Brilliant (and Vegan) Banana Bread

Have you heard the word about agave nectar? It's a plant-based sweetener from the same plant that's used to produce tequila.

Cookbook writer and food blogger Heidi Swanson raves about it in her "Super Natural Cooking" and offers Webby recipe ideas here. I've been tempted to take the agave plunge, but with a surplus of local honey, I've waited until the pantry could afford the space.


A nice wholesome twist on an old classic: banana bread sweetened with agave nectar and dates. (Kim O'Donnel)

Equipped with a copy of "Baking With Agave Nectar," a fresh new title by natural foods chef Ania Catalano, I can no longer procrastinate; her collection of 100 recipes using agave as the primary sweetener is too tempting to ignore. What I like is that she's taken on baked good classics -- brownies, morning muffins, fruit pies, cake frosting -- and reduces their glycemic load with this diabetic-friendly sweetener that also happens to be vegan.

Available in light, amber, dark and raw forms, agave nectar looks like honey but is less viscous (making it easier to pour and measure out) and less intense in flavor. It's also not as sweet, which makes using out of the bottle for tea, toast and oatmeal a pleasant experience. It was difficult to choose which recipe to try first, but upon remembering a recent reader query about banana bread, I thought I'd give Catalano's version a whirl, which gets bonus points for being egg and dairy free (i.e. vegan). Below are the how-to details, with my notes in parentheses.

As I worked my way through her book, I learned that Catalano often uses silken tofu as a binder and chopped dates as a secondary sweetener. In addition to the vegan options, she offers gluten-free (can't wait to try the prune truffles!) as well as egg and butter-rich options, so that all bakers can play.

The verdict is in: This is one helluva banana bread. It's got a nice crust, it's extremely moist and screams banana. The only thing you might miss is the classic buttery flavor, but I don't mind one bit. As you gather your ingredients, use the silken tofu sold in the non-refrigerated section, not the perishable variety, as it will yield a gummier result. The other interesting note is that Catalano suggests storing the bread in the fridge, which I assume is due to the tofu. (Now I'm remembering that my pumpkin-tofu pie is best served chilled.)

My only gripe is agave's higher price tag; a 24-ounce bottle will run you about five or six dollars, but that's a small price to pay for a more healthful dessert. I've seen it at My Organic Market (MOMs), Whole Foods ($6.19) and online, via amazon.com.

Have you played with agave nectar before? Have you got a favorite brand? Share your sweetened tales in the comments area below.

Banana Date Bread

Adapted from "Baking With Agave Nectar" by Ania Catalano

Ingredients
12 ounces firm silken tofu (Catalano recommends brands sold in non-refrigerated aseptic packages )
1/2 cup light agave nectar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2-3 bananas)
1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice (I used water)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cups sprouted spelt flour or sprouted whole wheat flour (I subbed whole wheat pastry flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
KOD addition: 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup pitted dates, chopped (about 10 dates)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (I subbed pecans)
2 tablespoons flax seeds (optional)

Method
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Coat a 4 or 5-by-8-inch loaf pan with nonstick canola oil spray and flour lightly.

In a food processor, combine tofu, agave nectar, bananas, juice, vanilla, spices and Canola oil. Blend until smooth and creamy, two-three minutes.

In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add tofu mixture and incorporate into flour until integrated.

Fold in dates, nuts and flax seeds (if using).

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes (KOD note: It took my loaf closer to 60 minutes) or until a skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan for 10-15 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Store in refrigerator, tightly wrapped.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 14, 2008; 7:41 AM ET Baking , Vegetarian/Vegan , Wellness
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Comments

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Hi Kim,

At a first glance, this recipe also looks pretty good for those people on modified diets for diabetes...but I am in no way a nutritionist or diabetes-expert. Just that a friend of mine is borderline and I'm hunting banana bread recipes to find one that I could make and bring as a hostess-gift.

The other BB recipes that I've seen and tried for diabetics have Splenda in them, and between you and me, that stuff is icky.

Thank you, and anyone else reading who may have more experience in this department, who can provide a little guidance. Rock on!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | March 14, 2008 9:11 AM

Hi Kim and bloggers,
This is off the topic but its St. Paddy's day and I'm planning to make the Guiness cake for the first time and I don't tend to bake a lot. Two questions: Is it really better to have a spring-form pan rather than a regular cake pan and what does the parchment paper really help with if you're already greasing the pan? Also, if I don't like cream cheese frosting (i know i'm weird) do you think a regular vanilla one would work ok?

Posted by: bahston | March 14, 2008 9:21 AM

Hi Kim,
Trader Joe's now carries agave as well. I've started using it in my homemade yogurt instead of honey or sugar and it's fantastic!

Posted by: Alexandria | March 14, 2008 1:37 PM

This looks great, I have a friend who is a vegetarian and I just may make this for her. I love making quick breads. I recently just made a Butternut Squash bread it was so good.

Thanks
Rachel Duncan
The Baked Blogger
http://bakedblog.com

Posted by: Rachel | March 14, 2008 3:18 PM

This sounds good-but I was wondering about the texture. I imagine it might be quite dense (in a good way).

Lyra
www.riceandbeansindc.blogspot.com

Posted by: Lyra | March 14, 2008 4:15 PM

Re. recipes for diabetics - according to Wikipedia, agave is 90% fructose and 10% glucose... in other words, it seems to have the same kinds of sugars that diabetics should avoid. So it's not really an alternative sweetener like Splenda.

Posted by: Reine de Saba | March 15, 2008 9:24 PM

Thanks Reine de Saba - I will keep looking...

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | March 16, 2008 7:55 AM

Hi Kim,
Do you know if the agave leads to the same kind of sugar-rush/crash that regular sugar does? I'm looking for any alternatives to sugar that won't leave my toddler cranky the way that sugar does.

Posted by: Toddler-parent | March 16, 2008 2:39 PM

toddler-parent, It is my understanding that agave, because of its low glycemic index, does not have the same sugar-rush/crash as regular sugar. It is absorbed more slowly by the body.
Re: assurance about diabetic-friendly: I cannot find an endorsement on the Diabetes Association page, so I would recommend consulting a nutritionist with diabetes expertise.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 17, 2008 11:37 AM

Check this site for oodles of recipes:

http://www.dvo.com/recipearchive.html

Posted by: Beverly | March 21, 2008 9:29 AM

Kimmy, just made this recipe for the second time. Best banana bread recipe ever. My two mods? I don't add the salt and instead of using pre-powdered cinammon I grind my own. It really pops.

Yum.

Posted by: Liz | March 25, 2008 10:39 AM

I have tried this recipe twice now with devastating results both times. Specifically, the loaves came out as mush. The first time I followed the recipe exactly and except that I baked the bread for 1:30 (rather than the 40min prescribed), and the second time around I reduced banana and juice and increased the flour but it barely helped. I have an oven thermometer so I know I'm not under-temp. I'm vegan, and as such may give this one more attempt; I will reduce banana, tofu and juice and bulk up the flour by a full cup just to see if this is even workable.

Posted by: Simon | April 12, 2008 1:34 AM

I tried this recipe last night. It was a complete mushy failure. Not sure what I did incorrectly. I followed the recipe exactly, except I had to cook the loaf for 1 hr and 20 minutes. It's still very mushy and dense. I was really hoping this would be a good protein source for my picky child. Any suggestions to fix this recipe?

Posted by: failed | April 21, 2008 1:48 PM

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