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Heat the oven to 350°F and prep the pan. Arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line an 8x5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, letting the excess hang over the long sides to form a sling. Spray the inside with cooking spray. → If using nuts, toast them in the oven for 10 minutes as the oven is pre-heating.
Melt the butter. Melt the butter in the microwave or over low heat on the stovetop. → Alternatively, for a more cake-like banana bread, soften the butter (but do not melt) and cream it with the sugar in a stand mixer in the next step.
Combine the butter and sugar. Place the melted butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until combined. (Or cream the softened butter and sugar in a mixer until fluffy.)
Add the eggs. Crack the eggs into the bowl. Whisk until completely combined and the mixture is smooth.
Add the milk and vanilla. Whisk the milk and vanilla into the batter.
Mash in the bananas. Peel the bananas and add them to the bowl. Using the end of the whisk or a dinner fork, mash them into the batter. Leave the bananas as chunky or as smooth as you prefer. If you prefer an entirely smooth banana bread, mash the bananas separately until no more lumps remain, and then whisk them into the batter.
Add the flour, baking soda, and salt. Measure the flour, baking soda, and salt into the bowl. Switch to using a spatula and gently stir until the ingredients are just barely combined and no more dry flour is visible.
Fold in the nuts or chocolate, if using. Last but not least, scatter the nuts or chocolate over the batter and gently fold them in.
Pour the batter into the pan. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, using the spatula to scrape all the batter from the bowl. Smooth the top of the batter.
Bake for 50 to 65 minutes. Bake until the top of the cake is caramelized dark brown with some yellow interior peeking through and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, 50 to 65 minutes. Baking time will vary slightly depending on the moisture and sugar content of your bananas — start checking around 50 minutes and then every 5 minutes after.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Set the loaf, still in the pan, on a wire cooling rack. Let it cool for 10 minutes — this helps the loaf solidify and makes it easier to remove from the pan.
Remove from pan and cool another 10 minutes. Grasping the parchment paper sling, lift the loaf out of the pan and place on the cooling rack. Cool for another 10 minutes before slicing.