Banana

Bread Banana (aka Bao-nana)

September 15, 2020
Photo by TY MECHAM. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: SAMANTHA SENEVIRATNE.
Author Notes

In the spirit of the ”everything is cake” trend comes a hyper-realistic pastry out of left field—baos shaped like a banana, or as I like to call them, bread banana or bao-nana. Yes, you heard right.

Before you think this sounds like a Pikotaro song gone wrong—“I have a bread. I have banana. Uh! Bread banana.”—that catchy Japanese earworm isn’t the inspiration behind this. This genius confection is of Baking Into the Ether blogger Victoria’s creation. On her blog, she shares how to make a bao—technically a mantou, which is a bao sans filling—made to resemble a banana, complete with distinct skin and flesh layers that peel open just like the fruit. My mind was blown.

To make this very fun treat, you start off with a traditional bao dough. Part of it gets tinged yellow with pumpkin puree (turmeric powder or food coloring works too) for the “banana skin,” and the other left pale white for the “banana flesh.” The latter gets kneaded a bit, niftily tucked into the former, and molded into a banana-shaped cylinder. As a final, brilliant touch, you smear some cocoa powder dots onto the “skin” of the banana before steaming it into pillowy, prank-y perfection.

Now, I have neither the technical mastery of hyperrealistic cake decorators nor Cedric Grolet’s patisserie prowess, but when I first saw Victoria’s tutorial, the idea tickled me so much that I embarked on it that very weekend, with a few changes. I subbed in my mom’s trusty bao recipe, and added actual banana to the bao dough (the original recipe does not have any banana flavor which was a bit of a let down).

I chuckled to myself in the kitchen all afternoon, and ended up with a bao-nana that has all the pillowy, fluffy goodness of a bao, with the charm of a ripe banana!

Not only are these fluffy banana mantous perfect for spreading with jam and PB, they’re great prank material too. I kid you not, my sister, whom I live with, very nearly made banana bread with these, which, if my calculations are correct, would make for a bread-banana bread? (Cue the pen-pineapple-apple-pen music.) —Yi Jun Loh

  • Prep time 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Cook time 5 minutes
  • Makes 8
Ingredients
  • “Banana Skin”
  • 1 medium banana (around 70 grams flesh)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) white wine or rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (80 grams) pumpkin puree, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder, or 1/2 teaspoon yellow food coloring plus 3 tablespoons (45 grams) milk
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) neutral oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) dry instant yeast
  • 2 cups (240 grams) bao/Hong Kong flour, or all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • "Banana Flesh"
  • 1/2 cup (120 milliters) whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) dry instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) neutral oil
  • 2 cups (240 grams) bao/Hong Kong flour, or all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons (40 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
  • To Decorate
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon water
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. We’ll first be making the yellow dough for the “banana skin”. First, mash the banana into a fine pulp, then immediately pour in the white wine vinegar to the mashed banana to prevent it from browning too fast. Then, mix in the pumpkin puree and oil, and pass it all through a sieve. Next, stir in the instant dry yeast into the puree until evenly mixed.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into the bowl of a stand mixer. To this, add in the banana and pumpkin puree, and knead on medium speed with a dough hook attachment for 5-6 minutes, until the dough turns smooth and pliable. (If the dough still looks dry and clumpy after 1 minute of mixing, add a teaspoon or two of milk, until the dough comes together.) When done, remove the dough from the stand mixer and transfer it into a clean bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel and let it proof for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Now for the white dough for the “banana flesh”. In a bowl, mix together the milk and yeast. Then, sift the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder into the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the milk and yeast mixture, along with the oil, into the dry ingredients, and knead with a dough hook for 5-6 minutes, until smooth and pliable as well. As before, transfer the dough into a separate bowl and let it proof, covered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Mix the cocoa powder and water together to form a thick brown paste. This will be for decorating the brown smudges onto our bread bananas.
  5. It’s time to shape the individual bread bananas. Divide the yellow dough into 55g pieces, and the white dough into 50g pieces. You should end up with at least 8 portions of each. Take one piece of yellow dough, and knead it for 20-30 seconds to press out any air bubbles. Then, roll it out into an oval at least 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. Then, get a piece of white dough, knead it for 20 seconds to release any air bubbles, and roll it out into a fat rope about 6 inches long. Place the rolled out white dough in the middle of the flat yellow dough, and wrap the yellow dough around the white dough, pinching the yellow dough where they meet, and closing the two ends. Roll it out to smoothen out any bumps, and shape it into a slight, banana-like curve. Smear some cocoa powder paste onto the dough, making it resemble the brown bits of a banana! Then, place the bread banana onto a piece of wax paper or baking paper, and let it proof for 10-15 minutes. (It won’t quite double in size, but it will be noticeably more plump.) Repeat the process until you run out of dough.
  6. While the bread bananas are proofing, set up your steamer. (At home I use a steamer basket set over a wok, but a perforated pan over a pot of vigorously boiling water works too.) Then, steam them over high heat for 5 minutes. When done, remove the bread bananas from the steamer basket immediately and transfer them onto a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. (It’s best to steam the them in batches, so when you have 3-4 rolled out, put them on to steam while you roll out the rest.)
  7. When they’ve cooled for 5 minutes, they’re ready to be eaten! Peel it like a banana, prank your family and friends with them, and at the end of all the ruckus you’ve caused, eat it, skin and all! Its fluffy insides make it a comforting pillow for jams, red bean paste, or even with banana puree, in sticking with the theme. At home, I like to smear baos with kaya (Malaysian coconut jam), or peanut butter too.

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Engineer + cook + food blogger. All about cross-cultural cooking, funky-fresh ferments, and abusing alliteration.