It was baking’s version of the “it girl” in 2020, and for good reason: banana bread is quick to assemble, only requires one bowl and is the undisputed best way to use up leftover bananas.
But let’s be honest: when you read those lines in recipes that state “mix just until combined” or “beat vigorously”, do you follow them to a tee, or do you go rogue and mix at will? As it goes, these little instructions make a big difference when it comes to breads and baking.
It all boils down to gluten. Any flour containing gluten relies on this protein to give structure and elasticity to doughs and batters. Working the batter by kneading or stirring helps strengthen the gluten, giving the dough a stronger crust and airy consistency.
This is perfect for things like crusty breads or pizza dough, but isn’t ideal for soft goods like muffins or cakes…or, banana bread. For these recipes, you’re instructed only to stir the batter enough to moisten the ingredients, and this minimal mixing limits gluten’s ability to form. When these batters are over-mixed, the over-worked gluten causes the bread to become tough, chewy and dense. And no one has ever raved about a “dense, chewy” banana bread, right?
Take a look at the two banana breads below. The one on the left was over-stirred, whereas the bread on the right was stirred only until the dry ingredients were combined. The over-worked gluten also caused a thicker, tough crust on the bread on the left, whereas the bread on the right is soft and tender.
You can also see that the over-working of the dough has caused tunneling in the bread on the left. Tunneling refers to the very large air pockets (or “tunnels”) that form as a result of over-mixing. You want quick breads and cakes to be quite uniform in texture and appearance and, unlike a bread dough, you don’t need a high gluten content to help trap the air and help it rise in the oven. The leavening agent (bread soda or baking powder) and the small amount of mixing are enough to help the bread rise as it bakes.
So the next time you see the instructions to “mix just until…”, pay attention! You’ll thank yourself when you’re enjoying a slice of warm, soft banana bread with your cuppa.
Ready to bake? Check out seven of our favourite banana bread recipes here.