Recipe Review

We Tested 4 Famous Banana Bread Recipes and Did *Not* Expect These Results

updated Jan 21, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

With so many “perfect,” “best,” and “easy” banana bread recipes out there, it’s hard to know which one really takes the cake. Is it the one with the most bananas, or the abundance of chocolate chips? Can it really be done in one bowl, or is it worth pulling out the stand mixer?

So we made it our mission to find the ultimate banana bread — the one that would become our go-to solution to a bunch of overripe bananas on our counter. One that’s easy to make, and lures family members into the kitchen with its sweet aroma as it bakes. One that’s special enough to make it memorable, but not too finicky that it can’t be done without a trip to the grocery store.

To do this, we turned to you, our readers. In an Instagram poll, we asked you to share your favorite banana bread recipes, and then we pitted the four most popular answers against one another in a recipe showdown.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

The perfect banana bread has a strong banana flavor and a caramel-brown crust (and yes, I’ll award extra points if that crust has a crunchy sugar topping). Banana bread should be moist and tender, but still able to hold a firm slice. How the bread holds up to toasting the next morning is also under consideration. Finally, banana bread should be easy to make and require very few dishes.

Sometimes these battles are more about gleaning smart tips and techniques from recipes, rather than finding a single perfect recipe. That’s what happened here. I baked four famous banana bread recipes — Chrissy Teigen’s, Flour Bakery’s, America’s Test Kitchen’s, and Smitten Kitchen’s — and honestly, I was shocked to discover that no single recipe had everything I was looking for (although a few came close).

I baked all of the breads in the same oven and used the same standard loaf pan, except for Chrissy Teigen’s recipe, which calls for a Bundt pan. The bananas came from two large bunches purchased on the same day and allowed to ripen together.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Meet Our 4 Banana Bread Contenders

1. The Biggest Disappointment: Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked-Up Banana Bread

This one-bowl banana bread earns points for ease of assembly, and its flavor is off the charts (hello, bourbon and nutmeg!). But the bread lost a significant amount of points for its dense texture that no amount of toasting could remedy.

Overall rating: 4/10

Chrissy Teigen’s Bundt pan-baked banana bread is dolled up with chocolate and coconut and is super-moist, thanks to vanilla pudding mix and mashed ripe bananas. But let’s call this banana bread what it really is: cake.

Overall rating: 6/10

America’s Test Kitchen is known for its meticulous dissection of classic American recipes, and banana bread was not spared. The tender bread is full of warm, sweet banana flavor and capped with a delightfully crunchy crust. It also requires superfluous steps and an inordinate number of dishes.

Overall rating: 6/10

4. The Banana Bread That’s Worth the Hype: Flour Bakery’s Banana Bread

The Boston bakery’s banana bread is full of bold banana flavor. Just as you’d expect from a bakery, it holds a firm slice while still having a moist and tender crumb — essential for toasting in the day (or days) after baking. Of the four banana breads we tested, this one wins the top spot, despite losing points for requiring the use of a stand mixer and having a slightly sunken center.

Overall rating: 7/10

The 3 Most Important Things to Know About Baking Banana Bread

All four banana breads had their merits and their drawbacks, but honestly, none of them earned the spot as our new go-to recipe. But just because no single recipe had it all doesn’t mean that we didn’t learn a thing or two. Armed with this knowledge, we’ll keep baking banana breads until we find the one.

  1. Start with very ripe bananas. Bold banana flavor comes from soft and intensely freckled bananas. As the fruit ripens, starches turn to sugar, highlighting the bananas’ natural tropical sweetness. Start with ripe bananas and you can skip extra steps intended to intensify their flavor.
  2. Keep cookware to a minimum. Banana breads are quick breads — quick to mix, quick to rise, and quick to clean up. Two bowls and a loaf pan are all you need to make the classic breakfast loaf, and I’ve yet to taste a banana bread worthy of the extra time spent cleaning beater blades and scrubbing saucepans. Use the muffin method to make banana bread — mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another, then stir the two together until just combined — for practically foolproof results.
  3. Add extras, but not to excess. Warming flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, and even bourbon enhance the aroma and flavor of banana bread when added with care. Including nuts or coconut can be controversial, but add an appealing texture to a homestyle loaf. Steer clear of dark chocolate, whose flavor can overwhelm. And in the end, I’m forever an advocate for a crunchy cap of coarse turbinado sugar.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Which recipe did we miss? Tell us your favorite banana bread recipe in the comments.