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Unripe bananas, food allergies, special diets, a lack of eggs—there are lots of things that can get between you and banana bread, but no obstacle need stop you. There’s almost always a way to make a beautiful loaf of banana bread whenever you want it, whatever your circumstances, as long as you have at least one semi-ripe banana. Here, we’re covering 7 common issues and how to surmount them for the best banana bread, no matter what.
In its classic form, banana bread is quite simple, and depends mostly on three things: (1) fruit that’s reached the ideal degree of super-sweet softness, (2) not overmixing the batter, which makes it gummy, and (3) baking for just the right amount of time (underbaking is another way to bring about a gummy texture, but overbaking dries things out, and moist banana bread is the only kind worth eating). That said, there’s actually a lot of wiggle room when it comes to making delicious banana bread, even when it seems like you’ve been stymied—and banana bread’s inherent flexibility is no surprise when you know it became popular during the Great Depression, and endured through World War II-era rationing.
Here are some of the common banana bread hurdles we face today, and tips on how to soar right over them; click a link to jump to your problem area, or keep scrolling to see them all:
Roast ’em! There are some tricks to ripen bananas more quickly, but if you want to use them right now, just place your unpeeled bananas on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment for easy clean-up and pop it into a 300-degree oven for anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour (obvious but easy to overlook: remove any stickers from the skins first!). The bananas are done when they’ve turned soft and black, and you can use them as soon as they’re cool enough to peel.
If, say, you’re going out of town and have bananas that will go bad in your absence, you can bake them like this and then store them in the freezer for future use—but if you’re staying put and in no hurry to make bread, your best bet is always letting them ripen naturally. One caveat: your bananas should be at least slightly ripe before you bake them; green bananas just won’t have converted enough sugar yet, and even though they will turn soft and black in the oven, they’ll still taste like sadness.
We call for roasting five bananas and then mashing them into a batter with some brown sugar, but the other revelation here is the Nutella stuffing in the center. Get our Roasted Banana Nutella Quick Bread recipe.
If you bake banana bread even just occasionally, you’re probably already in the habit of stashing any on-the-verge-of-totally-blackening bananas in the freezer so you can turn them into baked gold later (if not, start doing that!), but if you want banana bread now and you’re still short one or two perfectly overripe specimens, simplymake banana bread with just one banana—or (if you suspect that won’t taste fruity enough for you), make a mini loaf with your lone banana.
If you don’t have a mini loaf pan, you can portion the batter among muffin tins, but that’s just not the same, you know? Get the Mini Banana Bread recipe.
If you’re set on a specific recipe that calls for the standard two or three mashed bananas, you can replace one or two of them with applesauce (½ cup equals 1 banana). If you don’t have applesauce either, or just aren’t a fan, you could also try substituting Greek yogurt (plain for sure, but flavors like vanilla or banana make sense too), sour cream, mashed avocado, whisked silken tofu, or pumpkin puree; they all add roughly the same sort of body and moisture as bananas, but when using substitutions that are sugar-free and/or tangy, you’ll probably want to add a little extra sweetener to the batter than the recipe calls for. Conversely, if you choose to swap in pureed prunes for some of the banana, you may want to scale back on the sweetener, since the prunes have a lot of natural sugar.
This recipe calls for a standard 3 bananas, but it also includes tahini to help moisten the batter, which is another great trick to try. (It’s also sweetened with honey instead of granulated sugar, and includes oats, sesame seeds, and chia seeds.) Get the Sesame Chia Banana Bread with Honey and Tahini recipe.
Many sources tell you (correctly) that you can replace eggs in baking with, among other things, mashed bananas—so does that mean you can just leave the egg out of your banana bread recipe entirely? Well, maybe. Since most banana bread recipes have a lot of fat and moisture overall, leaving out the egg most likely won’t hurt too much, but to be safe, you can add some additional pantry items to compensate: combine 2 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of neutral oil like vegetable or canola oil, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder in a small bowl and whisk until completely combined, then mix them into your wet ingredients in place of the egg.
There are lots of other egg substitutes suitable for baking, but this one is nice since you’re liable to always have the necessary components on hand. Of course, if you’re not committed to a particular recipe yet, you can also search for intentionally egg-free versions like this one:
Bananas (of course), non-dairy milk, coconut oil, and maple syrup help keep this vegan banana bread moist. Get the Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bread recipe.
The Internet is your oyster! (Although if you keep kosher or have a shellfish allergy, just call it your best friend instead.) There are literally thousands of vegan, paleo, gluten-free, nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free, etc. banana bread recipes out there, and many of them are truly scrumptious. Here are just a handful of options:
This gluten-free banana bread recipe adds almond meal and oats to gluten-free flour and works equally well with chicken, chia, or flax eggs. Plus, you can mix in whatever additions you like, from chopped nuts to butterscotch chips. Get the Easy 1-Bowl Gluten-Free Banana Bread recipe.
This double-chocolate banana bread is still healthier than most standard banana bread loaves, so you can eat twice as much, right? (If you don’t want something quite so decadent, try this marbled marvel of a vegan gluten-free chocolate-swirled banana bread.) In any case, bananas are so moist and rich on their own, even dairy lovers won’t notice when milk, yogurt, sour cream, and butter have been replaced in a banana bread recipe with soy- or plant-based milk, coconut oil, and other alternative ingredients. Get the Vegan Gluten-Free Double-Chocolate Banana Bread recipe.
This paleo-approved banana bread uses almond flour and coconut flour, plus brown butter, walnuts, and dark chocolate. Get the Paleo Banana Bread recipe.
Bananas are quite high in carbs, which means they’re not really keto-friendly. However, you can still make a keto banana bread by employing some clever tricks—namely, banana extract to lend that familiar flavor, plus almond and coconut flours to get the texture right, and erythritol, a natural sweetener, instead of sugar. Get the Low-Carb Keto Banana Bread recipe.
The easiest and most obvious way to boost that yellow fatty bean flavor in your bread (whether you just really like the taste or you were short on actual fruit and had to make some substitutions as mentioned above), is to add a little extract. Although “extract” automatically makes many of us think “artificial flavoring” (and you will definitely find imitation banana flavor on your grocery store shelves), this pure banana extract is made from real fruit, and is a good choice for keeping in your pantry if you’re you-know-what about bananas. You can also try mixing in some freeze-dried banana powder.
If you’re not worried about artificial anything, you could also use one of the many sworn-to-be-moist banana bread recipes that call for vanilla pudding, but swap in banana pudding instead.
Caveat: Chrissy Teigen’s banana bread recipe uses vanilla pudding, and in her cookbook, she specifically warns against the banana flavor, as she says it tastes too artificial—but many people stand by it, so why not try it and decide for yourself?
If you’ve got plenty of bananas and just want to cram even more of them into your bread, stir chunks of fresh ripe banana or dried banana chips into your batter, and cover the top of the loaf in banana pieces too, whether that’s round slices or full banana halves cut lengthwise and arranged artistically.
This Brown Butter Banana Bread recipe not only has less butter and sugar than normal, but the butter is browned for a nutty taste, and the top is decorated with halved bananas for flair and extra flavor. A more over-the-top option that takes inspiration from the classic pineapple upside down cake (and tarte tatin), this luscious Caramel Banana Upside Down Bread recipe is a stunner.
You can also search for recipes that use an uncommonly high number of bananas, like this one with five bananas in one Platonic loaf. Chrissy Teigen is a fan of this technique (and also makes her banana bread in a Bundt pan, which may not make it taste better, but is definitely more fun).
And if you’re willing to play the waiting game, let your bananas ripen naturally until they’re really, really dark and mushy; the flavor (and aroma) will reach peak banana-ness that way, but since they’ll be fairly cloying at that point, you’ll probably want to use significantly less added sugar than your recipe suggests.
Make shortcut banana bread with boxed cake mix. And yeah, it does make the banana bread taste more like cake (obviously), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Bring on the mix-ins! Chocolate chips or chopped chocolate bars of course, and naturally, nuts (from the classic walnuts and pecans to hazelnuts and macadamias), but also candied ginger, dried or candied fruit (from raisins and craisins to candied citrus peel), fresh berries, crushed pineapple, toasted coconut, Nutella—stir in whatever appeals to you. But beware: the more add-ins, the more likely your bread interior will stay underbaked, so use a light hand when sprinkling in other ingredients. If you resent skimping on the stir-ins, you can always press extra on top of the loaf partway through baking (partway through so they don’t sink straight to the bottom, but then cover the pan with foil if the top starts to burn before the bread is finished).
Raspberries and chocolate chips make banana bread even more appealing. Get the Dark Chocolate Chip Raspberry Banana Bread recipe.
If texture isn’t your thing, or if you want even more oomph, you can also up the spices in your b-bread. Don’t stop at the common dash of cinnamon, but add ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves (as in the ginger spiced banana bread with crystallized ginger on top below), or ditch the more expected shakers for five spice powder (see: this Chinese five spice banana bread with orange and raisins) or ground black pepper, like in this banana bread with black pepper and cardamom.
Not only is there ground ginger in this bread (along with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg), but there’s crystallized ginger on top and an optional addition of fresh ginger for even more zing. Get the Ginger Spice Banana Bread recipe.
Another option is to add booze, as in this brilliant bourbon banana bread with bourbon glaze, this brown butter banana bread with rum and coconut, or Kahlua banana bread. If you’re a beer drinker, there’s Guinness banana bread, dunkelweizen banana bread with chocolate chips and dunkel glaze, or banana bread beer banana bread (so meta).
If you prefer more streamlined, traditional flavors and not a lot of little bits (or booze) in your bread, there’s always the option to frost your banana loaf, which makes it much harder to buy as a breakfast food, but certainly tastes fantastic. A glaze is slightly more acceptable in the morning, so consider maple glazed banana bread, espresso glazed banana bread, citrus glazed coconut banana bread, and peanut butter banana bread without shame. This butterscotch glazed cinnamon swirl banana bread might be a touch less justifiable, but hey, you’re an adult and can do whatever you want.
Or stuff your banana bread before you stuff your face with it.
As a happy medium, add a more restrained streusel topping.
And so you see, whenever you’re craving banana bread (or something more like banana cake), whether you’re sitting on the real-life equivalent of Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard and it’s nearly too far gone, or you have only one measly, barely-speckled piece of fruit—and whether you want to switch things up or stick as closely as possible to a classic recipe—there’s always a way to work it out. So cue up some Gwen Stefani and get baking!