Vegan Banana Caramel Bread Pudding
November 7, 2011

vegan banana caramel bread pudding

Happy Monday, folks. I’m glad you enjoyed my recap of Elizabeth’s Gone Raw!

Switching from raw food to cooked, I thought I would share one of my favorite ingredients today: date paste, and the fabulous vegan banana caramel bread pudding I recently used it in.

There’s so much to-do about sweeteners these days: first came the allegation that agave is identical to high fructose corn syrup (which I responded to over at Whole Living magazine). Nowadays, it seems as though many health experts are claiming that any type of sugar—regardless of the source—is akin to heroin.

I’m the first to say that most Americans consume sugar in a gross excess, and I agree with the basic claims (too much sugar cause blood sugar highs and lows that compel people to overeat, shift moods, lose energy, and so on). Additionally, I realize that some people have health conditions that demand a low-glycemic diet (ranging from diabetes to candida to cancer), and that some people find sugar so appetite-stimulating that it’s best to avoid it for the most part. But I think alarmist to say that all sugar is devilish for all people. For many folks—athletes in particular—simple sugars from fruit, dates, and coconut water are vital “first source” of energy. And for nearly all of us, life is richer and fuller with the occasional sweet treat.

Naturally, if you eat enormous amounts of sugar without performing the activities that it is designed to fuel, you’ll run into a problem. But no one’s claiming that eating sugar immoderately and in the absence of movement is a good idea. Moderation matters. So, too, does the source of sugar. From a biological standpoint, there are good arguments to be made that a sugar is a sugar is a sugar—in other words, most sweeteners will have broadly similar effects on the bloodstream—but there are also legitimate nuances. Some studies indicate that glucose and fructose are metabolized differently, and that the latter has a higher impact on diabetes.

Beyond that, the simple fact of the matter is that white sugar (which isn’t vegan) tends to pop up in foods that are problematic for a host of other reasons, such as the presence of highly refined flours and processed ingredients. And most of the processed snacks and drinks that contain white sugar and HFCS happen to contain them in staggeringly high quantities. Using agave syrup, maple syrup, and palm sugar (also known as coconut sugar, this stuff is a favorite of mine) will probably afford you at least some glycemic benefits, and more importantly, if you’re eating a cereal, snack, or beverage that contains agave nectar instead of white sugar, chances are it’s at least marginally healthier than the alternative. So, take heart: you needn’t suddenly abandon the healthier sugars you’ve come to rely on. You simply have to remember that they’re still sugars.

If you are particularly sensitive to sugar that has undergone any processing, I might have a solution for you. Date paste—a fairly standard ingredient in raw recipes—has long been one of my favorite ways to sweeten dressings, baked goods, smoothies, and other treats. I rarely post recipes with it, because it’s a little more time-intensive than, say, agave and maple syrup. But the benefits are really worth it. What is troubling about so many sweeteners is that they offer blood sugar rises without any attendant nutritional benefits. Dates are rich in fiber (which can slow blood sugar spikes down), and they’re also good sources of potassium, iron, numerous antioxidants, and Vitamin-A. Date paste is therefore not an “empty” sweetener: it’s sweet, but it contains a lot of good stuff along with the sugar.

To make date paste, you simply have to pour 2/3 cup hot water over a cup of pitted medjool dates. Let them soak for about an hour, and then blend them well using a Vitamix or food processor. You’ll end up with a thick, dark paste that’s ready to be used in smoothies, snacks, and baking adventures of all kinds. The flavor will be distinctly “caramel-like,” and so will the taste. You can store it in the fridge for at least a week.

So what better use for it than a banana caramel bread pudding—the healthier way?

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Banana Caramel Bread Pudding (vegan, can be GF, soy free)

Serves 4

2 large, ripe bananas (or 3 small)
1/2 cup date paste, packed
3/4 cup nut milk or law fat coconut milk
2 tsp cinnamon
8 slices Ezekiel cinnamon raisin bread, cubed
1/2 cup FULL fat coconut milk

4 ramekins for baking

1) Preheat oven to 375. Place bread cubes in large mixing bowl.

2) Blend bananas, date paste, milk, and cinnamon till smooth. Pour over bread and mix well.

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3) Divide the soaked bread evenly into four ramekins. Pour 2 tbsp of the full fat coconut milk over the top of each.

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Bake for 30 minutes, or until the bread looks golden and caramelized. Like so.

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These make for a fantastic dessert, of course, but the Ezekiel bread is so packed with protein and fiber that I’d say you can turn them into breakfast on a very special occasion, too.

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They are exceptionally delicious no matter what.

A word here about Ezekiel (aka Food for Life) breads: these are made only with sprouted whole grains—no refined flour—and they are therefore my wholesome bread of choice. (They also happen to taste fantastic, and come in tons of different flavors and shapes.) Feel free, though, to use a bread of your choosing—I’ll try to help you all out with a GF version soon!

I hope this post is inspiration to try date paste as a sweetening alternative, and motivation to upgrade your bread pudding. I love making sweet things just a little more wholesome, and recipes like this showcase that love.

xo

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    83 Comments
  1. The coconut milk gave it a really strange smell and aftertaste. The whole batch is pretty inedible. 🙁 I was really upset because your version looks so good in the pictures!

  2. Hey there, loved all of the posts I have read so far. I have been dating a useful way to use up the dates that come from my CSA box. I am currently steeping my dates and will blend them up and use them in some great Rob baking and smoothies. Thank you so much!

  3. Date paste sounds wonderful but how does one convert from sugar measurements to date paste measurements for doing substitutions in other recipes? Is it simply 1:1? I’ve searched and searched online with different phrases, and read all through the comments on this page, and found nothing helpful for that. :-1

  4. Mouthwatering yet so simple and easy to prepare. I love the idea of the presentation. It is just so easy to do. My kids will love this healthy item. :* thanks!

  5. Oh my you are a woman after my own heart. Despite the fact that I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, this is my first time commenting (per my friend Valerie’s suggestion), and YUM! I have to try this!!! Thanks for sharing 😀

  6. Made it, and this was really good. How had I never tried date paste before? I could seriously eat it with a spoon. Anyways, I only used six slices of bread and my ramekins overflowed a bit in the oven – I guess mine are smaller than yours? Just for reference for everyone else to trust your eyes! (Oh, and I made them for dessert, left them covered on the table overnight, and just devoured one for pre-yoga breakfast.)

    To answer some questions above, I think it would work with pumpkin, but it would be less sweet (because banana is sweet) – though that might not be a bad thing. You could always serve with sweetener. You do blend the dates with the soaking water, and I loved the suggestion to use an immersion blender – made it so easy not to have to use the processor. And I think as a dessert this would be amazing topped with a dollop of coconut whipped cream.

    Thanks, Gena! Great recipe!

  7. What a great recipe for bread pudding! I have only had it once in my life (a non-vegan version) and loved it. This would be perfect for a simple and delicious Thanksgiving dessert to surprise my family with.

    Date paste is my go-to sweetener in raw desserts. With the exception of maple syrup, it is the only sweetener that I can tolerate without a severe addictive reaction and subsequent blood sugar crash that ends with a classic migraine. I’ve never met anyone else with this level of sensitivity to sugar. Unfortunately it makes me feel kind of nuts, but I’d rather feel healthy and energized than “normal”. I hope you’ll share any other culinary creations involving date paste that you come up with!

  8. Here here for the date paste! I love to make sweet treats for My Love and My Baby Sister, and date paste is my exclusive sweetener of choice. If you cover your dates in water and then put the bowl in the dehydrator over night on the lowest setting, the dates will be soft enough to blend without adding the extra liquid, and the liquid left over is like syrup. So good! And also a nutritionist shout out for using Sprouted bread in your pudding, only great minds like ours would think of such a thing 😉

  9. Great points on sugar, it tends to get overly vilianized with fast and processed foods that most healthy eaters avoid. Date paste is fun to make, think I spent 10 minutes scrubbing it out of the rubber ring in my food processor last time I made it. But totally worth it. 🙂 The pudding recipe looks divine, I must try it for hubby and myself. Thanks!

  10. Oh this looks heavenly! I look bread pudding but rarely make it (when I do its with Ezekial bread, too!); I might take a crack at this recipe for Thanksgiving, perhaps pumpkin-ing it up a bit for the holiday 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  11. What a timely post for me to read! I love this perspective, because I think there is a healthy place in a healthy diet for natural sugar. I believe our bodies are wired to savor natural sweetness I am someone who is extremely sensitive to sugar – I think years of abuse have just casued by system to get way out of balance. I am hoping to reblance my system over the next year. I am sharing about it in a blog I just started. I am still eating small amounts of fruit and using dates, prune purees as sweetners. I hope to find a happy place of moderation through this journey. I can’t say how much I enjoy your blog and admire your driveness to create a healthier world. You glow with health.

  12. I’m not a bread pudding fan, but I did just randomly decide to buy dates this weekend. What else can I use this magical date paste for?

    • You can use it as a sweetener in anything. I love whizzing it with 2 sweet apples and some flaxmeal and cinnamon for a yummy breakfast pudding (also for an even more filling brekkers, add rolled oats, as they are) If you eat these, I have wholewheat muffin recipes on my blog that are only sweetened with banana and date paste (click on my name and look under baking section) Also http://www.addictedtoveggies.com It is her sweetener of choice in everything (dressings, dips, desserts etc) She has some yummy creations for sure!

  13. sweetheavenabove! Looks amazing! I can testify that date paste, banana and a nut milk whizzes into a heavenly silky delight, and by adding a little oil, flaxmeal, cinnamon, baking powder and wholewheat flour, you have a goshdarn good muffin!

  14. Have you ever toyed around with date syrup? You can buy it online and seems like it might be cheaper than making your own. This recipe looks amazing – thanks!

  15. I’ve never tried date paste but this sounds delicious! I’m wheat-free right now but I bet the soaking and baking would make GF bread taste and feel more “normal” in this recipe.

  16. I love you for this. It looks soo indulgent, but so nutritious! Love Ezekial cinn. raisin bread. Do you think this will work to soak overnight and bake in the morning? < classy weekday breakfast!

  17. This post is SO timely, as I’m about to start doing my own experimenting with date paste for my next book! We must be channeling each other 🙂

    I’ve been told that even cane sugar sometimes is not vegan (I stay away from it anyways because it still gives me the same crappy sugar coma). At the Gluten-free Expo, I think it was Enjoy Life foods, told me they removed “vegan” from some of their products because they were not 100% sure their cane sugar didn’t use bone char in the process. Interesting (and really ethical of them I thought!).

    And for everyone out there thinking, “darn dates are expensive”, I found a 3.5 tub of pitted dates at Costco for $7.99. That’s a steal! Surprisingly there are some really good finds and deals at Costco for those who have families to feed on a budget. I wouldn’t normally go to a store like that but they have tons of organic foods now.

      • Yes! I forgot I got Almond Breeze there this time around! And I meant a 3.5 pound tub of dates! 🙂 You can’t get everything there but almost! They even had a huge bag of organic quinoa way cheaper than the bulk bins and dried beans. That kind of stuff doesn’t go bad so I’m happy to save money buying large quantities.

  18. Thanks for linking up to that article – I’d been wondering about your stance on the Agave controversy for some time now, very informative.

    I love using date paste! At home we call it “agwa” and it’s used a lot in desserts (which are often loaded with extra sugar, unfortunately). I also use date molasses which I know is more processed but I love the rich caramel taste it offers especially in baking. That pudding looks spectacular!

  19. I appreciate the info about sugars and date paste. I’ve never made it before, but will definitely be giving it a try. Great to know it keeps in the fridge for about a week, too.

    This recipe sounds like something my husband would love. I only have light coconut milk on hand though…I’m assuming this might be too thin to use, since you specified that it should be full fat?

    • Well, the milk in the banana/date liquid should be light coconut milk or almond. The idea with the 2 tbsp of full fat at the end is to add some serious creaminess. But you could probably just use regular.

  20. Oh, how I wish a sprouted, gluten-free bread existed! Yeast-free would be nice too! If you ever discover one, Gena, let us know! And then I will make this delicious bread pudding IMMEDIATELY. Bread pudding was one of my favorite desserts before I went gluten/dairy/egg free. 🙂

  21. You make such a great point that white sugar is so often paired with other, equally bad (or worse) ingredients, that we can’t pinpoint the sugar as the only culpable ingredient. And yes, for some of us (ie, moi), it can be as addictive as (what I’ve heard about) heroin. I never really understood why something like agave, or even coconut sugar, is apparently okay on an anti-candida diet, while something like date paste–which, as you point out, contains fiber, minerals, other nutrients–isn’t. Perhaps it’s time for me to experiment with the latter once again! And this recipe looks glorious.

    • Ricki,

      I tend to get sugar headaches, and I must say, I really don’t get them from date paste when I use it in small amounts. So it’s worth trying!

      G

  22. I just wanted to say in defense of white sugar that there are vegan versions available. In Canada anyway, two of our three major sugar refiners don’t use bone char in any of their processing, Lantic and Redpath. I’m not advocating the excessive use of any type of sugar and I do enjoy experimenting with alternatives but sometimes a recipe just needs some overly processed white sugar 🙂

    • Shady, you’re right: I didn’t mean all white sugar. I meant the standard, bleached, table sugar made with bone char. Thanks for the tips.

  23. Great post, Gena! I’m doing a workshop for my Intro to Nutrition Practice on added sweeteners for my clients at Mind.Body.Barre, and this discussion made me excited and inspired to share my knowledge with them! I totally agree with your standpoint on sugars. We can’t obsess over every detail but it is important to be mindful and use our ever-popular moderation mantra!

  24. Oh, date paste is definitely my favorite sweetener! I have an aversion to too too sweet tastes and I’ve found that agave nectar and maple syrup both fall under that category for me. Date paste, however, is not saccharine to my taste buds and I use it in all the baked goods I whip up. Thanks for featuring it!
    -Ali.

  25. Um, I had no idea that was how to make date paste! I’m so glad you shared that with us!

    Bread pudding is an all time favorite — when someone else makes it — but I think I can do this! Thanks for the recipe.

  26. Thank god, and thank you. I’m very, very wary of this latest obsession with sugar as that which must be cut out completely. When will we get beyond this addiction to finding that one “miracle” ingredient (or “devil” ingredient) that is somehow the key to perfect health?!

  27. Just wanted to say that I very much agree about sugars (or carbs more generally) being the first source of energy for athletes. Being a vegan runner, I consume loads of carbs, and I can’t really see how else I could get sufficient energy! Among other things, I eat a fair bit of dried dates, figs, apricots etc.

    Oh, and the dish looks very tasty!

  28. I love that you bring up date paste–so much richer-tasting and better-feeling than agave, which I’ve never liked. If you have an immersion blender, you can make the date paste even more quickly, blending it right there in the jar where you soak the dates and water. I was raised with date molasses, which is a little more processed than date paste, but I was also raised with mashed bananas and dates as the original comfort food.

    I hope you’ll post many more recipes that utilize date paste–it is so worth the little work it takes.

  29. This looks delish! For the date paste, do you blend with the soaking water, or do you drain the dates first and then blend? Thanks!

  30. Oh wow, this one goes on the “to make” list. The date paste seems like such a great sugar alternative! I can’t believe I don’t have little ramekins yet, how lame is that?? Thanks for the excuse to go shopping 😉

  31. why is white sugar not vegan? i was under the impression that if it comes from beets, it is vegan and if it comes from sugarcane and has been bleached, it is not vegan, with the action of bleaching with bone char being the non-vegan element. is this incorrect?

    • Orange,

      I actually meant standard white table sugar, made with bone char — I didn’t mean beet sugar. Broad generalization.

      G

  32. This pudding looks scrumptious and your pictures are spot-on, Gena!!! I hope to serve the pudding one morning while the kids are here over Thanksgiving. What a special breakfast treat this will be served with a bowl of fresh fruit! Thanks for the great idea and really good post tonight! 🙂

  33. Gena this looks awesome! I am a huge fan of bread pudding and the way you made it, with date paste, coconut milk, and bananas…yum! It looks awesome!

    I always tell you that I love it when you bake. And I’m telling you again in the hopes of positive reinforcement so you do it more 🙂

    And the red ramekin on green cloth…could we count this as the first signs of your holiday baking? 🙂

  34. This recipe looks great and I’m actually bookmarking it for Thanksgiving–do you think it would work with pumpkin puree in place of the bananas?

  35. I’ve always struggled with sugar “addiction”…the stuff can be dangerous, but I’m learning how to eat it in moderation. And I don’t know if it is psychosomatic, but I feel loads better after eating a slice of raw vegan chocolate torte than say, a bowl of ice cream and oreos. I think that sugar is tied up with emotions for a lot of men and women, too.

  36. This looks really yummy! I love bread pudding but I don’t like the refined sugar bomb most recipes entail.

    Sugar is a big interest of mine, largely because of my dad. He’s a Type 1 diabetic, so he gets shafted on the dessert front. At least until I’m home!

    You are so right about date paste tasting like caramel. It’s amazing in brownies! I’ve added mesquite, thinned it a bit, and swirled it into the batter. Caramel brownies! That particular dish was vegan too — coconut oil is so fabulous in baked goods.

    Personally, I keep sugar low because of the appetite stimulating effects you mentioned. Some people definitely handle it better than I do. But life is indeed too short to go without the occasional sugary treat. It’s just nice to know I’m getting some nutrition and fiber in with my treats.

  37. Hi Gena,

    I have been cautioned against palm oil due to its contributions to deforestation, etc. You mentioned your fondness for palm sugar – do you know if this is more sustainable or environmentally friendly than palm oil? Any thoughts on this subject? I am certainly no expert.

    Thanks!

    • I was recently asked the same question when I posted a recipe using palm sugar. I had never linked the two, and rightly so.

      Palm sugar is made from the Palmyra tree (coconut palm sugar is harvested from the coconut palm), palm oil comes from the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis).

      “Palm oil is an ingredient used in a wide range of packaged food and cosmetics products such as cookies, bread, cereal, soap, and is one of the main causes of rainforest destruction. Palm oil is usually labelled as “vegetable oil” and many consumers do not realise these products have helped to destroy a rainforest as forest land is turned into monoculture plantations to grow the world’s cheapest vegetable oil.
      Palm oil plantations have taken land from indigenous people, polluted air and rivers, and threatened the survival of the orangutans and other rare animals.” ~sugarpalmtree.com

      It was only after the world decided that biofuel was a great idea (idiots) that the deforestation started. Sugar palms have been tapped for their sugar in Asia for millions of years, they are not the problem.\

      Hope that answers your question ~emm

    • Cameron,

      Sadly, I am not an expert, either. This may indeed be a problem I’m not aware of; I get my palm sugar from Navitas NAturals, a company whose ethos I have always admired. Perhaps I can investigate a big more.

      G

        • cameron- palm sugar is usually coconut palm sugar, derived from the nectar of the coconut flowers. palm (fruit) oil, while also a palm tree, is totally different- and it’s true that is has been associated with deforestation and other nasty things. I definitely recommend looking into it and making good decisions about palm oils. aloha, andrea

  38. thanks for this great recipe. i wanted to ask if you know who long can this date paste be stored for? and does it have to be stored in the fridge?
    thanks,
    Elana

      • thank you!!!
        can date paste replace any sweetener in baking? if i make muffins with maple syrup, can i replace it with the paste? if it can replace, would you use the same measurements?
        thanks for being so helpful. i really appreciate it.

        • No prob. You can thin it to a consistency like maple syrup, but I wouldn’t do a straight replacement: you’ll lose moisture. You could also thin with applesauce or mashed banana, which might work nicely.