Never Fail Banana Bread

Yesterday, Phoebe came home from school with her aspiring-baker friend Abby (different Abby) and declared “We want to make bread.”

“How long is this playdate exactly?” I asked.

“Abby’s mom is picking her up at 5:30.”

“Hmmm.” I was a little concerned about their plan.

“Aw c’mon…We can make that easy bread you always make?” She was, of course, referring to Jim Lahey’s world-famous No-Knead bread, the only bread I’ve ever dared bake. (And to be honest, it works so well, I don’t really know why I’d try any other.)

“Well you’re right, that one is easy,” I said. “But it still takes time.” I thought for a second.

“How about banana bread? That’s quick and we have a bunch of bananas that are not looking so hot.” Of course, it’s a total farce that something made with that much sugar and butter is called “bread” and not “cake,” but it was Friday, and why shouldn’t there be a little banana cake lying around over the weekend? Plus, I had the world’s most surefire recipe, which I knew two 12-year-olds could handle without parental supervision.

It was decided. I opened my old recipe binder….an actual honest-to-god BINDER with tabs that look like this:

And recipes that look like this:

The whole binder system seems so quaint now, in spite of the fact that I only started it about a decade ago. But I still reach for it all the time  — even though most of my tried-and-true recipes are digitized on this blog or immortalized in my cookbook. I think that’s because a lot of the recipes in the binder are handwritten…and we all remember the rule about handwritten recipes, right? How they’re the least likely of all recipes to let you down??  

The other thing about handwritten recipes? They are way off the Google grid…and how often can you say that in this day and age?

I sifted through recipes from my mother’s mother who I never met, recipes from old co-workers, Aunt Patty-anotated New York Times recipes from 1982 until I found what I was looking for: Elizabeth Mayhew’s banana bread recipe you see above. About ten years ago Elizabeth, then an editor at Real Simple with me, now a Today Show and Washington Post contributorcame in to my office to talk about recipes for a story loosely called “One-Bowl Breads.”  This was not an unusual scene — no matter what I was working on, food stories or otherwise, my first conversation was always Elizabeth, an idea-machine who came up with some of the more memorable tips the magazine is so famous for. Thanks to Elizabeth I never feel bad about serving dinner guests meatloaf on china platters which “elevate the everyday”; and I can always easily find my bed sheet sets (they are tucked into their matching pillow case like a little kit); and, as you have gathered by now, thanks to Elizabeth I have a killer one-bowl banana bread, the recipe for which she scrawled out in my office from memory. (“It’s my mother’s and I’ve made it too many times to count.”)

Elizabeth could be ruthless, too, which I loved. Once, in my office, she asked me why I had an ugly dried-out bouquet of flowers on my desk. I told her Andy bought them to congratulate me for an Times Op-Ed I had just written. “It reminds me of my potential,” I told her, somewhat pathetically. In one swift movement, she plucked out a tiny dried rose from the bouquet, placed it in a tiny box she found on my desk, shut the top, and handed the whole thing back to me. “Here’s your potential,” she said. “Now throw out those depressing flowers.” (Kids are not the only ones who appreciate a bit of authority.)

I still have that little box. And I still have her banana bread recipe, which is what I handed Phoebe and her friend for their baking date, and which the whole family moaned and groaned over all weekend. (Not surprisingly, they opted for the “optional” chocolate chips.)

I’m not going to rekey the recipe for you like I usually do. Instead, here is a link where you can download a PDF. (Or just drag the above photo to your desktop and print.) Baking time (in a loaf pan) is 50 minutes to an hour, or whenever a knife in the center comes out clean. Let’s see how long we can keep it from Mr. Google.

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ooo, thanks kim. It’s 50 minutes to an hour or whenever a knife inserted into center comes out clean. I added to instruction above. All fixed.


I LOVE the handwritten recipes. I still have mine, too, in binders bought over the years. My husband bugs me to “consolidate” them into a digital file, but it wouldn’t be the same. When I bake each of them, I remember the person who gave it to me, where we lived, what we were doing, and how I got it. Each has it’s own story. Especially the cake from a restaurant owner’s mom (interesting, but long, story!)…in her 80 year old handwriting. I treasure that one almost as much as those in my grandma’s, mama’s, aunt’s, and countless others. So refreshing to see this! Would like to know how long to back it, tho! I’m figuring 45-50 minutes in a loaf pan?


Love the idea of letting kids cook for a playdate. Did you leave them totally alone (including opening the oven, etc.)? If so, how old are the kids? Just wondering.


This is even easier for kids to do on their own (and really yummy, too). It is based on the Lorraine’s Banana Bread recipe found on

In a large bowl, mash 3 ripe bananas with a fork (it doesn’t have to perfect). Then, using only that fork, mix in these ingredients one at a time: 3/4 cups sugar; 4 tbsp. melted butter; 1 whisked egg; 1-1/2 cups flour; 1 tsp. baking soda; and 1/2 salt. Pour into a greased loaf pan (or a 8×8 square cake pan works well, too). Bake at 325 for 1 hour. DONE! No electric appliances are necessary and all you use is a large bowl and a fork.

Uncle Earl

I just love how Iris made it in the photo….slurping up the Banana Bread crumbs…


OK, I use the same recipe but it is called “Bill’s Grandmother’s Banana Bread” ’cause I got it from my friend Bill. You can also overcook it until the cows come home and it is still delish!


Looks great. I don’t understand the sour cream directions though. Is it an alternative to something else in the recipe or just mixed in at last stage with flour and everything else?

Patty Campbell

Love the recipe format. That’s the way I always wrote my recipes, I still use that format when I copy a recipe. Wish there was a way to do that on a computer. Thanks for a great sounding recipe.


You will love that double waffle maker! My 2 little ones gave it to my husband for his birthday last year and it was the best gift he received in years.


I can’t tell you how thankful I am that Joanna at Cup of Jo sent us over to your blog. I LOVE your blog and cookbook. Thanks for sharing this one!!


Kate – it means add a little sour cream to the butter mixture and then some of the flour mixture and then some of the sour cream until it’s all added together.

I still use a binder to store recipes that I’ve tried and liked and use over and over. Many of yours are in there!

Ashleigh Blatt

Wow… This looks A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. My MIL makes the most delicious banana bread, my girls love it and they love it for breakfast!! How is this healthy I wonder? But what’s not to love?

My MILs tried and true secret is to add bananas that are BLACK. They no longer look good and are BLACK. This is when they are the sweetest!
Thanks for the memories – hand written recipes, banana bread and all.


Hi Jenny: Do you have any tips for how to get your butter to soften quickly? Especially when the Polar Vortex has gripped your home for far too long. Oh and I use plain greek yogurt in my banana bread and whole wheat pastry flour from Whole Foods and it officially becomes “healthy.”


Hi Jenny
Sadly, I had to turn to Mr Google to find out how many grams a US stick of butter is. Around 114 grams??


Karen — We’ve definitely used yogurt in place of the sour cream before. Thanks for reminding me to mention that. And just so we’re all clear: 1 stick of butter = 1/2 cup.

Mary Ann

I LOVE my recipe binder too. Just as much as I love Pinterest. I add recipes to this day.


I have a (similar) handwritten recipe in my (similar) binder and have spent the last three years trying to get more bananas into it! It’s practically a vegetable if it has half a dozen bananas, right?


You americans…and your sticks…..
English with their “gas mark”s

Thanks for the clarification. I don’t know why I can’t seem to ever remember that one.

Sophia @ Little Box Brownie

I love your recipe binder, looks like a well used, tried and true binder. I have some bananas that have gone very brown and are in need of being baked. I think I found the recipe their going into.


Delicious and fail-proof. I used creme fraiche in place of the sour cream, and chopped dark chocolate in place of chips, not because I’m fancy, rather because going to the grocery store with 3 under 3 is avoided at all costs. Thanks for the recipe!