Is it just me, or does anyone else start googling “best banana bread recipe” every time there’s a bunch of ripe bananas on your counter–only to revert back to the tried and true recipe that you always use?
Well, that’s me. And here’s a deep dive into banana bread to see where our ideal banana bread truly lies.
Banana Bread Bake Off Methodology
All banana breads were made fresh the day of tasting. 22 friends participated in tasting and ranking for the below scores. Each taster ranked each bread on a scale of 1-10 for both taste and texture, and then answered whether they would like to eat the bread again.
We used Gold Medal flour, Kroger sugar, Land O Lakes butter, McCormick vanilla extract, Chobani Greek yogurt, Daisy sour cream, Diamond kosher salt, and fresh (NOT frozen) bananas. Note: if you do use frozen bananas, I recommend draining off the frozen liquid first for a better texture. The majority of loaves were baked in these Nordic loaf pans. Most recipes listed nuts and chocolate chips as optional, so for a consistent tasting experience of pure banana bread, we omitted all nuts and chocolate (except in Chrissy Teigen’s recipe since hers was a different beast altogether).
Factors that you can change up in banana bread include: melted butter, creamed butter, salted butter, vegetable oil, coconut oil, brown sugar, white sugar, honey, whole wheat flour, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, and on and on. For this test, I focused on all-purpose flour banana bread recipes with some interesting permutations. For a full list of the banana bread finalists I considered (you can see how similar many recipes are), you can view my Google Spreadsheet. Here are the ones I tested:
|Recipe||Why It's Special||Similar recipes|
|Martha Stewart||"Control" loaf + sour cream||Alton Brown, All Recipes (Janet's Rich) Epicurious, Neighborhood Food, Joy of Baking, Mel's Kitchen Cafe (Buttermilk), The Baker Chick, The Kitchn (Moist), Food Network (Banana Walnut)|
|Joy the Baker||Brown butter||n/a|
|Dominique Ansel||Higher proportion of eggs and butter||n/a|
|Violet Bakery||Oil-based, uses buttermilk and slightly more oil/banana than Flour||n/a|
|Flour Bakery||Oil-based, uses sour cream||All Recipes (Best), Mel's Kitchen Cafe (Sour Cream)|
|Cook's Illustrated Ultimate Banana Bread||Uses a crazy banana juice method||Very similar ingredients to Sally's Baking Addiction|
|Ruth Reichl||Uses a lot of buttermilk||Divas Can Cook|
|Sally's Baking Addiction||Uses all brown sugar and slightly more flour||All Recipes (Banana Banana Bread), Honest Cooking (Patrick's), Food Wishes/Chef John|
|Smitten Kitchen (Jacked Up)||Uses bourbon, a little less butter and egg than standard||Simply Recipes|
|Mel's Kitchen Cafe||Uses cream cheese in the batter||n/a|
|Two Peas & Their Pod||Uses half butter/half oil and only one egg||n/a|
|Bon Appetit||Uses half the butter, all brown sugar, and won a bake off||n/a|
|Chrissy Teigen||Uses instant vanilla pudding, coconut and chocolate.||n/a|
|Serious Eats (Stella Parks)||Uses unusual ingredients like oat flour and coconut oil.||n/a|
Best Banana Bread Ranking Results
In general, the top results for this bake off kind of aligned with general expectations–the banana breads from a few famous bakeries did very well, as did one banana bread that won another bake off. We were a bit shocked at some of the beloved bloggers who ended up in the middle/bottom of the tasting, but that’s pretty typical.
I would like to remind everyone, as always, that I am an amateur baker (in this case, I was running on 2 hours of sleep coming from an overnight doughnut workshop) and that taste is incredibly subjective. I try to get a good sampling of data to back up the rankings, but the group’s #1 banana bread may not be your personal #1–so I encourage you to read through the extended reviews to find a recommendation that fits your tastes.
Also, I know I made an error in the Serious Eats recipe, so consider those scores invalid, though they are included just for kicks.
Here’s the data:
Best Banana Bread Recipes to Try Summary:
- Best taste for effort (no mixer required): Flour, Violet Bakery
- You love a very moist, banana-forward loaf: Bon Appetit, Sally’s Baking Addiction, Dominique Ansel, or Cook’s Illustrated
- You like a fluffier crumb with subtle banana flavor: Martha Stewart, Smitten Kitchen, Joy the Baker
- For crust-lovers: Ruth Reichl, Dominique Ansel, Violet Bakery
- You just want a banana cake: Chrissy Teigen
Analysis: Banana Bread Recipes
Keep in mind that my ideal banana bread has super brown, very caramelized crust and a semi-dry interior (vs. super moist and squishy, though I will go for this type every once in awhile). I’m not into banana chunks. Also even though we left out nuts and chocolate (for the most part), know that I grew up with chocolate chips in my banana bread and can pretty much deal with any texture as long as there is chocolate. (In my opinion, nuts can be on top, NEVER INSIDE.) Now for the discussion!
Flour Bakery: an easy, crowd-pleasing recipe that’s truly bakery-worthy and has a perfect balance of everything: banana flavor, sweetness and moisture
I remember bookmarking this on I Am a Food Blog ages ago–multiple blogs rave about it! It’s a relatively simple, oil-based banana bread with just tiny tweaks off the benchmark recipe mentioned above: a tad more flour and sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, and a little sour cream. You may recall that Flour’s pie won the pumpkin pie bake off, which boded well for Flour. Sure enough, Flour’s loaf landed in first place with an overall flavor score of 7.6 and texture score of 7.6, putting it a full overall point ahead of the second place loaf. Not only does it have a beautifully even, close crumb that perfectly balances springiness and stickiness, it’s sweet but not too sweet, and gently perfumed with banana and subtle caramel notes.
“Perfectly sweet, fluffy, banana-y,” said one taster, with others praising its “basically perfect texture” and “great banana flavor without being overpowering.” “Exactly what I imagine banana bread should taste like,” said one taster, which I think captures why this banana bread did so well. It exemplifies most people’s exact expectation of banana bread, which is also illustrated by the fact that 91% of tasters said they would want to eat it again. My only gripe: as Stephanie points out, you don’t get a domed top (this is a theme across multiple blogs) so it’s not quite as beautiful as, say Violet’s loaf. Still, it’s so delicious that it’s worth a try.
Two Peas & Their Pod: a soft, moist and flavorful loaf with a hint of cinnamon
This banana bread was one of the only ones I found that uses both oil (for a super moist texture) and butter (for flavor), and I couldn’t wait to see if this made a difference! It also uses all brown sugar (for caramelized flavor and more moisture) and a pinch of cinnamon. Ultimately, we ended up with a loaf that was squatter and more moist than Flour’s with a fantastically plush-but-not-mushy, semi-cakey crumb as well as a hint of spice that still allowed the banana to come through.
One taster called it a “perfect mix of sweet and cakey,” and many praised this loaf for its “excellent texture and consistency.” Most also thought it was tasty, though a couple in the minority marked it down for being “unmemorable.” This is also a very easy loaf to make (low effort for high payoff), though it does require the extra step of melting butter. No complaints here.
Bon Appetit’s Best Banana Bread: a very caramelized, deeply flavored, spongy, slightly lower-fat banana bread
When I initially read through this recipe, I discarded it almost immediately as a “low fat loaf” after seeing that it uses only 1/4 cup of butter (everyone else uses at least 1/2 cup of fat per loaf). But when I saw that it actually took first place in Food52’s bake off, I decided to include it. Ingredients-wise, it’s kind of a hybrid between Martha and Sally but with less butter. With a plush, spongy crumb lightly streaked with banana, I honestly couldn’t tell a difference in moistness of BA’s crumb vs. the top two loaves even though it is technically lower-fat (the sour cream and use of all brown sugar probably helped). The brown sugar also contributes to a super caramelized appearance.
“It reminds me of my grandma’s recipe in a good way,” said one taster. Tasters loved the “perfect texture” though some thought it was just “average” and a couple mentioned “not enough banana flavor.”
Violet Bakery: a beautifully tall, buttermilk-laced loaf that is perfectly moist and tender with a delicate banana flavor and crispy crust edges
Violet’s recipe, similar to Flour, is super popular in the blogosphere (this is the bakery behind the famous royal wedding cake) and is actually fairly similar to Flour’s recipe, but with more banana, a little more oil, a little less flour, a tiny dash of dark rum, and some buttermilk. Though they are quite similar, Violet baked up far taller with beautifully peaked, crusty edges–probably the most picturesque loaf of the group. While the spongy crumb was very similar to Flour’s, strangely, I found Violet had a less caramelized flavor even though it uses all brown sugar (vs. Flour’s all white sugar), and I also preferred Flour’s salt balance more (1/2 tsp to Violet’s 1/4 tsp).
Tasters thought Violet’s loaf had an “AMAZING crust,” “tight, moist crumb and delicate banana flavor” and “good chew.” Several commented on the “stronger spice flavors” and a secret ingredients (apple? spice?) that they couldn’t identify–perhaps this was the teaspoon of RUM they were tasting!! On the flip side, some felt the texture was too dense, almost “a bit gummy, “too sweet,” or that there was “not enough banana.” My theory is that even though Violet uses a TON of banana, the recipe does not call for any spices so the banana flavor isn’t amplified as it is in other loaves.
Ruth Reichl: a sweet, bready, buttermilk-laced loaf with a subtle banana flavor, caramel notes, and a slightly coarse crumb
This was the only banana bread that called for a significant amount of buttermilk (3/4 cup). Although the high liquid to dry ingredient ratio seemed slightly alarming (most banana bread recipes don’t incorporate much liquid aside from the fat), I was inclined to trust Ruth’s recipe after these pancakes. The recipe also had slightly more sugar compared to the average loaf, which contributed to a gorgeous, golden crust once baked. The interior crumb was slightly coarser to the point where one taster questioned if there was cornmeal in the batter (indeed, it is almost cornbread-like, a quality I enjoyed). With a fairly mild banana flavor (the recipe calls for just 2 bananas), it’s definitely more bready than some of the really moist and spongy breads.
Tasters praised the “good crust” and “chewy texture.” “It’s not too moist or sweet, it’s something I could eat a lot of,” said another taster. Others wished for a more cakey rather than grainy texture and “wished the banana flavor came out more.” Overall, “not very banana forward but pleasant with caramel notes” sums up this loaf nicely.
Dominique Ansel: a banana bread with a well-developed crust, a super caramelized, banana-forward flavor and soft, melt-in-your-mouth crumb
I received a handful of Instagram comments insisting that this recipe should be cut because “chefs never share the actual good recipe.” Based on the reviews of several blogs, this didn’t seem to be the case, so I forged ahead. With slightly more butter, eggs and sugar than the average banana loaf, I expected a very rich loaf. Indeed, this was a VERY MOIST loaf–it was so soft when I was cutting into it that I thought it was going to be an instant disaster. But it held together with really nice caramel notes and a nice dark crust (that didn’t rise much)–and surprisingly, it didn’t taste too sweet. Baker’s error of not-well-mashed-banana led to streaks of banana that turned me off personally, but many loved the loaf anyway, which I think speaks volumes.
Tasting comments exposed a clear division between Team Gooey and Team Dry. “Moist and interesting, chunks of banana and lovely notes of butter,” said one taster. “Lots of banana flavor,” “gooey and delicious,” praised others. However, others called the bread “mushy,” “too doughy” and some were “not a fan of the texture from the gooey chunks of banana.” There is no yogurt or additional dairy in this loaf, so the flavor of banana easily shines with just a hint of nutmeg. Overall, I took this as a lesson that more butter/sugar/egg isn’t necessary in banana bread–but some people will enjoy it anyway.
Sally’s Baking Addiction’s Best Ever Banana Bread: a dense, moist, banana-heavy loaf with a hint of tang that’s not too sweet
This recipe is very similar to Martha’s recipe except that it doubles the banana, uses 3/4 cup of brown sugar instead of 1 cup of white sugar, a little more flour, and Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. It is also virtually identical, ingredients-wise, to Cook’s Illustrated recipe (though it uses a different technique), and also to my previous second-favorite banana bread–if you remove the yogurt, that is. Sally’s loaf has a powerful banana flavor with a very dense and moist crumb with a slight tang from the yogurt.
Team Gooey showed up in droves, praising this for being “super moist and not too sweet” with “great texture.” Team Dry complained it was “almost gummy, stuck to the roof of my mouth” and “bland.” Personally, I thought this batch had a little too much banana for me–but I think if I dialed back the amount to more like 1.5 cups of banana, I would be a bigger fan. My all-time favorite comment? Our guest 6-year old taster said it tasted “like eating a melty marshmallow.” Interpret that how you wish.
Cook’s Illustrated Ultimate Banana Bread: a labor-intensive banana bread with a coarse texture and caramelized flavor that requires reducing a banana syrup
This loaf relies on a labor-intensive banana syrup that requires microwaving bananas and reducing the resulting “banana juice” (someone mentioned they use frozen bananas and use the drained off juice and skip the microwaving). Tasters definitely noticed a “heavy banana taste” but interesting, it had a drier (though still moist) crumb compared to Sally with TONS of banana chunks and a very caramelized appearance. The banana chunks were baker’s error for not mashing them finely enough, but the recipe does call for a whopping SIX bananas! Some loved the gooey texture of banana threaded through the loaf and the caramelized flavor, but others noted that the surrounding crumb was a little dry.
“This looked the best, but I was disappointed,” lamented one taster. This loaf also had a bit of a coarse texture as one taster noted it “tasted like all bran muffin.” Others simply said it was too mushy. Also, the sliced banana baked on top did the loaf no favors. One taster noted it was “like I’m literally eating an old banana,” and I couldn’t agree more. (Note: Violet Bakery also called for putting banana on top, but after looking at CI’s loaf, I decided to omit it). Can someone please explain to me why people bake bananas into the tops of loaves? It looks great, but taste-wise, they just seem to wither into mushy puddles of dehydrated banana goo.
Martha Stewart: an easy banana bread recipe with a light, fluffy crumb, floury mouthfeel and subtle banana notes
As a very close approximation of the “average” banana bread, it should be noted that Neighborhood Food’s bake off crowned a version that is very similar to Martha’s (it uses 1/2 brown 1/2 white sugar, melts the butter instead of creaming it, and adds 1/2 tsp of baking powder and 1 tsp cinnamon). Overally, this loaf had a bit of a floury mouthfeel and a lighter, drier texture with a fairly subtle banana flavor–something I could eat a lot of. One taster described it as a “pretty average bake sale banana bread” which is maybe why I liked it so much–I adore bake sale goods. This is definitely more of a breakfast bread than cake though there’s still a good hint of butter.
Texture feedback ranged from “light and lovely” to “great texture, not so great flavor” to “tastes like dry vanilla cake” to “dry af.” Though most tasters preferred more banana flavor and a more moist texture, if you prefer banana to take a backseat to a light and fluffy crumb, this bread is for you. (It’s probably in my personal top 5/top 3 depending on my mood.)
Chrissy Teigen: a rich, almost squishy-soft banana cake studded with chocolate and coconut
Those who don’t know that Chrissy Teigen wrote a bestselling cookbook and had a banana bread Twitter incident that was perhaps the best PR stunt in cookbook history would probably be very skeptical of Teigen’s banana bread. For what it’s worth, let it be known that her recipe beat out Joanna Gaines in this bake off. Although…it is pretty far from a typical banana bread. For starters, it’s baked in a bundt pan. It bakes up with a gorgeous golden brown crust with is an extraordinarily soft and squishy inner crumb–maybe due in part to the instant vanilla pudding. There’s also a strong banana flavor (“DELICIOUS. Banana dreams!” exclaimed one taster), though as one taster put it, it’s definitely not “purist banana bread.” However, shredded coconut gives each mouthful a vaguely chewy, distantly crunchy texture that most didn’t love, and some felt the chocolate diluted the banana flavor.
Although I really couldn’t get past the coconut texture initially, I found the coconut “crunch” mellowed by day two. This is really more of a banana cake than bread–which no one is complaining about, just get your expectations right. I could see how as a standalone cake, this would be a stunner. Relative to the other breads, I felt it was a little lacking in overall flavor–I might doctor it with vanilla/almond extract, brown sugar, or bump up the salt next time.
Mel’s Kitchen Cafe Cream Cheese Banana Bread: a dense, slightly bland banana bread recipe
A rare recipe that incorporates cream cheese INTO the batter, this recipe stood out from the rest and had great reviews on Mel’s site. Note: we omitted the topping since I think toppings can lead to bias. Overall, the loaf was quite dense, moist (just shy of mushy) and sweet with a strong vanilla flavor. “Very moist and chewy,” observed one taster. “Is this even banana bread?” questioned another. Although adding cream cheese was a novel idea, I think this mainly 1) muted the flavor of banana as the main complaints for this loaf centered around a lack of flavor and 2) led to a very dense loaf.
I probably wouldn’t make this again, but I am very curious about Mel’s buttermilk loaf!
Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked up Banana Bread: a drier, fluffier texture with fall-esque spices–basically pumpkin bread disguised as banana bread
Deb’s recipe received tons of nominations when I put out a call on Instagram, and also this banana bake off crowned Simply Recipes–the base of Deb’s recipe–the winner. If you take Simply Recipes and omit all the spices and vanilla, swap white sugar for brown, etc., you end up with identical recipes! This loaf had a drier texture akin to Martha’s that was definitely more quickbread-like than cake-like. (This could be due to the fact that Deb uses a little less butter and 1 less egg than most recipes with 1.5 cups of flour). Although I think this would be a solid standalone loaf, most tasters picked up strong notes of nutmeg and clove and couldn’t detect much banana (or bourbon, for that matter). This led to comments that it tasted more like pumpkin or zucchini bread.
Overall scores unfortunately took a nosedive given the relatively dry texture (compared to other loaves), VERY subtle banana flavor and pumpkin bread-like spices–though the latter could be easily remedied by dialing back the spices as desired. On the bright side, you’ll get a great, picturesque rise on this loaf!
Joy the Baker’s Brown Butter Banana Bread: brown butter and drier, bready texture with plenty of spice
Lured in by brown butter, I was very curious to see if this banana bread would stand out. If you recall, Joy’s brown butter cookie placed a strong second place in the chocolate chip cookie bake off, so I had high hopes for this loaf, particularly with the additions of buttermilk and molasses. While the batter smelled devastating, we unfortunately couldn’t detect the brown butter in the final product. Like Smitten, Joy’s loaf had a fluffy crumb with a great rise, but it was a little dry compared to others (it’s possible I may have over-browned the butter), and many tasters complained they couldn’t taste the banana.
While most enjoyed the flavor of cinnamon (accentuated with molasses), most didn’t love the dry, bready texture (which I actually kind of liked, especially after some of the mushier banana breads).
Unfortunately, I realized after the bake off that I had unintentionally doubled the yogurt, so I’m disqualifying it from the rankings. You can read more about how refined coconut oil, oat flour and Greek yogurt theoretically elevate banana bread here. I will say that I used a 40/60 mixture of refined and virgin coconut oil (Stella says you can use either) and most tasters did not like the coconut flavor that came through. I will probably stick to oil/butter-based breads in the future, but if you like coconut, I would recommend this loaf!
Conclusion: Making the Best Banana Bread Possible
Overall, my top three favorite loaves were Flour, Martha Stewart, with Violet/Ruth Reichl tying for third place. As you can tell, I tend towards the drier/moderately moist loaves. I am very excited to retry them again with modifications like chocolate chips, a sheath of cinnamon sugar on top or a crumb top.
Here are my main learnings from this experiment:
Stella talks here about how adding nutmeg and cloves can help enhance banana flavor in a loaf. I’m not a huge fan of either spice, but it did seem like many of the top recipes utilized a small amount of cinnamon to great effect–it didn’t necessarily stand out, just helped accentuate the banana (and in Violet, its absence may have contributed to slightly lower scores).
Use ripe, but not too ripe bananas
Although I have historically pretty much only used extremely ripe, practically black bananas, I took a note from this Serious Eats article and used just ripe, heavily spotted bananas instead. Stella states: “Yellow bananas have a mix of sugar and starch that will produce a wonderfully light and fluffy bread, while those that are completely black can make for a dense, somewhat gummy loaf.” Anecdotally, I think the breads did turn out a bit lighter than some of my past loaves. If you like a drier, fluffy crumb, I highly recommend using bananas that aren’t overly ripe.
Frozen vs. fresh bananas
I ran a mini experiment prior to this bake off where I used equal volumes of fresh banana, frozen bananas with the thawed liquid, and frozen, drained bananas in identical recipes. It was very hard to tell any differences between the fresh banana/drained frozen banana loaves, but the loaf with the thawed liquid had a notably looser, soggier crumb. If you choose frozen bananas, make sure to drain off that liquid (or try making a banana syrup from them, a la Cook’s Illustrated)!
More fat isn’t necessarily better
As evidenced by Bon Appetit’s high ranking with relatively low fat and Joy the Baker’s low ranking with more-than-average butter. This is a pretty intuitive finding since quickbreads are probably the #1 recipe where you’ll find low-fat recommendations of subbing in applesauce/yogurt/banana/etc. Consider this a seal of approval for cutting back the fat in your favorite banana bread by 1/4 cup if you so desire (but find a good substitute to add back some of the moisture).
Dairy mutes banana flavor
The wonderful @cleobuttera has been running some banana bread experiments of her own and shared this insight from her findings. Indeed, I also found that many of the loaves that had yogurt/buttermilk/sour cream received feedback that the banana flavor wasn’t as prominent as desired. A little goes a long way in adding moisture (as evidenced by Flour’s recipe), but consider finding a recipe without dairy if you’re looking for a really strong banana flavor.
More sugar leads to better crust
In line with the Maillard reaction, I found that the loaves that used more sugar tended to have more well-developed, caramelized crusts. Though if you are trying to stay away from sugar, I love the slightly floury effect you get on the crust from greasing/flouring a pan vs. simply greasing it.
This is just a tiny sampling of all the banana bread recipes out there, but I hope you enjoyed this primer! In the future, I look forward to testing out whole wheat banana breads, gluten-free breads, vegan breads, and maybe even paleo. If you think I missed a great recipe, let me know in the comments!