Along with visiting the Haleakala Crater and driving The Road to Hana, I planned another must-do for our trip to Maui: eating as much banana bread as possible. My unwavering need for Hawaiian banana bread – a bread I rarely seek out at bakeries or even make at home – started when I read this article in Bon Appetit. Normally I just glance at these kinds of articles before flipping the page to something more relevant. It’s challenging, even with excellent writing, to get caught up in someone else’s quest for a food item in a place you’ve never been. I tend to wistfully bookmark such articles under a mental ‘someday’ tag, and move on to another story. But in a stroke of fortuitous timing, I read this article just after booking our tickets for Maui. Suddenly, the article wasn’t just relevant, it was a research tool.
For his piece, Andrew McCarthy crisscrossed Maui eating banana bread, using his journey as a way to remember a previous time in his life when he lived in Hawaii. As he writes, Maui was his haven, and “there’s no more potent Maui memory than the smell of warm, moist banana bread". The article details his search as he eats at roadside shacks and establishments, and McCarthy specifically references Grandma’s Coffeehouse, Aunt Sandy’s, and Julia’s.
We knew we weren’t going to make it all the way to Julia’s, located at the far end of the Road to Hana. Luckily, the other two banana bread locales were well within our grasp. Here’s what Justin wrote in his travel journal about Grandma’s Coffeehouse: “ignored the coffee, enjoyed the banana bread". Grandma’s bread was nutty, dense, and filling. We ate it on our first full day in Maui, and it’s not an understatement to say that it set the trip off on the right foot. The banana bread that we’ve talked about since returning isn’t Grandma’s, though. It’s Aunt Sandy’s. Midway on our Road to Hana adventure, we started keeping an eye out for Aunt Sandy’s, assuming it would be off the main road. Instead, we drove into the Halfway to Hana parking lot. We were hungry and briefly – briefly – considered just eating their banana bread.
Thankfully, reason triumphed over hunger. We cued up Google Maps and turned around on the Road to Hana, subjecting ourselves to the same twists and turns we had only just navigated, before turning off onto Keanae Peninsula Road, stopping in front of the stunning Nua’ailua Bay. There was Aunt Sandy’s! We excitedly pulled in and ordered one loaf of banana bread. The lady working placed the last fresh loaf on the counter: it was wrapped in cellophane, but still warm. As we took it to a bench, another couple pulled in for their own loaf of banana bread; they were told that it would be a 20 minute wait until the next loaf was ready.
Though the recipe below is from Julia’s, the taste is nearly identical to what we ate sitting by the bay. Light, airy, not overly banana-y, it maintains its shape when cut and its flavor and freshness throughout the week. After we bit into it, I understood Hawaiian banana bread’s allure and McCarthy’s quest: it’s not about the bread – though this is excellent bread – it’s about the bread IN Hawaii. And by replicating the recipe in Portland, I can easily recall that first bite, as we sat on a picnic bench in 80 degree weather, basking in the gentle bay breezes. I didn’t bring home any souvenirs from Maui, but I did bring home this taste memory, and now it’s a memory I can recall each time I bake a loaf of this bread.
Julia’s Best Banana Bread
Recipe Source: Bon Appetit
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray or butter to coat
- 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
- Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar, bananas, and oil in a large bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and stir just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.
- Bake until a tester inserted into the center of bread comes out clean, 60-70 minutes.
- Transfer to a wire rack; let bread cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around inside of pan to release the bread. Turn out onto rack and let cool completely.