Healthy Banana Bread

Have you ever gone to a spa or restaurant and bought their cookbook, with every intention of making the some of the recipes when you get back home? And then it sits unopened on your bookshelf for years?

Well that was the case with the “Canyon Ranch Cooks: More Great Tastes” cookbook, which was gathering dust on my living room shelf ever since I bought it at the spa’s Lenox Hill location five years ago. That is until last week, when I got inspired to bake a banana bread without using oil.
Most recipes for banana bread call for 1/4 cup of oil. But, that seemed like entirely too much fat to me, so I started looking for healthier options. I found it in the Canyon Ranch cookbook. And you may ask just what is the secret to cutting out the oil? The answer is … drum roll please… applesauce!
Some of you may be thinking that it can’t possibly taste as good if you don’t use oil, or questioning if it will have the same texture and moistness. Well, if my husband, Bob, is any proof that it is, then I will tell you what he said: “This is the best banana bread you’ve ever made.”



Bolstered by his thumbs up, I made a loaf to bring to my son, Sam, who recently moved into his own apartment in New York City, and he seconded Bob’s opinion. (Note to recent empty nesters, imperative to getting your kids to come back home and visit you is serving them very good food whenever they do bless you with their presence.)

As an added bonus, the cookbook says its banana bread is only 135 calories per serving. However, and I must note a “Spoiler Alert” here, I had to add bittersweet chocolate chips to my version, so that may cancel out the calories saved by cutting out the oil.

The first step in this recipe is to mash three overripe bananas.  And by overripe, I mean the bananas should have brown speckles all over their skins and be extremely mushy. If you have a potato masher, that works great; or else just use a fork, pressing down the tines to turn the bananas into a pulpy, baby-food-like consistency.

Next, mix the pulverized banana with a quarter cup of coffee, — yes, coffee! — and set aside. Why add coffee? The answer is it adds a rich, toffee flavor to the bread and contributes to the bread’s tenderness.

In another bowl, mix sugar, brown sugar, an egg and the much-touted applesauce. OK, let’s talk about the applesauce now.  How does it work as a substitute for oil?  According to Seasoned Advice on StackedExchangecom:
In baking, the role of oil is to coat the flour, preventing it from combining with the water (or other wet ingredients) and developing guten. Gluten is what causes dough to rise, and also gives elasticity to the final product – what most people think of as “chewiness.”
When you’re baking, for example, a cake, or even a pie crust, you want to limit the amount of gluten that develops…A good amount of oil or other fat leads to a lighter, moister, less-glutinous result. The pectin in applesauce can also, to a certain extent, help to inhibit gluten formation in a dough.
The trick when your baking is to get just the right amount of applesauce that needs to be substituted for the oil – too much can give your bread a jelly-like consistency, too little will lead to a tough and chewy end product. Also, I like organic applesauces that have been naturally sweetened for the best results.


And now back to the recipe.  Add the applesauce mixture to the banana-coffee combo.  In a third bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: whole-wheat flour, bread flour (I didn’t have any, so I used regular flour), baking soda, salt, baking powder, and allspice.  Add to that the bittersweet chocolate chips and it’s a wrap.  One more note, I recommend that before you add the semisweet chocolate chips (get the big chips, like Ghiradelli’s), you first mix them with a tablespoon of flour and shake them up in a small plastic bag.The flour coating on the chocolate chips makes sure they won’t sink to the bottom of the batter.


All that’s left is to pour the batter into a 8 ½ x 4 ½ bread pan that’s been prepped with a thin coating of butter and dusted with flour so your bread will pop right out after baking.  It takes about an hour in the oven, but keep an eye on the bread at the end, as you don’t want it to overcook. When the middle has firmed up and you can stick a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean, then the bread is done.


As I put the Canyon Ranch cookbook back in its proper place in my living room bookshelf, I promised myself I would return to it sometime soon – or at least within the next five years!
Banana Bread
Adapted from Canyon Ranch Cooks: More Great Tastes
3 small very ripe bananas mashed, about 1 cup
1/4  cup brewed coffee
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup naturally sweetened applesauce
1 whole egg
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup bread flour  (or use regular flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4-1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or you can substitute chopped walnuts)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 8 1/2  x 4 1/2 bread pan with butter and dust with flour.
In a small bowl, combine bananas and coffee. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix sugar, brown sugar, and applesauce. Add egg and mix well. Add to banana mixture and mix until smooth.
In a small bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to banana mixture and mix until all ingredients are just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on rack for five minutes. Remove from pan and slice when cooled completely.

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