Naturally Sweet Banana Bread

Naturally Sweet Banana Bread gets a lift from a surprise ingredient: dates.

Ask me for my go-to chocolate chip cookie or brownie or chocolate cake and I’ll have an answer at the ready. Ask me for my go-to banana bread recipe and, well, I’m stumped. As much as l love baking, and as much as I love banana bread, I had never found a can’t-live-without-it recipe for it.

That changes now with this Naturally Sweet Banana Bread.

Thanks to feedback from readers and my own interest in cutting back on the amount of added sugars in the food I feed my son (not easy), I was immediately intrigued when “Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day” landed on my desk. Authors Jennifer Tyler Lee and Anisha Patel make a compelling argument for why we eat too many added sugars and that there are ways to reduce them without sacrificing flavor.

One of their strategies is to rely on the sweetness inherent in fruits and vegetables, which include fiber.

“When sugar is accompanied with fiber ... digestion and absorption of the naturally occurring sugar is slower, so that your body doesn’t get a sugar rush.” Dates are a typical MVP. “They are packed with natural sweetness and caramel-like flavor, and each date contains about 1.6 grams of fiber.”

It didn’t even take the nutritional benefits to convince us of the merits of this recipe. The dates do indeed hint at caramel, which is reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding, another dish in which they star. They’re soaked and then pureed with whole milk Greek yogurt to create an especially moist, tender texture with just the right amount of spring.

Ripe bananas are also key to the sweetness here, and the only thing I wanted after making the recipe was a bit more fruit. So I took a page from the social-media-savvy likes of Alison Roman and our friend Joy “the Baker” Wilson and topped the quick bread — OK, we know it’s basically cake — with a halved banana. Eye-catching? Check. Tasty? Check. And the pieces had the added advantage of providing me with an S-shaped curve in which to sprinkle chopped pecans. Feel free to use both, one or none of the toppings. It’s up to you. If you decide to use only nuts, increase the amount to 1/3 cup.

This treat is satisfying and special enough to be eaten on its own as a dessert but restrained enough to work for breakfast, too. (Leftovers are great toasted and served with butter, peanut butter or a little bit of jam, if you must.) Ready to get baking? All right then. It’s a date.

Naturally Sweet Banana Bread

Active: 50 minutes | Total: 1 hour 45 minutes

10 servings (makes one 8 1/2-inch loaf)

Soaked dates are the key to a tender banana bread with no added sugar. Make sure your bananas are ripe — on the dark side with speckles — so that they, too, lend their natural sweetness. The result is a loaf that’s restrained enough that you could enjoy leftovers toasted for breakfast.

Make Ahead: Store the bread tightly wrapped or in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

The authors prefer Medjool dates, but in a pinch you can use deglet noor dates, which are firmer, cheaper and easier to find.

Ingredients

10 ounces Medjool dates, pitted (about 18)

2 cups hot water

3 medium very ripe bananas

1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk, beaten

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/3 cup coconut oil (may substitute unsalted butter), at room temperature

1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (see above)

Steps

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan with baking spray or line with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of overhang on each side and coating the paper with cooking spray.

Place the pitted dates in a medium bowl. Cover the dates with the water. Set aside until the dates are softened, about 10 minutes. Drain the dates, reserving 2 tablespoons of the soaking liquid.

Mash 2 of the bananas (you should have about 180 grams of flesh) in a medium bowl and add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Combine the dates, reserved soaking liquid and yogurt in a food processor. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes; some flecks of skin may remain, but there should be no pieces of fruit left. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the banana mixture and stir together until smooth.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Beat on low speed until the coconut oil and flour are a mealy powder, about 30 seconds. Add the date and banana mixture and continue beating until just combined and no visible flour remains.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Peel the remaining banana and cut in half vertically. Press the halves, cut sides up, into the batter so that they are slightly offset. Sprinkle the nuts into the S-shaped gap in between the bananas and bake until the bread is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes, loosely tenting the cake with foil for the last 15 to 20 minutes to prevent the top from becoming too dark. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn or lift out the bread from the pan. Cut into slices and serve, warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition | Calories: 350; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 6 g; Sodium: 250 mg; Carbohydrates: 59 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugars: 34 g; Protein: 6 g.