserts, savouriness can play an important role too. Think salty-sweet dulce de leche, sea salt in chocolate, and that salty santan (coconut milk) hit in your kuih-muihs. So when utilising miso in desserts, you should think of it as a salt replacement, using it in moderation to give classic desserts a deep umami-ness that’s hard to put your finger on, but once tasted you can never get enough of.
So when I started seeing recipes for miso banana bread populating the web, I knew I had to try out the combination! I took the ever-popular banana bread recipe from the restaurant I used to work at, worked some miso into it and balanced out the sweetness with some extra vanilla and sugar, and it was pretty much perfect.
So here it is, my guilty go-to, my favourite fruit-cake, my swoon-worthy salty-sweet sweetheart, my cafe classic (if I ever had a cafe), my banzai banana bread.
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Miso Banana Bread
Makes 1 loaf
230g overripe bananas (this should amount to 4-5 bananas), plus one more to garnish
100g butter, softened at room temperature
70g shiro (sweet) miso
80g caster sugar
80g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (12g) baking powder
½ teaspoon (2g) cinnamon
Peel all the bananas, and mash up all but one with a fork. That last one we’ll save as a garnish.
Heat your oven to 175°C, and ready a lined loaf tin for your banana bread batter.
In a mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the butter, sweet miso, caster sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until it turns light and fluffy. This should take 2-3 minutes. Then, add in the mashed bananas, eggs and vanilla extract and mix for 30 seconds. The batter might start to look a little chunky and split at this point; don’t fret, this is perfectly normal. Finally, add in the dry ingredients — flour, baking powder and cinnamon — and mix for another 20-30 seconds, until a smooth batter forms.
Pour the banana bread batter into the lined loaf tin. Then, take that extra banana you saved in step one, and slice it in half lengthwise. Place them on top of the batter, cut side up. (See the photos for reference.)
Bake the banana bread in the oven for 60-75 minutes, rotating it once 45 minutes into the baking process. To check for doneness, prick it in the middle with a skewer or cake tester; the cake is done when the skewer comes out clean. When done, let it cool in the tin for 30 minutes before digging in!
A note of caution — there are several types of miso out there. Shiro (or white) miso works best for this recipe, and for most desserts for that matter, because out of all the misos, it is the sweetest and has the mellowest level of funk. You could use yellow miso here too if you already have a tub of that in your fridge, but I suggest you steer clear away from the uber-funky red miso paste. But then again, maybe some of you *like* extreme funk. Plus, you know I’m all for kooky, adventurous cooking, so I won’t stop you. Just don’t blame me when your banana bread instead turns out to be a full-on miso bread with an afterthought of banana. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing..?)