Gem Bread

This recipe is a birthday gift to my brother. Having grown up in a house where the smell of banana bread baking was just par for the course, this will feel very familiar to him. It is, in fact, based on our mother’s tried and trusted banana bread recipe. But what makes it new and unique is the South African spin I put on it, inspired by a smoothie he introduced me to on my first visit to his home in Cape Town.

In South Africa there is this fabulous little chain of healthy fast food creations called Kauai. Now, I’m not big on chains but this one is definitely lesser of the evils. With a strong local focus and a push on fresh, healthy ingredients, it presents a welcome alternative to the Subways and McDonalds of the world. If all chains were like this, I probably wouldn’t mind them so much.

Anyway, one of Kauai’s popular offerings is the Gem smoothie. I had heard about it, from my brother and his friends, long before I ever stepped foot in the country. It was high on my list of things to try while there. And oh boy did it deliver. Made with vanilla frozen yogurt, bananas, almonds and honey, it’s wonderfully flavourful and filling. I had almost one a day while in South Africa and I crave them still.

The Gem (Photo courtesy of

So, as I eyed the browning bananas in my fruit bowl yesterday, I hatched a plan. I could have simply blended up an imitation Gem but I thought I’d try something different. I gathered all the necessary ingredients, along with some extras like coconut yogurt and dried coconut, and got to work.

The bread baked up moist and fragrant, even if it didn’t rise as much as regular banana bread does. Light and fluffy inside, with tons of texture from the almonds, both ground and chopped, coconut and the soft sweetness of honey, we all agreed this new version was much better than plain banana bread. And the spelt flour I used made it lower-GI too, which is always a bonus. I just wish I had a Gem to wash it down with!

I also wish I could share it with my brother on his birthday, but at least with the recipe in hand, he and his wife can bake it and enjoy it themselves. It’s the kind of thing they can easily pack to take along on one of their rock climbing trips or hikes, and will provide slow-burning energy to keep them going. My little nephew, sitting in his carrier, will probably love it too.

My brother and nephew (photo by N. Aleksandrowa)


Gem Bread
  • 1 cup (250 ml) honey
  • 110g / ½ cup (1 cube) butter, softened
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) coconut yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (150 g) spelt flour
  • 1 cup (150 g) wholemeal flour
  • ½ cup (60 g) ground almonds
  • ½ cup (60 g) dried (flaked) coconut
  • 1 handful chopped almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  1. Preheat oven to 175 C/350 F.
  2. Cream honey, butter and vanilla together.
  3. Add soda to yogurt and let fizz.
  4. Add yogurt mix to butter mix and gently fold in.
  5. Add eggs and then all other dry ingredients.
  6. Fold in mashed bananas.
  7. Pour into 2 greased bread pans (or lined muffin tins) and bake for 45 mins. to 1 hr. For muffins, reduce baking time to about 30 minutes (check at 20).
1. A Gem smoothie doesn't have coconut in it, but it adds so much to this bread that I wouldn't leave it out. In fact, next time I make a smoothie, it's going in there too. 2. If you don't have coconut yogurt, choose vanilla or plain. I haven't tried using coconut milk but it should be fine. If you try it, please come back and let me know how it works out. 3. Use 2 cups of wholemeal flour if you can't find spelt.