Hawaiian-style Banana Bread

April 8, 2024
Top down view of a loaf of banana bread on a wire cooling rack

On our first few journeys along the Road to Hāna, Mike and I skipped the banana bread stands along the route.  It seemed like a novelty for people who never made homemade banana bread, and I'm an avid home baker with a stellar recipe for my mom's banana bread

But in 2019, we finally purchased a loaf from Aunty Sandy's Banana Bread (I think because we were hungry and wanted a snack).  We learned that yes, Hawaiian banana bread is definitely worth seeking out.  Aunty Sandy's banana bread was moist and dense, almost cake-like, with an intriguing caramelized flavor.  During our 2023 trip to Hawaii, we bought two loaves and it was one of the best decisions we made on the entire vacation.  

Back at home in Minnesota, I did started researching what exactly makes Hawaiian banana bread unique.  The obvious difference is the bananas: on the mainland, we rely on the large, curvy, sweet Cavendish variety, and in Hawaii, smaller apple bananas are more prevalent.  Apple bananas are much smaller than Cavendish bananas, and they have a firmer texture and a complex sweet and tangy flavor with notes of apple, strawberry, and pineapple.  Unfortunately, they're not readily available at the grocery stores I regularly shop at, and I haven't been able to find them at Asian markets either.

Luckily, the other secret to Hawaiian banana bread is easier to source: alcohol.  The majority of Hawaiian banana recipes I came across featured a small amount of alcohol for flavoring, often rum or triple sec.

Bottle of Gran Marnier liqueur on a wooden cutting board

Foodland is my go-to chain for grocery shopping in Hawaii, so I used their banana bread recipe as a jumping off point.  It calls for Grand Marnier (a proprietary blend of cognac brandy and bitter orange liqueur) or triple sec (an orange-flavored liqueur).  At my local liquor store, Grand Marnier is significantly more expensive than triple sec ($26.99 versus $8.99), but I think it's worth buying Grand Marnier.  Flavor-wise, Grand Marnier has a lot more depth than triple sec, thanks to the warm spice notes.  In banana bread, I've found that it heightens the flavor of the baked bananas, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Since you only use a tablespoon of Grand Marnier in the recipe, a 375-mL bottle will be enough for at least 25 loaves.  (I couldn't find them in my area, but some liquor stores stock "airplane-size" 50-mL bottles of Grand Marnier—if you can track one down, that would be a great option for trying this recipe out in a more budget-friendly way.)

This recipe makes a large 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf of banana bread, but it freezes well—we like to slice it up before freezing and then defrost the individual slices in the microwave. 

Is this recipe as good as eating a fresh loaf of Aunty Sandy's banana bread on Maui, surrounded by palm trees?  Not quite, but it is pretty darn delicious. 

Adapted from Foodland

Yield: one 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf

Top down view of banana bread ingredients arranged on a large baking sheet


  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 very ripe bananas (yields approximately 1 cup of mashed banana)
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Butter a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan, using the wrapper from the stick of butter if desired.

Cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and mix until well-combined.

In a medium bowl, mash the bananas with a potato masher or fork.  Mix in the Grand Marnier, cinnamon, and vanilla until well-combined. 

Add the banana mixture to the creamed mixture and stir until well-combined.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add to the batter and mix just until the flour is fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then remove from pan. 

Slice and enjoy while warm, or store loosely covered at room temperature.  It can also be frozen in an airtight container.

Cross section of a loaf of banana bread on a wooden cutting board

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