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.
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
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)
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.
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