The Black Bottom Banana Bars We Can't Stop Dreaming About

June  1, 2018

Baker Jessie Sheehan won our last recipe contest, Your Best Banana or Plantain Recipe, (and our hearts) with her Caramelized Banana Upside-Down Cake. So when we learned she recently published her second cookbook, The Vintage Baker, we had to know more.

Here, she shares another banana-flavored beauty as well as how she freshened up a whole book of retro recipes. We bet you won't be able to stop dreaming of these bars, either.

Photo by Ty Mecham

I don’t know about you, but I get kind of excited when I hear a dessert described as having a “black bottom” (as in a buttery, chocolatey crust). So excited, in fact, that when twisting and tweaking old recipes for my new cookbook, The Vintage Baker, I knew I wanted to develop at least one dessert with just such a bottom. And the beauty of writing said cookbook—wherein I mined my collection of vintage recipes for those most ripe for a 21st-century makeover—is that I got to do just that.

For the uninitiated, a “black bottom” describes a dessert with a base layer of chocolate. Think: silky dark ganache poured into a flaky pie crust before filling it (with coconut pudding, please), or of the crust itself, often made of crushed chocolate cookies and melted butter. My Black Bottom Banana Dream Bars have just such a crust, though the recipe that inspired them did not.

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I discovered the recipe for Coconut Dream Squares in my 1962 Baker’s Chocolate and Coconut Favorites baking pamphlet (all of the recipes in my book originated from one of my many vintage recipe booklets). Because I love coconut and all things dreamy—not to mention the fact that the squares reminded me of the "magic” and “seven-layer” bars of my childhood—I decided to revamp it for my cookbook. And this is where things got fun. The beauty of these old recipes is their simplicity: minimal instructions, few ingredients, and very little flavor (no salt, not much vanilla). In short, the perfect blank canvas.

Coconut Dream Squares call for a pressed-in shortbread crust, coconut, a handful of walnuts, no salt (the horror!), and a paltry amount of vanilla, and it bakes up quite...beige, both in color and in flavor, if you know what I mean.

My version, on the other hand, calls for a black bottom chocolate cookie crust (for color, as much as for flavor), deeply toasted walnuts (I’m basically anti-nut unless toasted till seriously fragrant), a handful of mini chocolate chips (to marry the filling to the crust just a wee bit, and because, chocolate), salt (you’re welcome), a generous splash of vanilla, and diced bananas (for a little textural contrast, fruitiness, and because the combination of bananas and chocolate makes me think of banana splits, which I adore). In short, I was true to the bones of the original recipe—coconut, walnuts, a pressed-in crust—but fiddled with those elements to appeal to today’s more sophisticated palate, not to mention adding additional ones for a more complex bar-eating experience.

The result, I hope, is a black-bottomed sweet that reminds you of something wholesome and old-fashioned, albeit less monochromatic. But with enough going on via flavor and texture to place it solidly in the here and now.

Have you ever zhushed up a vintage recipe? Share your favorite updates in the comments below!

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Bio: Jessie Sheehan is the author of The Vintage Baker and Icebox Cakes. Her new easy-peasy baking book, Snackable Bakes, hits shelves in spring 2022. She contributes to the Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Food Network, and the Kitchn, among others.