Banana Sourdough Whole-Grains Tea Cake


The smell of ripe bananas wafted from the pantry. A lively discussion ensued, within my earshot, between my husband and my teenage daughter. Why was mom, yours truly, not making banana bread more often? My daughter instantly opined that banana bread was no challenge for mom, implying that only certain challenging recipes would get me going. Banana bread was unlikely to make the cut. Clearly, my daughter was more in tune with my true intention than my husband ever could. But there is more to the conundrum.
No debate: banana bread is a quick bread that is very easy to make. Even first graders could be successful in baking banana bread. Everyone has his or her own favorite banana bread recipe. However, the holy grail of perfecting the deceptively simple banana bread, taking it beyond the generic to the exceptional, is daunting even among the most ambitious bakers. For a long time, I’d rather go after the low-hanging fruits. It hasn’t been the banana bread.  Not until I uncovered this recipe from Tartine Book No. 3.

The banana sourdough whole-grains teacake is as close to the ultimate banana bread I’ve ever come across. This bread is an overachiever. To be able to accomplish even one of those characteristics, listed below, in one recipe is a big deal. This one does it all.

  • Healthy teacake with 50% spelt and 50% whole-wheat pastry flour
  • Flavorful and fresher longer given the sourdough starter and an overnight poolish
  • Open crumb texture despite a full load of whole-grains
  • Reduced sugar: using three-quarter cup, and can be further reduced
  • Substituted majority of sugar with honey and dates
  • Cultured diary makes for a tastier and more nutritious teacake
  • Rich banana flavor accented with caramelized slices of banana on top

This recipe successfully marries flavor and texture with just the right amount of cinnamon spice and various sweeteners: honey, dates and granulated sugar. I would even cut another chunk of sugar out of this formula to a half cup. All-purpose white flour found in most banana bread recipes is completely eliminated. It is substituted with the more flavorful and healthful whole-grain varieties, spelt and whole wheat­, and without sacrificing taste or texture. Not an easy feat. This recipe is another proof that you don’t have to sacrifice taste and pleasure to eat healthy.

The key in achieving a lighter texture is in the mixing technique. A full discussion in this approach can be found in an earlier posting on a similar recipe, the apple-walnut teacake. Borrowing the techniques in making flaky dough or biscuits, fat is cut into the dry ingredients before adding to the wet ingredients. The result is a light and aerated crumb structure. That has made all the difference – mixing and pulsing, briefly and gently, the unusual collection of ingredients to a crescendo.

To top it all, more banana slices are put on top of the cake. The intense banana flavor elevates this teacake firmly into the category of the sublime. Don’t take my words for it; you’d know what I mean when you give this recipe a spin. See traces of banana on top of the teacake in the pictures. They are not there just for looks. They add flavor as well as the satisfying mouth-feel. Next time I’d pile on as many thin slices of banana on top as possible, as long as they stay afloat. Make sure you use firm-ripe banana for the slices and lay them lengthwise atop the cake. They are simply divine.
This banana bread will be making frequent trips to my oven. My critics are silent.

This post is submitted to yeastspotting.

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