Fall has always been my favorite season —
the season of crunching, colorful leaves,
sweaters, boots, and scarves,
crisp, sunny days and cool breezes,
Halloween and Thanksgiving — i.e., the food holidays…
bright pumpkins and squash,
soups and braises and all the good slow-cooked things.
Oh, and it’s also the season of BROWNED BUTTER.
I think I speak for most of us when I say that most autumn (and winter) foods can be just slightly improved upon with the addition of butter – especially fragrant, lightly toasted butter. Butter that’s halfway to ghee.
And that coziest of sweet treats, banana bread is no exception. Browned butter adds an incredible toasty richness that perfectly complements the sweetness of the bananas, and along with warming cinnamon and vanilla and a hint of brown sugar, it’s a flavor palette that has fall written all over it.
If you make a lot of smoothies, you know that the banana situation can get out of control pretty quickly. At that point somewhere between heavily speckled and black – and hence no longer smoothie material – I pop those bananas in the freezer right in their jackets (you can also cut them into chunks and freeze them in ziploc bags, but somehow I never get around to that).
When the freezer banana stock gets above half a dozen or so (that’s a lot of real estate in a NYC freezer), banana bread has to happen. It’s the only way out. And I’ve discovered that I actually prefer using thawed, frozen bananas in my banana bread – especially when I drain them (since thawed bananas release a lot of liquid, which can make your banana bread soggy) and cook down the liquid.
This technique is similar to the Cooks’ Illustrated method, in which fresh bananas are microwaved so that they release their liquid, then drained and the liquid reduced in a saucepan. The reduced liquid is then added back to the batter for a flavor boost minus the excess water. If you’re using fresh bananas you can use the CI nuke method – or you can just mash your bananas and get on with the recipe. That’ll make a fine banana bread, too.
And, because every loaf cake deserves a glaze, I decided to go with the browned butter theme and pair it with a vanilla brown butter drizzle. If you’ve never made a browned butter glaze I think you’re in for a treat.
Brown butter banana bread with pecans and vanilla brown butter glaze
For the GF all-purpose flour I prefer Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-Free baking flour, which yields a cake with a moist, tender, and light crumb. You can also sub regular all-purpose wheat flour for the gluten-free flour.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 overripe bananas (fresh or frozen and thawed)
3/4 cup (112 grams) gluten-free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1:1 Baking Flour)
1/2 cup (52 grams) almond flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar or brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped (divided)
for the glaze:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons milk (dairy or plant)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×5-inch pan and line with parchment paper.
Melt 1 stick of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook until butter is browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Pour into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes. Wipe skillet clean with a paper towel.
If using fresh bananas, mash them with a fork and set aside.
If using frozen, thawed bananas, place peeled bananas in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and allow them to drain until they’ve given off about 1/2 cup of liquid. Transfer bananas to a bowl and mash them with a fork. Transfer their liquid to the skillet used to brown the butter and bring to a simmer. Cook until reduced by two-thirds, approx. 10 minutes. Strain into the bowl with the bananas and set aside.
In a medium bowl whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
Add sugar to bowl with browned butter. Beat with a handheld mixer for 2 minutes, add eggs and vanilla and mix for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add bananas and mix again until smooth, Mix dry ingredients into wet in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Fold in 1/2 cup of the nuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle remaining nuts over the top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, remove from pan and cool completely.
To make the glaze, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in sugar and 2 teaspoons milk. Add a little more milk if needed to reach a pourable consistency. Drizzle glaze over cooled cake.