When I imagined a pan full of chocolate banana blondie bars, I could see exactly what I wanted. A bittersweet bottom crowned with a brown-butter, rum-scented, banana-imbued butterscotch blondie. Two distinct layers and a complex set of flavors harmonizing in every gooey bite.
Usually when I dream up something so specific, the recipe almost makes itself. It’s as if I’m merely a vessel for some divine command: “There shall be chocolate banana blondie bars. Go forth and bake them.”
So I did, scrambling into the kitchen with the first set of brown-streaked bananas I could get my hands on.
I stirred up a fudgy brownie batter for the bottom layer, then chilled it while I mixed together the blondie topping. It baked up just as I had hoped, with the two batters solidifying into distinct stripes, ready to be sliced.
But the flavor was muddy; the chocolate overpowered the nuances of banana, butterscotch, and rum. And I should have figured that the similar textures of blondie and brownie would be indistinct — blondies are often called butterscotch or blond brownies. My bar cookies tasted like weak brownies, definitely not what I had in mind.
So I fiddled and tried again. And again, and again. It took me six batches to get it right. (My colleagues in the newsroom didn’t mind.)
After much trial and error, I nixed the brownie part altogether. It turns out that a perfectly fudgy brownie does not want to be gilded with butterscotch blondie. A fudgy brownie wants to be left alone, its bittersweet integrity maintained.
Instead, I made a buttery crumb crust out of plain chocolate wafer cookies. It was even easier to throw together, and it offered a crunchy contrast to the chewy blondie topping. And the color of the crust, nearly coal black, was far deeper than that of the blondie, which made the whole thing more dramatic (if you can find drama in a pan of bar cookies).
Best, the crumb crust offered a not-too-sweet backbone that allowed the complexities of the blondie to emerge. There was the dark rum, the ripe banana, the butterscotch and the touch of sea salt, all briefly rushing across the tongue before disappearing.
The recipe may not have made itself. But finally, it was divine.
Chocolate-Crusted Banana Blondies
2½ sticks unsalted butter (1¼ cups), more for greasing pan
3 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus a pinch
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
2½ cups dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
Heat oven to 375°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment, and grease with butter.
Melt 1 stick of butter in a saucepan over low heat or in microwave. Put the chocolate wafer cookies in the bowl of a food processor and process to make fine crumbs. Add the light brown sugar, melted butter and a pinch of salt. Process until the mixture is the consistency of damp sand. Dump the mixture into the pan and press it into an even layer. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the surface is firm. Remove the pan and set aside.
Reduce oven heat to 350°. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 12 tablespoons butter (1½ sticks), then let it cook until foam subsides and butter turns a deep nut brown, about 5 minutes. Cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together bananas, eggs, dark brown sugar, and rum. Whisk in brown butter. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and fine salt. Fold into batter along with the toasted walnuts. Pour the mixture over the prepared crust and spread evenly. Sprinkle top with flaky salt if using.
Put pan in oven and bake until top is firm and toothpick inserted in center emerges with a few crumbs attached (or clean) but not wet, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool fully on wire rack; cut into 24 bars.
Yield: 24 bars