Ah, the overripe banana. Has there ever been a foodstuff so divisive? On the one hand, it repulses and horrifies, with its festering, milky innards and dark, wrinkled exterior. On the other, it lends a fabulous moisture and sweet banana fragrance to all sorts of baked goods, improving with flavour the longer it is left to liquefy in its skin.
Maybe not as divisive as some other foods - foie gras, battery chicken, rabbit, and those horrible Chinese dishes that involve eating pieces off the animal while it's still alive - but still a subject of contention, I am sure. I know of many people who simply cannot abide an overripe banana, for whom the thought of peeling back that leathery brown skin to reveal the grisly mush within is tantamount to a nightmare.
My standard response to overripe bananas - and for me, any banana that isn't still tinged with green and firm to the bite is classed as 'overripe', so god help it by the time it starts to show those telltale brown spots - is to bake banana bread, or whip up a fluffy batch of banana and blueberry pancakes. I used to produce the former on an almost weekly basis while at university, inviting all my friends over to partake in the extremely pleasant ritual of a good cup of tea and a steaming slice of moist, gooey, still-warm banana bread. The latter are also delicious; the squished bananas give the pancakes all the moisture they need, with no requirement for surplus butter, meaning you can even claim your whopping mountain of brunch sustenance is healthy.
However, while perusing the baking Bible that is Dan Lepard's latest cookbook, Short and Sweet, I alighted on the recipe for the simply- and alliteratively-titled 'Banana Blondie'.
Perhaps it was the picture that drew me in, managing to perfectly capture what I imagined to be the intense fudgy deliciousness of these golden creations.
Perhaps it was the use of brazil nuts, easily my favourite nut of all time thanks to its irresistible creamy-yet-nutty texture and super-rich flavour.
Perhaps it was the idea of a blondie, a new culinary experience for me and one involving liberal amounts of sweet, vanilla-scented white chocolate, which I rarely cook with but which sounded rather good enriching the hearts of these tender morsels.
Perhaps it was the prospect of another way to use up those overripe bananas.
I think it was probably all of the above, but the latter was the main reason for me donning my apron this morning and whipping up a batch.
'Whipping up' is perhaps the wrong phrase; they are a little bit more fiddly to make than your average blondie or brownie. They require making a caramel (which always sounds very tricky and technical, but in fact involves nothing more taxing than mixing sugar and water, and letting it boil without stirring for a few minutes until it turns golden and bubbly), into which you stir your chopped brazil nuts before letting it set to a kind of hard toffee, which you then slice - with an immensely satisfying crunch - into glistening shards before enveloping in the golden batter.
The batter is a mixture of melted butter and white chocolate, ripe bananas, flour, baking powder, vanilla and sugar. Stirring the molten butter and chocolate into the sugary banana base is delightful; the hot butter melds with the banana and sends wafts of heady, perfumed fragrance into the kitchen. It's quite runny, cascading in viscous waves into the tin ready for baking, after you've punctuated it with the delicious sweet, nutty brazil toffee. It smells banana-y, vanilla-y, and buttery.
These can only be good blondies, I thought to myself as I carefully lowered the baking tray into the oven.
Ha. How little I knew. These are, in fact, possibly the best baked good I have ever put in my mouth.
Honestly, I can't even begin to describe how incredible they are. They are so moist and gooey, beautifully sweet and squidgy from the white chocolate, with that subtle enticing banana flavour. They're then rippled with crispy, sugary splinters of brazil nut toffee, adding a gorgeous buttery richness to the entire thing. The combination is incredible. It's like eating banana bread on steroids, super-charged with white chocolate and brazil nuts.
It kind of reminds me of crumble, the combination of nutty, buttery, crunchy and gooey all at once.
Essentially, they are everything you'd want in a baked good. I think they're actually better than rich, plain chocolate brownies - they have that moreish gooeyness and light, buttery flavour. Plus the nuts really elevate them to something special. It's not like those boring chunks of generic chopped nuts you get in some commercial brownies, that taste of nothing and leave an unpleasant dryness in the mouth. These are toasty, buttery, crunchy and delicious.
Dan Lepard states to leave them until 'stone cold' before slicing into squares. This is probably the first and last time I will ever say anything to the contrary of my idolised baking guru, but - don't. Let them cool until lukewarm, then slice and eat while still semi-molten and gooey. There will be more crumbs. You won't get a neat edge. It will be quite messy and pieces will break off under the pressure of the knife.
Embrace it. Eat the crumbs, because calories consumed while preparing food don't count. Love and cherish those messy edges - rusticity is the key to deliciousness.
Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, as I did, and you've pretty much got the best thing you will ever eat. I do not lie. I am so glad these have been introduced to my life.
Luckily for all you readers, the recipe is available online here. I did, however, make a couple of changes: I used 75g caster sugar for the brazil nut toffee, and then only another 200g (instead of 250g), of which half was caster and half was light brown - I love its caramel flavour. I also used 250g flour, not 200g, as my mixture was quite runny - probably due to the intense ripeness of my bananas (I didn't chop them, as the recipe says, as they were very soft - I just mashed them in with the egg using an electric whisk). Other than that it is the same, in all its beautiful, beautiful glory.
Fudgey. Gooey. Sugary. Crunchy. Nutty. Buttery.
These really are just amazing.