Walnuts are a very common inclusion in banana bread. It’s just the way things are. I’ve never been a big fan of banana walnut bread, however, because I think that all the walnuts really start to take away from the banana flavor at some point. Don’t get me wrong here: nuts can add a lot of richness, texture and flavor to a banana bread, it’s just that walnuts have a surprisingly strong flavor can sometimes take away from the banana. Pecans, which are sweeter, seem to blend into the bread a little more. One way I really like to get a nut flavor to a bread is to grind it up and incorporate it, not leave it in chunks to stand on its own.
This is what I did with this hazelnut banana bread. I whizzed whole hazelnuts in the food processor until they turned into a fine meal (you can also buy hazelnut meal at some stores, preground) and incorporated it into a fairly basic banana bread recipe. The hazelnuts replaced a little bit of the flour, but were more of an “extra” ingredient, since there were no nuts, oats, chocolate chips or anything similar stirred into the batter before baking.
The finished bread has a great, rich hazelnut flavor and light banana flavor. The two blend very well. It is moist, and has a density that reminds me a bit of pound cake, with a very tight crumb. Both flavor-wise and texture-wise, it’s a very satisfying loaf – especially if you’re a fan of either banana bread or hazelnut to begin with. I like that the bread isn’t too heavy or oily, and I love the fact that it is easy to slice and holds up well to toasting.
This fills the pan up well, so be sure to use a 9×5-inch loaf pan. It’s a standard size, but it is worth double checking if you’re not completely sure it’s the right one. I once made the mistake of using a 4×8-inch pan and there was a bit of overflow. Since it is a big loaf with a fairly long baking time, you might want to keep a sheet of foil handy just in case your oven has a few hot spots (or tends to run a bit high) and the top of the loaf gets darker than you’d like. If this happens, just tent the foil over the loaf for the last 10 minutes or so of baking.
Hazelnut Banana Bread
1 cup whole hazelnuts (140-150 grams)
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large or 2 small ripe bananas (approx 3/4 cup)
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
In a food processor, pulse whole hazelnuts until finely ground. Add in brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and bananas and whizz until well-combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add 1/3 of flour mixture to the food processor and pulse to incorporate. Add half of the milk and pulse again. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining milk and the remaining flour.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add in the butter and whizz for several seconds to incorporated it.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 70-75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool bread in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 1 loaf, serves 12.