RECIPES: Go bananas! Desserts get their sweetness from this popular yellow fruit

Honey-Spiced Banana French Toast (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Honey-Spiced Banana French Toast (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Throughout this pandemic, bananas — especially in baked goods — have been having a moment. Although not necessarily to the extent of sourdough, Dalgona coffee, hot chocolate bombs, baked feta pasta or that folded tortilla thing everyone was doing on TikTok.

We even jumped on the banana bandwagon with recipes for Nice Cream (a creamy, soft-serve-like dessert made with frozen bananas), banana Bundt cake and most recently, banana cream cake.

Bananas are the most popular fruit in the United States, with apples and oranges, respectively, rounding out the top three.

And it's no wonder bananas are so popular.

They're nutritious, portable and plentiful.

One medium-size ripe banana contains about 110 calories, no fat, 1 gram protein, 28 grams carbohydrate (15 grams naturally occurring sugar), no cholesterol, 1 mg sodium, 5 grams fiber and 450 mg potassium.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans consume an average of almost 14 pounds of bananas per person each year. That's roughly 50 bananas per person.

While 2020 figures aren't available, a March article in The Packer, a newspaper and website that covers the produce industry, noted that the pandemic may have increased banana demand and consumption.

We've definitely upped our banana purchases over the past year. So what are we doing with all those bananas?

Many are eaten fresh out of hand, quite a few are given as dog treats, but most are blended into smoothies and milkshakes, mashed and baked into breads and brownies, and sauteed for topping waffles and French toast.

Here are the recipes:

Oat Milk Mango Banana Smoothie (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Oat Milk Mango Banana Smoothie (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

This vegan smoothie gets a touch of creaminess from homemade oat milk.

Oat Milk Mango Banana Smoothies

  • 1 ¼ cups oat milk (recipe follows)
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag frozen mango chunks
  • 2 bananas, peeled and cut into chunks (fresh or frozen)
  • 3 to 4 dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend on high until smooth. Divide among glasses and serve.

Makes 3 cups.

Recipe adapted from "Betty Crocker Snacks: Easy Ways to Satisfy Your Cravings" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25)

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10-Minute Oat Milk

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

In a blender, combine oats, water, maple syrup and salt. Cover and blend on medium for 20 to 30 seconds. Do not over blend.

Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth or butter muslin and place over a large bowl. Pour oat mixture into strainer and let drain. Do not squeeze or press mixture. Discard oat pulp.

Transfer to a quart jar and refrigerate. Shake well before using.

Makes about 3 cups.

"Betty Crocker Snacks: Easy Ways to Satisfy Your Cravings" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25)

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Bananas sauteed in butter with honey and masala chai spices make an excellent topping for French toast. Black pepper with banana may sound a little odd, but this combination really works.

Honey-Spiced Banana French Toast

  • For the French toast:
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar (light or dark)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 slices brioche
  • Butter, for frying
  • For the bananas:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Dash ground cloves
  • 2 just-ripe bananas, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • Whipped cream, optional, for serving

For the French toast: In a large shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk together the eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, both sugars, milk, heavy cream and vanilla extract.

Dip each slice of brioche into the egg mixture, making sure both sides are well coated. Transfer dipped bread to a plate and let rest for a few minutes.

In a 12-inch skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the dipped bread in a single layer — it will be snug, but you should be able to fit all four slices — and cook until the undersides are golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully flip each slice and continue cooking until golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Divide among 2 to 4 serving plates; set aside.

Wipe skillet clean.

In the same skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the honey and spices. Add the bananas and cook 2 to 3 minutes; carefully turn and cook 1 minute more or until bananas are softened and heated through.

Serve bananas and sauce over French toast topped with whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Bananas adapted from "Betty Crocker Snacks: Easy Ways to Satisfy Your Cravings" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25)

“The King” of Brownies (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
“The King” of Brownies (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Here bananas team with old favorites, chocolate and peanut butter, for a luscious brownie with just a hint of banana.

"The King" of Brownies

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar, divided use
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, combine the bananas, egg, ½ cup of brown sugar and the vanilla extract with an electric mixer until smooth.

In a small saucepan, combine the remaining ½ cup brown sugar and butter; cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the sugar has melted. Remove from the heat. Add chocolate chips and stir until smooth.

Beat the butter-chocolate mixture into the banana mixture. Add the flour and cocoa and stir to combine.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Drop spoonfuls of peanut butter over the top of the batter and then drag a butter knife through it to create swirls.

Bake until the edges are set and a tester inserted near the center comes out slightly moist — 25 to 45 minutes.

Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container or tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Makes 16 brownies.

Recipe adapted from "Flavor for All: Everyday Recipes and Creative Pairings" by James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; October 2020)

Naturally Sweet Banana Bread (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Naturally Sweet Banana Bread (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

This banana bread is made without any processed sugar; it gets its sweetness from dates and bananas. The resulting bread is moist and sweet, but not so sweet it's like eating dessert.

Naturally Sweet Banana Bread

  • 10 ounces dates, pitted
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 3 very ripe bananas, divided use
  • 1 egg PLUS 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt OR sour cream
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 tablespoons coconut oil OR butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 ½-by-4 ½-inch loaf pan with baking spray or line with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of overhang on each side.

Place the pitted dates in a medium bowl. Cover the dates with the water. Set aside until the dates are softened, about 10 minutes. Drain the dates, reserving 2 tablespoons of the soaking liquid.

Mash 2 of the bananas in a medium bowl and add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Combine the dates, reserved soaking liquid and yogurt in a food processor. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes; some flecks of skin may remain, but there should be no pieces of fruit left. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the banana mixture and stir together until smooth.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Beat on low speed until the coconut oil and flour are a mealy powder, about 30 seconds. Add the date and banana mixture and continue beating until just combined and no visible flour remains. Fold in nuts, if using.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Peel the remaining banana and cut in half vertically. Press the halves, cut sides up, into the batter so that they are slightly offset. Bake until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes, loosely tenting the cake with foil for the last 15 to 20 minutes to prevent the top from becoming too dark. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn or lift the bread from the pan. Cut into slices and serve, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 loaf.

Recipe adapted from "Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day," by Jennifer Tyler Lee and Anisha I. Patel (Workman, 2020)

Banana and Cajeta Milkshake (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Banana and Cajeta Milkshake (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

This milkshake can be made with frozen bananas and fresh milk for a lighter option or fresh bananas and vanilla ice cream for an indulgent treat.

Banana and Cajeta Milkshake

  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and cut into chunks (fresh or frozen)
  • 3 cups very cold milk OR vanilla ice cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons cajeta or dulce de leche
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons rum, optional

Place the bananas, milk or ice cream, vanilla, cajeta or dulce de leche and rum, if using, in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

Divide between two glasses and serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

Recipe from "Pati's Mexican Table" by Pati Jinich

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