High Country Baking: This Chocolate Bourbon Banana Bread is so decadent that it’s almost like eating cake
High altitudes make 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 that make baking in the mountains successful.
‘This bread is the best cake I’ve eaten in years,” a friend proclaimed with a satisfied smile. He’s right — this banana bread, tricked out with chocolate, walnuts and bourbon, is as rich and indulgent as most cakes. It will elevate breakfast or brunch, enliven afternoon tea, and if served warm with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce, make a memorable dessert.
It freezes well and can be baked up to five days before serving, so it’s a good choice for holiday gift-giving. I made it in small pans and plan to give loaves to friends and neighbors throughout the season.
Be sure to use very ripe bananas. If you’ve not got blackened bananas already sitting on the counter, you can ripen them quickly by placing them on a foil-lined baking sheet and baking them in a 300-degree oven until the skins turn dark, 10-20 minutes. Cool them completely before proceeding with the recipe. The chocolate you select makes a difference, so select a high quality one. You can vary the amount of bourbon to your liking; the quantity suggested in the recipe adds a welcome and noticeable hit of flavor but isn’t harsh.
At sea level you could bake this batter into a single loaf in a 9-by-5-inch pan, but doing so at high elevations often results in a bread with a dense, dry, unpleasant texture. So, if you want larger loaves, split the batter between two 8-by-4-inch (4-cup capacity) pans and increase the baking time.
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Chocolate Bourbon Banana Bread
Adjusted for altitudes of 7,800 feet and above
Make in four 5½-by-3 inch (two-cup capacity) shiny metal loaf pans
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter room temperature
¾ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Bakers’
2 extra-large eggs
1 ½ cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3 large ones)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup bourbon
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
1 teaspoon cream or milk
2-4 teaspoons bourbon
¼-1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1. Make the bread: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if using dark metal pans) with a rack in the center position. Line the long sides of the pans with non-stick or regular foil, extending it beyond the pan’s edges to use as handles when removing the baked breads. Grease any exposed parts of the pans and the regular foil with a baking spray that contains flour. Set the pans aside.
2. Add the flour, baking powder and salt to a small bowl and whisk to combine well: Set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light (3-5 minutes), scraping the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating a minute after each addition. Add the bananas, lemon juice and bourbon, and beat until blended. The mixture will look curdled. Add all the flour mixture at once, and stir with your mixer at slow speed only until it’s fully absorbed. Add the walnuts and chocolate, and, using a rubber or silicone spatula, stir them in by hand until they’re evenly distributed in the batter.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it equally between them: Smooth and level the tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaves comes out clean; start checking after 25 minutes in the oven. The tops may not color much, so be sure to use the toothpick test to determine doneness. Remove the pans to a rack, cool about ten minutes, then use the foil handles to lift the breads out of their pans and return them to the rack to cool completely. The breads can be tightly wrapped and frozen for a month at this point. Add the glaze after defrosting.
4. Make the glaze, if using: Whisk the milk and 2 tablespoons of the bourbon in a small bowl, add ¼ cup of the confectioners’ sugar and whisk to blend completely. Slowly whisk in more sugar until the mixture holds its shape but glides quickly off a spoon. Taste, add more bourbon if desired, then more sugar to return to the desired consistency. Drizzle over the cooled breads and let it firm up. Store the breads, covered well, for up to 5 days. They’re at their best served warm but are also good at room temperature.
This recipe is a variation of one posted by LC Editors.
Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco, and Breck Books in Breckenridge). She became a full-time Frisco resident in 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at email@example.com.