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4 secrets for healthy, delicious banana bread

| Saturday, June 23, 2012, 2:38 p.m.
Banana-Blueberry Buttermilk Bread
Ken Burris  |  EatingWell
Ken Burris/EatingWell
Banana-Blueberry Buttermilk Bread Ken Burris | EatingWell

During the years I have perfected my banana bread recipe — one of my favorite solutions for using overripe bananas.

I use whole-grain flour or whole-grain flour mixed with white all-purpose flour, and rely as much as I can on the natural sweetness of the bananas to cut the total amount of granulated sugar called for in the recipe. I also like to roughly mash, or chop, my bananas so that there are big chunks of fruit to bite into. I always throw in a handful of toasted chopped walnuts, and sometimes, I'll add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg and dark chocolate chips.

Want to lighten up your favorite banana bread recipe? Here are four of my best tricks you can use to make your banana-bread recipe healthier and delicious.

Use less sugar

This is a two-part tip. I try to add as little sugar as possible to my banana bread. This means packing as many naturally sweet and creamy bananas into my bread as I can. So, when a recipe calls for 2 medium bananas, I will usually use 3. The more the merrier, in my opinion, and I swear that this tactic never has steered me wrong. The bread bakes up just fine, stays super-moist and has intense banana flavor.

When it comes to choosing sugar, I always go for light- or dark-brown sugar. Brown sugar adds a deeper, more caramel-like flavor to my bread than granulated sugar, which has a less nuanced flavor.

Replace all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour

Generally, you can replace at least half of the all-purpose flour in a recipe with whole-wheat flour. I tend to do a one-to-one swap in my banana bread, using whole-wheat flour or whole-wheat pastry flour in place of the amount of all-purpose flour called for — I prefer the heartier, nuttier flavor that whole-wheat flour adds, and I want the extra fiber (almost four times as much as all-purpose), potassium, magnesium and zinc. If you want the nutritional benefits of whole-wheat flour, without quite as much whole-wheat flavor, use white whole-wheat flour.

Add healthy fruit and nuts

In addition to upping the amount of bananas in my bread (see my first tip), I also like to mix in different kinds of fruit and nuts, which add texture, flavor and health benefits. When it comes to fruit, I love the taste of tart, plump blueberries. I will add as much as 1 12 cups of blueberries to my banana bread, folding them in after combining the wet and dry ingredients. As for nuts, 12 cup of toasted, roughly chopped walnuts folded into the batter before baking adds nutty flavor and something to crunch on, along with good omega-3 fats, which can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. A similar amount of chopped almonds delivers healthy monounsaturated fats.

Use less butter and more buttermilk

Buttermilk is fantastic in banana bread. By using a combination of 1 cup of nonfat buttermilk plus 2 tablespoons of canola oil, you can get away with almost no butter — just 2 measly tablespoons. In addition to lending a pleasant tangy flavor, buttermilk helps keep your bread moist as it bakes.

Emily McKenna tests and develops recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen at www.eatingwell.com.

Banana-Blueberry Buttermilk Bread

The slight acidity of buttermilk tenderizes and moistens baked goods while allowing you to cut way back on butter or oils. Here, it also lends a slight tanginess to the winning combination of bananas and blueberries.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes (including 2 hours cooling time)

34 cup nonfat or low-fat buttermilk

34 cup packed light-brown sugar

14 cup canola oil

2 large eggs

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium)

1 14 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 12 teaspoons baking powder

34 teaspoon ground cinnamon

12 teaspoon baking soda

12 teaspoon salt

14 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 14 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Whisk the buttermilk, brown sugar, oil and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the mashed bananas.

Whisk the whole-wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a medium-size bowl.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in the blueberries. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

Bake until the top is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, for 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Let cool for about 2 hours before slicing.

To make ahead: Wrap and store at room temperatre for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Makes 10 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 278 calories, 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 43 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber; 298 milligrams sodium

Recipe tips and notes:

Muffin variation: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat 12 ( 12-cup) muffin cups with cooking spray or line with paper liners. Divide the batter among the muffin cups (they will be full). Bake until the tops are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and let cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes more before serving.

Ingredient note: Whole-wheat pastry flour, lower in protein than regular whole-wheat flour, has less gluten-forming potential, making it a better choice for tender baked goods. You can find it in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets and natural foods stores. Store in the freezer.

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