Cream Cheese

Next-Level Banana Bread, Courtesy of One Basic Ingredient

October 20, 2017

Banana bread plays an important role in most home baking repertoires. It holds sway in our minds as a delicious comfort food. It’s a staple of bakery counters; you can find it everywhere easily. But despite all that, it’s so ordinary. So simple. No one swoons over banana bread they way they do over gooey chocolate chip cookies or slabs of layer cake or even custard-like lemon squares.

And yet bakers are fierce in their allegiance to their favorite banana bread recipes. Most recipes riff on the same general formula, differing mainly in their use of fats (butter or coconut oil or sour cream, say) and sugar (brown or white) and proportions of liquid to dry.

The classic formula has endured for good reason. Regardless of how many new versions I try, I return to my basic go-to recipe again and again. Today’s recipe marks the first time I’ve really departed in any real way from it; I’ve dressed my banana bread up in lots of different ways depending on my mood—adding chopped chocolate or toasted nuts or crystallized ginger or a thick crust of cinnamon sugar or rum—but all using the same base.

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I can’t even remember the provenance of the idea to use cream cheese in my batter. Perhaps it was simply a case of me, standing in front of my fridge, puzzling over how best to use up the last half-package of cream cheese in the butter drawer. Wherever it came from, I’m glad it did. Adding cream cheese to your banana bread batter amplifies all the best qualities of a good banana bread. It adds richness and offsets the sweetness. It makes an incredibly tender and moist crumb without being too dense.

See those little dots? That's millet—a Smitten Kitchen–approved tip. Photo by Posie Harwood

You don’t want to add too much cream cheese or you can risk weighing down the loaf too much. I use four ounces for the entire recipe, and I also add in some Greek yogurt and crème fraîche for more moisture but less density. If you don’t have crème fraîche, you can go ahead and use all Greek yogurt but try and use 2% or full-fat, as it makes for better flavor.

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Top Comment:
“banana bread sliced in half and filled with cream cheese and apricot jam. This was served to me by my sister's ex-boyfriend's Jewish granny.”
— HalfPint

My recipe calls for an optional addition of uncooked millet, a little trick I picked up from Smitten Kitchen. Millet adds a subtler crunch compared to nuts, and I highly recommend giving it a try! If you don’t want it, you can leave it out. Or, use up to a full cup of chopped toasted nuts. For other flavor variations, try up to a cup of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate, toasted coconut flakes, or diced crystallized ginger.

Customize me how you want—I'll always be there for you. Photo by Posie Harwood

Here’s to a world filled with more versions of familiar, and delicious, baked goods. Goodness knows, we can all use more comfort.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • dinam
  • Karl Lembke
    Karl Lembke
  • M
  • HalfPint
  • michael
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


dinam December 28, 2017
I don't want 2 loaves - ok to cut recipe in half?
Posie (. December 28, 2017
dinam December 28, 2017
Thanks! I don’t have 4 bananas or I would make 2
Karl L. November 5, 2017
I wonder what crema would do in banana bread.
M October 30, 2017
I, too, add a dollop of yogurt or crème fraiche to my banana bread, but will now try the cream cheese. Sounds like a great idea. I use Food 52's Espresso Banana Bread which is delicious; first time tasters can never figure out what that added layer of flavor is. And I amp up the banana flavor with a glug of banana liqueur which also adds to the moistness. A favorite among friends.
HalfPint October 27, 2017
I'm a fan of Bittman's Banana Bread made with butter and sweetened coconut. Recently, I've cheated on Bittman's BB and made Smitten Kitchen's Double Chocolate Banana Bread.

Some of the best variations I've encountered:
-addition of maraschino cherries.
-banana bread sliced in half and filled with cream cheese and apricot jam. This was served to me by my sister's ex-boyfriend's Jewish granny.
michael October 26, 2017
I often serve banana bread with cream cheese, can't wait to try this recipe.
Hilary P. October 26, 2017
My favorite touch to banana bread is a simple fresh squeezed lemon and sugar icing...what my late Mom always did to loaf breads that always made them melt in the mouth amazing and delicious.
Beth October 26, 2017
Try a little rum in it, you'll like it! About 2 tablespoons should do it.
Robin L. October 26, 2017
Wow, I thought millet was MY idea. It's my favorite addition...
Clay H. October 26, 2017
The CI Ultimate banana bread has 5 bananas in the bread and one on top. That was true next level.
ninadora October 26, 2017
That’s the banana-est banana bread! It’s also so much work of course! If I have frozen bananas it’s my go to
KLCannaday October 26, 2017
My favorite banana bread recipe of all time! Never had anything close....
Ilyssa October 27, 2017
I think the CI BB is a lot of work and i was not wowed. I might try this one though.
judy October 23, 2017
I find that a point of softened good quality butter and 2 cups of bananas make a great difference in the banana quality and moistness of the loaf. I also always add both vanilla and banana extract. My husband really likes banana flavor.