Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
If you’re a fan of comfort food from our country’s heartland, then you probably like banana quick bread. It’s been around since the 1930s when baking soda and baking powder became widely available to American bakers. Numerous variations have developed during the years; I’ve come across recipes that include dried fruits, chocolate, zucchini, strawberries and even avocado. My favorite remains the classic banana bread, featuring only bananas and chopped walnuts.
This recipe for the classic variation is my current favorite at high elevations, where dryness often reduces the appeal of baked goods. The low baking temperature, dollop of yogurt and the use of canola oil instead of butter results in a very moist bread — a pleasant surprise in our arid climate.
Its success depends on using really ripe bananas (covered with brown spots and streaks and soft to the touch), beating the egg and sugar with patience, adding the oil very slowly and baking until fully done.
I like to make the bread in small pans; it takes less baking time and results in a very versatile size. At 8,000 feet and above, I find that quick breads baked in a 9-inch-by-5-inch pan often develop a heavier texture than those made in pans with a reduced capacity.
Mountain banana bread
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above
Make in two 3-inch-by-51/2-inch pans
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached flour (spoon and level)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
A little less than 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
1 large egg
1/4 cup canola oil
2⁄3 cup mashed, very ripe bananas
1 generous tablespoon plain yogurt or sour cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line each pan with a strip of nonstick or regular aluminum foil, covering the bottom and long sides of the pan and extending beyond the pan’s sides to use as handles when removing the baked bread. Grease the unlined parts of the pan, or, if using regular foil, grease the entire pan, foil and all.
Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine well. Set aside.
Combine the sugar and egg in a bowl and beat, with an electric mixer on medium speed for four-eight minutes (depending on your mixer’s power), until it is pale in color, doubles in volume, thickens and briefly holds the marks made by the beaters. Reduce your mixer’s speed to low, and very slowly, drizzle in the canola oil, a few drops at a time. This takes about two minutes. You don’t want the oil to deflate the air in the batter. Add the mashed bananas, yogurt and vanilla and mix on low speed.
Use a silicone or rubber spatula to gently fold in the flour mixture and the nuts, stopping as soon as the dry ingredients have been absorbed into the wet ones and the nuts are distributed evenly. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans; it will come to about an inch below the pans’ tops.
Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the top of each loaf is a deep golden and the center springs back when lightly pressed. If the top is set but indents even slightly when pressed, then it isn’t done yet.
The top of the bread remains fairly flat; don’t expect it to dome. Cool on a rack for about half an hour and then use the foil handles to remove each loaf from the pan to cool completely on the rack. Wrap well and store for several days in the refrigerator or at cool room temperature or freeze for three weeks.
This is a variation of a recipe from Joanne Chang.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.