When I thought about working on a banana bread recipe, my mental picture book immediately flipped back to the stop Brian and I made in Maui along the phenomenally picturesque Hāna Highway (a.k.a. The Road to Divorce Court, due to how stressful the single-lane, twisty driving can be–just add rain for extra fun on the way back!). A little detour on this trek put us in front of a food cart that our guidebook indicated was an island must-try–Aunt Sandy’s banana bread at the Keanae Landing Fruit Stand. While some quick Googling did not turn up the famed roadside attraction’s secret recipe, it did teach me that I am not the first food blogger to have considered re-inventing it at home.

Nor the second.

Not to be put off the path so easily, however, I read and researched various takes on banana bread in general and the Hawaiian vacationer’s experience in the specific, and even re-examined my vacation photographs, looking for clues. However, as the recipes got more and more complicated, my memories were telling me that the bread was quite upfront about its banana-ness. With that image in mind, I decided I would start with the banana bread recipe that appears in my heavy duty vegetarian cookbook for the fat-to-flour-to-baking-soda-to-liquid proportioning (the science of baking still eludes me somewhat), strip it down even further, and build it back up. In the end, I didn’t ditch the walnuts nuts, but chopped them small (while dreaming of macadamias), swapped coconut oil for butter plus a handful of shredded coconut for added tropical-ness, and spiced it up as suited my tastes.

Genuine vacation photo of Aunt Sandy's banana bread. I don't see nuts. Do you see nuts?

While the road to Hana may be narrow and fraught with blind curves and steep drop-offs, the path to tasty banana bread seems wide open, welcoming interpretation. I wouldn’t dream of comparing mine to Aunt Sandy’s, but even from miles away, the attempt has left me feeling just a bit of that Hawaiian sun. In Baltimore. In February.

banana bread ingredients

Aunt Molly’s Banana Bread
based on 100 internet recipes and 1 woman’s memories of Maui

1/2 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup brown sugar (up to 1 full cup if you like it sweeter)
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat over to 350F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan and line bottom and sides with a piece of parchment, leaving enough overhanging that you’ll be able to lift the bread out when baking is complete.

Measure flour, baking soda, salt, spices, nuts, and coconut into a medium bowl and run a whisk around it to evenly combine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, cream oil and sugar, then mix in the eggs one at a time, and then bananas and vanilla extract, scrape the bowl down in between additions. Next, stir in dry ingredients with a spoon just until combined and spread evenly into the loaf pan. Bake for 55 minutes, or until golden and cake tester comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

When cool, wrap it in plastic wrap and carry it around in your purse for a couple hours in order for the full vacation/nostalgia effect to kick in. Best rabidly torn off in hunks and eaten when desperately in need of an afternoon snack, legs knee deep in warm ocean water.