Home > Essays, Recipes > When life hands you bananas…

When life hands you bananas…


I like bananas, but only when they’re yellow. If I eat one when there’s any green to it at all, I know I’ll be punished for my impatience by a hard and bitter fruit. On the other hand, ripe bananas have something in them that tickles my throat — when I was a kid, they used to make me cough — so I probably have a mild food allergy. Still, they’re a very healthy, inexpensive and versatile fruit so I usually like having them around. But being a cheapskate I hate having to throw away the brown ones which have passed their window of attractiveness, which is why I’ve always been a big fan of banana bread.

I always thought of banana bread, and its cousins carrot cake and zucchini bread, as the “stone soups” of quick breads. I mean, looking at most of these recipes, each of these would probably taste just fine without their eponymous ingredient.

Some years ago when I was a UU youth advisor, I was looking for a snack to bring to a overnight event and saw all these brown bananas in the kitchen. Knowing that there were vegans in the group who generally chose to abstain from most baked goods — all of my own baking included milk and eggs — I wondered if I might be able to find something in one of my hippie cookbooks (I’ve flirted with vegetarianism and veganism for years, but haven’t managed to work up the discipline, leaving me a hardly worth mentioning lacto-ovo-pescatarian).

My hippie cookbooks failed me, and there was no internet yet to speak of, so I was forced to improvise. Amazingly, I found this vegan chocolate cake recipe in — of all places — the Betty Crocker cookbook that had been left behind by an old roommate who probably used it mainly for its instructions for cooking meats and potatoes. Anyway, it turns out this recipe uses the science fair volcano technique — baking soda and vinegar — to get the cake to rise. With a little trial and lots of inedible error, I managed to figure out how to use the same method to make the eggless, milkless banana bread that for years has been my default pot-luck contribution. I get lots of requests for the recipe, so here it is:

Redlami’s Vegan Banana Bread

redlami's banana bread

3 – 1/3 cups flour*
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cider vinegar
4 mashed ripe bananas
1 cup chopped nuts (optional; some people like nuts in it but I don’t)

Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately. Combine and pour into three lightly greased loaf pans, or one 13×9 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes, or until dry toothpick comes out clean.

Variation 1: Chocolate Swirl Banana Bread
After mixing all the batter, separate out about a third of it, mixing in 1/4 cup cocoa. Pour the plain batter into a 13×9 baking dish, then add the cocoa mixture on top, swirling it in with a knife. Bake as usual.

Variation 2: Spiced Banana Bread
Add the following to the dry ingredients: 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1 cup raisins.

*I don’t claim it will make it healthy, but if you’re looking to cut down on the guilt, whole wheat flour works just fine.

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  1. January 24, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I can’t wait to taste a nut free version of your banana bread.

  2. January 27, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Hi! I enjoyed reading your post. Being a vegan, I understand the challenges of trying to make the baked goods that I so love making, but it’s a good challenge! Instead of eggs, I use mashed banana and/or ground flax seed in a bit of water. Most of my baked goods don’t rise much, which I don’t mind at all, but I should try using vinegar with baking soda and see what I get!

    • January 27, 2010 at 7:49 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Kate! The banana bread also worked really well (and had a wonderful molasses flavor) when I made it with Sucanat instead of sugar for a more less “refined” friend.

  3. Q.V.
    April 27, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Well, these are in the oven right now. I didn’t have enough sugar but that seems to not be a problem as much as how to get the silicon muffin pan, which I got from a free pile, out of the oven. It is non-stick, yes, but also really hot and floppy, so the muffins bounce out. Making muffins while you make quickbread, it’s like eating the trailer during the movie. Tasty. Thanks!

  4. April 28, 2010 at 7:12 am

    @Q.V. I’ve never used one of those muffin pans but it’s certainly intriguing. I imagine like anything new it takes some getting used to. As for the sugar, it is more like cake with the full amount. I find cutting back to 1 – 1/2 or even 1 cup still makes for a nice quickbread.

    Making muffins while you make quickbread, it’s like eating the trailer during the movie.

    What a wonderful analogy! Love those sneak previews.

  5. Q.V.
    April 28, 2010 at 10:47 am

    So I modified the recipe thusly, based on my kitchen’s ingredients economy, and it is no longer vegan as a result: Just over a cup of demerara sugar instead of two cups of sugar, didn’t have vanilla, added carob chips and a chopped apple that was getting wrinkly, and instead of water used whey left over from cheesemaking. Once I forgot the sugar in the Moosewood 6-minute chocolate cake recipe (sort of like wacky cake, also vegan) and it turns out sugar really is chemically necessary to distinguish the result from, say, rich black clay.

    This recipe fit exactly what I was looking for: something that called for water so I could start using up all the whey I have from my milk going sour. Now I can have banana bread with cheese, instead of cheese, frozen bananas, and containers of whey, which are hard to offer to guests. You will be credited.

    • April 28, 2010 at 1:11 pm

      Oh I’m so glad it worked out! I’ve played with this recipe quite a bit, and I find it to be pretty forgiving. Once I even forgot the baking soda, and what resulted was like a kind of a torte that got very good reviews.

  6. Q.V.
    May 20, 2010 at 12:41 am

    One thing I have to add about this recipe: if you live alone, and your only regular but still occasional lunch-time mate hates banana bread, you have a lot of banana bread in your future. Like, three times a day. I froze a couple loaves of it, and finally finished it last week. Going to see what happens if I use sourdough, since I have a couple quarts kicking around.

    • May 20, 2010 at 6:53 am

      This is definitely on my “make to share” list. Of course, it all depends on how many browning bananas you need to dispose of. Halving the recipe isn’t all that difficult — well, okay I don’t have a 1/6th cup measure, but I suspect that won’t make a huge difference. I should try the smaller proportions sometime.

      I’m intrigued to find out how it works with sourdough!

  1. February 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm
  2. February 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm

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