Quick Molasses Bread // Notes on Baking with Natural Sweeteners

quick molasses (or honey or maple) bread

I’m always on the hunt for great whole grain, naturally sweetened baked good recipes and I’m happy to share another with you today. Well technically, it’s really more like three quick bread recipes in one, because the resulting loaves taste so different depending on which sweetener you use! I came across Joy’s recipe for quick molasses bread on a cold night this winter. Looking for an excuse to crank up the oven, I peeled myself off the couch, poured myself a drink, mixed all six (6!) ingredients together and popped it in the oven.

An hour later, I pulled out a dense and heavy, moist molasses bread. I nibbled on a corner piece and wondered, could I make this with honey? I poured myself another drink and mixed up some more quick bread batter, this time with honey instead of molasses. The recipe is so simple that I had almost had it memorized by the second go-around. The next thing I knew, I was nibbling on delicious honey bread. Since then I’ve tried the bread with blackstrap molasses and maple syrup; each loaf has its own signature characteristics but they are all delicious.

molasses bread ingredients

My dear friend/college roommate Grace and I have been in an ongoing discussion about natural sweeteners in the comments of my banana bread post. Neither Grace or I did much baking when we lived together, but we’ve both developed an interest in the years since and I love comparing results with her. She has such a voice, in person and in writing, that when I read her notes I hear her speaking them in my head (have a I told you that, G?). Every time I hear from her, I feel like we’re back in our cozy living room on 315 College Avenue and the discussion is as lively as ever.

Today I thought I’d publicly share my notes for this recipe with Grace and all of you so we can open up the discussion. I don’t have anything groundbreaking to report, but I hope you glean some useful information and feel more confident playing around with the natural sweeteners in your pantry after reading my notes. Here we go!

Honey is the sweetest, and the signature honey flavor really shines through when used in baked goods. The flavor will depend on the type of honey used. Clover honey, the most common type, is milder than most and the kind that I use in my baked goods. Honey browns easily in baking so most recommend baking with honey at a lower temperature. Some recommending reducing the temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Both my banana bread and this bread recipe specify a 325 degree oven, which seems ideal.

Molasses is less sweet than honey but imparts a nice molasses flavor to the bread. The resulting bread could go either sweet or savory depending on toppings. As expected, molasses that is lighter in color is also lighter in flavor and produces a loaf with a lighter color.

Blackstrap molasses is the most concentrated of molasses and is also the highest in minerals. Slices from my blackstrap loaf required a considerable amount of almond butter or cream cheese to balance the strong, bitter flavor of the blackstrap molasses. I actually learned to love the intensity of the flavor, but I would only recommend making all blackstrap bread to hardcore molasses lovers. You can ease the intensity by mixing blackstrap with lighter molasses or honey for a total of 1/2 cup.

When you’re shopping for molasses, be sure to check the ingredients label. I grabbed the only organic molasses in the store, which was labeled on the front simply as molasses, but the ingredients label revealed that it was entirely blackstrap.

Real maple syrup imparted the least amount of flavor to the bread. It had nice mapley undertones and a light sweetness. Unexpectedly, the maple syrup either enhanced or allowed the cornmeal flavor to shine through. That loaf almost tasted like cornbread (in a good way!) and I’m trying to adapt it into a more authentic cornbread recipe. Maple syrup comes in grade A and grade B. Grade A is less expensive, easier to find and less intensely flavored. I used grade B maple syrup this time, but I have not noticed a significant difference between Grade A and Grade B, so either will do.

I did not try making a loaf with agave nectar, but based on other baking experiences, I think it would turn out fine. Agave has a neutral flavor, so it would just contribute sweetness. Agave is less sweet than honey. I tried substituting agave for honey in my zucchini brownies once and the brownies turned out bittersweet. Agave’s health benefits are debatable and I enjoy the taste of other, less processed natural sweeteners so I tend to use it sparingly.

quick molasses bread batter
Further considerations for substituting one natural sweetener for another in baked goods:

Keep in mind that the ratio of sweetener to other ingredients was relatively low, but based on the results from this bread experiment, all three of the natural sweeteners used can be substituted for each other 1 for 1. The most important considerations are flavor and the level of sweetness desired.

Roughly speaking, when comparing 1 cup of honey, maple syrup or agave to 1 cup of sugar, they are each more sweet than sugar. Molasses, on the other hand, is about half as sweet as sugar (source: Grainlady). When you’re looking at bottles of sweeteners in the store, the darker shades of each natural sweetener generally have stronger flavors. By the way it is best to buy organic natural sweeteners since they are concentrated products.

Feel free to mix different natural sweeteners to achieve the level of sweetness and flavor desired. For instance, mixing a bit of molasses with agave nectar would produce a sweet loaf with a very light molasses flavor. Honey would also sweeten up molasses but it will also add its own flavor. And on and on!

whole wheat quick breads

whole wheat honey bread

Quick Whole Wheat Molasses (or honey or maple!) Bread
5.0 from 7 reviews
Recipe type: Bread
  • Oil or butter for greasing pan
  • 1½ cups milk of choice and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or 1⅔ cups buttermilk or plain yogurt)
  • 2½ cups white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal (I prefer medium grind cornmeal)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup molasses (or honey or maple syrup, see notes on blackstrap molasses above)
  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-by-4-inch or 9-by 5-inch loaf pan (Bittman recommends a non-stick loaf pan but I prefer my stoneware loaf pan).
  2. If using buttermilk or yogurt, ignore this step. Make soured milk: gently warm the milk gently (1 minute in the microwave will suffice) and add vinegar. Set the soured milk aside.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients. Stir molasses (or honey or maple syrup) into the soured milk, buttermilk or yogurt. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a big spoon, just until combined. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan.
  4. Bake until firm and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Allow the bread to cool in the loaf pan for 15 minutes, then carefully invert the bread onto a wire rack.
  5. If you can stand it, let the bread rest for a day. I’ve found that whole wheat quick breads taste better the next day, when the flavors have had more time to develop.
  • Adapted from Mark Bittman via Joy the Baker
  • Yields 1 loaf.
  • I have tried using both milk and yogurt and didn't notice a big difference in texture either way. I use milk most often because it's less expensive.
  • This eggless quick bread could easily be made vegan by substituting your preferred non-dairy milk for the dairy milk.
  • Molasses bread is great with almond butter, cream cheese or homemade citrus curd with Greek yogurt!
  • This bread freezes wonderfully. I slice it beforehand so I can pull out a slice of bread any time. Defrost it and boom—breakfast is served.
  • The molasses bread has also been seen on my homemade citrus curd post.
  • Many thanks to Native Roots Market in Norman for supplying the local clover honey for my honey loaf!

Further reading materials:


  1. says

    Thank you for the sweetener lesson. It is always good to have an idea on what to expect from natural sweeteners when baking goods. Some people like their baked stuff sweet, some just slightly sweet. I personally like mine not too sweet and as much as possible I try to use honey… I have not experimented on molasses yet, but after reading this post, I think it’s time to start getting to know other sweeteners besides honey, maple, and agave. This looks like a delicious bread! As always, gorgeous pictures!

  2. says

    I love that picture of the molasses!

    This was interesting. I use blackstrap molasses whenever molasses is called for but didn’t realize that maybe I shouldn’t be doing that.

    I love maple syrup but hate how much of it you have to use to get it to really sweeten things up. I use honey in almost everything and it hasn’t failed me yet. :)

    • says

      Hi Trish! I have not tried the bread with non-dairy milk but I am almost certain it would work. Just be sure to add vinegar as directed so the vinegar can react with the baking soda. If you try it, please let us know how it turns out!

  3. says

    Love this focus on natural sweeteners. I agree with you that different sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, molasses) offer their own unique twist on any recipe. Baking with honey is fantastic, especially because there are SO many varieties out there. Lovely, Kate!

  4. Cassandra says

    I just made this and it turned out good. Except for the taste. Maybe it was something I did, but it was really bland and didn’t have much flavor at all. However, the texture was great – soft and moist. I put on a little butter and some cinnamon, and it tasted better. I used clover honey, and while I know it’s a natural sweetener and I can’t expect the same sweetness as refined sugar, this was almost tasteless. The texture was perfect but the taste really fell short of my expectations.

    • says

      Hi Cassandra, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry the bread didn’t meet your expectations. I’ve found that quick breads, especially whole wheat quick breads, taste better after resting for a day so I hope you’ve enjoyed the bread a little more since the you made it. Did you make it with regular whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour? I have only tried it with white whole wheat flavor, which has less wheat flavor to it. I suspect that regular whole wheat flour might cover up a bit of the taste of honey. The bread isn’t super sweet but I enjoy the light honey flavor, and of course if it’s not sweet enough you could always top it with more honey. Anyway, if you’re looking for a sweeter quick bread, I highly recommend my banana bread recipe!

      • Cassandra says

        I did use regular whole wheat pastry flour. I think you’re right, I think that was what covered up the sweetness of the honey. Oh well, it was so easy to make, so no big deal. I’ve made your banana bread before as well; it was AMAZING! Love your blog! And yay for pet adoption! :)

  5. says

    I have to say I’ve become addicted to honey. There is actually a guy that has his own bee farm in my town (which I’m still in shock) and it may be the best thing ever (unless I lived in a place that had fresh maple syrup- that may surpass honey!)

    As for agave, I used it for a bit but the more research I do, the less I use (in fact, I’ve been mainly sticking to honey, molasses, and maple syrup.)

    Great Post, Kate!

  6. says

    I’ve just discovered your blog and am enjoying it fully, drawn by your love of Cookie and of course, that fact that you are a Kate as well. I adore a lovable pooch, but at this point in my life, I’m a crazy cat lady with two lovable furballs.

    This is a post that just sings out to me on a personal level, as #1- I love quickbreads with a passion bordering on madness, and #2- I really {{really}} want to give up using processed white sugar for good and love finding recipes where the footwork has been done in the quest to reform them using natural sweeteners. And hooray! Here’s both.

    If it wasn’t 6:30am, and me needing to rush out to work, I’d probably bake up a loaf of this bread. Because, like you, when the desire hits me, peeling myself off the couch and pouring a drink is the impetus to a good baking session. That and some good jazz.


  7. says

    Love your run down of the natural sweeteners. I love using them in baking as well. Added this recipe to my must-make list!

    PS: Totally unrelated but I almost named my second dog Cookie. We ended up naming him Cooper, but since then I have had a special place in my heart for any dogs I come across named Cookie :)

  8. Sandy Fackler says

    Hi Kate,
    I love your column and all the great recipes. This one contatins a statement I want to address. You said, about agave syrup, “its health benefits are debatable.” That may be true unless you are a diabetic or on an anti-cancer eating plan, as I am. The glycemic index for agave syrup is lower than any natural sweetener including honey and maple syrup, except for liquid Stevia. I used to use Agave in my coffee until I switched to Stevia. And since the serving size for Agave syrup is 2 tablespoons, I still use Agave if I want whole grain pancakes, a waffle or french toast for a change of pace. Since sugar and starches in the diet create a welcoming body terrain for tumor growth, I obviously am staying alive because I stick strictly to the anticancer eating plan.

    I just thought some of your other readers might be interested in the anticancer and diabetic benefits of agave syrup.

    • says

      Sandy, thank you so much for your comment. You’re right, agave is a great choice for diabetics and those on anti-cancer diets like yourself. I’ve read some controversial information about just how processed agave can be but it is still a valuable natural sweetener. I wasn’t motivated to try it with this bread recipe because agave’s neutral flavor wouldn’t contribute anything but sweetness to the bread, and I really love the flavors that maple, honey and molasses add to the bread. Thanks again for your comment!

  9. says

    I’ve never tried molasses bread but I an anxious to try this recipe —you got me with the whole wheat. My grandmother used to bake molasses cookies when I was little and they were my favorite. Once you develop a taste for molasses, there’ nothing quite like it.

  10. says

    I love this!! It’s awesome that you tried this recipe with so many types of sweeteners, and that it’s so adaptable that it came out great every time. Thanks for all the great info, and for a great recipe!

  11. says

    Hi…just came across your blog and I love it. I am a chef (in training) at the Natural Gourmet School in NYC. Your recipes and writing are lovely. I can’t wait to read more!

  12. says

    Kate, thanks for the super helpful post. I am really into alternative sweeteners and even more so since I sadly gave up sugar for the new year. But as you so beautifully show, there are many other options. And I love that each one brings a distinct flavor and texture to the final dish.

  13. Howard says

    Made this for breakfast this morning with a few alterations. I used 1 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup skim. I used 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses with 1/2 cup honey. Next time maybe two tbl molasses but this was delicious with cream cheese as you described. Thanks for posting it.

    • says

      So happy to hear that you are enjoying the quick bread! I love that you added some molasses along with the honey. The options are endless!

  14. Tara says

    I’ve got a jar of molasses left over from making ginger cookies and this looks like the perfect recipe to use it in! Will try it out soon, thanks. :)

  15. Dorkusbalorkus says

    This sounds delicious. I stumbled upon this while searching for ways to add iron to my son’s diet. So, i plan on trying it with molasses. I was thinking I could bake this in a cast iron loaf pan for an extra iron boost. But maybe even a cast iron muffin pan would work better for maximum iron? Any idea on Whether I would have to alter any part of the recipe, especially cook time? Thanks!

    • Dorkusbalorkus says

      Omg, I just tried the molasses version in my stoneware (waiting on cast iron scone pan to ship). We put landolakes cinnamon butter on it. Holy freaking cow it is sooooo good! I think this would be great for a breakfast with company. For a less healthy treat, maybe add some raisins and cream cheese FROSTING. Oh I can’t wait to do that. ;) how long can this stay out on the counter?

      • says

        So glad you tried the bread and love it! I think the bread will be fine out on the counter for at least a few days. If you’re worried about it, store it in the fridge. It freezes well, too! Cream cheese frosting is a great idea, you can’t go wrong there!

    • says

      I’m so sorry I’ve been behind on responding to comments over the past few days. I’m a huge fan of cast iron myself and I love baking with cast iron (see my pesto pizza recipe, falafel recipe, homemade bread recipe for proof!). That said, I’m not sure how the cast iron loaf pan will effect cooking time, I suspect it may cook a little faster in cast iron so maybe check it 10 minutes early. I think you could bake this bread in a 10″ cast iron skillet like you would corn bread, in which case it would probably take half (or less) of the time specified. I suspect a muffin pan would work better for maximum iron but again, I’m no expert. Good luck!

  16. Jen says

    I made the molasses version, and it was amazing. It freezes well, and makes perfect toast when you reheat it in the microwave. I recommend a slice with some almond butter and slices of banana.

  17. Justeen says

    I made this bread with blackstrap molasses and soured almond milk. It has a good texture and tastes great! I’ve been eating it Trader Joe’s pumpkin cream cheese spread on top – delicious!!!

    • says

      Thanks for commenting, Justeen. Glad you’re enjoying the bread! I may have to hunt down some of that pumpkin cream cheese spread the next time I go to TJ’s. Sounds dangerously good.

  18. Anne says

    Hi Kate:

    Thanks for the recipe! I tried the bread with blackstrap molasses first, as we are looking for healthy snacks for the little ones. We all liked it, although I might try adding a bit of honey to the molasses next time. For a very decadent serving addition to the molasses version- try with Brown Cow’s Cream on Top greek yogurt and berries!


  19. tanya says

    I am currently eating the blackstrap molasses and I love it! I was/am iron deficient and was eating blackstrap a lot so now I love the flavour. My mom makes a lot of really good homemade bread and she is not a fan of BS molasses so she didn’t like it but my dad did. I also put a cup of chopped walnuts because I love them in banana bread. I looked at your other recipes while waiting and they look really interesting. I’m looking forward to your entrees section and the cool looking salads.

    • says

      Thanks, Tanya! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the bread with blackstrap. I really liked the blackstrap bread with almond butter or cream cheese, if you want to give those toppings a try. I also have a gingerbread pancakes recipe that calls for some molasses.

    • says

      I’m sorry, Michelle. I don’t have any experience with stevia. I really like the flavor that maple syrup/molasses/honey contribute to this quick bread recipe.

  20. Marta says

    I made this with white spelt flour and no cornmeal and maple syrup. I chose those ingredients, because that is what I had in my pantry and fridge. It turned out amazing and moist with just a hint of sweetness.

  21. Emily says

    I just pulled this bread out of the oven and it’s reeaaaally flat. I’m not sure why this might have happened, though I did sub 1/2 cup oat flour for the cornmeal and I just used regular apple cider vinegar instead of the raw, unfiltered Bragg’s kind. Could either of these subs have prevented the bread from rising?

    • says

      Hi Emily, I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner! I suspect that your baking soda may have gone bad. You also want to be careful not to over mix the batter. Neither of your substitutions should have much effect on the final result. I’m glad you enjoyed the flavor of it, though. Better luck next time!

  22. Emily says

    Update from the comment above…
    I had a slice of this bread for breakfast and I LOVE the flavor and the nice hint of sweetness from the maple syrup. I will definitely be experimenting more with this recipe to try to get it to rise higher (maybe white wwf instead of regular wwf?)
    Anyway, thanks again for an awesome recipe!

  23. Mary Harris says

    Made one loaf of your bread with regular molasses, regular wheat flour, and everything else just as you wrote. Made second loaf same but added honey also … my thoughts: husband likes not-too-sweet while grandkids like sweet.
    Both loaves baked up wonderfully, looked great but no one in the family liked the taste of either of the loafs. Personally, I was very deflated after reading the reviews of this bread. I WILL try the recipe again and try some substituting of ingredients …

    • says

      Hmm, Mary, I’m sorry the bread didn’t go over well with your family. Perhaps they don’t like the flavor of molasses? If you used blackstrap molasses, that can be an overpowering flavor. Another idea—could your whole wheat flour have gone rancid? Whole wheat flour goes bad more quickly than all-purpose flour. Rancid whole wheat flour makes baked goods taste bitter.

  24. says

    I just tried this recipe with molasses — absolutely scrumptious! Dense, moist, with an incredible molasses aroma. My family loved it, and I can’t believe it doesn’t have any eggs or oil.

  25. Jimbo says

    I just made this today. It is awesome. I just started baking at my roommates suggestion, and this is the best bread I have made so far.
    Thanks. Jimbo

    5 star review from my roommate.

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