At our shop, March is birthday month. A ridiculous number of our employees are Pisces — which is interesting if you believe in astrology. I am a Gemini, so of course I am skeptical of the whole thing.
Since I am the store's main treat baker, I try to bring in something homemade in mid-March to celebrate all the birthdays and show my coworkers I appreciate them. I like to make my bakes vegan, soy-free and gluten-free whenever possible to include several staff members with sensitivities. (I also enjoy a challenge!) This year I stocked up on vegan butter and gluten-free flour, but I never had a chance to use them. We closed the store on March 16 and I have been working from home ever since, with nobody to bake for except myself and my boyfriend.
Baking and cooking are hobbies I have had for a long time. I remember my first time following a recipe was in the third grade, when I made a graham cracker crust in a cup, then froze it before filling it with ice cream. At age 18, I baked a wedding cake for a high school friend, the first in my circle to get married. I had some trouble with the layer sizes, and was very confused about fondant. I did make some bangin' sugar roses for the decoration, though.
Normally, I might think of a recipe or two and then go shopping for ingredients, but it is also fun to freestyle with the things I already have. In quarantine, this is more important than ever. I am not going to the store and potentially risking people's lives for ground allspice when I could just use cinnamon instead. Substitutions are a must, and the website Cook's Thesaurus has always been my favorite reference for ingredient swaps. It looks like it was made in the '90s (because it was) but it has never steered me wrong.
Today I looked around my kitchen and saw a few things that sparked my creativity. First, a big bag of oatmeal, the ultimate survival food. Is anyone else eating a ton of this stuff at the moment? In my fridge I still had that tasty-looking vegan butter. And finally, two bananas that were past their prime for eating raw, but absolutely perfect for banana bread!
I looked up a few recipes online including my favorite banana bread recipe, and considered the ways I could make them vegan and gluten-free. Vegan baking is pretty easy in my opinion since there are so many great vegan ingredients, but for me, baking gluten-free is where the biggest challenges come in. How do I build structure without gluten? How do I end up with something light and fluffy instead of dense and gluey?
I began to gather ingredients from my kitchen. I decided Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 gluten-free flour blend and gluten-free quick oats would give my banana bread most of its structure. Many gluten-free and vegan recipes use a flax egg (a mixture of ground flax and water the same volume as an egg) to add leavening to baked goods. Without leavening, a loaf of banana bread won't rise and will basically just turn into a brick when you bake it. The only problem: I didn't have any flax! I looked up some possible substitutions and discovered the chia egg, which is just like a flax egg but made with chia seeds. Score!
Some of the vegan banana bread recipes I looked at seemed a little too “healthy” if you know what I mean. Many of them had very little sugar and instead relied on non-dairy milk for their moisture. I have never added milk to banana bread and didn't feel like starting now, plus I had no oat or nut milk handy. A fun fact about moisture in baking is that sugar acts as a wet ingredient because it melts when hot, so if you add enough sugar you need less moisture from other sources. I made a plan with all the ingredients I would use and the likely quantities, figuring I would adjust as I went if anything looked off.
One other gluten-free baking technique I use is to give the batter a nice whisking before putting it into the pan. I feel like this adds some extra air bubbles and more much-needed lightness to the finished product.
Finally, as I was about to put my batter into the pan I couldn't resist adding some vegan chocolate chips I had on hand. It was a last-minute decision so the chocolate chips are not in the ingredients photo, but I regret nothing!
Wow, now I kind of understand why recipes on cooking blogs are always so far down on the page! So without further ado:
Gluten-Free Vegan Banana Bread
- 1 chia egg (Mix 1 Tbsp chia seeds with2.5 Tbsp of water in a small dish, then let stand until it thickens into gel.)
- 2 very ripe bananas
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup melted vegan butter, still warm
- 1/2 cup cane sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup gluten-free quick oats
- 1.5 cup gluten-free flour blend
- 1/4 tsp salt
- ½ cup vegan chocolate chips (optional, I used Pascha brand's bittersweet chips)
- Preheat oven to 350º F and grease the inside of a loaf pan with vegan butter or oil. (I used avocado oil spray.)
- Mix flour, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
- In a small bowl, mash the bananas until they look wet and are mostly free of lumps. Add melted vegan butter, both sugars and vanilla extract and stir well. Some of the sugar should start to melt slightly when it hits the warm vegan butter.
- Pour the entire banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine.
- Add the chia egg and then give everything a good whisk, for a minute or so. Try to get some air folded into the batter.
- Add the chocolate chips if desired and gently stir to combine.
- Pour into greased loaf pan and put in the oven for 45-60 minutes. Start checking the color at around 30 minutes and put a loose piece of foil over the pan if it seems to be browning too fast.
- There are several ways to check for doneness but to me the most accurate is an instant thermometer. This loaf should be right around 200 – 210 degrees in the center when perfectly done. If you don't have an instant thermometer, check that the color of the loaf is a deep golden brown, the top is set and springs back to the touch, and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. (Just make sure you don't accidentally stab a chocolate chip!)
- When done, cool for 5 minutes in the pan then transfer to a cooling rack so the bottom will stay crisp. Enjoy sliced warm or at room temperature. You can leave it plain, or spread on a little extra vegan butter!
This turned out so well and tasted like a big banana and chocolate chip cookie! The chia seeds added a little crunch and the oats brought some nice nuttiness to the party. The chocolate chips were an excellent decision if I say so myself.
If you try this recipe, tell us how yours came out! I'd also love to know what you are cooking and baking during this quarantine. You can comment here or send us a message on our contact form.