There are so many things to keep track of in this life and bananas are just one of them.
Is there a single household in American that doesn't have a banana or two sitting somewhere on the kitchen counter? I doubt it. I can hardly remember a day when there wasn't a banana within easy reach. We used to slice them into our Cheerios. Now we reserve them for fruit smoothies.
Bananas continue to ripen after they're picked and do require a certain amount of vigilance once they've found a spot to rest in your kitchen. A perfectly yellow banana beckons to children, even though it might not have reached the apex of ripeness. A dark blotch here or there, on the other hand, becomes a major defect in the eyes of a pre-adolescent. Such a banana may be lost to the usual peel-and-eat routine and enters a kind of fruit limbo. No one in the family is quite sure what to do with such a banana. It may go uneaten for a long period, getting darker and darker as bananas are wont to do.
In our house, I've seen bananas turn almost black just sitting in the fruit basket. Then they begin to ooze. You may notice fruit flies hovering about. This would be good time to consider putting the banana in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process. Often as not, my wife has already designated this banana for a banana bread and will put the lovelorn fruit in the freezer with a number of its kin.
Yesterday my wife cleaned out the freezer and, lo, there was more than one bag of overripe bananas in there. Within a short time, the aroma of banana bread baking in the oven wafted through the house. Then out came two loaves, destined to last not very long. One of them went off to school this morning with our daughter. Friday is special treat day in her class. The other is very quickly getting smaller. It sits on a cutting board with a chocolate-smeared bread knife nearby, subject to being reduced even further at any moment.
We are huge fans of banana bread. My wife, the baker in the family, otherwise detests bananas. She will turn away from the faintest whiff of bananas. But for some reason she loves banana bread. She used to add chocolate chips to her banana bread occasionally. But about a year ago she discovered chocolate nibs. These are pebbly, unsweetened bits of cacao that add a bit of chocolate crunch to things without the cloying sweetness.
"You know me," says the wife. "I'm all about crunch."
They might even do as a substitute for nuts in your banana bread, if you have an allergy or just don't like nuts. Our last purchase of "roasted cacao nibs" was from The Spice House in Chicago.
To make one 9-inch loaf, adapted from The New Best Recipe:
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups walnuts, chopped coarse
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 very ripe, soft, large bananas mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs beaten lightly
6 tablspoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate nibs
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Place an oven rack in the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and dust with flour.
Spread walnuts on a baking sheets and toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and walnuts. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter and vanilla. Fold banana mixture, nibs and chocolate chips (if using) into the dry ingredients until just combined. The batter should look thick and chunky. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan and bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.
Note: My wife likes a smaller loaf. She increases the recipe by 50 percent and makes two 8-by-4-inch loaves. If you don't have chocolate nibs handy, just increase the chocolate chips--or not, as you prefer. You don't have to use any chocolate at all. The bread will still come out fine.