Sunday, September 23, 2012

Browned butter banana cornbread

Certain flavor combinations feel so intuitive it seems as if they have always existed, as if they were never invented. Like peanut butter and chocolate, despite the speculation of so many Reece's Peanut Butter Cup commercials. Even if you aren't a fan of the combination, getting a bag full of Halloween candy without some sort of peanut butter-flavored treat in it seems somehow wrong.

While some food inventions, like the ice cream cone, can be traced back to a specific event, most do not and simply become a reflexive habit. Where is the maple syrup for my pancakes?

You walk into an ice cream parlor and expect to see some kind of a hot fudge and vanilla combination and feel unsettled at its absence. I don't even like whipped cream, but I accept the pairing with strawberries as inevitably.

However, look with the eyes of an outsider on these 'intuitive flavor combinations' and you begin to understand how relative and culturally-bound taste can be.  I once read a rant by the British humorist Stephen Fry which isn't online, unfortunately, but goes along the lines of: Why the fuck to Americans put cinnamon in everything? I am the biggest Anglophile, faux British, Shakespeare-quoting person on the planet, yet when I read that, my brain nearly exploded. WHAT DO YOU MEAN CINNAMON DOESN'T TASTE GOOD IN EVERYTHING?

And I still have not reconciled myself to prawn and steak-flavored crisps, despite living in England for nearly two years.

I felt the same unsettling sensation when I learned that some entire regions of the country prefer mayonnaise to ketchup on hamburgers.

But, product of my upbringing that I am, I must admit that I don't get certain flavor combinations that everyone else accepts in the U.S.  Like tuna melt. Tuna is cold. Mayo tastes good cold. Mayo is creamy.  Yet why slather on a warm slice of creamy melted cheese to turn the tuna lukewarm, while the lovely cheese hardens because of the coldness of the tuna?

Over the years, I also developed some 'natural' flavor pairings of my own which no one would consider natural but myself, but just 'feel' right.  As a child, I adored chicken salad on cinnamon (sorry Stephen) raisin bread.  I now love eating full-fat Greek yogurt topped with crunchy roasted cauliflower and that feels like the most natural thing in the world.

And recently, I thought--why not do an unholy merger of the two Great American quick breads of banana and corn together? Banana bread is sweet.  Cornbread is sweet.  Both have a kind of buttery flavor to them.  Both quick breads are simple and similar to make in terms of their preparation.

Continuing the buttery theme, I also decided to brown the butter, to enhance the caramel-y, nutty, unctuous flavor of the bread.

This bread is so easy, I urge everyone to give it a try.  It would be wonderful with pork, a meat which is often enhanced with sweet-flavored sides, as well as for breakfast. Chili would be another nice pairing, given that you might already but bananas, chocolate, and corn in your chili.

Hopefully, the merging of the flavors will feel as natural to you as it does to me.

Note: There are no eggs in this recipe, intentionally.

Browned Butter Banana Cornbread


1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) butter
2 large mashed, overripe bananas (approximately 1 cup)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda


1. Brown the butter slowly on medium-to-low heat (err on the side of being too low) until the butter begins to foam.  Remove from burner.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 8X4 loaf pan. (I also lined the bottom and sides with parchment paper).

3. Mix butter, bananas, honey, milk and vanilla together in one bowl, until well-blended.

4. Sift cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and baking soda together.  Spoon the dry mixture into the wet.

5. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for approximately 40 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted clean and the top has begun to brown.


  1. Tuna melts are conceptually gross, but one day I realized it was basically a hand-held noodle-free tuna casserole and I was sold. I haven't had one in a while, but when it gets colder, a tuna melt and a bowl of tomato soup is a good comfort food dinner. Though I do understand the whole Fish + Cheese = Yuck thing.

    I have a recipe for a soup that uses both peanut butter and canned tomatoes. It's really good, but I don't tell people what's in it until after they've tasted it.

  2. That soup sounds great--seriously, it would be terrific with this bread. I love all things nuts and am seldom grossed out about peanut butter in anything.

    I have never had tuna casserole, actually and I've only had mac and cheese twice. We weren't a big 'casserole' family, but I should add lest that sound food snobby that I didn't understand that people even made cookies, pancakes, or spaghetti sauce without a mix until I was in my mid-20s.

  3. I posted the recipe for the soup way back when. You don't have to use instant rice, but I use it here because regular rice takes so long that I feel like all the life gets cooked out of the soup.

    Homemade mac and cheese is good, but the Kraft from a box upsets me for some reason. I think it's because it's so aggressively orange.

  4. Every time I try to brown butter I burn it.

  5. @flurrious--I loved that post you linked to! Everyone who reads this blog should check out that link! I have to make that soup, even though I will feel guilty since that it is now probably the most-made soup in America, completely counter to the recipe author's wishes.

    @The Blonde Duck--the trick is using very low heat and taking it off the burner just before you think it's done. Or at least I think that's the trick. Now that I write that, I'll probably burn it.

  6. I had never thought of bananas worked into a cornbread, or cornmeal worked into a banana bread (depending on how you see it).

    I have a recipe for a banana cake from Elana Amsterdam (one of the better recipes from her almond meal cookbook) and I think I'd like to adapt it sometime to include cornmeal.

  7. @Catboy--that banana cake with almond meal sounds fabulous.

    It didn't occur to me before, but this bread could be very easily adapted to gluten-free eating. It's so moist it might not really need gluten to hold it together. Almond flour and cornmeal together would be a lovely, delicate flavor pairing.

    It also doesn't have a great deal of sugar, and you could even reduce the honey, perhaps adding some sliced bananas for garnish and more spices to amp up the flavor.