Banana bread is such a classic that you likely already have your go-to recipe. But maybe you want to mix things up a little and try a more wholesome banana date bread recipe. If that’s the case, you’re in the right place. This banana date bread is moist, tender, hearty, and makes for the perfect breakfast bread or dessert. It’s vegan, grain-free (paleo), nut-free, oil-free, and refined sugar-free.
Even though I love banana bread, it’s sometimes hit or miss as to whether it turns out. For me, it’s one of the easiest breads to make, but also one of the easiest breads to mess up. It doesn’t rise. It’s undercooked in the center. It’s too dense. It cracks and burns on the top. It just doesn’t taste good.
So, what are the solutions to the most common problems associated with baking banana bread?
Flat Banana Bread
Banana bread that doesn’t rise is a deflating experience. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to fix. Check if your leavening agents are expired or inactive. Contrary to popular belief, baking powder and baking soda don’t last forever. To test baking powder, mix 1/2 tsp./2 g of baking powder with 1/3 cup/80 ml of warm water. The mixture should start noticeably bubbling. To test baking soda, mix 1 tsp./4 g of baking soda with 1 Tbsp./15 ml of vinegar. You should see significant bubbling. If either mixture doesn’t bubble, the leavening agent is inactive and should be tossed.
Another issue might be the amount of leavening agents. Too much baking powder and/or baking soda can cause banana bread to rise rapidly and then collapse. In other words, the air bubbles in the batter grow too large and break, causing the loaf to fall.
Undercooked (Wet) Banana Bread
Moist banana bread is what everyone wants. Most modern day banana bread recipes claim to be so. The problem is when you add too many wet ingredients (compared to the amount of dry ingredients). The result is flat and soggy banana bread. So, if a recipe calls for 1.5 cup of mashed bananas, use 1.5 cup. Eat the rest of the banana you have left, make a smoothie, freeze it… just don’t add it. I know it’s tempting and you’re thinking, “it will bring more flavor to my banana bread”. True, but it will also make your bread heavy and damp in the center, causing it to appear undercooked and unappealing.
Banana bread tends to form a firm-ish crust on the outside, so even if it looks baked it may not be quite done. To check if the banana bread it ready, insert a skewer into the center. If the skewer comes out clean — or with just a crumb or two sticking to the skewer — it’s ready. If the skewer has any raw batter sticking to it, put the bread back in the oven for about 5 minutes, and then check it again. Don’t make the mistake of cutting into the banana bread only to discover it’s uncooked in the center.
Undercooked and flat banana bread actually often go hand in hand. This is because leavening agents create air bubbles in the batter, which is what causes the bread to rise. Baking sets these air bubbles so they remain in the finished product. However, if the banana bread is not done in the middle, the structure doesn’t set properly, and the banana bread collapses when cooling.
Dense Banana Bread
There are two types of banana bread – light and fluffy, and heavy and dense. This banana date bread strikes the middle ground. It’s not fluffy, but it’s not too dense either. Whether you prefer fluffy or dense banana bread, it doesn’t matter. The problem arises when you expect light and fluffy banana bread and it turns out heavy and dense. What causes a tough and rubbery loaf is over-mixing the batter. The more you mix the batter, the more gluten develops in the bread. This is great for a yeast-risen, chewy loaf, but not so great when you’re hoping for a tender, soft quick bread. So, for regular (gluten-containing) banana loaf, stir until just moistened.
Dark (Burnt) Banana Bread
Quick breads, despite their name, can take a long time in the oven. Most banana bread recipes call for 50-60 minutes in a 350°F/175°C oven. That’s a pretty good average. If the banana bread is browning too quickly, cover the top with a piece of foil to reduce the risk of the bread scorching. Another option is to reduce the oven temperature and increase the baking time. A lower oven temperature for a longer time will help the loaf bake completely.
You might think that loaf pans don’t make much of a difference when it comes to baking, but they do. Dark pans absorb heat readily and can result in burnt loaves. (I have been using cast iron pans for many years and never had any issues, but it’s definitely something to think about). Glass pans act as an insulator, which is even worse. Light-colored metal pans are recommended by most chefs.
Tips for Making Banana Date Bread
if you want to make out-of-this-world banana bread, it’s important that you use the right ripeness of bananas. The ideal time to use bananas is when the skin is yellow and heavily coated with brown streaks or spots. This is because heavily speckled bananas have a mix of sugar and starch that produces a wonderfully light and fluffy bread. The more ripe the bananas, the more starch has been converted to sugar (fructose)*. Green bananas are so high in starch and low in sugar that they can make banana bread crumbly, with a mouth-drying astringency. Those that are completely black or bruised can make for a dense, somewhat gummy loaf.
Ripe bananas are naturally very sweet, but not sweet enough to be the only sweetener. I opted for dates (hence the banana date bread) to increase the sweetness, but I imagine that other sweeteners would work too (just don’t add more bananas). The dates do doubly duty – they act as a sweetener and add moisture at the same time. So, there’s no need for oil in this recipe.
As far as “flour” goes, you’ve got options (it’s always good to have options 🙂 I initially made this bread with quinoa flakes that I ground into flour. I liked it, my son (2-year old) loved it, my daughter (5-year old) ate it, but wasn’t really excited about it, and my husband refused to eat more than one bite. Quinoa does have a very bold flavor, almost grass-like and a little bitter. So, what I started doing recently is gently toasting the quinoa flakes, which gives them a wonderful nutty quality.
If you don’t like quinoa to begin with or just can’t find quinoa flakes, you can use regular oats and grind them into flour. Oats are neutral in flavor and yield a fluffier, more moist banana bread.
Baking powder is a must in this recipe because of all the heavy ingredients. To get even bigger lift, I also use baking soda with an acid. Sufficient leaving (as well as the right proportion of wet to dry ingredients) prevents the banana bread from sinking in the middle and being soggy. It’s important to note that even with the leaveners, you don’t really get a very domed top (compared to classic banana bread).
The add-ins and spices/extracts are optional. I love pecans in banana bread, but you could use walnuts, chocolate chips, or anything else you like. I also add cinnamon together with a little bit of cloves and nutmeg (both cloves and nutmeg are eugenol-rich spices, which accentuate the banana flavor).
Since this recipe calls for dates, you’ll need a high-speed blender or a food processor to turn the dates into a paste. Add all the fruit and liquid ingredients into the blender first and blend until completely smooth. The next step is adding the dry ingredients. I don’t like a lot of texture from quinoa/oat flakes in banana bread, so I tend to grind the flakes into flour first (or blend it with the liquid ingredients until smooth). Neither quinoa or oats contain gluten, so you don’t have to worry about over-mixing the batter.
If you’re adding pecans or some other type of nuts/seeds into the banana bread, I would recommend toasting them first (you would want to do that before you get started with the recipe). Not only does toasting bring out more of their nutty flavor, it ensures the pieces stay crisp despite soaking in a moisture-rich batter. Raw nuts tend to soften over time, turning mealy and damp in the loaf.
After you mix wet and dry ingredients, don’t let the loaf sit for too long before you put it in the oven. When you mix baking soda (base) with apple cider vinegar (acid), you get a chemical reaction. A product of this reaction is carbon dioxide, producing a lift in your baked goods. The reaction starts as soon as the base and the acid are mixed. So, get the banana bread in the oven immediately after you mix the two, before the reaction tapers off.
Bake the banana bread at 350°F/175°C until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs but no wet batter.
Remove the bread from the pan fairly soon after it comes out of the oven. The longer it sits in the pan, the soggier the bottom will become. Allow the bread to cool completely on a cooling rack before transferring it to an airtight container. Cooling the bread firms up the structure and makes for cleaner slices. If you love eating warm bread (and who doesn’t?) you can always heat up your slice a bit in the oven.
More Banana Date Bread Recipes
If you love banana bread with dates, you will really enjoy these banana muffin tops with dates. They are chewy and have the perfect balance of crispness from the crust and chewiness inside. It’s like a cross between a cookie and a muffin. I usually make these muffin tops for breakfast (since they are only sweetened with bananas and dates) or have them for a quick snack.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Food Processor (Breville Sous Chef) | 2. Blender (Vitamix 750) | 3. Loaf Pan (Lodge, Cast Iron) | 4. Knives Set (Set of 5, Utopia Kitchen, Stainless Steel) | 5. Cutting Board (24″x 18″, Michigan Maple Block, Maple) | 6. Mixing Bowls (Set of 3, Pyrex, Glass) | 7. Measuring Cup (1 Cup, Anchor Hocking, Glass) | 8. Measuring Cups (Set of 6, Bellemain, Stainless Steel) | 9. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel)
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Banana Date Bread
- 3 ripe bananas *
- 1 cup Medjool dates , pitted
- 1/2 cup unsweetened plant milk
- 2 flax eggs **
- 2 cups quinoa flour ***
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon , ground
- 1/2 tsp. cloves , ground
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg , ground
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup pecans (optional)
- pinch sea salt
- Toast the pecans (optional). Heat a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Spread the pecans in a single layer. Toast the pecans, stirring occasionally, until nutty and crunchy, 3-5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, coarsely chop the pecans. Set aside.
- Blend the dates and bananas. Add the dates, bananas, plant milk, and vanilla extract into a high-speed blender and blend until completely smooth.
- Prepare the batter. Transfer the banana-date mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix to combine.
- Bake the banana bread. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Transfer the batter into a 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch/21 x 11 cm parchment paper-lined loaf pan, smooth out the top, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs, but no wet batter, 50-60 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan fairly quickly, and transfer it onto a wire rack. Let cool completely before slicing.
- Store, Leftover banana bread keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. For longer term storage, freeze wrapped banana bread in foil in an airtight container for up to 3 months. You can freeze individual slices or entire loaves. If freezing slices, wrap each slice individually first.
**To make 2 flax eggs, add 2 Tbsp./14 g flaxseed meal and 5 Tbsp./75 ml water into a small mixing bowl, stir, and let sit for 5 minutes to thicken.
***Quinoa has a very bold flavor, almost grass-like and a little bitter. If you don't like quinoa, you can gently toast it, which gives it a wonderful nutty flavor. You can also substitute the quinoa flour for oat flour, which is more neutral in flavor and yields a fluffier banana bread.
***I started with quinoa flakes, which I ground into flour in my Vitamix blender. If you start with flakes (rather than flour), make sure you measure the flour (not the flakes).
****Nutrition information is approximate and may contain errors. Please, feel free to make your own calculations.
****Nutrition information is calculated without optional ingredients.