Am I Delirious or Is This Chocolate Unmeltable?: Cabin Fever Caramel Banana Bars

So I might not have been thrilled with the bread pudding I recently made, but the two leftover bananas I had from that project gave me the opportunity to try another recipe on my to-bake list: Dorie Greenspan's "Cabin Fever Caramel Banana Bars." According to the headnote in Dorie's Cookies, the bars get their name from the fact that Dorie developed the recipe during a Connecticut blizzard when she had a "lone, sad-looking, black-speckled banana in a basket sending out 'save me' signals."

The recipe is written to use one banana and be baked in an 8-inch square pan. Since I had two bananas, I decided to double the recipe and bake it in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. It's a straightforward recipe. You cook butter with light brown sugar until melted; let the mixture cool and transfer it to a mixing bowl; beat with granulated sugar; add egg, vanilla, and banana mashed with sour cream; add all of the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon); mix in chopped salted peanuts; and pour into a pan and bake. I should mention that the recipe actually calls for cardamon, which Dorie calls "the subtle star of the mix." But I really do not like cardamon and so I made the suggested substitution of cinnamon; she says that nutmeg, cloves, or star anise are other options.
The bars are covered in a glaze of pure milk chocolate. The method seemed easy enough -- you sprinkle chopped chocolate over the hot cake right after it's done baking, put the pan back in the turned-off oven for three minutes, and spread the softened chocolate over the top of the bars. I was using 35% milk chocolate chunks that I buy in five-pound bags from I've used them many times before, including in applications where I've had to melt them, and I've never run into any problems. But when I pulled the chocolate-sprinkled bars out of the oven after three minutes, the chocolate was not soft at all. I put it back in the oven for a few minutes and checked again. Same result. Desperate, I put the pan under the broiler briefly. Still no dice -- although the chocolate looked blistered on top, it was not soft enough to spread.

This experience was both frustrating and baffling. I wasn't actually worried so much about melting the chocolate as I was concerned about over-baking the bars by repeatedly putting them back in a hot oven. So I carefully picked off all of the milk chocolate chunks, replaced them with Trader Joe's semisweet chocolate chips, and put the cake back in oven for a few minutes. The chips were soft and offered no resistance when I used an offset spatula to spread them into a smooth layer. I topped the glaze with crushed salted peanuts and let the bars cool in the pan.

When I sliced the bars, the glaze was slightly brittle -- not really surprising since it was straight chocolate -- and it developed some cracks as I cut through it. I thought the bars looked nice enough. They were short enough to definitely look more like a bar than a traditional piece of banana cake. In light of my fears of over-baking the bars, I was gratified that they weren't dry. But I'm pretty sure they would have been much more tender if they hadn't spent so much additional time in the oven. There were a ton of peanuts in the bars and the peanut flavor was as prominent as the banana. The bananas I used were small (totaling only 175 grams), and I think I would have preferred more banana flavor.

I thought these bars were fine, but to me they seemed like more of a peanut-chocolate dessert than a banana dessert, and the latter is what I had been hoping for. I would be interested in trying the recipe again with more bananas and fewer (possibly none) peanuts in the batter.

Recipe: "Cabin Fever Caramel Banana Bars" from Dorie's Cookies by Dorie Greenspan.


Louise said…
Those milk chocolate chunks are a puzzle. Sounds like they could sit out in the sun for an afternoon without melting.
It really was the strangest thing... no idea what happened!