1. Cooking

Whole wheat flour adds flavor and nutrition to this banana loaf

Perfect in flavor and texture, this whole wheat banana loaf has just enough spice for flavor and buttermilk for a bit of tang. The topping adds an extra crunchy layer of pecan pralines, toffee bits with cinnamon sugar.

I love baking with whole wheat flour, as it adds more nutrition, not to mention a nutty flavor, to flour-based recipes. But whole-grain flour can sometimes make the finished baked good seem drier and produce a coarser texture than a more refined all-purpose white flour.

My technique for combating this is to let the batter rest for 15 minutes before baking to give the flour a chance to hydrate.

Why is hydration important in baking with whole wheat flour? Since whole wheat flour contains both the bran and germ of wheat, which is coarser in texture, resting the batter before baking gives the liquid a chance to hydrate the bran and the germ and soften it. This is a good step to take when baking anything with whole-grain flour.

Another tip: Baking a loaf at a constant high temperature sometimes leaves the middle unbaked and the top too browned. I bake my quick bread and loaf cakes for the first 30 minutes at 350 degrees. The loaf is almost finished rising by this time.

Then, I finish baking at a lower temperature of 325 degrees to keep the loaf from burning and to allow it to evenly bake in the middle. If you find your loaf browning too quickly, loosely place a piece of aluminum foil on top and continue to bake until a tester comes out clean.

You can mix this batter by hand with a rubber spatula if you like. You will only need two large mixing bowls. I find an electric hand mixer gently mixes and creates a smooth batter that bakes into a much lighter loaf. Use your taste preferences and make this banana loaf your own by adding extras in the batter like raisins, nuts, dried fruit or different spices.

Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. This column features recipes that have been entered in contests across America and have been updated for readers who love to bake. Contact her at

Perfect Whole Wheat Banana Loaf With a Praline Toffee Crunch Topping

For the batter:

2 cups whole wheat flour, or white whole wheat flour

¾ cup sugar, or Stevia baking blend

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 to 3 ripe bananas

¾ cup low-fat buttermilk

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the topping:

½ cup pecan pralines

¼ cup toffee bits

1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar, mixed together

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper and then lightly coat it with cooking spray. Set the pan on a rimmed quarter sheet pan.

To a large mixing bowl, add the flour, sugar (or Stevia blend), baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Whisk together to blend.

In another large mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer on medium speed, beat together the bananas, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla just until smooth, leaving a few banana chunks remaining.

On low speed, add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and beat just until smooth, about 1 minute. Continuing on low speed, add the melted and cooled butter and beat for 30 seconds. Let the batter sit at room temperature for 15 minutes so the mixture gets a chance to hydrate. The batter will thicken.

While the batter is resting, make the topping by coarsely grinding all the topping ingredients in a food processor.

Spread the rested batter evenly in the loaf pan and top with the topping.

Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees and then at 325 degrees for about another 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan 15 minutes. Run a sharp knife along the sides of the pan to free the loaf. When removing the loaf from the pan, place a piece of parchment or waxed paper over the top of the loaf to help keep the topping intact. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store at room temperature or refrigerate. This loaf freezes nicely.

Makes about 12 slices.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski