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.