I have a confession. I really like bananas (they’re a healthy, portable snack and I go crazy over banana-chocolate cake), but I feel guilty about the environmental and social impacts.
Bananas are grown with some of the highest pesticide levels of any tropical crop. Normally we don’t worry about it because we don’t eat the contaminated peel, but the pesticides leach into soil and kill surrounding wildlife. Also, bananas are grown in Latin America (imagine the fuel costs and how unripe they have to be to ship properly), where workers are denied fair wages and health care. Before you throw your hands up in frustration, please buy organic and fair-trade bananas (sparingly). Yes they’re more expensive, but that’s how much they’re supposed to cost. And then go ahead and make these banana brownies.
I first got this idea when I went to a demo and ate brownies with grilled bananas. So gooey and good. I decided to make it a one-pan affair by baking the bananas and brownies together. The brownies are an old standby. They’re like the box-mix kind, with their chewy bite and crackly, paper-thin crust, but better. They also happen to be low-fat. The only brownie I like more has three sticks of butter and 3/4 pound of chocolate, so you can’t really compare. The topping has a couple tablespoons of butter or optionally none at all, making the whole thing healthier than expected.
Personally I think these need nuts to break up the gooey texture, but a lot of people who like fudgy brownies liked these as is. If you’re not a fudgy fan, I suggest adding a handful of toasted walnuts or cocoa nibs (toss with a teaspoon of flour, so they don’t sink to the bottom) during the last stage of mixing.
Banana Upside-Down Brownies
For the topping:
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (100 g) packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons water or butter; cubed, at room temperature
3-4 ripe medium bananas (organic and fair-trade please)
A few drops of lemon juice
For the brownies:
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (112 g)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened dutch process cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or 1/4 cup cocoa nibs, tossed with a teaspoon or two of flour
- Make the Topping: place the brown sugar and water or butter in an 8×8″ metal cake pan. Place the pan directly on the stove and warm over low heat, stirring until the sugar is the texture of wet sand. If using water, simmer for about 45 seconds. If using butter, stir just until the sugar is moist and bubbling, then remove from heat. (It won’t be completely smooth, and there may be a few bare spots.) Let cool to room temperature.
- Peel and slice the bananas in 1/4-inch (1 cm) slices. Arrange them, slightly overlapping, over the melted brown sugar. Sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice.
- Make the Brownies: place the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
- Over medium heat, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar until combined (texture will remain gritty). Add the eggs, vanilla, and dissolved espresso powder. Beat with a wooden spoon about 40 strokes, scraping the sides of the pan as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and the walnuts/nibs (if using) and beat for another 40 strokes, or just until completely combined.
- Scrape the mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out a little gooey. Note: the brownie recipe calls for 20-25 minutes, but mine were nowhere near done then. I have a temperamental oven, so check the brownies at 20 minutes and every 5 minutes after that, and be prepared to bake for up to 40.
- Cool for about 20 minutes, then run a knife along the edges of the brownies to help it release from the pan. Invert the brownies onto a serving platter. When completely cool, cut into 16 pieces. If keeping for more than one day, store in the fridge.