Rye Banana Bread with Homemade Nutella

Rye Banana Bread & Homemade Nutella

Jump straight to the recipe →

To be honest, I think bananas are a pathetic fruit” – Andy Murray (Hitting Back, 2008)

Baking with whole grains is one part of this healthy eating thing that I have been studiously ignoring. White wheat flour makes the best cakes. FACT.  The absence of gluten in most alternative flours more often than not results in cakes that are dense and heavy, or dry and overly crumbly. That, or they have so much bicarbonate of soda in they taste like Imperial Leather.

Sure, the internet is laden with recipes for gluten-free cakes and muffins, with stunning pictures and glowing reviews, but who really has the time and energy to take a punt on a cake that might turn out like a doorstop? You’ll have to wash all those bowls and clean the KitchenAid for God’s sake.

Besides, I used to tell myself, ‘healthy baking’ is a bit self-delusional isn’t it? A cake is a cake is a cake. Yes, you may have chosen agave or maple syrup rather than caster sugar, used coconut flour and loaded it with bananas (sugar) and dried fruit (more sugar) but it is still a treat and you shouldn’t be eating it every day. And if you’re only eating cake at the weekend, will it really hurt to have a slice of your favourite tried and tested lemon drizzle cake? Probably not.

But that’s not the spirit, is it? This is a so-called ‘healthy eating’ blog after all and we all like a challenge from time to time.

By healthy baking I do NOT mean baking everything with gluten-free flour.  Most gluten-free flour blends (and you do need a blend when baking as no one alternative grain has the right protein and starch structure) are mainly comprised of rice, potato or maize flours plus either tapioca starch or xanthan gum. OK, so you’ve not got gluten but what you do have is just another load of heavily refined (mainly white) flours that aren’t nutritionally better than plain flour. Do you want to eat that if you don’t need to avoid gluten altogether?

What I am talking about is flours from wholegrains that haven’t been stripped of all their vitamins and minerals and retain some fibre (some of which also happen to be gluten free) – wholewheat, rye, buckwheat and spelt are currently on my list for baking experimentation.

What I have learned so far is that wholegrain baking (and, by extension, gluten free baking) is about picking your battles. You’re unlikely to knock up a wholewheat Victoria Sponge that will send people dashing back for seconds. Paul Hollywood is almost certainly not going to like your buckwheat swiss roll enough to whisk you away on his motorbike (if that’s what you’re into, and a surprising number of people are).

But some of those very chewy chocolate brownies that everyone loves? They contain a pretty small amount of flour in the first place so a non-wheat flour substitution might not render the whole thing offensive (chestnut flour, I am told, is very good in brownies). And then there are the cakes or quick breads traditionally made with fruits or vegetables (think banana bread, carrot cake, blueberry muffins) that already have some of the moisture to help the gluten free flours along.

Which all brings us very neatly to this absolutely brilliant rye banana bread. I came across this while looking for something to do with rye flour that wasn’t ‘proper’ bread. Rye has lots of fibre and high levels of potassium, zinc, vitamin E, a variety of B vitamins and antioxidants and is relatively low GI compared to wheat. It does contain gluten, but its soft gluten structure means that it doesn’t rise very well (hence 100% rye bread comes in those small dense loaves) so a fruit-based quick bread seemed like a pretty good place to start my rye experiment.

This recipe is by the Irish Sunday Independent columnist Susan Jane White, whose book The Extra Virgin Kitchen is one of the only ‘health’ cookbooks I have in my kitchen. It is pretty hardcore – wheat, sugar and dairy free – but there is some really great stuff in there. It does mean, though, that this recipe uses coconut oil, rather than butter. Coconut oil is, we are told, going to save the world but the extra virgin stuff that has all the (alleged) health benefits is very expensive so do try and find a small tub if you aren’t convinced you’ll use it. (I am still to be convinced that it works for many things – it is just too, you know, coconutty to scramble my eggs in – but it is great in smoothies and you can stick it on your skin/hair if all else fails).

I hadn’t originally intended to go full-on exclusion diet baking, rather just substitute rye for wheat but this looked so good that I figured I’d give the recipe a first shot in its unadulterated form and tinker afterwards if needs be. This really does work beautifully as it is though and there is no coconut overtone at all. The texture is perfect – moist but crumbly enough to still be a ‘bread’.

{Update: the brilliant Susan Jane recently talked to us over on Mr Fox about feeding her family, her new baking book The Virtuous Tart and loads more besides. And you can find more of her recipes over there too}.

Rye Banana Bread with Homemade Nutella
From Susan Jane White’s Extra Virgin Kitchen. If coconut flour eludes you, it will work just fine with all rye – see notes.
  • The Dry Stuff
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour (I used Tiana)
  • 1/4 cup rye flour.
  • handful of dried dates, chopped
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp flaked sea salt
  • The Wet Stuff
  • 3 cups mashed banana (2/3 ripe bananas)
  • 3 medium eggs, beaten
  • 5tbsp melted coconut oil (I like the flavour of Tiana best of those I have tried)
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup (I used 2 and found it very sweet)
  • 2 tsp cider vinegar (or 1 tbsp lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • For the “Nutella”
  • These are the ‘official’ measurements. I just took some hazelnut butter from Whole Foods and stirred in the cocoa powder and syrup to taste. [/url]).
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened hazelnut butter
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp good quality maple syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan.
  2. Line your bread tin and got yourself 2 large bowls.
  3. In bowl 1 mix together the dry ingredients.
  4. In bowl 2 mix together the wet ingredients.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and beat together with a balloon whisk.
  6. Transfer mixture to the tin. If you have any banana leftover, stick some slices on top (for your toddler to pick off later).
  7. Bake for 40 minutes. (Mine took 50 but it may have been because of the wide pie tin I cooked it in. Check that a skewer comes out clean).
  8. Cool on wire rack and eat with the “Nutella”.
The original recipe calls for a “small/medium” bread tin. I realised I had lost mine once I had started making the mixture so lined a small pie tin and used that – it was a slightly odd shape but was fine. I would suggest a 1lb loaf tin is what you are after. [br][br]Make sure your tin is lined and ready to go and your oven preheated before you mix your ingredients as the baking powder starts working as soon as you mix the liquid ingredients in and you want as much of that magic to happen in the oven as possible.[br][br]If you don’t have coconut flour you could make this entirely with rye flour. Equally if you want to go gluten free you could do 100% coconut flour, although it will be slightly drier. I am a rank amateur at all things to do with coconut oil (other than smoothie making) so really wouldn’t like to presume to tell you how to substitute it for butter, or anything else. The internet assures me that you can switch it 1:1 with butter though so if you want to try it that way blame the internet and not me. (But if it is DOES work please let me know).[br][br]Susan Jane advises that honey does not work as a substitute for the maple syrup, and that nuts will dry the mixture out if added. I have no reason to suspect she is lying.

This will keep for a few days in a tin but it isn’t that big so will probably get snaffled in a day or two.

Kitchen song of the day: Birdhouse in Your Soul – They Might Be Giants (Flood) 


The Buckwheat Adventure - Healthy Eating for Normal People (anything but another kale & quinoa salad)

You May Also Like

Duck & Honey Plum Sauce {+ why cauliflower pizzas are wrong}

Thai Squid Salad

Thai Squid Salad {+ other Asian salad stories}

Chicken and Pumpkin with Soy & Star Anise

Lemon Chard Aloo