Can I let you in on a secret? It’s a little something I’ve realized as I’ve bookmarked and dog-eared a zillion different recipes for baked goods. Here it is: you don’t really need a ton of different recipes to be a great baker.
Us food bloggers and recipe developers churn out separate recipes for every tasty variation, but the truth is that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time. If you focus on finding the best base recipe, you’ll inevitably learn a lot about how ingredients and substitutions work together in the process. Once you’ve found that stellar base recipe, you can change it up to suit your whims thereafter. All of those other recipes floating around can inspire your next variation on your base recipe.
Take this banana “trail mix” bread, for instance. The base recipe originated from one of my favorite, most reliable recipe sources, Deb of Smitten Kitchen. (Always start with recipes from trustworthy sources.) She posted her double coconut muffins and mentioned that we could substitute mashed bananas for the yogurt in her recipe. Eureka!
That little nugget of substitution wisdom led to my whole wheat, honey-sweetened banana coconut muffins, a variation on her original that I really love. Then those muffins turned into the base for this loaf of bread, to which I added chopped, dried fruit and nuts, and substituted oats for some of the flour.
Want more examples? These banana oat pancakes turned into blueberry lemon yogurt pancakes when I substituted yogurt for banana. My all-time favorite basic banana bread recipe turned into pumpkin bread when I substituted pumpkin purée for the mashed banana and added extra warming spices. This maple-sweetened cranberry cornbread could turn into cheesy honey-jalapeño cornbread (sub honey for the maple syrup and mix in finely chopped jalapeño and cheese). My blueberry muffins could easily be cranberry-orange muffins or blackberry-thyme muffins. The same goes for these yogurt scones and this maple tea cake. If you love the base and the add-ins, you’ll more than likely love the result.
For even more variation inspiration, please check out my notes on natural sweetener substitutions in this quick molasses bread post, and all the marvelous suggestions in the comments on my banana bread and pumpkin bread posts. I get so giddy when you all try out my recipes and report back with your substitution notes and results. Thank you, sweet commenters, for sharing inspiration and suggestions with the rest of us.
I’m eager to hear how you change up this recipe to suit your taste and nutrition preferences. I’ll share what I think might work well in case it sparks an idea for you. Feel free to leave out any of the add-ins, but do include the coconut flakes as I believe them to be integral to the batter. Substitute any other kind of nuts for the pecans, any other dried fruits for the cherries and candied ginger, and any kind of chocolate or chocolate chips for the chopped dark chocolate. You could leave out the cinnamon and add lemon zest a brighter flavor, or substitute another natural sweetener for the honey.
I bet you could use melted butter instead of coconut oil (that swap generally works great), yogurt instead of banana (keep in mind that the resulting bread will be less sweet) or gluten-free flour instead of whole wheat pastry flour (I would guess gluten-free flour would work well because there isn’t a ton of flour to begin with). If you make any of these substitutions, please report back and let us know how it turns out!
- ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour
- ½ cup oats
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, divided
- ⅓ cup chopped candied ginger
- ⅓ cup chopped dried cherries or cranberries
- ½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
- ¼ cup chopped dark chocolate (about 1½ ounces, you may sub chocolate chips)
- ½ cup virgin coconut oil, melted
- 1 cup mashed ripe banana
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 large egg, preferably at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon turbinado (raw) sugar
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan (see note below on how to make muffins).
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in ½ cup shredded coconut, then mix in the chopped ginger, dried fruit, pecans and dark chocolate.
- In a separate, medium bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, mashed banana, honey, egg and vanilla.*
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup coconut. Top with a light sprinkle of turbinado (raw) sugar.
- Bake for until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes or longer. Let the bread cool in the pan before slicing. This bread is dense and not very easy to slice; I found that my sharp paring knife worked better than a serrated bread knife.
How to make muffins: If you want to make muffins, grease your muffin tin or line with muffin liners. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or longer, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Yields about 12 muffins.
*Preparation tips: If your coconut oil goes back to its solid state when you’re stirring the batter, just warm the mixture for short 30 second bursts in the microwave, stirring between each, just until it is melted again.
Recommended equipment: If you're in the market for a quality, non-toxic loaf pan, I love my Le Creuset stoneware loaf pan (shown above). It heats evenly and cleans easily. Highly recommended!
Make it vegan: Use either agave nectar or maple syrup instead of the honey. Also, substitute your favorite dairy free chocolate chips for the dark chocolate.