Other people’s recipes: two banana bread recipes from Joanne Chang

A number of the recipes in Joanne Chang’s cookbook Baking with Less Sugar (Chronicle Books, 2015) are revised versions of bakery favorites originally published in Flour (2010). “Flour’s Famous Banana Bread” is a justly popular recipe from Chang’s Flour Bakery and Cafe which originally appeared in Flour (p. 86); the 2015 edition is “Better than Flour Famous Banana Bread” (p. 40). For Memorial Day, I decided to bake both recipes, and I brought them in to work the following day to taste side-by-side. Tasters found the two recipes difficult to distinguish, with those expressing a preference evenly split between the original and Less Sugar versions. The procedure for making both is almost exactly the same; they differ primarily in ingredient proportions and cooking time. Here’s how it went:

Seven bananas
We start out, of course, with bananas. I find it fairly difficult to buy truly ripe bananas in the supermarket, so I generally buy green ones a week early and let them ripen on the kitchen counter until I’m ready for them. If any show signs of going off prematurely, I stick them in the freezer — frozen bananas are no longer useful for eating but just as good as fresh for any application requiring mashed banana.

Two different 75g portions of walnuts
Both recipes require 75 g of walnuts, but differ in procedure. The original recipe calls for walnuts which are toasted and then chopped; the Less Sugar recipe calls for chopped walnuts which are subsequently toasted. That’s easy enough to manage with two quarter-sheet pans, in a 325°F (160°C) oven for about nine minutes, shaking the pans about halfway through.

Two buttered and floured 9″×5″ loaf pans
Both recipes make a single 9″×5″ (23 cm × 13 cm) loaf, which (after baking) makes nine generous or twelve moderate portions. I broke with my usual practice and used the traditional butter-and-flour lubrication technique for these rather than baking spray, just because.

Mise en place for original recipe Mise en place for "Less Sugar" recipe

On the left, the mise en place for the original recipe. On the right, the mise for the Less Sugar version. Here’s how they stack up in tabular form:

Ingredient Original recipe Less Sugar recipe
chopped, toasted walnuts 75 g 75 g
all-purpose flour 210 g 175 g
baking soda 1 tsp ½ tsp
ground cinnamon ¼ tsp 1 tsp
kosher salt ½ tsp ½ tsp
large eggs 2 3
granulated sugar 230 g 75 g
canola oil 100 g 70 g
ripe bananas 340 g (as mashed) 3 large
crème fraîche 30 g 90 g
vanilla extract 1 tsp 1 tbl

Eggs and sugar at ribbon stage
The process starts by what I’ve come to think of as the “mayonnaise method” — a variant of the “muffin method” used for many quickbreads in which the eggs and sugar are first beaten to ribbon stage, about eight minutes using a handheld mixer. This photo shows the original recipe proportions after about five minutes of beating.

Eggs-sugar mixture with oil and wet ingredients mixed
Once the eggs have made a sufficiently sturdy foam to handle it, the construction proceeds by slowly drizzling in the vegetable oil (hence the “mayonnaise method”) so that it emulsifies with the eggs. Then the remaining wet ingredients — bananas, vanilla, and crème fraîche — are mixed together and then stirred into the egg-sugar-oil mixture, working quickly so as not to deflate the egg foam, and finally the remaining dry ingredients are combined and folded in by hand. The Less Sugar version departs from this slightly by par-cooking two of bananas in the microwave after mashing them; the result is combined with the third mashed banana, raw, and the crème fraîche and vanilla as before — mixing the par-cooked banana with the other ingredients cools it down sufficiently to add to the egg foam without fear of curdling.

Finished original-recipe batter in loaf pan "Less Sugar" batter in loaf pan

Once again, the original recipe is shown on the left and the Less Sugar version on the right — note how much higher the revised batter comes up in the pan. This won’t turn out to be a problem because the Less Sugar version also has less leavening, depending more on the egg foam for its volume and texture.

Fully baked original-recipe loaf Fully baked "Less Sugar" loaf

The original recipe calls for 60–75 minutes of baking time, which leads to a more caramelized appearance than the Less Sugar version at only 50–60 minutes. Both are baked at 325°F (160°C), although I did not attempt to bake them simultaneously. When done (the finished bread should spring back when pressed in the center), the bread must cool in the pan for about 30 minutes. The recipe here says “at least 30 minutes”, but I wouldn’t advise leaving it much longer than that, because the steam released by the cooling bread can condense and make the bottom of your loaf soft or even soggy if left in the pan.

Both loaves side by side on cooling rack
Finally, here the two loaves are, side by side. Once cool, I wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap for the trip to the office on Tuesday.

As I mentioned in the intro, tasters were split on which one they preferred. Those who liked the original version better noted its texture, the slightly caramelized flavor, and moistness; those who preferred the revamped recipe commented on its lightness and banana flavor.


Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/12 loaf
Servings per recipe: 12
Amount per serving
Original recipe Less Sugar recipe
Calories 296 from fat 123 249 from fat 123
% DV % DV
Total Fat 14g 22% 14g 22%
 Saturated Fat 2g 9% 3g 13%
Trans Fat 0g 0g
Cholesterol 33mg 11% 53mg 18%
Sodium 162mg 7% 118mg 5%
Potassium 114mg 3% 141mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 39g 13% 26g 9%
 Dietary fiber 2g 7% 2g 7%
 Sugars 22g 11g
Proteins 5g 9% 5g 9%
Vitamin A 2% 5%
Vitamin C 4% 5%
Calcium 1% 2%
Iron 3% 4%
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