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Here's how to make the best banana bread no matter what

Seven common problems you might run into and how to fix every one.

Jen Wheeler Editor / Chowhound
After 10+ years in customer service, Jen is now an editor at Chowhound and still can't believe she's basically living her childhood dream (of writing for Gourmet magazine). Naturally, she loves to eat, cook, read, and write. Baltimore-born and raised, Pacific NW-matured, she still prefers blue crabs to Dungeness.
Jen Wheeler
7 min read

Baking has seemingly become everyone's favorite new activity during coronavirus quarantine, and banana bread is right up there in popularity with homemade sourdough starter (but far easier).

As basic as banana bread is, you still might run into several problems when you're making it: unripe bananas, food allergies, special diets, a lack of eggs -- yet none of these obstacles needs to stop you. There's almost always a way to make a beautiful loaf whenever you want it, whatever your circumstances, as long as you have at least one semiripe banana. Here, I'll cover seven common issues and how to surmount them for the best banana bread, no matter what.

In its classic form, this quick 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 -- 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 seven things you might think would stop you, but shouldn't.

1. Your bananas aren't ripe enough

There are some tricks to ripen bananas more quickly but as with avocados, there isn't really a foolproof way. That said, if your bananas are at least partially ripe and you want to use them right now, roast them! 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 Fahrenheit 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.

The 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.

Try Chowhound's roasted Nutella banana bread recipe.


2. You're one or two bananas short of a bunch

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 immediately!) But if you want banana bread now and you're still short one or two perfectly overripe specimens, simply make 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, portion the batter into lined muffin pans):

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 prunes have a lot of natural sugar.

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3. You're out of eggs

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 vegan chocolate peanut butter banana bread recipe:

4. You have dietary restrictions or food allergies

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 and dairy-free banana bread recipes out there, and many of them are truly scrumptious. Here are just a handful of options:

Gluten-free: This easy 1-bowl 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:

Vegan and gluten-free: This vegan gluten-free double-chocolate banana bread recipe 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:

Paleo: This paleo banana bread recipe uses almond flour and coconut flour, plus brown butter, walnuts and dark chocolate:

Keto: This low-carb keto banana bread recipe gets a little tricky. Since bananas are quite high in carbs, they're not really keto-friendly. However, you can get around that by using 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:

5. You don't think banana bread tastes enough like bananas

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:

You can also search for recipes that use an uncommonly high number of bananas, like this one with five bananas in one Platonic loaf. Teigen is a fan of this technique.

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 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.

6. You don't feel like measuring and mixing a bunch of ingredients

Make shortcut banana bread with boxed cake mix (the foundation for some seriously impressive desserts). And yes, it does make the banana bread taste more like cake, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Try this cake mix banana bread recipe.


7. You never really like banana bread as much you think you will

Bring on the mix-ins! 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. 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). Try this 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 banana bread: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves -- but also Chinese five spice powder and other inventive combos like black pepper and cardamom.

Another option is to add booze, which can be bourbon, rum or Kahlua (just for starters). If you're a beer drinker, go with Guinness, dunkelweizen or banana bread beer -- 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 ones made with maple, espresso, citrus or peanut butter 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.

There's (almost) no wrong way to make banana bread. See how Chowhound's executive editor Hana Asbrink does it: