Ever had a culinary white whale? Wait, step back: I’m showing my literature scholar roots here. For those who haven’t been exposed to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, that’s a reference to the central obsession of the main character, Captain Ahab, who won’t rest until he’s had his revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale that on a previous voyage wrecked Ahab’s ship and severed his leg below the knee. I know: spoilers! But the book’s over 150 years old, so I think we’ve passed the statute of limitations on spoilers.
Where was I? Right, white whales. So back in the hopeful days of early December, I announced to my husband that I had a great idea for a banana bread with toasted walnuts in it. “Great!” he said. Oh simple faith: months have gone by. Over that time, my responses to his “whatcha makin’?” have gone from “banana bread!” to “…banana bread, again,” to a sullen flick of the hand toward the endless pile of bananas on the counter.
Don’t get me wrong: they’ve all been fine. But fine isn’t good enough — that banana wrecked my boat! Er, rather, I’m not content to accept ‘fine’: I had a vision of soft, warm bread thick with the sweet cloying scent of bananas, heavy with the roasted notes of toasted walnuts, and with just the right punctuation of chocolate bursts, everything balanced perfectly. And instead it was always a little off: the chocolate would be overpowering, or the walnuts would take over the whole thing, or worst of all you’d think “oh, were there walnuts in here?”
I’d gotten to the point where I was almost just making banana bread automatically, not really expecting it to work out. But then, just a few days ago, I tasted the most recent loaf, and eureka! That was it! The bananas were there, familiar and comforting, the walnuts were making a strong backbone without covering everything else up, and the chocolate was just enough to surprise and delight. I may have started cackling maniacally in the kitchen.
Jarod will probably be a little disappointed now, because I’ll finally be able to read a book or watch TV instead of continuing the endless train of banana bread. But when next the urge for that magic combination of banana, walnut, and chocolate strikes, I’ll know where to turn. And so will you.
Toasted Walnut Banana Bread
1 3/4 c white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
2/3 c walnuts halves and pieces
3 bananas, mashed
2 eggs, beaten
1 c sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/2 c chocolate chips or chunks
Preheat oven to 350°F. Drape a loaf pan with a piece of parchment paper wide enough to sit in the pan like a sling, and grease the short ends of a loaf pan (where the parchment doesn’t cover).
Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 15 minutes, until dark brown and roasted-smelling, but not burnt. (If you’ve never done this before in your oven, check them early: there’s nothing worse than burnt nuts.) Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Combine the flour and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, mash the bananas into a smooth paste. Then add the eggs, sugar, and oil, and whisk until smooth.
Once the walnuts are cool enough to handle, break them down into a coarse meal. You can do this in a food processor (pulse in 1-second bursts until all pieces are broken down), or you can go the plastic bag method: put the walnuts in a zip-top bag, squeeze the air out, and then crush them with a rolling pin.
Add the flour mixture and the walnut meal to the banana mixture, and stir until just combined. Add the chocolate chips or chunks and fold in.
Scrape the batter into the lined and greased loaf pan, and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.
No parchment paper? No problem. Grease the entire pan heavily, then sprinkle flour over it. I prefer parchment, because it’s more foolproof, but this is how people did it for centuries!
Only have two bananas? Yep, I tried that variation, and it still makes a decent bread. Reduce the flour to 1 1/2 cups.
This should work out with either regular whole wheat flour or with all-purpose flour. You’ll probably need a teensy bit less regular whole wheat flour, and a bit more all-purpose flour. You’ll have to play it by ear: the batter should be thick enough that it has to be scraped, but not so thick that it’s more like a solid than a liquid.