These banana pecan muffins are a naturally sweet start to your day

Ripe banana is one of my go-to ingredients for adding sweetness more healthfully. I add slices of it in peanut butter sandwiches instead of jelly, mash it into pancake or waffle batter, and blend frozen chunks of it into smoothies — no additional sweetener needed. I typically buy a couple of bunches at a time, let them get very ripe with plenty of brown spots, then peel them, break them into chunks and freeze them so I always have some on hand.

Bananas contain sugar — that’s what makes them taste sweet — but their sugar is naturally “packaged” with fiber, antioxidants and essential nutrients, so using the whole fruit is a significantly better way to add sweetness than refined sugar. The fruit also brings its quintessential banana flavor and a measure of moisture, so while it isn’t optimal for every recipe, when it works, it really works. These muffins are a prime example.

Mashed, ripe bananas are these muffins’ driving ingredient, built to make the most of the overripe fruit. The fruit is mashed, then bound into tender muffin form with whole-wheat flour and egg, perfumed with cinnamon and vanilla, and textured with a crunch of pecans, for a cakelike experience that is nourishing, too.

They do need a dose of sweetness beyond the banana, and I offer two options for achieving that. One is date sugar — a whole-fruit sweetener made of ground, dried dates — which makes the muffins free of added sugar and imparts a more subtle sweetness. (The other option is regular light brown sugar, which yields a more traditional but still-subtle level of sweetness.)

Whichever sweetener you choose, you’ll wind up with an alluring batch of muffins, ideal at breakfast or with an afternoon tea or coffee, to sweeten your day in just the right way.

Banana Pecan Muffins

These tender, fragrant banana muffins offer a cakelike experience that is nourishing, too. Made with plenty of sweet, ripe bananas, whole-wheat flour and healthy oil, they’re fragrant with cinnamon and vanilla, and have a hearty pecan crunch. They can be made with either date sugar, which is made of ground, dried dates, a whole-fruit sweetener that imparts a more subtle sweetness, or regular light brown sugar which yields a more traditional, but still gentle, level of sweetness.

Storage: Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

⅓ cup (80 milliliters) neutral oil, such as avocado or canola, plus more for the pan

1½ cups (180 grams) whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole-wheat flour (may substitute 3/4 cup/94 grams each regular whole-wheat flour and all-purpose flour)

¾ cup (108 grams) date sugar (see Variations)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon fine salt

2 large eggs

½ cup (120 milliliters) reduced-fat or whole milk

4 large ripe bananas, mashed (1 ½ cups)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup (60 grams) chopped pecans

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Brush a 12-cup muffin pan with oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, date sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt until combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and oil until combined. Whisk the bananas and vanilla into the egg mixture to combine. Add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon or flexible spatula just until combined. Gently stir in the pecans to distribute.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan — each well should get filled a little more than three-quarters of the way — then bake for about 18 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a butter knife or small offset spatula around the muffins to loosen them and unmold.

Substitutions: For pecans you can use walnuts, chopped almonds, hazelnuts, or sunflower or pumpkin seeds. For the cow’s milk use the plant-based milk of your choice.

Variations: In place of date sugar, you can use brown sugar with these adjustments: Increase the flour to 2 cups, reduce the mashed banana to 1 cup, and whisk the brown sugar with the wet ingredients.

Serves 12 (makes 12 muffins)

Nutrition | Per muffin: 232 calories, 31g carbohydrates, 32mg cholesterol, 11g fat, 4g fiber, 4g protein, 1g saturated fat, 270mg sodium, 12g sugar

— From cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

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