I love bananas, their shape, color, scent & taste–and that they come wrapped in their own packaging, with a handle to boot. I even did a “Banana Crazy” story for the Tribune once-upon-a-time : ) I always look for the shapeliest bunch, wait patiently for them to ripen and buy the exotic ones when I can find them. But it’s rare that those beautiful yellow bundles all get eaten when perfectly ripe. There are always one or two left behind, their skins gone past freckled to bruisy and slack with waiting. But I NEVER throw those holdovers away and you shouldn’t either. Because they are fantastic baked into banana bread and muffins. This recipe can be used to make either! My directions are for muffins, but you can divide the batter between two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pans greased and lined with parchment, for equally tasty results. If making loaves instead of muffins: Just bake for an extra 20 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the tops of the loaves comes out dry.
The recipe uses two techniques that make the resulting treat truly special. One I learned from Christopher Kimball when he was at America’s Test Kitchen: To enhance flavor and reduce the gumminess that can happen with typical banana quick breads, heat your really-ripe peeled bananas for a few minutes in the microwave until they release their juice, drain this from the bananas, reduce the liquid by half in a little sauce pan, and proceed with the recipe. The other technique I borrowed from a favorite vintage chocolate cake recipe, is to dissolve cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a little boiling water and mix that into the batter. The chemistry in the equation makes the crumb of the finished muffins exceedingly tender. Rather than use chocolate chips, chop up a good-quality chunk of chocolate bar, or, buy a package of semi-sweet chocolate chunks from your favorite purveyor. My kids don’t like the toasted walnuts, so I leave them out, but the added crunch is nice.
- 6 or 7 very ripe (overripe) bananas, peeled, skins discarded. Once mashed later in this recipe, bananas should measure 2 cups (NOTE: I always freeze my overripe bananas. If using from-frozen, be sure to thaw them well before making the recipe)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (I use White Lily)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup boiling water
- 8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 10-ounce package semisweet chocolate chunks
- 3/4 cup toasted walnuts (optional)
- Place oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 350.
- Put peeled bananas in microwaveable bowl; heat for 2 minutes until bananas release their liquid. Dump mixture into a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Collect the juice. You should have 1/2 cup.
- Place liquid in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until reduced by half. You will have 1/4 cup banana syrup.
- In a large, deep bowl, mix together cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. Add boiling water and stir. NOTE: the mixture will foam up, so be careful to use a large bowl so that it won't overflow.
- Add bananas to the cocoa-soda mixture and mash well. Add the melted butter, the eggs, the sugar, vanilla and the banana syrup. Stir to mix all well. Sift flour into the bowl and stir until just combined, with no streaks remaining. Stir in chocolate chunks. Add nuts (if using.) Set aside.
- Using vegetable shortening or vegetable cooking spray, well coat the inside of two 12-unit muffin tins. Flour the coated tins. Invert and tap to release any excess flour. Fill each muffin-pan indentation with 1/4 cup of the batter. Place muffin tins in oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and remove muffins from tins to cool on a rack.