Who doesn’t love a good banana bread? Olivia Japlon gives provides her recipe for a banana bread that recreates her favorite flavors from her childhood with a nutritious spin.
Too dry, too oily, too sweet, or too bland. There are no banana breads in Boston that make me want more. Plus, as a student, it’s hard to justify $4 for a meh slice. Left with no alternatives, I had to make my own banana bread. As a connoisseur of banana bread, I knew the flavors and texture I was going for: light, but moist and with a strong taste of banana. The issue was how I would make it since I had zero baking experience (unless Toll House break-and-bake cookies count).
As a child, I was a very picky eater. One of the few things I ate without fail was banana bread. I’m not talking about a banana bread that was baked from scratch by my mother, for there was no baking or cooking in the Japlon household. I’m talking about a banana bread that could be purchased at the local grocery store in the refrigerated desserts aisle. My dad introduced me to Sara Lee’s Banana Cake at an early age. It was my kryptonite.
Eventually, Sara Lee lost her place in our refrigerator. But, a better banana bread started to appear in my kitchen and this time it wasn’t from a box. This better banana bread was from a local bakery in my hometown of Oak Park, IL. Even now, when I’m visiting my childhood home, I always go to this same bakery just so I can carry a loaf of banana bread almost 1,000 miles back to Boston with me. It was the absence of this type of banana bread in Boston that made me start experimenting in the kitchen.
To begin, I did a quick search on the Food Network’s website to see what goes into a ‘typical’ banana bread. Flour, a lot of added sugar, some banana, maybe some oil, a few eggs, and leavening agents. Seemed reasonable enough. I spent one Friday evening making a loaf and the banana bread wasn’t bad, but it was too sweet and too oily, just like the ones I’ve had in Boston. I felt like the original recipe had to be improved with some healthier ingredient swaps. So, I went back to the recipe and made some reasonable changes.
Instead of white flour, I used spelt flour — a cousin of whole wheat flour, but not as dry. Spelt flour contains more iron and fiber than white flour and gives the banana bread a nutty flavor. Since bananas provide their own natural sugar, I eliminated the refined sugar in the original recipe, which tamed the sweetness. To add a richer taste, I added a small amount of maple syrup. Lastly, to create crunch, I experimented with adding toasted nuts —just enough so that they wouldn’t weigh down the batter.
After experimenting several times, I finally felt confident about my banana bread recipe. Not only was the banana bread easy to make, but it was also more adaptable than I originally thought. I baked it in a loaf pan, which sliced fine, and in a muffin tin, which I prefer because the single servings can be easily frozen or packed with my lunch. I even used defrosted frozen bananas when I didn’t have the time to wait for the fresh bananas to fully ripen.
The finished product was lighter than the original but just as moist and fluffy. It had a strong banana flavor but was not overly sweet. It didn’t rise as much as it did in the original recipe, but I cared less about looks and more about taste. It was an even better banana bread than Sara Lee, and just what I was craving.
Makes 1 loaf or 12 muffins using a standard muffin tin
-1 ½ cups of spelt flour
-1 tsp ground cinnamon
-1 tsp baking soda
-½ tsp salt
-8 tbsp (½ cup) of softened butter
-2 tbsp maple syrup
-2 extra large eggs
-1 tsp of vanilla extract
-1 ½ cups of mashed banana (about 3 or 4 very ripe bananas)
-Non-stick cooking spray (even if your pans are ‘non-stick’)
-½ cups of chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, or any other add-in (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Grease an 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pan (or muffin tin, if using) with non-stick cooking spray. Even if your loaf pan (or muffin tin) is non-stick, I suggest still spraying it.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
- In a separate bowl, mix the butter, maple syrup, eggs, and vanilla extract. The egg yolks should be broken and all ingredients should be combined evenly.
- Pour the mashed bananas into the bowl of wet ingredients (butter, maple syrup, eggs, and vanilla extract). Use a spatula to incorporate them.
- Carefully pour the bowl of dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt) into the wet ingredients. Use a spatula to mix the ingredients together until almost all the dry ingredients have been incorporated. It’s okay if some of the flour is still visible in the batter.
- Optional: Use a spatula to fold in nuts, chocolate chips, raisins. If using nuts, you may roast them in the oven, a toaster oven, or on the stove (time will depend on nut) prior to incorporating into the batter.
- Pour the batter into the loaf pan (or muffin tin). Use the spatula to help spread the batter evenly. If using a muffin tin, fill each muffin well about ¾ full.
- Place the loaf pan (or muffin tin) in the oven on the rack closest to the center.
- The banana bread is finished when a knife, inserted into the center of the loaf pan (or muffin well), comes out clean. If using a loaf pan, set a timer for 40 minutes. If using a muffin tin, set a timer for 22 minutes.
- Let the banana bread rest for about 10 minutes before removing it from the loaf pan (or muffin tin). Serve warm or at room temperature.
Olivia Japlon is a first-year NICBC student.