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Banana bread plays an important role in most home baking repertoires. It holds sway in our minds as a delicious comfort food. It’s a staple of bakery counters; you can find it everywhere easily. But despite all that, it’s so ordinary. So simple. No one swoons over banana bread they way they do over gooey chocolate chip cookies or slabs of layer cake or even custard-like lemon squares.
And yet bakers are fierce in their allegiance to their favorite banana bread recipes. Most recipes riff on the same general formula, differing mainly in their use of fats (butter or coconut oil or sour cream, say) and sugar (brown or white) and proportions of liquid to dry.
The classic formula has endured for good reason. Regardless of how many new versions I try, I return to my basic go-to recipe again and again. Today’s recipe marks the first time I’ve really departed in any real way from it; I’ve dressed my banana bread up in lots of different ways depending on my mood—adding chopped chocolate or toasted nuts or crystallized ginger or a thick crust of cinnamon sugar or rum—but all using the same base.
I can’t even remember the provenance of the idea to use cream cheese in my batter. Perhaps it was simply a case of me, standing in front of my fridge, puzzling over how best to use up the last half-package of cream cheese in the butter drawer. Wherever it came from, I’m glad it did. Adding cream cheese to your banana bread batter amplifies all the best qualities of a good banana bread. It adds richness and offsets the sweetness. It makes an incredibly tender and moist crumb without being too dense.
You don’t want to add too much cream cheese or you can risk weighing down the loaf too much. I use four ounces for the entire recipe, and I also add in some Greek yogurt and crème fraîche for more moisture but less density. If you don’t have crème fraîche, you can go ahead and use all Greek yogurt but try and use 2% or full-fat, as it makes for better flavor.
My recipe calls for an optional addition of uncooked millet, a little trick I picked up from Smitten Kitchen. Millet adds a subtler crunch compared to nuts, and I highly recommend giving it a try! If you don’t want it, you can leave it out. Or, use up to a full cup of chopped toasted nuts. For other flavor variations, try up to a cup of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate, toasted coconut flakes, or diced crystallized ginger.
Here’s to a world filled with more versions of familiar, and delicious, baked goods. Goodness knows, we can all use more comfort.
- 3/4 cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup (5 5/8 ounces) brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 4 ounces Greek yogurt (full-fat preferably) or creme fraiche or a mixture of both
- 4 medium bananas, mashed
- 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- 1/2 cup uncooked millet (optional)