By Emily McKenna, Recipe Developer & Tester for EatingWell Magazine
Over the years I have perfected my banana bread recipe-one of my favorite solutions for using overripe bananas. I use all whole-grain flour or whole-grain flour mixed with white all-purpose flour, and rely as much as I can on the natural sweetness of the bananas to cut the total amount of granulated sugar called for in the recipe. I also like to roughly mash, or chop, my bananas so that there are big chunks of fruit to bite into. I always throw in a handful of toasted chopped walnuts and sometimes I'll add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg and a handful of dark chocolate chips.
Want to lighten up your favorite banana bread recipe? Here are 4 of my best tricks you can use to make your banana bread recipe healthier and delicious, and a recipe for EatingWell's healthy Banana-Blueberry Buttermilk Bread (see below).
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1. Use Less Sugar:
This is really a two-part tip. I try to add as little sugar as possible to my banana bread. This means packing as many naturally sweet and creamy bananas into my bread as I can. So, when a recipe calls for 2 medium bananas, I will usually use 3. The more the merrier, in my opinion, and I swear that this tactic has never steered me wrong. The bread bakes up just fine, stays super-moist and has intense banana flavor.
When it comes to choosing sugar, I always go for light or dark brown sugar: brown sugar adds a deeper, more caramel-like flavor to my bread than granulated sugar, which has a less nuanced flavor.
2. Replace All-Purpose Flour with Whole-Wheat Flour:
Generally, you can replace at least half of the all-purpose flour in a recipe with whole-wheat flour. I tend to do a one-to-one swap in my banana bread, using all whole-wheat flour or whole-wheat pastry flour in place of the amount of all-purpose flour called for-I prefer the heartier, nuttier flavor that whole-wheat flour adds, and I want the extra fiber (almost four times as much as all-purpose), potassium, magnesium and zinc. If you want the nutritional benefits of whole-wheat flour, without quite as much whole-wheat flavor, use white whole-wheat flour.
3. Add Healthy Fruit and Nuts:
In addition to upping the amount of bananas in my bread (see my first tip), I also like to mix in different kinds of fruit and nuts, which add texture, flavor and health benefits. When it comes to fruit, I love the taste of tart, plump blueberries. I will add as much as 1 1/2 cups of blueberries to my banana bread, folding them in after combining the wet and dry ingredients. As for nuts, 1/2 cup of toasted, roughly chopped walnuts folded into the batter before baking adds nutty flavor and something to crunch on, along with good omega-3 fats, which can help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol. A similar amount of chopped almonds delivers healthy monounsaturated fats.
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4. Use Less Butter and More Buttermilk:
Buttermilk is fantastic in banana bread. By using a combination of 1 cup of nonfat buttermilk plus 2 tablespoons of canola oil, you can get away with almost no butter-just 2 measly tablespoons. In addition to lending a pleasant tangy flavor, buttermilk helps keep your bread moist as it bakes.
Banana-Blueberry Buttermilk Bread
Makes: 10 servings
Active time: 20 minutes
Total: 3 hours 20 minutes (including 2 hours cooling time)
To make ahead: Wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
The slight acidity of buttermilk tenderizes and moistens baked goods while allowing you to cut way back on butter or oils. Here, it also lends a slight tanginess to the winning combination of bananas and blueberries. To make muffins instead, see Muffin Variation (below).
3/4 cup nonfat or low-fat buttermilk
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
2. Whisk buttermilk, brown sugar, oil and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in mashed bananas.
3. Whisk whole-wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a medium bowl.
4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in blueberries. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.
5. Bake until the top is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Let cool for about 2 hours before slicing.
Per serving: 278 calories; 7 g fat (1 g sat, 4 g mono); 43 mg cholesterol; 49 g carbohydrate; 16 g added sugars; 5 g protein; 3 g fiber; 298 mg sodium; 195 mg potassium.
Muffin Variation: Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat 12 (1/2 cup) muffin cups with cooking spray or line with paper liners. Divide the batter among the muffin cups (they will be full). Bake until the tops are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and let cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes more before serving.
Ingredient note: Whole-wheat pastry flour, lower in protein than regular whole-wheat flour, has less gluten-forming potential, making it a better choice for tender baked goods. You can find it in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets and natural-foods stores. Store in the freezer.
What's your favorite way to make banana bread, or other quick breads, healthier?
By Emily McKenna
Emily McKenna tests and develops recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. Emily recently moved to Vermont from New York City, where she worked at Food & Wine, food52.com and Real Simple. She is a recent convert to the glories of kale and has a weakness for doughnuts, strawberry licorice and anything her Italian-American grandmother makes, especially pizza.
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