Have you ever read a recipe and immediately thought “This is it! This is perfect, and I will change nothing!”? Yeah, me neither. That’s why this blog is called Optional Kitchen, and why I give Options after recipes: the idea that a recipe is anything other than a guideline just doesn’t click in my brain. I trust good recipe writers to have rock-solid recipes as written, but I also can’t stop myself from changing them up, and I assume that other experienced cooks work the same way.
This impulse is so strong it’s even unconscious. One time I was exclaiming to my husband with wonderment that I had actually made a recipe Exactly As Written, and he stopped me and said “but didn’t I hear you muttering about being out of butter, and using olive oil instead?” And it’s true: I had done that. In fact, when we went through the ingredients line by line, we discovered that I’d not only substituted over half of the ingredients, I’d also changed it from a Tex-Mex flavor profile to a more Italian-American one. And that’s when I think I’m following the recipe! What I’m saying is, it’s an almost-pathological impulse.
So when Lisa Fain over at Homesick Texan posted a banana nut coffee bread a couple weeks ago, it’s not really surprising that I read it, thought ‘yum!’, and then immediately started pondering ways to change it up even more. (Awkward confession: the recipe I made “exactly as written” was also from the Homesick Texan, the tomato cobbler from her first book. Sorry, LF! Apparently I like to play with your work.)
Lisa was inspired by a bread she had in Hawaii, which had “a hint of brown sugar and coffee.” As should be pretty evident by now, I’m a sucker for bold flavors, so I took that idea and cranked up the dial. A hint of brown sugar? Well, how about a full quarter-cup of molasses! A dash of espresso powder? Or 150% of what she called for! And then a shot of dark, spicy rum to bring it all together.
It took a few tries to get everything to balance right — I might receive an ultimatum if Jarod hears me mashing any more bananas — but I think I’m finally there. This is a hearty banana nut bread; it lands with a thunk. And yet paradoxically, in the mouth it’s light and moist thanks to the molasses. Each bite brings crunchy nuts, bitter coffee, and sweet, spicy rum. For a special treat, try it still warm from the pan: as you breathe in the aromas, you’ll get a heady stinging from the rum that’s most intoxicating — all puns intended.
Rum & coffee banana nut bread
This isn’t a light, delicate banana bread: it’s dense with molasses and coffee, packed full of nuts, and redolent of deep, dark rum. A nice broad wedge with a mug of black coffee will keep me going all morning.
Adapted from Banana nut coffee bread at Homesick Texan
2 large ripe bananas
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c molasses
1/4 c butter, melted (1/2 stick)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp dark rum (the darker, the better)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp espresso powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 c chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Generously butter a 10″ cast iron skillet or a 9″ square pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, mash the bananas — you should have about a cup of mashed banana. Add the sugar, molasses, butter, eggs, rum, and lemon juice and mix thoroughly.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, espresso powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and chopped nuts. Pour these dry ingredients into the wet mixture and stir until just combined.
Scrape the batter into the prepared skillet or pan, smooth the top, and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, then serve directly from the pan or remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Espresso powder. The rest of the foodblogging world seems to be happy to tell you that instant espresso is probably available at your local grocery, but they must be more fortunate than me — I buy mine online from King Arthur Flour. If you can’t find it locally and don’t want to wait, you can also sub in finely-ground instant coffee (a full 2 teaspoons, I’d think), or even very strong brewed coffee (a tablespoon). (Usually subbing in liquid coffee for espresso powder is a bad idea, but in this small quantity it should be okay.)
Rum. If you’d like to omit the rum, my research tells me you can sub in 1 Tbsp of rum extract, or you could go with 1 tsp of vanilla — different flavor with the vanilla, of course, but it’ll be ok. Don’t be tempted by lighter rums, which won’t have the same force of flavor. You want a nice dark rum; I used Gosling’s Black Seal, which is inexpensive, delicious, and so dark it’s basically opaque.