Growing up in the Scottish highlands, Ruth Barry found something of a bonus grandmother in her family’s nearest neighbor, several fields away. And the lure of her hearth—and the baked goods that came with it—lingers still.
“Even though the house had no central heating, the kitchen was always warm,” says Barry, owner of the stylish Black Isle Bakery in Berlin. “I was always going in for cake or a biscuit. I just loved it.”
She would later bake at home, and when she began reevaluating her life in London’s high-pressure art world, she tracked down a baker in Paris and talked her way into an apprenticeship. A promising romance spurred her move to Germany, and she opened her bakery in 2017.
Today, her shop is full of treats that aim to recreate the warmth she felt in her neighbor’s kitchen, but her approach to the classics goes beyond comfort. She loves pushing the familiar just a bit, often by using a secret ingredient that quietly transforms. “I want people to recognize what they’re looking at,” she says. “But when they buy a slice of banana bread, I want them to have the best banana bread experience they can hope for.”
We had to agree—it was. In this case, the secret was ground hazelnuts mixed into the dry ingredients. It also was about what she left out: butter and eggs. The result is incredibly moist and tender, but also lighter thanks to the lack of dairy, which can add heft and mute flavors. Buttery hazelnuts not only play better with bananas’ sweetness than more traditional bitter walnuts, they also keep the loaf moist. “I love a surprise hazelnut,” she says with a laugh.
We found that preparing the batter in a food processor instead of with a hand mixer not only made the recipe faster and easier, it also whipped air into the bananas, which further lightened it.
A bit of vanilla extract and ground cinnamon helped round out the flavors. And we particularly liked the crispy crust we got by reserving some of the sugar from the batter to sprinkle on before baking. Roughly chopped hazelnuts scattered on top of the loaf added even more texture, and hinted at the hazelnut secret inside.
“I want people to recognize what they’re looking at,” she says. “But when they buy a slice of banana bread, I want them to have the best banana bread experience they can hope for.”