What's wrong with my banana bread?
I used this recipe and made it twice. One batch with dark chocolate chunks and one batch plain.
My bread is not smooth and shiny on top but is a little drier and lumpy and cracked on top. I want it with that smooth, shiny top. Any suggestions?
Flavour is great; presentation...not so much!
As PaulJ mentioned below, cracked tops result when the top firms up (forms a crust) before the center finishes rising and releasing steam. Some recipes are designed to do that. They have plenty of moisture and a fairly high bake temp. If the recipe does not usually create that, perhaps you are cooking the bread on a rack higher in the oven than the creater of the recipe did, or you are located in a higher altitude (more rising), or your oven is running slightly hotter. (Even a few degrees hotter when you first put the bread in can do that.) You can try lowering the rack a notch and/or preheating the oven to a temp ~25F degrees less than the baking temp, and raising the temp to what's recommended after it has baked a few minutes. And of course it can't hurt to buy an oven thermometer (the kind that hangs on a rack) to check if your oven is running a little hot.
Brushing the top w/ milk or egg white about 5 minutes before it's done will create a shiny top. Do not put it on earlier or it will burn.
I suspect either your oven is a little hot. Even Cook's Illustrated recommends turning your baked goods half way through and then starting at about 45 minutes start checking on it every 5 minutes or so.
I love that recipe; it's my favorite, no matter how many new ones I've tried. It's supposed to have a cracked top but if it's drier than you want, start checking the temperature of the bread earlier, about 200 degrees. You could also reduce the temperature and bake it longer. And, for most things, I start checking about 10-15 minutes before it's done, just looking in the window. If the exterior is what I want, I turn it down by 25 degrees and bake until done.
I agree with chowser. My banana bread often cracks. The recipe I use is very similar to yours. I actually have less moisture (no yogurt) and more fat in the ratio, so I think that should make mine even less likely to crack. My own personal solution, is to slice a banana and cover the loaf in slices or place one slice on each muffin. The oven makes the banana slices hideously delicious, and they're so distractingly ugly that I don't think people notice if their piece has a crack or not.
Check out Irish soda bread:
It's a quick bread, like banana nut bread. Part of the appeal it how ugly it is. It's got very little sugar/fat in it, so the moisture evaporates and leaves the bread looking like the surface of the moon if someone got the moon dirty. If you are set on making smooth banana bread, there are a few things I can think of that might help.
Baking soda amount. If you're actually measuring out 3/4 tsp baking soda then it shouldn't be a factor. If you're eye balling the amount, check to see if you have a lot of little holes on the top of your bread. These appear when you have large amount of baking soda. Too much will make the bread dry, crumbly, and stubborn. Of course too little will make it dense, gummy, and evil.
Mixing. The more you mix the batter, the stretchier it becomes. If you over mix (like with an electric beater) you'll get a block of rubber. If you under mix the batter, you won't get bread.
Egg wash. I tried this earlier today (because of your thread) and it came out interesting. I put a yolk-water egg wash on my brioche and it comes out of the oven looking quite majestic. So today, when making banana-poppy seed muffins, I pulled a few out after they baked just enough to firm up but were still pale. I brushed the egg wash lightly on. Most of my muffins have a rustic golden brown. I think it's too much trouble for the effect it had, but I thought I'd mention it still.
One recipe for an English oat ginger bread (parkin) attributed its surface cracking to the oats swelling as they absorbed moisture. Cracking indicates that there has been some change in volume after the surface has firmed up. I assume most of the rise due to baking powder/soda occurs early on. Later change would be due to changes in moisture, including steam production.