I could sing the praises of a well made banana bread all day long. This underrated quick-bread is so versatile and simple, you can make it as a gift, or for no reason at all. I have been making banana bread for absolutely no reason about once a week for years. It gets along so nicely with many other flavors that the possibilities are really endless. This post is meant to show you a couple of new ways you can add to your existing banana bread recipe, or start your own by building upon my simple one below.
First thing’s first, the base of a good banana bread comes from nice rotten bananas. The best way to achieve maximum flavor is to freeze your unpeeled over ripe bananas in a plastic bag. Thanks to my husband always forgetting to take a banana with him to work, and my next door neighbor leaving his over ripe ones for me on the porch, my freezer is always stocked and ready to go.
On bake day, take out 4 bananas and let them sit on a plate at room temperature for a few hours. When they become soft, slice them open and release all the flesh and juices into a bowl. If you want to create a super flavored bread with a very light texture, separate the juices from the flesh by lining the bowl with a strainer. Take the separated juices and heat them in a small sauce pan slowly until reduced by half and once cooled, mix back in with banana mixture. The reason for this is too much liquid can give you a more dense bread, so this way we keep all the flavor while keeping the bread light. I use both methods depending on what type of bread I am going for. My husband prefers it a little denser, while some friends prefer the lighter one. Try it out for yourself and see what you prefer. If you do not have any frozen bananas on hand, you can roast unripe bananas in their skins in the oven until they are black and soft for a similar effect.
Bananas like company. Bananas go so well with others, so it is a great way to use up some fruit that may be on its way out. I like to slice a pear or apple very thin, then lightly poach it in a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar- simmered until sugar dissolves) flavored with cinnamon, maybe a clove, or some nutmeg. I am a big fan of poaching fruit, sometimes adding a bit of dry sherry, or substituting sugar with maple syrup or honey. You don’t have to poach your fruit at all, you can just toss your pear or apple in a bit of flour and then right into the batter. For a more subtle taste and texture, grate some unpeeled pear or apple right into your batter.
Blueberries are also great tossed into banana bread. I pick a whole bunch once a year and freeze them. Do not defrost them before adding them into quick-breads or they will make your bread blue. Just wait until the very last minute and fold them into the batter. Another fun thing to do is take about a cup of blueberries and gently heat them on the stove with a bit of sugar and water. Simmer until it looks similar to jam, when pouring batter into prepared pans, fill only halfway, then spoon in some of your blueberry mixture. Top with remaining half of batter. You will have a nice blueberry ribbon in the center of your bread.
Sliced strawberries are very very nice, as well as raspberries, or blackberries. This past Christmas I threw in some cranberries that I had left over. The important thing is to utilize what you have, play around with combinations, and you may find some fun new favorites.
Bananas and nuts- Adding nuts to banana bread is a very personal thing, some people just hate them, while others may be allergic or simply prefer a soft bread with no crunch. The choice is yours but if you do add nuts please toast them and cool them first. Walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, and pistachios all go nicely with banana bread. Just chop them up, toast them either in a dry skillet on low stirring often, or on a dry baking sheet at 325 tossing and checking often.
Flour power- most recipes call for standard a.p. flour. You can also use whole wheat, or a combination of the two. If you are gluten free I recommend making a coconut flour blend. This consists of 2 cups coconut flour, (delicious in baked goods and high in fiber) 1 cup your choice- oat flour, quinoa flour, garbanzo bean flour, brown rice flour, or any other mild gluten free flour you like, 2 tablespoons potato starch, and 1 teaspoon of xanthum gum. Mix all together and use as you would a.p. flour. *This is also makes a nice gift for a friend or family member who is gluten free. I put it into a large mason jar, labeled it, and gave it to my mom who is gluten free for Christmas.
Sweeter options- Growing up my mom didn’t use sugar, she made banana bread with honey and lots of cinnamon and I remember it being so delicious. Other alternatives to refined sugar are maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar. I still am a fan of regular old white sugar for some things, so a way to begin incorporating new sweeteners into your bread, is to cut the amount of sugar in half, and mix in some additional honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup,or agave nectar into your mashed banana mixture. You can also use brown sugar, raw sugar, or even frozen fruit juice concentrates to sweeten!
Spices- My favorite part of quick-breads is the spices. I just love the aromas from the oven, and the way spices compliment both the banana itself, and also the additions of nuts, and fruits. Cinnamon is a must for me, both into the batter and on top. Another favorite of mine is fresh grated nutmeg, use just enough for the nuttiness to come through, but not overpower the bread. Feel free to also add ground clove or a touch of allspice for a slightly deeper more grown up flavor.
Toppings- I enjoy the simplicity of cinnamon sifted on top of banana bread just before it is baked. Another easy simple topping is tossing a couple tablespoons of oats (quick cooking or old fashioned) with a bit of cinnamon and sugar, then sprinkling on top. For more texture and decadence, you can make a crumble by mixing with your fingers, chilled butter, brown sugar, spices of your choice, and optional nuts, and crumble right on top before baking.
Other additions and substitutions- To make it vegan, omit the eggs and substitute with applesauce or ground flax seeds that have been soaked in water for a few minutes. You can also substitute butter with vegetable oil or applesauce. For a slight tang, add a tablespoon of yogurt to the banana mixture. For extra richness, add a tablespoon of mascarpone cheese to your banana mixture.
Other things that make banana bread awesome- Banana bread makes great gifts, as pictured above I made mini loaves, tied them with raffia, and added some dried flowers. Banana bread freezes well, and is great sliced and toasted. It can be eaten for breakfast, a snack, or dessert. The list just goes on and on!!!
My basic banana bread recipe
- 4 ripe bananas- thawed from the freezer, mashed
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon and nutmeg
Mix bananas with vanilla, egg, butter, and sugars. In separate bowl mix flour, salt, spices, and baking soda. Fold flour mixture into banana mixture and stir just until moistened. Add your additions and pour into buttered floured pans. (this recipe makes 3 small loaves – 5 x 1/12 inches) Bake at 350 for 40- 50 minutes.