There are few ingredients I cook with that I cannot stand to handle. At the top of that short list, which includes the stringy insides of a pumpkin, is overripe bananas.
Just-yellowed bananas, with their firm texture and not overly sweet taste, are enjoyable to eat — though not as enjoyable as apples or oranges, I would say. But as soon as they start to soften, the yuck timer starts.
At first, they just start to lose their bite. But within a few days, they go from mealy to squishy to downright soupy, all packaged up in that quickly browning skin.
Bananas ripen so quickly that it’s hard not to end up with a few of these sad specimens in the bowl on the table. But unlike other foods that decay on our watch and get tossed in the compost pile, bananas can have another life as they descend into mush.
Banana bread and smoothies are what many of us are trained to make with brown bananas. But if you spend any time on the Internet, you can find a creative subworld of mashed banana cooking that just might tempt even the most banana-averse of us to experiment.
Banana ice cream and banana pancakes are two of the most popular creations to make the rounds on blogs and recipe sites, but you can also find ways to use up leftover bananas in puddings, tarts and even granola. What these creative cooks have embraced is that the sugars that develop as a banana ripens can be a stealthy weapon in all kinds of dishes, from simple treats such as brownies and cookies to more laborious projects like doughnuts and cheesecakes.
Let’s start with the ice cream. With a single, high-pectin ingredient — frozen bananas — you can make a creamy frozen puree that does indeed taste like ice cream. Freeze bananas, puree them in a food processor, then freeze again. That’s it. Add some peanut butter and chocolate sauce and you could even call it peanut butter cup banana ice cream. Other flavor ideas: honey, instant espresso, caramel, Nutella or cookie butter, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, raisins, or, for a little crunch, sliced almonds or hempseeds. For additional creaminess, add a few tablespoons of coconut milk, heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk. As with just about anything sweet, feel free to add a splash of vanilla extract, too.
The banana pancakes are a little trickier to get right because bananas vary so much in sweetness and liquidity, and we aren’t used to such a strong cooked banana flavor.
You can make these banana pancakes with two ingredients: a mashed banana and an egg or two. They can taste either like the middle of French toast or a wet sponge, depending on your technique and your palate. I found that they taste better with a hint of vanilla or cinnamon, and the texture is greatly improved with a dash of baking powder and a tablespoon or two of flour.
If you’re more of a waffle person, don’t try to use this technique in a waffle maker. Just make your regular waffle batter and add a few mashed bananas. You can do the same thing with the egg mixture you whisk together for French toast.
One of the more eye-opening uses I’ve discovered recently came from a homemade granola that a colleague shared with me a few weeks ago. When I tasted it, I detected a hint of banana bread, and sure enough, he had mixed a mashed banana and almond butter with the oats and nuts before baking the granola. He enjoys it so much that he’s making a batch nearly every week.
If you are looking for ways to spice up traditional banana bread, consider adding a cream cheese filling made with cream cheese, sugar, an egg and a little flour.
No matter what you’re making with those overripe bananas, you can mash the banana with a potato masher, heavy whisk or even a fork on a plate.
If you are starting with frozen bananas that still have the peel on, you can microwave them for a few seconds to soften the skin and squeeze out the insides.
This is precisely the moment I hate most about using overripe bananas, so I’m surprised I never thought about peeling the bananas before freezing them.
My entire life, I’ve thrown brown bananas straight into the freezer, relying on their own skins to protect them from the cold. More often than not, I forget that they are there until they have dried up into shriveled, shivering boomerangs in the bottom of my freezer.
Peeling the bananas first and storing them in a zip-top freezer bag is one way to turn those frowns upside down, and after that, I now have plenty of options that are not banana bread.
Peanut Butter Banana Granola
The banana helps this granola clump together, and you can use either smooth or crunchy nut butter. For a real change of pace, try a hint of ground cayenne, ancho or chipotle pepper, which would take it more into the snack zone than the breakfast zone. If the granola isn’t as crunchy as you’d like after you’ve let it cool completely, return it to the oven for another 10 minutes. You can use some quick cooking oats, but make sure that at least two cups of the oatmeal mixture are rolled oats.
— Addie Broyles
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup almonds, peanuts, walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup pepitas or sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup coconut oil (can substitute olive or canola oil)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 small ripe bananas
3/4 cup almond or peanut butter
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Mix together the oats, almonds, pepitas, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. If the coconut oil is solid, melt it in the microwave or over the stove and stir in the maple syrup and vanilla extract.
Mash the bananas. You should have about 1 cup of bananas. Mix together the bananas and the nut butter. Combine the wet and dry mixtures, and toss to coat well.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Spread the mixture on the pan.
Bake for 30 minutes and then stir, turn and break up some of the larger granola pieces. Bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes. The granola will still be somewhat soft, but the color will have darkened. Let cool for 15 minutes and then break up into chunks. Cool to harden and then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
— Adapted from a recipe on Simple-Veganista.com
Chocolate Mug Cake
This vegan, gluten-free, single-serve cake serves all kinds of purposes, not the least of which is using a small amount of mashed banana. Banana bread usually calls for at least two overripe bananas, but this is good for when you might only have one. Feel free to use regular flour and regular milk if you aren’t gluten- or dairy-free.
— Addie Broyles
1/2 banana, mashed (about 1/4 cup)
1 Tbsp. peanut butter (optional)
1/4 tsp. coconut oil, melted
1 Tbsp. sugar or maple or agave syrup
3 Tbsp. gluten-free flour (such as oat flour, quinoa flour or brown rice flour)
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup nondairy milk (such as almond, coconut or hemp)
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate (optional)
In an oven safe mug, combine mashed banana, peanut butter, coconut oil and sugar or syrup. Mix in flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add milk and chopped dark chocolate, if using. Mix all ingredients together until well combined. If batter is too dry, add a little more almond milk; if mixture is too wet, add in more gluten-free flour.
Microwave mug for 90 seconds to two minutes. Check consistency; if not baked enough, cook for another 30 seconds at a time until desired consistency is achieved. Serves 1.
— Adapted from a recipe on MyVega.com
Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
2 overripe bananas, peeled and frozen
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup chocolate sauce
Place the frozen bananas in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add the peanut butter and chocolate sauce and puree again. Place the ice cream in a plastic container and freeze until hardened. Serves 4.
Need a good banana bread recipe? A few years ago, we ran one from an Austin baker named Hannah Casparian, who, as both a Hannah and a baker, is obligated to have a killer Hannah Banana Bread. Casparian has been hosting pop-up events as she scouts a location for a brick-and-mortar shop called Hannah Bakery, which she hopes to open in the next year or so. You can find her banana bread recipe at food.blog.austin360.com and more about her bakery at hannahbakery.com.