How to Make Any Kind of Banana Bread in 6 Steps

May  4, 2015

Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Make banana bread just like Mom used to—slightly underbaked and full of add-ins from the pantry—without a recipe.

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I’m not sure my mom would consider herself a stylish woman, but when it came to cooking for me as a kid, she had an undeniable je ne sais quoi. Most notably, she could never be bothered to bake things all the way. Brownies and banana breads were always whisked out of the oven ten minutes before they were done because my mother had to move onto the next item on the list: gardening, laundry, or maybe an episode of "Judge Judy." As a result, her baked goods would collapse in the middle into a gooey, molten center best eaten with a spoon. It may not have been the “right” way to bake, but that didn’t stop me and my sisters from pushing each other out of the way and fighting over who’d get to excavate the last scoop of warm, barely-cooked batter from the pan.

Her easygoing baking style also meant that my mom improvised masterpieces, and they were slightly different every time. While many folks clean out their fridges with a hodgepodge frittata or a chopped salad, she would make banana bread. Maybe she’d toss in a handful of leftover granola or the lingering few teaspoons of sour cream from taco night. Observing her taught me that there’s no one way to make banana bread.

So follow 6 steps and a handful of rules, then experiment—you'll effortlessly bake your way to something delicious:


1. Begin with better bananas. The riper the banana, the deeper the flavor. If you haven’t got any blackened bananas stored away in your freezer (you’ll need 3 or 4), you can also try this nifty trick: Preheat your oven to 250 or 300° F and put your bananas directly on the center rack to cook for about an hour. The gentle, steady heat will deepen the banana flavor and ripen the fruit to banana bread perfection.

Not a banana fan? You can swap bananas for other fruit mixtures. Applesauce is a classic substitution, as is canned pumpkin or shredded squash like zucchini. In the fall, leftover Thanksgiving cranberry sauce is another great guest star.


2. Learn the 3-2-1 rule, the secret to banana bread without a recipe. Here's a trick I learned from First We Feast: To get the right consistency, you want 3 parts flour, 2 parts sugar, and 1 part vegetable oil. For a standard loaf, I use a 1/2-cup measure. Fill your scoop once with oil (melted butter, Greek yogurt, or coconut oil can also be used), twice with sugar (granulated sugar or light brown sugar tastes great), and three times with all-purpose flour. Get it?


3. Combine like ingredients. A classic rule for quick bread is to combine the wet ingredients separately from the dry ingredients. Start with the bananas. Peel them and drop them into your bowl, then mash with a fork or potato masher. Once thawed, frozen, overripe bananas will practically liquify, which is ideal. You may have to do a bit more manual labor if you're using fresh bananas. Add oil, 1 egg, a splash of vanilla extract, and a few tablespoons of milk (or water, or cream, or rum—just something to loosen up the batter a bit) to complete your wet ingredients.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of baking soda.


4. Mix! But not too much. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Limit yourself to fifteen strokes or so. Lumps and small pockets of flour are okay and will keep the cake moist, while over-mixing will create something dry and gummy. The batter should be wet but thick—the consistency should be firm enough that you need a second spoon to scrape the batter off your mixing spoon.

The ripeness of your fruit, as well as the type of fat you're using, can cause the consistency to vary. If your batter is too thin, the mix-ins will fall and collect at the bottom—add a little more flour to remedy the issue. If the batter is too thin, pour in a little bit more milk (or whatever liquid you used earlier). 


5. Add in the good bits. Dive into your pantry and see what you can find. Chocolate chips and walnuts are my go-to, but I’ve also tossed in coconut flakes, other types of nuts, a variety of dried fruits, candied ginger, peanut butter chips, ground espresso beans, sesame seeds, marshmallows, pumpkin pie spice mix, and more. Get creative, take risks with your combinations, and make the most of this pantry-cleaning moment. 

Throw a few handfuls of your mix-ins into the batter and stir. Remember: Don’t over-mix. About five more strokes should do it!


6. Bake. Grease your loaf pan (and line it with parchment paper for extra security), pour in the batter, and bake for about 1 hour in an oven that's been preheated to 350° F. The same batter can be baked in a 8-inch square pan or an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan, or poured into muffin tins (start checking cakes after 35 minutes and muffins after 20).

Most people would say to take your bake out of the oven when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I say, cut it short a few minutes and enjoy the sticky center. You have episodes of "Judge Judy" to watch, after all.

What do you like to put in your banana bread? Tell us in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Hillary Reeves eats mayonnaise out of the jar with a spoon and doesn't care who knows it. She blogs at and works as a marketer full-time for a food tech startup.


mpseattle7 April 11, 2021
Thanks for a great article! I never would have thought to put all of those other ingredients in Banana Bread, and they sound wonderful.
Elizabeth P. March 20, 2021
You didn't mention how many cups or grams of mashed banana.
eag145 October 29, 2019
I want to make a banana bread with chickpea flour, coconut oil, and coconut yogurt- I would like to put into effect this 3-2-1 method- would these make a decent banana bread? that's nice ands moist and not dense?
Eve February 9, 2018
Loved this article, it was fun to make banana bread with suggestions rather than a recipe. One note-- I forgot to add salt, and it really made a difference. I don't think you mentioned it in the article.
suzanne November 21, 2015
If the batter is too thin, pour in a little bit more milk

Pleeeze proof, thanks.
Jean B. July 12, 2015
I often use orange zest and put in orange essence finely cut up candied orange in my banana bread
Dianecpa July 10, 2015
added granola once and it was great, today I put in Blueberries! Great recipe!
maria May 22, 2015
I made this and it's excellent. My version based on the recipe ratios:
1/4 c. coconut oil + 1/4 c. EVOO
1/2 c. whole wheat flour // 1 cup all purpose flour
Brown sugar (rather than honey) and a bit less than the recipe called
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
handful good quality 70% choco chips
Julie C. May 15, 2015
Yes but...
The ratio is still 2 parts sugar to 3 parts flour (not forgetting that bananas are sweet). That is a huge amount of sugar.
Julie C. May 13, 2015
I make banana bread all the time. if the bananas are ripe it needs very little sugar.
I would use about 1/2 cup of sugar and add in some chopped dates.
You are calling for 2CUPS of sugar for 3 cups of flour!
This would be sweet enough to make me gag.
How could anyone put so much sugar in one loaf?
Cassandra B. May 13, 2015
She's using a 1/2 cup measure, not a full cup.
Trumome September 30, 2019
@JulieC said the *RATIO* of 2:3 (sugar:flour) was very high. I agree; that did jump out at me while reading the recipe. In other words, you could use a cup, half-cup, bucket, or wheel barrow(!), and the RATIO would still be 2:3.

A full cup of sugar does sound extreme, but my rule is to make recipes as written, the first time. This time I will compare ratios in other recipes, and adjust from there, keeping in mind that sugar has a certain chemical action that is necessary.
lizaH May 6, 2015
I have one secret for great banana bread - Amy Grant's Grandmother's recipe with bananas mashed, not sliced.
mary May 6, 2015
I have 3 secrets for consistently delicious banana bread:

I always measure an exact amount of banana for the batter .... After it's mashed. This keeps the flavor profile and moisture level consistent.

I mix a teaspoon of espresso powder into the liquid ingredients.

I grate fresh nutmeg into the dry ingredients.
Sgrjbailey January 3, 2023
How much banana exactly? I really would love the answer to that. Thanks
Gracious S. May 5, 2015
Munirè Z. May 5, 2015
I substitute grated apple with banana. surprisingly no one can tell the difference :)
Asa M. May 5, 2015
Asa M. May 5, 2015
Hey, Food52 you need to strip out the + signs from the comments when someone creates an account before posting a comment.
Sarah J. May 5, 2015
We're working on it! Sorry about that.
donna1963 May 4, 2015
I make my banana bread with 100% white whole wheat flour. It’s great and no one even notices.
AntoniaJames May 4, 2015
No leavening agent? Our ratio (I say our, because this is based on the classic Tassajara Bread Book recipe, which yields a beautiful loaf, nicely domed when baked correctly) is 4 parts flour (I use half whole wheat), 1 part brown sugar (more than that, with ripe bananas, is far too sweet for many of us), 1 part oil, 2 eggs, and for each cup of flour, 1/2 tsp. baking soda and a tiny pinch of salt. I always add a generous amount of cinnamon and nutmeg + raisins or dried cranberries and, always, simply not-negotiable, chopped toasted nuts. Four mini loaves (perfect for easily freezing some) take about 25 minutes. ;o)
Sarah J. May 4, 2015
Yes, there is a leavening agent here: baking soda gets mixed in with the dry ingredients!
AntoniaJames May 4, 2015
Oh okay, I didn't see a ratio - that's 1 teaspoon per 1 1/2 cup flour? What is the ratio for bananas? (In my "formula" - seriously, it's a recipe! I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against recipes, especially ones that serve as blueprints - I use 2 cups of mashed banana to the 250 grams / 2 cups of flour.) ;o)
Hillary R. May 4, 2015
Yes! 1 tsp. Certainly lots of fun to play around with recipes to get it right--I'll have to try the one you posted above. In my mom's case, though, 3-4 bananas. Can't say for sure how many cups that would be; we usually refer more to the texture of the batter than a specific recipe!
AntoniaJames May 4, 2015
Incidentally, contrary to what's suggested above, if using one measuring cup (the base measure), it makes much more sense to measure your flour and sugar and only then measure your oil, for obvious reasons. ;o)
AntoniaJames May 4, 2015
I find it really curious that you don't recommend adjusting the baking soda or substituting baking powder when using a less acidic alternative to bananas. (Apples are 1/4 - 1/3 less acidic, and pumpkin puree, even less so). I have found in my playing around with the basic Tassajara recipe, over the past 30+ years, that the baking soda leaves an unpleasant aftertaste if a bit of buttermilk or a couple teaspoons of lemon juice isn't part of the substitution. ;o)
Natalie May 4, 2015