Caribbean Banana Bread

Have you ever been asked about your stance on banana bread? The options are pretty much always plain, nuts, or chocolate.

Why is this? Why limit yourself to these simple, obvious ingredients?

Why not add whatever you want?

Don’t get me wrong: classic banana bread is wonderful. But sometimes you want to shake things up, sometimes you want to try something new, sometimes you realize your shredded coconut is – shoot! – past its expiration date and you could either throw it out or test your immune system’s ability to defend itself against expired coconut (what even happens when coconut “expires”? It just seemed dry to me)…

banana bread

This recipe starts with a good staple version from The Kitchn, and then amps it up. In the easiest way possible. Because I was bored. And hungry. And maybe a teensy bit lazy (what, can’t a girl crave some banana bread with minimal work involved?). A little rummaging in my cabinet lead to a Caribbean-inspired bread that really just tastes like dessert. And happiness. Why wouldn’t you want to add to banana bread?

You can go crazy with this recipe. Banana bread is hard to mess up. Once you get the basics (flour, eggs, sugar, bananas, etc.) then you can play with it (walnuts, pecans, toasted shredded coconut, chocolate chips, toffee bits, raisinettes, butterscotch chips, the possibilities are endless!). I added ~3 extra cups of ingredients to this recipe and it was perfectly fine. So get creative, work with what you have, and report back to me on how it goes!

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CARIBBEAN BANANA BREAD

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar (brown or white; I used half and half)

2 large eggs

2-3 bananas, super ripe

¼ cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ cup chocolate toffee bits

1 ½ cups chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted

¾ cup shredded coconut, toasted

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Instructions adapted from The Kitchn.

1. Heat the oven, prep the pan, and toast the coconut and nuts: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Grease the loaf pan with butter or baking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, spread the shredded coconut and nuts evenly over the top, and toast in the oven while it preheats (~10 minutes, but watch them closely and pull out once the coconut turns golden). 

2. Melt the butter: Melt in the microwave. Or, if you have room temperature butter, you can use that for a fluffier cake.

3. Combine the butter and sugars: Whisk together the melted butter and sugars in a large bowl until combined. (Or cream in a mixer until fluffy.)

4. Add the eggs: Crack the eggs into the bowl and whisk until completely combined. The mixture should be smooth.

5. Add the milk and vanilla: Whisk into the batter until combined.

6. Mash in the bananas: For chunky banana bread, peel the bananas and add them directly to the bowl. Using a dinner fork, mash them into the batter. If you want a smooth bread, mash the bananas separately until no more lumps remain, and then whisk them into the batter.

7. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt: In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Use a spatula to stir the dry ingredients into the wet batter until they are just barely combined and no more dry flour is visible.

8. Fold in the nuts, coconut, chocolate toffee bits, etc, if using: Scatter everything over the batter and gently fold them in.

9. Pour the batter into the pan: Use the spatula to scrape off all the batter from the bowl. Smooth the top of the bread batter.

10. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes: Place the pan in the oven. Bake until the top of the cake is caramelized dark brown and a tooth pick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Baking time will vary depending on the age of your bananas, how many things you add, etc. — start checking around 50 minutes and then every five minutes after.

11. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes: Set the loaf, still in the pan, on a cooling rack. Let it cool for 10 minutes so it solidifies and gets easier to remove from the pan.

12. Remove from the pan and cool for another 10 minutes: Place your (clean!) hand gently on top of the loaf and flip it over into your hand. Set it back down on the cooling rack to cool for another 10 minutes before slicing. Leftover bread can be kept, covered, at room temperature for several days or wrapped in foil and frozen for up to 3 months.

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Easy, delicious, and unique. Use any ingredients you have on hand – the only things that really matter are the ripe bananas. Recommandation d’experts: spread some butter on a freshly cut piece of this bread for a perfect, decadent treat. Besides, what are a few more calories anyways?!

caribbean banana bread

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Dark Chocolate Banana Oatmeal Muffin Tops (with Walnuts and Butterscotch)

chocolate banana muffin tops

I have used up the last of my ripe bananas, thank goodness. I have so many other ideas hanging out in my brain, clamoring for attention and getting jealous that I’ve been spending so much time with bananas lately. Nonetheless, I’m excited about this recipe because it gave me the perfect opportunity to use the World Market dark chocolate spread my mom gave me for Christmas. While the spread is good on toast and whatnot, I couldn’t wait to find a way to bake with it. And the opportunity finally presented itself with this recipe idea! Of course, you could use any chocolate spread – including Nutella, like the recipe over at Chef in Training that inspired this post – but I like the dark chocolate because it’s not too sweet, so it doesn’t overpower the other flavors in the muffin tops.

Alright. About that. I need to come clean: I adapted the above recipe so much that it’s basically my own recipe at this point, which means I have to take full blame for these should-have-been-cookies. They have a very soft, dense-cake texture. The walnuts give a bit of a crunch, the oats add some chewiness, and the butterscotch and chocolate swirls bring in some much-appreciated sweetness. But ultimately, these don’t really taste like cookies. They’re just too soft/squishy/cake-y. Clearly, I haven’t quite mastered the art of recipe development yet! However, someone in my building took a bite and brilliantly suggested, “Call them muffin tops!” Genius, I tell you. If you eat these as cookies, you’ll wonder at the slightly strange texture. If you eat these as muffin tops, your brain won’t be confused and you’ll like every bit. So, enjoy these muffin tops! This recipe makes about 4 dozen muffin tops; I had to make a big recipe, because I needed to use up 3 ripe bananas.

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DARK CHOCOLATE BANANA OATMEAL MUFFIN TOPS (WITH WALNUTS AND BUTTERSCOTCH)

2 ½ cups flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

1 ¼ tsp. salt

1 cup shortening

2 eggs

½ tsp. vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1 ¾ cup quick-cooking oats

¾ cup chopped walnuts

1 cup butterscotch chips

½ cup dark chocolate spread (World Market has a great one!)

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1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining with parchment paper (what I did) or greasing with baking spray.

2. In a bowl, whisk/stir together the flour, sugars, baking powder, and baking soda, and salt. “Cut in” the shortening (see photos below; I used two knifes and keep cutting the shortening, coating it with the mixture, cutting again, coating, etc. until you have a bunch of pea-sized clumps and there’s no “dry” powder left).

3. Using an electric hand mixer, add the eggs, vanilla, and bananas and beat until well mixed.

4. Stir in the oats, walnuts, and butterscotch chips.

5. Pour the chocolate over the dough and gently swirl it into the dough (mix carefully by folding the dough and chocolate together, or use a knife to make grooves for the chocolate – the key is to not mix it together all the way, so you still have some ribbons of color that make it look pretty).

6. Use a tablespoon to drop heaping scoops of batter on prepared cookie sheets. Leave at least 1.5-inches between drops.

7. Bake for ~12 minutes, until the muffin tops are set and spring back from your touch. Immediately remove from tray when done cooking and transfer to cooling racks.

8. Pour yourself a glass of milk and sample one fresh from the oven. You deserve it!

Just starting to "cut" in the shortening, using two knifes and making "x" cuts into the shortening.

Just starting to “cut” in the shortening, using two knifes to make “x” cuts into the shortening.

Further along in the process. Be sure you're coating the cut pieces with the powder mix as you cut - this will keep the shortening from sticking to itself in the center.

Further along in the process. Be sure you’re coating the cut pieces with the powder mix as you cut – this will keep the shortening from sticking to itself in the center.

At about this point, when it's pretty well mixed and the largest clumps are about the size of peas, I stop using the knives and switch to mixing it in by hand. You want to crumble the dough together, not smoosh it like bread dough. Think of it like you're picking up sand and feeling the grains between your fingers and thumbs. Do that motion with the mixture to get the shortening to mix in nicely with the powder.

At about this point, when it’s pretty well mixed and the largest clumps are about the size of peas, I stop using the knives and switch to mixing it in by hand. You want to crumble the dough together, not smoosh it like bread dough. Think of it like you’re picking up sand and feeling the grains between your fingers and thumbs. Do that motion with the mixture to get the shortening to mix in nicely with the powder.

What the final shortening + dry ingredients should look like when you're done cutting and mixing it by hand. There should be no obviously large sections of dry powder; you want it to look almost like damp sand.

What the final shortening + dry ingredients should look like when you’re done cutting and mixing it by hand. There should be no obviously large sections of dry powder; you want it to look almost like damp, coarse sand.

Gently swirl in the chocolate. Do not mix past this point! In fact, I almost think I mixed it in too much. These cookies are pretty because they are multi-toned, so don't get too zealous with the mixing here!

Gently swirl in the chocolate. Do not mix past this point! In fact, I almost think I mixed it in too much. These muffin tops are pretty because they are multi-toned, so don’t get too zealous with the mixing here!

Using heaping tablespoon scoops to plop cookie down onto the tray, leaving space for the cookies to spread a bit. Almost there...

Using heaping tablespoon scoops to plop the batter down onto the tray, leaving space for the muffin tops to spread a bit.

chocolate banana on plate

Cookies… er, muffin tops for everyone!!

Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Aka: YOU SURVIVED!

I always think I’m going to eat bananas, and pick up a half dozen from the grocery store each time I go. Clearly I never learn: every time, I end up with overripe, brown bananas staring me in the face and mocking my inability to consume them fast enough. If we were in a race, my eating vs. their ripening, they’d win every time.

Except when I think of a delicious recipe to put them in. Then I win. Take that, bananas! And somehow, it seems much easier to eat banana cake than bananas…

This cake is good. Really good. As in, you take a bite and you think, “Yeah, that’s yummy” and then the second bite is, “Wow, this is pretty good” and then the rest is gobbled up with mouth-full exclamations of, “Could a banana cake really taste this good? Do I even like bananas?! Who cares, this is delicious!” (This evolution was determined scientifically, through careful observation of my own opinions and the compliments that others gave as their eating progressed.) It started as a honeybun cake recipe that I changed up quite a bit, adding vanilla extract, baking soda, flour, and bananas and baking in round cake pans so I could make a proper cake with layers and lots of frosting.  The result is a not-quite-dense-but-definitely-not-airy cake laced with small chunks of banana and ribbons of cinnamon and brown sugar, topped with my newest favorite cream cheese frosting (it holds its shape really well and has tons of sugar, but still tastes like cream cheese).

Cake inspiration: Michelle’s Honeybun Cake on AllRecipes

Frosting (minus the pecans): Cream Cheese Butter Pecan Frosting on MyRecipes

As you can see by the writing, quals are finally over! The grad students all survived (a bit brain-dead by the end, but they made it) and now get to wait one anxious month to find out if they passed. Now, what to make when that time rolls around? Decisions, decisions…

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CINNAMON-SWIRLED BANANA CAKE

1 box yellow cake mix
4 eggs
1 (8oz) carton sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup flour
3 ripe bananas, peeled & mashed

Cinnamon Swirl:

1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (32oz) package powdered sugar (or 2-16oz packages)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

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1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans well (bottom and sides). Cut parchment or wax paper in a circle to fit the bottom of the cake pan, place on top of the greased bottom, and grease the paper.

2. In a bowl, whisk/stir together the cake mix, baking soda, and flour until well-mixed. Using an electric hand mixer, beat in eggs, sour cream, vegetable oil, water, and vanilla extract to make a smooth batter. Beat in mashed bananas for ~30 seconds (there will still be some lumps). In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour 1/4 of the cake batter into one prepared cake pan and 1/4 of the cake batter into the other pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the batters (divide between the two pans). Pour the remaining batter over the cinnamon mixture (divide between the two pans), and gently swirl the batter ~15 times with a butter knife.

3. Put both cake pans in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the cake pans for ~20 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack (place your (clean) hand on top of the cake, flip the pan over, lift the pan off, remove the parchment/wax paper, place a cooling rack on top of the cake where the paper just was, and gently flip the whole thing back over and set the cooling rack down).

4. Place the cakes in the freezer for 15-30 minutes (depends on how much time you have) to make them easier to frost later. While they firm up, make the frosting. Beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar gradually, stopping when you like the consistency/flavor of the frosting (I always add the full 32 ounces).

5. Prepare your cake plate by placing small strips of wax paper in a circle about the size of your cake (this will catch the frosting spills and keep your plate looking pretty).

6. Remove the cakes from the freezer. Use a serrated knife to level off the rounded tops of each cake (someone really ought to eat these scraps, don’t you think? And there’s a very large bowl of frosting sitting on the counter; no one would notice if some were missing…). Place one of the cake rounds on the wax paper circle (the wax paper should be partially under the cake), with the serrated side facing up. Put a generous amount of frosting on top and smooth it out to an even layer, then put the second cake round on top with the serrated side facing down.

7. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the sides and top of the cake. This is called a “crumb coat” and will effectively seal in all the crumbs, so when we frost “for real” later, it’ll look magnifique! Put the cake in the fridge this time (not the freezer), for 10 minutes.

8. Frost the cake with generous scoops of frosting, spreading it all over the sides and top. Reserve some of the frosting if you wish to add writing and/or decorations. You can tint this frosting with gel food coloring (which won’t change the consistency) or liquid food coloring (which will require the addition of more powdered sugar to counteract the extra liquid). Use a frosting bag and fancy tip or a plastic bag with the end snipped off to pipe anything you want on your cake.

9. Eat. Share. Smile. Repeat.

It's important to line the bottoms of your pans with parchment/wax paper, because this will make it a LOT easier to remove the cakes later. (Be sure to grease both the bottom of the pan AND the paper.)

It’s important to line the bottoms of your pans with parchment/wax paper, because this will make it a LOT easier to remove the cakes later. (Be sure to grease both the bottom of the pan AND the paper.)

When you swirl the batter + cinnamon/brown sugar + batter layers together, use big, cross-pan sweeps.

When you swirl the batter + cinnamon/brown sugar + batter layers together, use big, cross-pan sweeps.

Stick your (clean) finger against the side of the pan until it's level with the cake's average height and turn the pan slowly, so that your finger sweeps the edges clean (check out the previous picture to see what I mean about it being "messy" before).

Stick your (clean) finger against the side of the pan until it’s level with the cake’s average height and turn the pan slowly, so that your finger sweeps the edges clean (check out the previous picture to see what I mean about it being “messy” before).

The wax paper circle, which you will place your cake on, keeps the tray/platter/plate/cake stand clean when you frost. When you're done, you'll gently remove these strips of wax paper and everyone will think you are a professional cake decorator! (How else could you keep that plate so clean?!)

The wax paper circle, which you will place your cake on, keeps the tray/platter/cake stand/plate clean while you frost. When you’re done, gently remove these strips of wax paper and everyone will think you are a professional cake decorator for keeping the plate so clean. Shh, it’ll be our secret!

Carefully cut off the rounded tops of the cakes. Be careful you don't cut too deep! Some people have methods to keep the cake from rounding up in the center, which means you can skip this leveling step. But I prefer this way, because then you get to taste the cake before you give it to anyone else. (For quality assurance purposes, of course; it's not that I'm too impatient to wait...)

Use a serrated knife to cut off the rounded tops of the cakes. Be careful you don’t cut too deep! Some people have methods to keep the cake from rounding up in the center, which means you can skip this leveling step. But I prefer this way, because then you get to taste the cake before you give it to anyone else. (For quality assurance purposes, of course; it’s definitely not that I love rewarding myself with a bowl of cake scraps and leftover frosting…)

First cake goes on bottom down, serrated side up. Big glob of frosting. Second cake goes on serrated side down, bottom side up. Putting the serrated sides on the inside prevents pesky crumbs from jumping into the beautiful frosting outside.

First cake goes on bottom down, serrated side up. Big glob of frosting. Second cake goes on serrated side down, bottom side up. Putting the serrated sides on the inside prevents pesky crumbs from jumping into the beautiful frosting outside.

Applying the crumb coat (initial thin layer of frosting) will seal in any rouge crumbs, make it a lot easier to frost later, and dramatically improve the appearance of your final cake. All the cool kids do it...

Applying the crumb coat (initial thin layer of frosting) will seal in any rouge crumbs, make it a lot easier to frost later, and dramatically improve the appearance of your final cake. All the cool kids are doing it…

Once you have the crumb coat, you can spread the top (thick!) layer of frosting on with ease. Pat yourself on the back - you just mastered one of the biggest tricks in cake decorating!

Once you have the crumb coat, you can spread the top (thick!) layer of frosting on with ease. Pat yourself on the back – you just mastered one of the biggest tricks in cake decorating!

Reserve some frosting for decorating (I recommend gel food coloring to achieve vibrant colors while preserving the frosting consistency). To easily place sprinkles, use (clean!) tweezers.

Reserve some frosting for decorating (I recommend gel food coloring to achieve vibrant colors while preserving the frosting consistency). To easily place sprinkles, use (clean) tweezers. Magnifique, indeed!!