moist sour cream banana bread

Unripe bananas, food allergies, 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.

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:

If your bananas aren’t ripe enough yet…

Roast ’em. 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.

If you’re one (or two) bananas short…

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, you can 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’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.

If 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 the one below.

If you have dietary restrictions or 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, dairy-free, etc. banana bread recipes out there, and many of them are truly scrumptious. This easy 1-bowl gluten free banana bread adds oats and works equally well with chicken, chia, or flax eggs. The chocolate chip banana bread made with brown butter below is paleo-approved, and this vegan and gluten-free chocolate-swirled banana bread is a marbled marvel. Not decadent enough? Try this vegan, gluten-free double-chocolate banana bread (it’s healthy, so you can eat twice as much, right?). 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.

If 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. 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. 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 ‘naners in one platonic loaf. 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.

moist sour cream banana bread

Sour Cream Banana Bread from Chowhound

If you don’t feel like measuring and mixing a bunch of ingredients…

Make shortcut banana bread with boxed cake mix—they can be the foundation for seriously impressive desserts! And yeah, it does make the banana bread taste more like cake (obviously), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

boxed cake mix banana bread

Cake Mix Banana Bread from CDKitchen

If you don’t eat bread (or baked goods) anymore…

You can still enjoy the flavors of banana bread in different forms, even if you’ve decided to deny your inner Oprah and give up or cut back on bread. Try making healthy Banana Bread Granola and banana bread smoothies, or banana bread ice cream (surprisingly good for you)! You can even make banana bread cocktails if you’re really a fan of the flavor.

banana bread granola

Banana Bread Granola from Chowhound/Joy the Baker  (photo by Jon Melendez)

If you like the idea of banana bread but always find it kind of blah (or too banana-y)…

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).

Dark Chocolate Chip Raspberry Banana Bread

Dark Chocolate Chip Raspberry Banana Bread from Sally’s Baking Addiction

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.

Ginger Spice Banana Bread

Ginger Spice Banana Bread from Daily Waffle

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).

caramelized bananas foster banana bread with bourbon

Foster’s Caramelized Bananas Foster Bread from The Charlotte Observer

If you prefer more streamlined, traditional flavors and not a lot of little bits (or booze) in your bread, there’s always the option of frosting 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.

For instance, you can bake cream cheese stuffing right into the banana bread.

Or be a bit more subtle and add a streusel topping (this paleo cinnamon streusel banana bread also has a streusel ribbon in the middle).

Or you can be even more over the top and take inspiration from the classic pineapple upside down cake (and tarte tatin) and make a luscious caramel-topped (caramel-bottomed?) banana bread!

Caramel Banana Upside Down Bread

Caramel Banana Upside Down Bread from The Daring Gourmet

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.

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