Vegan Butternut Squash Banana Bars

October 14, 2019

Saturday was the perfect fall day; beautiful weather, pumpkin carving, family fun and baking vegan butternut squash banana bars. I usually go for savory over sweet, but the cool air has me jonesing for spiced, sweet treats.

I snagged some inspiration from a trusted vegan food blogger, Nora Cooks, then proceeded to twist the recipe to suit my pantry and the results were delicious. You know how I feel about following recipes, but Nora whips up some dynamite dishes. Read ‘em, eat ‘em and weep. 

These vegan butternut squash banana bars are thin, not too sweet and they taste like autumn. Cinnamon, nutmeg and squash – oh my! A perfect toddler treat.

Gadgets you need to know about

I like to weigh ingredients when I mess around with recipes because measuring cups can deceive you. For instance, a packed cup of flour weighs more than flour spooned into a cup. When in doubt, weigh it out. A digital kitchen scale can be your best friend.

Nora used a jelly roll pan. I had to google that. I am experienced in the kitchen and I had no idea what a jelly roll pan was. Opportunities to learn something new present themselves every day! A jelly roll pan is a shorter baking sheet with raised edges. I happened to have one, but you can use whatever is in your kitchen. If your pan is bigger, bake for less time. If it is smaller, bake longer.

How to make a recipe your own

I had leftover squash puree in the refrigerator and I thought it would make a great substitute for pumpkin in a cake, but I didn’t know how much I had on hand. Was it the equivalent of a can of pumpkin? Nope! I knew because it weighed 9.3oz and a can is usually 15oz. So I thought, what do I have that could produce a similar texture to pureed pumpkin and taste delicious in a dessert? Banana. Bananas mash-up like a dream and are naturally sweet. I added enough banana to make 15oz and conveniently it turned out to be 1.5 bananas.

You could use all butternut squash, or pumpkin, or try going half squash and half banana. Go bananas! I’m terribly sorry, but I couldn’t help myself.

Then I wondered, if the banana is adding sweetness, can I use less sugar? Well I did and it turned out great. I also decided to use half whole wheat and half regular all-purpose flour. This was a gamble because whole wheat flour can leave you with a drier cake if you don’t use more liquid, but I really liked the texture. The cake bars held up in the face of toddlers manhandling them.

When it was time to make the frosting, I almost threw in the towel because I didn’t have enough powdered sugar. I knew it just by looking at the jar in my pantry. But, I’m not a quitter. So, I weighed the powdered sugar. I did did some math (division) and reduced the original recipe quantities to work with what I had available. It was the perfect amount of frosting. If you have a sweet tooth, make more, but this was great for the kids.

Vegan Butternut Squash Banana Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

Vegan Butternut Squash Banana Bars

The cake batter:

  • 2T ground flax
  • 5T water
  • 9.3oz butternut squash purée
  • 1.5 bananas, mashed 
  • 1c coconut oil, melted
  • 1c coconut sugar 
  • 1c AP flour
  • 1c whole wheat flour
  • 1T baking powder
  • 1/2t baking soda
  • 2t Vietnamese cinnamon
  • 1/2t nutmeg
  • 1t pink Himalayan sea salt

The frosting:

The cake method:

  • First thing, mix your flax and water in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease a jelly roll pan, mine is 15.5in x 10.5in. I used an olive oil spray.
  • Melt coconut oil. I like to spoon it into a glass liquid measuring cup, place it in a small pan with a few inches of water on the stove, over low heat to melt. I don’t have a microwave.
  • In a large mixing bowl, add banana. Mash it. Add butternut squash purée, melted coconut oil, flax mixture and sugar. Whisk it. Whisk it good. I clearly have no self control.
  • Sprinkle flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt on top of the wet mixture. Gently stir it together, just until combined. Over-mixing wheat flour will give you the wrong texture.
  • Spread the batter evenly in on your greased pan. If it gives you a hard time, use your hands to flatten it out. Perfection is boring, don’t stress.
  • Bake for 25 minutes. Give or take. I test mine with a sharp knife. If anything sticks, put it back in. You can use a toothpick, if you have one.
  • Let that baby cool completely. Then you can frost.

The frosting method:

  • Measure your Earth Balance butter and let it soften in a mixing bowl. I used my KitchenAid mixer, but you could use a bowl and a hand mixer, too.
  • Whip the butter until fluffy.
  • Add powdered sugar, apple cider vinegar and vanilla. Whip until combined.
  • Add 1T oat milk. Whip again. If you like the texture, cool. Frost away. Add more milk, 1T at a time, for a thinner frosting.

Pro tips:

  • If you don’t have a kitchen scale, 246g of powdered sugar is a little more than 1 cup. You can estimate and make it out alive.
  • Use can use regular apple cider vinegar in the frosting. Or a different kind of vinegar or none at all. Hudson Valley Vinegar is insanely good. It gives it that cream cheese flavor. Citrus juice could be fun, too.
  • Use whatever kind of milk is in your house. We’ve been into oat milk lately.
  • Vietnamese cinnamon is non-negotiable. It’s the most delicious. Okay, fine, use what you have, but seriously just buy that kind from now on. I want you to live your best cinnamon life.
  • You could substitute coconut sugar for white or brown, use all white or wheat flour, use canola or safflower or Earth Balance instead of coconut oil, or use a chia egg instead of flax (same seed to water ratio). Baking is science, but I’m all about experimenting. After all, it’s only food and it will probably be delicious enough to eat. Take some risks.
  • t = teaspoon, T = tablespoon, g = grams, c = cups, in = inches

What fall festive foods are you craving?

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