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In the test kitchen when there are bananas that weren’t used in recipe development or testing, Greg Lofts swoops in. The riper these leftovers are the happier Greg is. He knows ripeness equals sweetness. And he’s always planning for his next batch of the Test Kitchen’s Favorite Banana-Chocolate Chip Bread and is the undisputed 42 Burners banana bread champion.
Greg explains, "My grandmother would always freeze overripe bananas for bread making." Doesn't everybody? What Greg goes on to say is surprising: He, like his grandmother, freezes the bananas in their skins. Why? It’s all about getting every last drop of sweetness from the frozen bananas, and Greg maintains that if you peel and freeze, you lose some of the syrupy "banana realness" that’s so "moist, flavorful, and dank." When he’s ready to bake, Greg defrosts the bananas, then peels them. That he asserts is the key to getting the maximum "liquid gold."
His original recipe calls for chocolate chips, but Greg admits to switching it up sometimes (half the loaves in this latest batch had both chocolate and toasted chopped pecans for crunch.) He says the recipe is flexible: "You can simply add or omit stir-ins like nuts and chocolate chips to suit your taste. I generally do 1 cup chocolate chips for each recipe, and sometimes 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped toasted nuts. Pepitas seeds sprinkled on top before baking is also nice for crunch in lieu of nuts. If you’re a purist, you can skip the nuts and chocolate all together."
Test kitchen tip: Always toast nuts before adding to a baked good. "And," says Greg, "don’t be afraid of going for a dark toast in the oven. I prefer to toast whole nuts, let them cool completely, and then chop to ensure even toasting and the best flavor." Pecans are his go-to for banana bread, but walnuts and hazelnuts are also delicious. "Even peanuts work," he says, "if you want that peanut butter-and-banana sandwich vibe."
What else to know? Well, Greg prefers to make mini loaves rather than 9-by-5-inch ones. For his latest batch he made a triple recipe which yielded nine mini loaves rather than three full-size loaves. Many batches of banana bread baking have taught him that his coworkers don’t want to seem greedy or commit to taking a loaf home that they might not finish, but when the loaves are mini. they don’t feel bad about indulging. Some enjoy it for breakfast, others as a late-night snack—let’s face it banana bread is as easy to enjoy as it is to make.