If there is any sense of a silver lining that can be found amongst the chaos of 2020, it’s that people across the world have been empowered to try new activities or revisit forgotten passions from their home.
All in a bid to keep mentally and physically well, many people (including this writer) have turned to baking for a little creative therapy.
The spike in baking popularity has made such an impression that in some places flour has been reported as running low and online baking recipe searches are hitting all time highs.
There’s been some impressive bakes flying around social media, but the most saturated sight has to be banana bread (which isn’t actually bread - we can confirm - it’s definitely cake).
According to Google trends, compared with other simple fruity bakes such as chocolate cake, lemon loaf or blueberry muffins, “banana loaf” has seen the biggest worldwide surge in searches since lockdown procedures took hold across many countries in March.
The well-known British culinary website, BBC Good Food, also reported that “cake recipe”, “bread recipe” and “banana bread recipe” were the top searches on bbcgoodfood.com on the week beginning April 1 - according to Google trends.
All this got us thinking...
Why banana loaf...?
The humble banana loaf is a low-key “use what you’ve got” kind of bake.
This could be, in part, why so many have jumped on the banana bread baking bandwagon during lockdown.
Banana bread (AKA banana loaf or banana cake) is simple, low risk high reward bake.
It might not be as aesthetic as a three-tier sugar paste decorated celebration cake or as fancy as a choux bun, but it's satisfying to know that this bake can be made with plenty of margin for error and it’ll still come out of the oven looking half decent - if not great!
Just as the British public turned to carrots during World War II, it seems as though bananas are the produce many of us grabbed from supermarket shelves when it became clear that lockdown was pending.
Wastefulness is unpopular at the best of times, but even more so during a pandemic. A simple solution for those less appealing browning bananas is to bake them.
It’s positive to see that many seem to have already sought this solution to avoid some unnecessary banana related waste.
Another thing that’s particularly good about a banana loaf is you don’t need any technical equipment - aside from an oven proof tin or even a pan would do. Some baking parchment is handy - but if you grease your tin with butter/margarine you could get away without - if you’re really stuck for supplies.
Solo baking has long been known as good for the soul. It can help to ease levels of anxiety, help restore a sense of calm in mind and can generally be a whole lot of fun - so it’s perhaps unsurprising that this creative activity has been adopted as a productive pandemic pass-time.
If you're caring for children during lockdown, baking can also be a great group activity for them to get involved with. It only takes around 10-15 minutes to prepare the ingredients for a banana loaf - so it’s a short enough task to keep hold of their attention.
Nutritional value of bananas
Aside from the therapeutic aspect of baking, bananas are actually good for you - so that's a great excuse to incorporate them into a sweet treat.
Bananas contain a respectable amount of vitamin C, along with offering a good source of potassium and fibre. They can also help improve digestion.
When a banana is almost or fully brown, this means almost all the starch content has broken down into sugar and the chlorophyll found in the peel has taken on a new form. This makes the banana sweeter and that’s why “overripe” bananas are ideal for baking. An added bonus, the breakdown of chlorophyll is the reason why antioxidant levels increase as bananas ripen - meaning a fully brown banana is an antioxidant powerhouse.
To get the best nutritional value from a banana loaf - try to use a recipe that includes more than one banana per egg in the mix - this could give you that extra antioxidant boost.
Of course, cake - including bananas or any fruit is still always a treat - so when it comes to eating, we’d say everything in moderation, but taking to the kitchen for a spot of baking could be a well spent creative couple of hours.
If baking isn’t your bag, or you just don’t have the ingredients to bake a loaf cake, there's other options to incorporate banana bread into a creative activity.
When one fine art restorer was challenged to create banana bread, lacking the vital ingredients for baking, he simply used the tools he hand to hand and created his own take on this modest cake. Certainly an innovative spin on the traditional bake.
Creating something from scratch, no matter how simple - it could be a hand painted picture, homemade card or some baked goods - the act of creating it yourself will give you an undeniable feeling of satisfaction.
So, if you’ve not tried your hand at baking a banana loaf yet, or perhaps fancy trying a different recipe - here’s our take on this humble bake.
This recipe is ideal for a 1lb loaf tin - but will work just fine in any oven-proof dish or pan that will hold at least 750ml of liquid, just make sure it’s not too big of course - or your bake will end up rather thin.
Banana loaf ingredients
- 110g self-raising flour
- 100g sugar (a personal choice was organic cane sugar - because that was in the cupboard, but any sugar will work).
- ¼ teaspoon (or good pinch) of salt
- One medium/large egg
- 2 large bananas
- 100ml vegetable or sunflower oil (try to avoid olive oil - as this can give the bake a stronger flavour)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Dark chocolate (broken in to small pieces)
- Spoon full of nocilla/nutella chocolate spread
- Preheat your oven to gas mark 3 (160 C)
- Line a baking tin with grease-proof paper.
- Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- Mash your bananas with a fork.
- Mix the mashed bananas with the egg and vegetable oil.
- Combine wet and dry ingredients together in one bowl.
- Stir in the chocolate chunks (if using - highly recommended).
- Pour the batter into the prepared tin and for those chocolate enthusiasts - swirl some chocolate spread on the top - to add a little extra sweetness.
- Bake for 35/40 minutes, or until you can insert a sharp knife into the middle and it comes out clean.
We’d say there is true satisfaction in simplicity, but if you feel like going beyond the basics of this recipe - there’s plenty of room for experimentation.
You could swap the chocolate chunks for nuts or a swirl of peanut butter, add a little cinnamon or vanilla essence - and some bakers have gone as far as a cream cheese frosting for decoration.
Take care, keep calm and happy baking!