It’s important to be careful when naming a blog recipe. This is something I’ve always known, but I was reminded of it this past week, when I read Food52‘s take on the many internet recipes labeled as “best.”
The gist of the article is that the pressures of search engine optimization have compelled us all to throw around a superlatives (best, easiest, etc.) a little too liberally. These titles may speak the truth, but they might also be more strategic than honest, which means that it’s still a reader’s job to sift through mountains of content and find recipes that truly are “the best” (or just very good). To prove the point, Food52‘s editors did a taste test of numerous loaves of banana bread, each of which touts, if not the label of “best,” a claim to being definitively good.
This got me thinking about banana bread–specifically, about the fact that I have yet to post a recipe for vegan banana bread on this site, in spite of the fact that it’s possibly my very favorite thing to bake. I’m not somebody who has a lot of treasured or tried-and-true baking recipes tucked away into a cherished binder or family cookbook; I didn’t grow up around bakers. But I do have a vegan banana bread recipe that I think deserves the title of “classic.”
In truth, I can’t say for sure what makes a recipe worthy of that word. I’m not expert enough to have developed a criteria. But I know that this bread has been adored by everyone I’ve ever shared it with. I know that, while it’s baking, it makes your kitchen smell exactly the way banana bread should (like bananas, cinnamon, and burnt sugar). I know that it’s been tested many times over, in pretty much every kitchen I’ve cooked in as an adult, and that it has proven itself to be sturdy and reliable. I know that it features simple, cherished banana bread ingredients: flour, brown sugar, mashed bananas, vanilla, a (very) little milk. Cinnamon. Walnuts, if you like.
And for all of these reasons, this feels like classic vegan banana bread to me. And I’m very happy to be sharing it, inexplicably late in my blogging game, with all of you.
This recipe is perfect for those of you who are new to the world of vegan baking, or for novice bakers in general. There’s not much you need to be particularly wary of here, except that the bananas should be very, very overripe (the spottier, the better!) and that you shouldn’t overmix the batter.
Other than that, the recipe takes care of itself, resulting in thick, moist, fragrant slices of banana bread goodness. Steven declared this “perfectly sweet” the first time he tasted it, and noted that it seemed to be just the right amount of crumbly. I have to agree–or else it wouldn’t be the recipe that I come back to again and again, in spite of playing with new formulas and ratios.
The time may actually be just right for posting a recipe that is–to me, anyway–something of a classic. Over the years, I’ve experimented with a lot of alternative baking flours and techniques, and I love the creativity that this has fostered. Lately, though, I find myself returning to simple baking recipes and time-honored flavor combinations. And it doesn’t get more time-honored than this.
|Classic Vegan Banana Bread|| |
- 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 cup spelt or whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- ½ cup soy or almond milk
- ½ cup vegetable oil (such as grapeseed, safflower, avocado, or canola oil)
- ¾ cup tightly packed, light brown sugar
- 1 heaping cup mashed banana (3 medium or 4 small ripe bananas)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Optional: ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, plus more for decorating
- Preheat your oven to 350F and lightly oil a standard size loaf pan. Pour the almond or soy milk into a bowl and add the apple cider vinegar.
- In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
- Add the oil, sugar, mashed banana, and vanilla extract to the non-dairy milk and vinegar. Whisk to combine. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix till everything is evenly combined. Don't over-mix; some clumps are OK. Fold in the walnuts, if using.
- Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle with extra walnuts, if you like. Bake the bread for 38-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out mostly clean.
- Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for 15-20 minutes. Gently remove the loaf from the pan and allow it to cool to room temperature before cutting into slices and enjoying.
Gluten free option: The best results I've had for making the bread gluten free are to use a combination of ⅔ cup sorghum flour, ⅔ cup superfine brown rice flour, ⅓ cup tapioca flour, ⅓ cup potato starch, and 1 pinch xantham gum. You can also use a GF, all purpose flour (such as Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1), but the homemade flour blend results in a lighter texture.
I can understand the urge to use superlatives for recipes–even apart from the practical, SEO considerations. If you’re passionate about food (and most food bloggers are), then it’s hard not to speak with exclamations when a recipe turns out to be not only as good as you’d hoped, but better; the best, even, that you’ve ever tried. It’s a special moment for a home cook.
None of us can go out and taste all of the recipes that ever were for a particular dish, and so we might not be able to say for sure what’s best and what isn’t. Plus, there’s the issue of subjectivity: as I’m learning through my cookbook testing process right now, tastes differ, plain and simple. The world’s “best” fudgy brownies probably won’t be all that appealing to a cakey brownie person.
But we know what tastes best to us. We know when we’ve struck gold, so to speak, with a particular set of ingredients and quantities. We know when our many frustrating attempts to perfect a recipe have finally paid off in the form of a dish that we know we’ll treasure and keep for a long time. When we talk about a recipe in glowing terms, we’re really just communicating our own, unique tastes. In the end, that’s what keeps the world of food blogging vibrant and interesting.
So, I can’t say for sure if this is the best vegan banana bread you’ve ever tasted. But I can tell you that it’s my favorite. I can promise you that it has served me very well. And I hope it gives you some of the happiness it often gives me.