Banana Bread With Walnut Crumb Topping

The first thing I ever baked was a loaf of banana bread at the age of 8.  It was also the first thing my family and I received as a housewarming gift when we moved from Los Angeles to Northern California back in 1989. We loaded our belongings into vehicles and trailers and drove 400 miles up I-5 to the tiny town of Auburn, California. 

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a family who we soon came to know as the Lazons. They lived in the house next door and they welcomed us to the neighborhood with a loaf of homemade banana bread -- a tradition that nowadays seems to foreign and archaic that I sometimes look back on this memory in wonderment. Did I really ever live in a time and place where people showed up on each other's doorsteps with homemade baked goods?

I try to envision this happening nowadays, and it almost seems comical. I imagine myself knocking on the apartment door of some new tenant -- perhaps the lesbian couple that moved in a few months ago across the hallway --and presenting them with a plate of chocolate chip cookies as a way of welcoming them to the building. Would they eat them, or would they be wary, wondering if I had some hidden agenda, or sinister plan to poison them? Would they inquire as to whether my cookies were gluten free because their digestive systems couldn't process wheat products? Or, would they simply accept them and feel flattered and conclude that this was one of the nicest, most welcoming buildings they had ever moved into?

These are the questions that paralyze me whenever I think of doing something similar. Yet, when my family was on the receiving end of such generosity, we absolutely loved it. Yes, it was a different time and place, and yes, the world has changed quite significantly, but the larger picture is that that banana bread did more than make us feel welcomed. It sparked my passion for baking.

I spent many an afternoon playing with the two Lazon girls who were both around my age, and nearly every time I was at their house, their mother was in the background baking something. Often, it was her banana bread. I watched with fascination as she tossed butter, eggs, and sugar into her Kitchen Aid and it would magically swirl together into this perfectly-blended concoction.

She gave me family recipes and taught me tips and tricks. I believe she's the one who advised me to use bananas that have been frozen. Freezing them changes their chemical consistency and makes them sweeter. Your banana bread will also come out moister and have a more pronounced flavor if you do this.

After two and a half decades of experimenting with various banana bread recipes, I was excited to employ some of Mr. Keller's techniques. Sure, his recipe in Bouchon Bakery is for banana muffins, not bread. But making muffins just wouldn't have been the same. 

Banana Bread With Walnut Streusel Topping 
(adapted from the banana muffin recipe in Bouchon Bakery)

Cake flour            168 grams, or 1 1/4 cups + 1 Tbsp.
Baking soda         3.6 grams, or 3/4 tsp.
Baking powder    2.4 grams, or 1/2 tsp.
Kosher Salt          4.4 grams, or 1 1/2 tsp.
Unsalted butter  1 stick, or 8 Tbsp.
(at room temp)
Brown sugar        144 grams, or 3/4 cup lightly packed
Egg                        1
Vanilla Paste        7 grams, or 1 1/8 tsp.
Creme Fraiche     24 grams, or 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp.
Mashed bananas  3

Directions: Set your bananas out on the counter so they can defrost.

Combine cake flour, baking soda, and baking powder into medium-sized bowl. Add Kosher salt and whisk together.

Cream the butter in a large bowl using either a Kitchen Aid, or a regular hand mixer. (I just used a hand mixer.) Use a medium speed and keep mixing until the butter resembles the consistency of mayonnaise. 

Thomas Keller Tip: If the butter isn't creaming well, or isn't fully at room temperature, place it in a glass or metal bowl and hold it just above the stove top. Turn the burner to high and warm the outside of the bowl to help soften it.

Add sugar to the creamed butter and mix for 1-2 minutes, until fluffy. Next, add egg and vanilla paste and mix on low speed until just combined (about 15-30 seconds). 

Stir in half of the dry ingredients until combined, then stir in the other half.

Mash up the defrosted bananas with a fork and then add the Creme Fraiche. Pour the banana mixture into the main batter, and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.

Thomas Keller Tip: Refrigerating dough and batter causes it to relax, and most all of his recipes call for this. He even recommends throwing the Walnut Streusel Topping in the fridge and topping the banana bread with it while it's still cold. I tried this, and it ended up being the best idea ever! It kept the butter from melting on top while it baked and becoming gooey, as it often does in crumb toppings that go on coffee cake, for example. 

Walnut Streusel Topping

All-purpose flour 33 grams, or 1/4 cup
Sugar                     33 grams, or 1/4 cup
Walnuts                 33 grams, or 1/3 cup
(finely chopped)
Kosher salt            a dash
Unsalted butter   33 grams, or 2 1/2 Tbsp.
(cold, cut into 1/4-inch pieces)

Directions: Mix the flour, sugar, walnuts, and salt in a small bowl. Add the cold butter and use a pastry blender to thoroughly combine. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat your bread pan with non-stick cooking spray and add the chilled banana bread batter to it. Sprinkle the chilled Walnut Streusel on top and then place in the oven. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 1 hour.

Bon appetit!