Banana bread is a funny thing. Yes, it’s shaped like a loaf and yes, it contains bananas, but:
- being loaf-shaped doesn’t make you bread (take that, Nyan cat!) and;
- the addition of fruit doesn’t automatically make something healthy.
Now I’m not going to get on your back and say that you shouldn’t eat banana bread (cake!). I still intend to, both now and in future, and with it’s included fruit and nuts it’s definitely a more nutritious option than chocolate mud cake, pavlova or brownies (which, for the record, I also still eat… alongside occasional bowls of salty hot chips). However, there’s room for healthy food in the equation as well, especially when it contains superfoods that I know are good for the heart, brain and metabolism. One of those foods is chia seeds, a tiny little grain that’s gradually working it’s way into many of my developing recipes. Each little seed is packed with omega 3 & 6, antioxidants, protein and dietary fibre, all of which work with your body to keep you healthy, satisfied and energised. I love both white and black chia seeds, especially in their crunchy raw state, tossed into a muesli slice, a bowl of cereal or thick Greek yoghurt. They’re a little like a milder version of poppy seeds, but just much better for you.
So what’s all this seed business got to do with banana bread? Well, I guess what I’m getting at is that I’ve been experimenting… adding and subtracting, playing around with ingredients and transforming my original recipe into a wheat-free, refined sugar free and nutrient packed loaf of goodness. Instead of butter, milk and sugar, I’ve added chia gel, pureed apple and agave syrup, all of which add moisture and sweetness that you’d never know was good for you.
So, as per the recipe title, here’s banana bread two ways. My traditional recipe is more like a cake, deliciously moist and dense with brown sugar. It’s perfect for those occasions when you want something a little more indulgent that still vaguely falls under the category of ‘better for you’ (than a chocolate brownie, I guess). Recipe two is the healthy option, packed full of ingredients that are great for your heart, brain and waistline. Eat it to your heart’s content, whenever you want, knowing that you are doing your body good. I even eat it for breakfast, warmed, then drizzled with almond butter and honey. So, so good.
Recipe 1: Traditional Banana Bread with Walnuts and Raisins
This recipe is a variation of an original from my mum’s old Marks & Spencer ‘Good Home Baking‘ cookbook (1983). It’s richly moist and loaded with raisins, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon. It’s so good that it has become somewhat famous amongst my husband’s friends, who send in their baking ‘requests’ for it whilst suggesting that I set up a stall on the roadside. Ha, yeah. Anyway, try it… you won’t be disappointed.
- 225g self-raising flour
- a pinch of salt
- 100g soft unsalted butter, cubed
- 175g brown sugar
- 50g raisins
- 75g halved walnuts
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp whole milk
- 1 tbsp demerara sugar
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your flour and butter in a bowl, then rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in your sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Mix your mashed bananas with the vanilla extract and milk, then add to your mixture. Mix well.
Turn the mixture into your prepared, lined tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon (I usually bang my tin on the bench a couple of times to expel any air bubbles). Sprinkle with demerara sugar & more cinnamon. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes back with just a few moist crumbs attached.
Leave to cool in the tin. Serve on it’s own, with butter, or thickly sliced and warmed with vanilla icecream for dessert. My all time favourite is a thick slice, toasted to slight crispness with a generous dollop of mascarpone, a drizzle of warmed honey and a sprinkling of toasted almonds. Yum.
Recipe 2: Wheat-free, refined-sugar-free Chia Banana Bread with Walnuts and Medjool Dates
- 1 1/4 cups wholemeal spelt flour
- 1/2 cup whole rolled oats
- 3/4 cup walnuts
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup agave syrup
- 1/2 cup white chia gel (recipe to follow)
- 1/4 cup stewed pureed unsweetened apple (peel & chop 2-3 apples, cook in a splash of water until soft, then puree with a stick blender)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
- 5 medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (sprinkle them with a bit of spelt flour, then toss, to ensure that the pieces remain separated when mixed)
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix them well, then make a well in the centre. In a separate bowl, mix together your wet ingredients, ensuring that the chia seeds are evenly distributed. Add your wet ingredients to the dry, then mix well.
Turn your mixture into your prepared, lined tin, and smooth the surface with a spoon. I usually sprinkle over some cinnamon and rolled oats, or perhaps some crumbled walnuts, before tapping the tin on a flat surface to expel any trapped air bubbles. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Leave to cool in the tin. My favourite way to eat this banana bread is freshly sliced with a glass of milk. It’s a completely guilt free, deliciously filling breakfast or snack that you can prepare on the weekend then eat the whole week through. My favourite serving suggestion is to warm a thick slice, slather it with almond butter, a drizzle of honey and more sliced fresh banana. Delicious.
Making Chia Gel:
Chia gel is basically raw chia seeds soaked in your chosen liquid. The soaking process softens the grain whilst transforming it into a ‘gel’ that can be used as an egg replacer or substitute for butter or milk in many vegan recipes (it contains similar binding qualities to egg whites whilst also adding moisture. Use 1 tbsp of gel for 1 egg). I’ve used pure white chia gel in the recipe above (with water), but you can also flavour your chia gel by soaking the seeds in apple juice, almond milk or for savoury dishes, vegetable stock.
- Basic ratio: 2 tbsp chia seeds (white or black) to one cup of water.
Just add your chia seeds to the liquid in a jug or bowl. Whisk with a fork to separate the seeds then leave to soak for 10 minutes. Whisk the partially soaked seeds again, separating any clumps of seeds that may have fallen to the bottom. I usually make a big batch and place my covered jug in the fridge overnight for further soaking. Any leftover chia gel will keep for up to a week in the fridge.
- Either loaf of banana bread will keep well for 2-3 days unrefrigerated, or up to a week in the fridge. If you want to extend the life of your banana bread you can wrap it well in plastic film after cooling, and freeze it for up to three months.
- For maximum flavour, use very ripe bananas. Don’t worry if they’re a little mushy, overripe, bruised or blackened – the flavour will mellow to moist banana-scented sweetness when added to the other ingredients.
- Ripe bananas can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen ahead to be used for banana bread. The skin will turn black, but that doesn’t affect the quality of the fruit when it’s to be used in baked goods. The freezing process will actually intensify the flavour, and whilst the defrosted fruit may seem to have an altered texture this will be undetectable in your finished product.
- Defrost frozen bananas in the fridge for at least 12 hours prior to mashing them for the recipe as stated.
- If you can’t wait to make some banana bread but your bananas aren’t ripe enough, don’t worry. As long as they are mashable (e.g. not green) you can still use them and get a good result. I usually add an extra banana and a splash of agave syrup (maybe equivalent to one tsp) to the mix to compensate for slightly less moisture and depth of flavour in the just-ripe bananas.
- If you have 12-24 hours you can also speed the ripening process of your bananas by placing them in a brown paper bag and closing it tightly. The fruit emits ethylene gas during the ripening process and sealing them in an enclosed space will speed up the process by trapping the gas.
- Feel free to substitute wholemeal, spelt or gluten-free flours (of equal quantity) in either of the above recipes. Just make sure you add raising agent to the first recipe if you are not using the stated self-raising flour (1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda should do the trick).
- Play around with fruit, nuts, spices and seeds in both recipes. My standby additions are sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or pepitas, millet seeds (beautifully crunchy and textural… not just for the birds), pecans, chunks (not chips) of dark chocolate, blueberries (frozen are fine, don’t bother defrosting first), dried cranberries and medjool dates (much nicer than regular dried dates). Interchangeable spices are cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg or even some ground cardamom. Just go with the rule that ‘less is more’ until you have tested the spice’s intensity.