My Mother’s Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
I once read an article about starting a food blog that included some advice on content, including the entreaty: “Ask yourself, does the internet really need another banana bread recipe?” I read that sentence somewhat abashedly. Even at that early stage in this blog’s development, I envisioned a post that would include the recipe for my mother’s chocolate chip banana bread. Several rhubarb and panna cotta and pavlova posts later, perhaps foolishly, I’ve decided to press forward with that plan.
Does the internet really need another banana bread recipe? Or, more pointedly, does the internet really need THIS banana bread recipe? I can’t claim that there is anything particularly exotic about my mother’s banana bread. There’s no miso or maple or tahini or cardamom. It’s not decorated with any whimsical slices of whole banana. It’s not vegan or gluten-free or diabetic-friendly. But I still do think it’s the best banana bread I know–and I’ve tried a lot of recipes.
Admittedly, this is my favorite banana bread partly because it’s not really a bread. The original recipe comes from an oh-so-1950’s cookbook called Thoughts for Buffets, and is actually titled “Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf.” While this dessert is baked in a loaf pan, it really is more of a cake than a quick bread. Indeed, the original recipe called for cake flour (though my mother always used all-purpose), and the batter is made using a creaming method, rather than by mixing wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The original recipe, incidentally, also included a rather insane amount of sugar–I think something like 1 3/4 cups! My mother always used much less than that, and while I don’t approve of all of her attempts to healthify recipes, I’ve found that using the smaller amount of sugar–3/4 to 1 cup–is the right call here. One notable change I’ve made from my mother’s recipe is to use mini chocolate chips. The banana bread will be delicious whatever size chocolate chips you use, but with regular sized chips, I always have issues with the chips sinking to the bottom of the loaf. Mini chips solved this problem. (I also tend to less chocolate than called for in my mother’s recipe–usually about 1 cup of chips. Feel free to stick with the original 2 cups if you’re a chocoholic!)
While this banana bread might not seem particularly exciting, I felt it was worth sharing for several reasons. First, it is definitely, undeniably, delicious. Second, it’s fairly easy to throw together– to date, it’s the only dessert recipe that I know by heart. When I need to come up with something at the last minute for a party or potluck this is often the recipe I turn to. Third, if you are a novice baker, or looking for a recipe that you can make with kids, this banana bread is ideal–this is one of the recipes through which I learned a lot of baking basics, including when substitutions are possible and when they’re not and what instructions need to be followed exactly and which don’t. (More on that below.) If you understand the ways in which this recipe is flexible, and the ways in which it isn’t, that knowledge can guide your baking more generally.
So what is flexible? Besides the amount of sugar (I recommend anywhere from 3/4 to 1 cup), I’ve discovered that the amount of butter can be reduced a bit if you increase the amount of sour cream. While the recipe calls for 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) of butter, I often use 6 tablespoons, while increasing the sour cream from 1/4 cup to a 1/3 cup. I’ve gone as low as 1/4 cup of butter, increasing the sour cream to 1/2 cup, and the banana bread is still good–though a bit less decadent. But I wouldn’t reduce the butter any further. As my mother taught me, you can also substitute a variety of dairy options for the sour cream – yogurt works, or buttermilk, or you can make your own “sour milk” with regular milk and a bit of lemon juice. Light sour cream or 2% yogurt or milk is okay–but DO NOT use nonfat. (I accidentally bought nonfat sour cream once–isn’t that an oxymoron?–and the banana bread definitely suffered.)
The original recipe, and my mother’s, call for sifting the flour and salt together. To be honest, it’s been years since I’ve actually done that. Instead, I usually just whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl. I don’t think the banana bread has suffered.
The bread can be baked in a standard/small 8 inch by 4 inch loaf pan, which is what my mother always used, or a larger loaf pan. If you go with the smaller pan, the loaf will take longer to bake (around 90 minutes). If you use a larger pan, you can reduce the baking time.
If you have some overripe bananas but aren’t feeling like making banana bread at that moment, feel free to freeze the brown bananas and then just pull them out of the freezer to defrost when you’re ready to make the banana bread. (I have a tendency to just chuck the brown bananas in the freezer unpeeled, but if you are more finicky you can unpeel and mash them first, and store the mashed banana in a freezer-proof container.) Speaking of freezers, the baked banana bread also freezes well–just wrap the loaf well in aluminum foil, place in sealed freezer bag, and remove it from the freezer to defrost at room temperature a couple of hours before you want to eat it.
What’s not flexible? You really do need to use real butter and sour cream/yogurt/milk, and, as noted above, NOT nonfat. Could you substitute something non-dairy? Maybe, but I can’t vouch for the result. You also do need to cream the butter with the sugar, rather than simply melting it and mixing it in with the dry ingredients. If you do the latter, you may get a banana bread that you find acceptable, but it won’t be My Mother’s Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, and, again, I won’t vouch for the result! Finally, you absolutely must not over-mix the batter. The flour should be folded in just until no dry bits remain.
Finally, don’t be afraid to bake the loaf until it is a deep golden brown. That burnished crust is possibly the best part!
My Mother’s Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
A banana bread that is really a cake.
- 2 c. (260 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp table salt
- 1/4 c. sour cream
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 c. (150 g) sugar (or increase to 1 c. / 200 g)
- 1/2 c. (113 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large bananas (very ripe)
- 1 c. (6 oz.) mini chocolate chips (use up to 2 cups/12 oz. if you're a chocoholic!)
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Grease a standard (8 inch by 4 inch) or larger loaf pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Peel and mash the bananas and set them aside.
Sift the flour and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.
Place the sour cream in a bowl, stir in the baking powder and baking soda, and set aside for about 5 minutes–the mixture will bubble up delightfully as the leavening agents react with the sour cream.
Using a handheld electric mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla, then the sour cream mixture. Add the mashed bananas and beat until well incorporated.
Using a wooden spoon or rubber or silicone spatula, fold in the flour/salt mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips; as you do, you can incorporate any lingering bits of flour.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out free of batter. If you are using an 8 by 4 inch pan, this may take up to 90 minutes. If you're using a larger pan, start checking the banana bread at 60 minutes.
Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan for about 15-20 minutes, then turn out onto the wire rack to cool completely.
- If you ever have overripe bananas, but don’t feel like making banana bread at that moment, just chuck the bananas in the freezer! This recipe works just as well with bananas that have been frozen then defrosted.
- Yogurt, buttermilk, or sour milk can be substituted for the sour cream, just make sure it’s NOT nonfat.
- If you want to make the banana bread ever so slightly healthier, you can reduce the butter while increasing the amount of sour cream/yogurt/buttermilk/sour milk. When I use 6 tbsp butter, I use at least 1/3 cup of sour cream. When I’ve gone down to a 1/4 cup of butter, I’ve used about 1/2 cup of sour cream. I wouldn’t recommend reducing the butter to less than 1/4 cup.
- If you don’t have parchment paper, you can use a piece of a brown paper grocery bag to line the bottom of the pan. Indeed, when I was a kid, before every Safeway and CVS carried baking parchment, that’s what my mother used.
- Although my mother always sifted the flour and salt together (as called for by the original recipe), I’m often lazy and just whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl. I don’t think the banana bread has suffered much.
- The baked banana bread freezes beautifully. Just wrap the loaf well in aluminum foil, place in a sealed freezer bag, and then allow the package to defrost at room temperature when you’re ready to eat it.