The banana bread of my childhood was my dear grandma’s crumbly and walnut-laden loaf. I can still taste it now, slathered with the synthetically smooth margarine she always stocked. Being the only banana bread I knew, I really enjoyed it back then. After all, the rare instance of baking anything sweet was exciting, and the idea of transforming soft bananas into a cake-like treat was fascinating to me. As an adult, I don’t tend to crave that style of banana bread (or margarine for that matter), but I still always welcome overripe bananas and embrace their potential for creative reincarnation.
Since bananas are ubiquitous and their ripening always imminent, I’ve played around with many, many banana recipes over the years. No matter the format I’ve made (from cream pie, to milkshakes, to bread steamed in a crock pot), I’ve learned that a heap of spices is always at home with banana: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg — you name it. I’ve also determined that letting the bananas get so ripe they’re almost all black, then freezing them until ready to defrost and use, is central to the moistest crumb for baked goods, in my experience.
This recipe celebrates both of these qualities, incorporating a generous scoop of warm, fragrant ground cardamom into a batter made from bananas that ooze with ripeness. The result is a richly spiced, utterly moist bite — one that’s delightfully contrasted with a crisp, chocolatey shell. Please keep your electric mixer stowed away for this recipe; gentle hand mixing lets the air stay minimal in these temptingly dense little squares.
36 little squares
For the banana batter
3 medium extremely ripe bananas, peeled (1 cup or 1 scant cup once mashed)
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
For the cocoa glaze
1.25 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 tablespoons water
sprinkles or finely chopped nuts for decoration (optional)
Grease sides and bottom of an 8 x 8″ square baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325 F.
In a small bowl or measuring glass, smash the ripe bananas well with a fork (this should be quite easy if your bananas are the proper ripeness); a few small lumps are fine, as are juices. You should have a scant cup to a full cup of mashed banana; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and butter or coconut oil until smooth and lump free. Stir in the vanilla. Add egg yolks one at a time, gently whisking each one until incorporated. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cardamom over the butter mixture. Gently stir, trying not to incorporate air, until even and no traces of flour remain. Gently fold in the mashed banana until evenly dispersed. Spread batter evenly into lined pan.
Cover top of pan with a piece of foil, poking a hole in its center to prevent sogginess. Bake for a total of about 40 minutes, stopping and rotating pan at the 20 minute mark. When nearing 40 minutes total, carefully lift foil (the steam is quite hot). Baking is complete when batter no longer moves or looks wet, and a toothpick inserted in the center tests clean. Not to worry if the surface looks uneven. Remove from oven and discard foil. Let pan cool completely, then transfer pan to refrigerator to chill.
When ready to slice, loosen sides of chilled pan with a knife, then invert onto a cutting board and remove parchment. Leave upside down, smooth side up for cutting and glazing. If clean-cut squares are desired, trim any uneven edges to make straight lines. (The trimmings are crisp and caramelized: so delicious!) With a sharp knife, divide square into equal quadrants, then slice each quarter into nine equal squares, making 36 pieces total. Keep squares cool for the glazing process. While the squares are really wonderful plain, I opt for a crisp, sweet cocoa glaze (melted chocolate works well, too).
For the cocoa glaze
Place the cool banana squares on a wire rack over a cookie sheet or platter. Sift together first three ingredients in a bowl.
Whisk in vanilla and 2 tablespoons water. If too thick, add more water very gradually, whisking well after each addition. Lean toward thickness; if too watery, the glaze will soak into the squares and will not dry or get crisp.
Spoon the glaze over the squares (about a teaspoon each). If desired, decorate with sprinkles or finely chopped nuts while glaze is still wet. Let sit at room temperature until glaze is dry to the touch, then transfer to mini cupcake liners if desired. Keep cool.