December 15, 2011

Holiday Cran-banana Bread

   I adapted this recipe for a holiday party with my co-workers and it really turned out well!  It is very hearty with a nice balance between the sweet bananas and tart cranberries.  When I was making it, I noticed a lot of food-science hidden in the directions.  Before I learned about the chemical reactions behind cooking/baking, I always wondered why the instructions were written in certain ways:  "cream the butter and sugar", "separate the wet and dry ingredients", etc.  I have incorporated some interesting baking facts in the ingredients so you can feel like you're getting a holiday bonus while finishing up your baking.  Enjoy!

Holiday Cran-banana Bread
o 1 cup sugar
o ¼ cup butter (softened)
o 1 cup bananas (ripe, mashed)
o 1/4 cup milk
o 2 eggs
o 2 cups flour
o 2 teaspoons baking powder
o ½  teaspoon salt
o 1 teaspoon cinnamon
o 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (coarsely chopped)

1.Preheat the oven to 350F degrees
2.Grease a bread loaf pan
3.Cream sugar and butter in a medium mixing bowl

Butter (fat) is a component of the emulsification process (dispersing one liquid in another liquid). When air is incorporated by mixing, the volume in baked goods increases and creates a more even grain in the finished product.  Sugar is, of course, important for sweetness but also adds to the tenderness of the product.  It binds to the proteins in wheat as well as absorbs water so the final product doesn’t develop as much gluten, which can cause it to be too firm.  

4.Add banana, milk, vanilla and eggs; mix well

Eggs are the binders of dough.  The yolks help emulsify and distribute fat evenly when you’re stirring, and the whites act as leavening agents (helping trap air as CO2 that makes the product rise) and contribute to baked good structure and texture. 
5.Add dry ingredients, mixing just til moist

Notice baking POWDER in this recipe, not baking SODA.  Does it make a difference?  Absolutely.  They are chemical both “leavening agents”, meaning they help raise the dough and make it light.  Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate and when added to recipes that contain both a liquid and an acid (appleasauce, buttermilk, citrus, honey, molasses, vinegar), it reacts to form CO2 gas and helps the product rise. If you add it straight to the liquids before the rest of the dry ingredients, the reaction will take place prematurely and your final product wont' rise well!

Baking powder is also sodium bicarbonate, but also contains a dry acid as well as corn starch (which helps keep the chemical reaction from taking place in the container).  Baking powder can be used if the baked good recipe doesn’t have an acid in it, so it will effectively raise the product when it comes in contact with a liquid.   This is what we used because this recipe didn’t have any acid in it already.   Some banana bread recipes call for buttermilk....then you I would have used baking soda.
I used whole wheat flour in this recipe just because it’s what I had.  There is a difference:  whole wheat flour will produce a lower volume and slightly different texture.  Plus, baked goods will spoil more easily because whole wheat flour still contains the wheat germ.  However, my baked products get eaten so fast, this isn’t a problem! 

6.Stir in cranberries
7.Bake for 1 hr 10 mins (until toothpick comes out clean)   

Why does the top of the bread brown?  One word:  Maillard reaction.   That’s right – another chemical reaction! It’s the sugar reacting with the amino acids in the dough.  The whole process is activated by the heat of the oven (low temperature heat is needed for this reaction).   Food science add-on: Splenda doesn’t brown – nor do other sugar alternatives (just another reason not to use them). 

8.Remove from pan, cool on rack
9.Happy Holidays!     -Ginger


  1. Looks fantastic - will for sure give it a try - picking up cranberries today!!

  2. Excellent explanation! I always knew there was a lot of science involved in baking in particular but never thought I'd be able to understand it. You did a very nice job.