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A Quest for the Best Banana Bread Recipe

all photos courtesy of the author

Late winter/early spring is the best time for baking, right? And if you’re like me and are very picky about the ripeness of your bananas (I only really like them just after they’re not green anymore) and thus have a constant supply of bananas in your freezer that got too ripe for your liking, then you have a lot of bananas just waiting to be turned into banana bread. But which banana bread recipe is right for you? To help you decide, I chose four banana bread/cake recipes — a mocha banana cake, “jacked up” banana bread, Moosewood cookbook banana bread, and “Janet’s rich” banana bread — and am here to let you know how it went. Which recipe had the most banana-y flavor? Which one was the easiest? Which one had the best ideas for add-ins or complimentary flavors? Read on to find out and learn what mistakes I made so you can avoid them!

Mocha Banana Cake

a mocha banana cake

Yossy Arefi is one of my favourite bakers, and she has a new cookbook! (Thanks Dad, who bought it for me for Christmas.) Following in the footsteps of her successful Snacking Cakes, Arefi’s latest is called Snacking Bakes, where this mocha banana cake recipe came from. For more traditional banana cake/bread recipes from Arefi, also check out Snacking Cakes, which has an almond butter banana cake recipe and a buckwheat banana cake recipe.

What’s the flavor like?

This mocha banana cake is very chocolatey and sweet! This is not bad per se, but it was more chocolate-forward than I imagined when I picked out the recipe to try it out for this article. It tastes more like a chocolate cake with banana, rather than a banana cake with chocolate, if you know what I mean. And that’s with me adding a bit more banana than the recipe called for. There actually isn’t any coffee in the cake itself, just in the glaze, so the coffee flavor is fairly subtle. But there is a decent amount of cocoa powder in the cake and glaze, which makes for quite a chocolatey treat. It’s decadent and definitely has special occasion/birthday cake potential.

How easy is it to make?

mocha banana cake ingredients

Yossy Arefi’s recipes are made to be simple and straightforward: this is a mix-all-the-ingredients-in-one-bowl kind of cake, no special equipment required. The most unusual ingredient is instant espresso powder, which you only need if you want to make the glaze. There are also a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar; that’s something I always keep on hand in my pantry for salad dressings, but that might not be the case for you!

Is this my new go-to banana bread recipe?

mocha banana cake

As much as I love Yossy Arefi, definitely not. I want more banana flavor in my banana bread, and this mocha banana cake — especially with the mocha glaze — feels too much like a chocolate cake for it to even count as banana bread. Plus, it’s too fancy and rich to be an everyday banana bread recipe.

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!)

This recipe is written as a vegan cake (hence the apple cider vinegar I mentioned above), which makes it a great choice for vegans, obviously, but also if you’re just out of eggs. It doesn’t call for any unusual ingredients to replace eggs or dairy, so it’s a nice option for a non-vegan to make for a vegan friend without having to invest in something like flax seeds that you might not use again. I unveganized it when I made it, because I didn’t have vegan butter or milk, so I can confirm that is also an option that will work out well!

Mollie Katzen’s Banana Bread

a slice of banana bread

Mollie Katzen’s vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook (40th anniversary edition) was one of two cookbooks I owned in my twenties and it basically taught me how to cook! For a starter cookbook, whether you’re vegetarian or not, I highly recommend it for its simple but delicious dishes: soups, casseroles, and — our focus here — desserts. I used to make her banana bread recipe all the time, but haven’t made it for probably a decade. So I wanted to pull out my old tattered copy of the book and give it a go to compare to these newer recipes I’m trying out here.

What’s the flavor like?

This banana bread recipe is bold with its flavors. It has a healthy dose of bananas (2 cups mashed, which equals about four to five bananas) but it also has: coffee, orange zest, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and almond extract. If you really want to just focus on the banana flavor, this is not the recipe for you. But I think all of these seemingly disparate parts actually go really well together and don’t overpower the banana. I even added chocolate chips, and didn’t find that there were too many competing flavors.

How easy is it to make?

This is a bit more of a fussy recipe than the others I tried, but I think it’s worth it for the fun extra flavors. But, you do have to zest an orange (and have an orange on hand) and make a cup of coffee (I used decaf instant, which worked well). Almond extract might not be something you keep in your pantry, but it wouldn’t be a huge loss just to replace it for a bit of extra vanilla. I definitely did not use almond extract back in my student days when I made this recipe all the time.

Is this my new go-to banana bread recipe?

banana bread in a baking dish

I am putting this recipe back into rotation! Although it’s not the simplest banana bread, it is very delicious, moist, buttery, and a bit unexpected. One thing is that it’s quite a big recipe (two loaf pans or one 9×13 inch-ish dish), so I would consider halfing it in the future, especially if I was short on some of the ingredients.

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!)

I actually didn’t have quite enough bananas in my freezer to make up the full two cups of mashed banana the recipe calls for, so check ahead! I forgot how big this banana bread is and foolishly thought three big bananas would be enough. If you only need to use up 2 or 3 old bananas sitting on your counter, cut this recipe in half!

Smitten Kitten’s Jacked Up Banana Bread

a slice of banana bread and tea

This Smitten Kitchen classic from the mid 2000s was recommended by my internet friend Marika. (Thanks, Marika!) Even though Smitten Kitchen apparently has an updated banana bread recipe published in 2020, I stuck with this oldie since Marika recommended it specifically. It’s a small recipe made for one standard 4×8 inch loaf pan and it contains your usual suspects of spices/flavoring — cinnamon, nutmeg, a pinch of cloves, and vanilla extract — with an additional unexpected (optional) ingredient: bourbon!

What’s the flavor like?

Delicious! Moist! Very much classic banana bread! Buttery! As my partner put it, “nice banana flavor without being too overwhelmingly banana-y.” I did not have bourbon in my liquor cabinet, so I used whisky instead and you could taste it, although it was subtle. I bet the oakiness of bourbon would be great too. This one is wholesome banana bread at its best.

How easy is it to make?

ingredients for banana bread lined up on a counter

Very easy! You mix everything in one bowl and the only step that requires dirtying another dish is that you have to melt butter. The bourbon might be something you also don’t keep in your house, but it is optional and, as I have tested myself, totally substitutable for whisky.

Is this my new go-to banana bread recipe?

Maybe?? I love the simplicity of the recipe and the focus on banana flavor. I am also won over by the addition of bourbon/whisky. Do I need to go out and buy some bourbon simply for the sake of having it on hand for banana bread? I just might do that! You could say the small size of this recipe is a drawback, but it’d be easy to double if you wanted to.

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!)

That little pinch of cloves the recipe calls for goes a long way. Don’t be tempted to add more, or I think the clove flavor would be overwhelming. Walnuts would also be a great add-in to the recipe, if that’s to your liking.

Janet’s Rich Banana Bread

a slice of banana bread

When I asked on social media for some recommendations for banana bread recipes, a few people sent me their own recipes that included sour cream. I’ve never tried putting sour cream in banana bread, but it sounded like a good idea to me. So I did a quick search for an online recipe with sour cream. This recipe from allrecipes.com is pretty basic, but I was mainly curious to see what difference the sour cream made!

What’s the flavor like?

The only flavoring other than the bananas themselves this recipe calls for is vanilla extract, so this one is very bananay. It also calls for walnuts. Personally, I thought it needed some cinnamon and nutmeg at least; I found it a bit underwhelming. It is however very moist — perhaps too moist, which I will discuss below — so the sour cream definitely does its job there. I think flavor-wise this recipe could learn from a thing or two from the Smitten Kitten’s Jacked Up Banana Bread.

How easy is it to make?

ingredients for banana bread, on a counter

Easy peasy! One bowl to mix everything in and a regular size loaf pan to bake. Almost too easy!

Is this my new go-to banana bread recipe?

Nope! This one was a bit too bland for me, plus I found that it got too brown and crispy on the outside for the middle to be fully cooked. (See below for more on that, as it might have been my fault, whoops). This recipe also strangely calls for banana slices, not mashed banana. I did not trust it enough to follow the directions and mashed my banana. Has anyone ever not mashed the banana before putting it in banana bread batter? Please tell me if you have.

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!)

My loaf took about 10 minutes longer than the suggested cooking time of 60 minutes, and by the time the insides weren’t gooey anymore, the outside was a little too brown and crispy for my liking. I think I may have been too generous filling up my half cup measure with sour cream. That, or the three small bananas I used were too much (the recipe calls for two medium size bananas). Go easy on the sour cream!

Do you have any favorite banana bread recipes? Have you made any of the ones that I tried? Please share in the comments!

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Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer, librarian, and new parent. She writes for Book Riot and Autostraddle about queer and/or bookish stuff. Ask her about cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer books, drinking tea, and her baby. Her website is Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. Find her on Twitter, Litsy, Storygraph Goodreads and Instagram.

Casey has written 126 articles for us.


  1. I love Cookie+Kate’s Maple sweetened banana muffins recipe! I’ve been making sourdough and love adding some of my sourdough discard to the recipe. The recipe is the right balance, for me, of healthy and delicious.

    Also it’s good to see you Casey! I hope your little one enjoys your banana bread!

  2. I don’t know how they made it, but the dining hall at the boarding school where I live had chocolate chip strawberry banana bread recently, and it was a great combination. The strawberries made it a moister, which really worked.

  3. I am faithful-ish to ye olde Joy of Cooking banana bread, though I swap the butter for coconut oil and add spices/mix ins at will (usually cinnamon and nuts or chocolate chips). Reliably great texture and balanced banana flavor

    • I have my Grandmom’s Joy of Cooking and I love using it! My kids and I regularly make our pancakes and waffles with recipes from it. The banana bread one is too sweet for me now, but there’s one with wheat germ I believe. Now I’ll have to check!

  4. I **needed** banana bread last night and specifically consulted this article for a new recipe. Can confirm, the “Jacked-up Banana Bread” is top notch!! I made it without bourbon, and added bittersweet chocolate chips. The tiny pinch of cloves is PERFECT; it’s an unexpected flavor that goes really well with the not-too-sweet chocolate. The bread itself is super moist and rich. 11/10 would recommend to other banana bread-inclined queers.

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