Vegan banana bread with peanut butter frosting

November 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Dessert, Fall recipes, Mom’s recipes, Muffins and quick breads, My brain, unrated, Winter recipes)

I used to make banana bread all the time in Pittsburgh, but for some reason I stopped making it once I moved to Germany.  But yesterday I had five over-ripe bananas gracing my windowsill, and so I decided to resurrect my old recipe.  We were having guests for dinner, however, and Derek thought that plain banana bread was a little homely to serve for dessert, so he decided to dress the bread up a little with a peanut butter icing.  Banana and peanut butter is a ubiquitous combination, but somehow I’ve never had banana bread with a peanut butter icing.  But a quick internet search reveals quite a few recipes for banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting, so clearly others have trod this path before us.  I even found one recipe for banana bread that calls for mini Reese’s peanut butter cups in the batter.  Wow.  Our banana bread wasn’t quite that decadent, but the peanut butter / banana bread combination was definitely a winner.

My recipe makes a basic banana bread with deep banana flavor, a moist, crumbly interior, and a golden, crisp top. Use older, more darkly speckled bananas because they are sweeter, more moist, and give more banana flavor than less ripe bananas.

My vegan banana bread recipe

Adjust oven rack to middle position and set heat to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9×9 inch baking pan.

Mash about three bananas well by hand, until mostly smooth:

  • 1.25 cups well-mashed bananas (approx. 3)

Combine with the bananas and cream until light:

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil (don’t worry, after baking you won’t be able to taste even a strong olive oil)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar

Add and mix in:

  • 1/2 cup soymilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Stir together:

  • 1.5 cups white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, cooled (optional)

Use the “muffin method” to mix dry ingredients with wet. Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients with rubber spatula until just combined and batter looks thick and chunky.

Scrape batter into the greased 9-inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Top should be a golden brown, but toothpick inserted into center won’t quite come out clean. Cool in pan for at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

PER PIECE with walnuts and no icing: 166 calories  (how many pieces does the recipe make??)

Peanut butter frosting

Derek started with this recipe for peanut butter frosting.

  • 1/4 cup butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, softened (NOT melted)
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy milk, plus a little extra

Put everything except soy milk into a bowl.  Combine with an electric mixer. Once it’s well-blended (it will be very stiff), add a tablespoon of soy milk and blend some more. Add a little soy milk/keep beating until you reach the right consistency. It should be very light tan and fluffy.

The consistency was good but the frosting was WAY too sweet.  And the peanut butter we used contained almost no sugar.  I can’t imagine how sweet this would be if you used Skippy or Jif.  In the end Derek had to add a lot more peanut butter to tone down all the sugar (maybe another 1/4 cup?).  It made enough icing for a thin layer over the entire 9×13 cake.

My notes:

Although it’s traditional to bake banana bread in a loaf pan, I tend to use a low, cake pan, as I prefer a denser, moister cake.

This time I dropped the hot, toasted nuts in the flour, and they ended up coated in flour in the final cake.  I don’t know if this would have happened if I had let the nuts cool first, but next time I think I’ll just add them to the batter after mixing the wet and dry ingredients.

I doubled this recipe and cooked it in a 9×13 pyrex pan for 45 minutes (with the oven fan on).  It worked fine but could have been taken out just a tad sooner, as it was a bit dry around the edges.  Also, Derek thought the cake was just a little tall (at least if you’re going to frost it).  He said he’d prefer a shorter cake so that you’d get a higher icing to cake ratio.

My mom often adds chocolate chips to her banana bread, but I think I prefer it with nuts.

Below I’ve included a chart comparing my recipe with my mom’s recipe (also vegan) and with two Cook’s Illustrated recipes.  I wonder why the CI recipes don’t use any baking powder or spices?  They do have a variant  that calls for 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, and 2 Tbs. grated orange zest.  Sounds good, but I wonder if the orange zest would overpower the banana flavors? In any case, I think that my recipe could actually use MORE spices.  Next time I’ll try a full tsp. cinnamon and about four bananas (1.75 cups), and cutting down on the soymilk a bit to compensate for the extra liquid from the bananas.

Mine Mom’s CI light CI 2008 CI 2010
bananas, mashed 1.25 cups (~3) 1 cup (~3) 1.5 cups / 1.25 lbs (~3) 1.5 cups (~3) 1.875 pounds (~5)
oil 3 Tbs. olive oil 4 Tbs. canola oil 3 Tbs. softened butter 6 Tbs. melted butter 8 Tbs. melted butter
sugar 1/4 cup white + 1/2 cup brown 1 cup white 3/4 cup white (5.25 oz) 3/4 cup white (5.25 oz) 3/4 cup light brown
liquid 1/2 cup soymilk 1/4 cup soymilk or water 2 large eggs + 1/4 cup yogurt 2 large eggs + 1/4 cup yogurt 2 large eggs + 1/4 cup reduced banana liquid (see note)
vanilla 1 tsp. 1 tsp. 1 tsp. 1 tsp. 1 tsp.
flour 1.5 cups white + 0.5 cups whole wheat 2 cups white 1.5 cups white (7.5 oz) + 0.5 cups cake flour (2 oz.) 2 cups white 1 3/4 cups white
baking powder 1/2 tsp. 1/2 tsp. 1 tsp.  –  –
baking soda 1/2 tsp. 1/2 tsp. 1 tsp. 3/4 tsp. 1 tsp.
salt 1/2 tsp. 1/4 tsp. 1/2 tsp. 1/2 tsp. 1/2 tsp.
spices 1/2 tsp. cinnamon + 1/4 tsp. nutmeg  –  –  –  –
nuts 2/3 cup chopped 1/2 cup chopped 1/4 cup whole 1 cup chopped (1.25 c whole) 1/2 cup whole

Use very ripe bananas:  CI warns “Don’t even think of making banana bread with anything less than very ripe, heavily speckled fruit—unless you’re fine with a bland loaf.”  Apparently heavily speckled bananas (more brown than yellow) have  nearly three times as much fructose as lightly speckled bananas (more yellow than brown).  But they found “little difference in sweetness between loaves baked with completely black bananas and those made with heavily speckled ones.”  But does more fructose necessarily translate to more banana flavor?  Couldn’t you always just increase the amount of sugar to compensate?  Perhaps the riper bananas are different in other ways as well.

Preserving bananas for banana bread: When the bananas are ripe (speckled with black spots) peel them and put them in a ziplock bag. Store in the freezer. Defrost and mash and they’re ready for banana bread. My mother claims that frozen bananas don’t taste as good as ones that were never frozen, but I can’t tell the difference.

Using MORE bananas:  CI in their 2010 recipe start by saying:  “During our initial tests of existing recipes, we discovered that double the dose of bananas in our favorite test recipe was both a blessing and a curse. The abundance of fruit made for intense banana flavor, but the weight and moisture sank the loaf and gave it a cakelike structure.”  That sounds just fine to me.  I like a dense, moist banana bread. Maybe I should add more bananas next time.  CI, however, decided to dry out their bananas:  “We placed our bananas in a glass bowl and microwaved them for a few minutes, then transferred the now-pulpy fruit to a sieve to drain. We then simmered the banana liquid in a saucepan until it reduced and incorporated it into the batter. The concentrated liquid infused the batter with ripe, intensely fruity banana flavor. Furthermore, the extra moisture helped create a crumb that was tender through and through, without being framed by overly crusty sides.”  They also suggest an extra “embellishment”: “we sliced a sixth banana and shingled it on top of the loaf. A sprinkle of 2 tsp. sugar helped the buttery slices caramelize and gave the loaf an enticingly crisp, crunchy top.”

CI light version:  CI Best Light Recipe modifies their 2008 recipe slightly to reduce the calorie from 350 to 240 calories per slice.  (They assume 10 servings in a 9-inch loaf pan.)  Most of the calorie savings came from reducing the butter.  They say that four Tbs. of butter was better than three, as it resulted in a more flavorful bread and a more delicate crumb.  But they could further reduce the butter (to 3 Tbs). if they switched from a “muffin” mixing method to a “creaming” method (cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, beat in the eggs and flavorings, then alternate the dry and liquid ingredients.) But there was so little butter that they had to cream it with only 1/2 cup of the sugar, not the full amount.  They switched some of the flour to cake flour because of a “distracting springiness”.   Apparently the gluten in the flour makes for a denser, squatter bread, especially if you overmix the batter.  Finally, they reduced the amounts of nuts and sprinkled them on top of the loaf, rather than mixing them in, so that they became toasted and more flavorful.


  1. austingardener said,

    Mom’s reicpe now uses 3/4 cup of sugar, no nuts and 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips. She likes it best either right out of the oven or frozen.

    • austingardener said,

      I also think you should have 1.5’ed the recipe for a 9×13 p[an, not doubled it. 9×9=81 and 9×13=117. The thickness would have been mor to Derek’s liking. I will try your recipe this week. I have 3 bananas ripening on the counter.

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