Cake to bread transformation
Banana bread belongs to the category of the so-called batter breads. These are moister, richer and denser than normal breads. They contain usually moderate amounts of eggs, fats and sugar, and they are leavened quickly with baking powder/soda. Since they have a batter consistency, they are not kneaded by hand, but simply mixed with a spatula before poured and baked into a baking loaf tin.
On second thought, the banana bread has all the characteristics of a cake, nonetheless, it is widely named bread. To add more to this confusion, they exist also banana cakes. The latter, however, are made more or less like their bread counterparts, with similar recipes and techniques. They have also similar shapes and crumb texture, so even experienced pastry chefs cannot tell the difference.
Technically speaking, the general difference between a cake and a bread lies mainly in the crumb texture and not so much in the shape. Bread usually has an airy, chewy and relatively dry crumb, while a cake is denser, moister, crumblier, and of course, sweet. The differences reflect the ingredients used to make each one. For bread, we normally use high-protein flour that allows the formation of a strong and elastic gluten net, which is a prerequisite for chewiness and airiness. In combination with yeast fermentation that produces good amounts of air for a long time, we end up with a soft crumb, full of small or big holes.
On the other side, cakes are mode from low-protein, cake flour that builds weak gluten and with baking powder/soda as a leavening agent, which produces just enough amounts of air for a shorter time. Here, we care more to get a dense crumb that it will lack chewiness by all means. Additionally, cakes have a rich and mouthwatering taste as a result of the incorporation of ingredients like eggs, fats, milk, and sugar, which by the way hinder additionally gluten formation.
Having all the above in mind, I felt making a banana bread that it will be more to the bread side of the spectrum, but still keeping the sweet and rich character of a classic one. That was a good chance to use my sourdough culture as a leavening agent. Since in this case, the aim is not to lift a whole bread dough to double the size, I thought to keep it simple and let the wild yeast just only for a couple of hours to work. However, I used a good amount of it as to get some sour notes from the wild bacteria.
As for the flour, I used a mix of bread flours, including a whole grain component for more flavour depth. Of course, I kept it sweet but I included much less sugar than you normally find in banana bread recipes. I substituted butter with olive oil because I simply like it and I have it always in abundance. I found no reason to include any eggs.
It came out good, rich in flavour, mildly sweet and with a bit of chewiness.
It was just a banana bread!
Sourdough Banana Bread
(for a 24x9x7cm loaf tin)
3 big and ripe bananas
350g flour (half white wheat flour/half whole dinkel)*
150g active sourdough**
30g extra-virgin olive oil
nuts for topping (optional)
* feel free to use any flour or mix of flours
** the sourdough should be freshly fed and grown in room temperature
*** you should add some more if you have a sweet tooth
- Peel and mash the bananas very well with a fork.
(If the bananas are not ripe, you can heat them in the microwave for a minute, until they turn black).
- Combine the mashed bananas with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Mix with a spatula to a thick batter consistency.
- Pour the mix into the loaf tin and optionally add some chopped nuts on the top.
- Cover it and let it ferment for circa 2-3 hours until the mix starts rising and it bounces back when finger-poked.
- Bake for an hour, at 180 °C.