Passionate bakers sometimes find themselves short on butter (and long on overripe bananas). Not too long ago, one of our editors found herself in that position on a snowy winter weekend. Instead of trudging out to buy butter, she decided to bake the banana bread with only half the amount called for, plus a creative substitute to make up for the other half.
So, what’s this all-star substitute?
Applesauce is the ingredient that can save the day when you want to make banana bread and there’s not enough butter in the house. It adds moisture and tenderness, two of butter’s most important jobs in this recipe. And while it doesn’t have the same richness as butter, butter is not the only ingredient flavoring the bread. Don’t forget about the bananas, nuts, sugar and the baking process itself, which leads to further flavor development. So, don’t underestimate what this kid-friendly, shelf-stable ingredient can do for your banana bread.
In the name of science, we took our fellow editor’s experiment to the Betty Crocker Kitchens. For proper comparison, we made two loaves: one following the recipe as written with ½ cup butter, and the second with ¼ cup butter and ¼ applesauce.
The question that we wanted to answer was: “Would the loaf with the applesauce substitute still hold its own in a side-by-side comparison?”
Even with only ¼ cup butter, we found it was possible to use the creaming method, i.e. mixing butter and sugar until fluffy. This is one of the first steps in this recipe, and it’s crucial for a well-mixed batter that bakes up into a loaf with nice texture and shape. The action creates lots of tiny holes in the butter so that when you add the wet ingredients, and then the dry ingredients, they easily integrate into the butter-sugar mixture. Adding the ingredients in this order helps rule out the risk of over-mixing your dry ingredients, which can lead to gluten development and a chewy, tough loaf. Our batter turned out moist, well-mixed and not overworked, and it baked up into a lovely, golden-brown loaf that looked no different from the one baked with ½ cup butter.
The answer to our question turned out to be a resounding yes! But one question remained (the most important one!): How would it taste?
Our team of editors gathered around the cooling racks as soon as our loaves were out of the oven, lured by the intoxicating smell of fresh banana bread. After what felt like the longest-ever wait for it to cool, slices were shaved off and doled out for a side-by-side taste test. There were muffled mmm’s, brows furrowed with concentration, and more than one person asking, “Which one is which?”
The end result? The loaf made with applesauce held its own. These were our biggest takeaways:
■ Creaming is the key to texture. Thanks to the creaming method, both loaves baked to an ideal shape and had similarly tender textures and moist crumbs.
■ Flavor difference was minimal. Using a full stick of butter offered a more distinct buttery flavor and richness, as expected. But it was richness that we wouldn’t have missed if we hadn’t been eating the two loaves side by side.
Now that you’ve got this handy hack in your back pocket, a perfect loaf of banana bread is nearly always an option! Ready to give it a try?
How to make banana bread with applesauce
Follow the banana bread recipe below with this adjustment to step 2:
Mix sugar and butter in large bowl. Stir in applesauce and eggs until well blended. Add bananas, buttermilk and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt just until moistened. Stir in nuts. Pour into pans.
No applesauce? No worries! There are even more butter substitution options! You could also try it with ¼ cup sour cream or ¼ cup Greek yogurt in place of the applesauce—just remember, you’ll still need ¼ cup butter for that all-important creaming step.
1 ¼ cups sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups mashed very ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups all-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts, if desired
■ Move oven rack to low position so that tops of pans will be in center of oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms only of 2 loaf pans, 8 1/2×4 1/2×2 1/2 inches, or 1 loaf pan, 9x5x3 inches.
■ Mix sugar and butter in large bowl. Stir in eggs until well blended. Add bananas, buttermilk and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt just until moistened. Stir in nuts. Pour into pans.
■ Bake 8-inch loaves for about 1 hour, 9-inch loaf about 1 1/4 hours, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans and place top side up on wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.