If every one of my childhood pleasures could be summed up in a single mouthful, it would taste like these spiced banana bars.
Even if I tried, I couldn’t conjure up a single memory of actually eating them; yet I so vividly recall the way they tasted, still warm from the oven, and how the banana-spice-lemon ratio was nothing short of poetry. Mom baked them frequently; but never so often that we tired of their deliciousness.
A few years ago, at my request, mom sent me a copy of the recipe for those beloved bars. It was given to her by my great Aunt Vi, a master baker in her own right. I successfully baked a batch for a dinner party, set the recipe aside and promptly forgot all about it. Until now. Now, I remember. And maybe because I have become more confident in the kitchen, I decided to make a few small changes. I did so with trepidation, all the while assuring myself I could return to the original recipe should I fail.
Call it fortuitousness. Call it luck. Perhaps a touch of culinary prowess. I don’t know. Bottom line, my adaptation was a walk down memory lane, only in 3D. I did not fiddle with the measurements, mind you, only with the types of sugars and flours. I also added a dash of freshly grated nutmeg. I know, I know. I am late on the bandwagon with grating the whole nutmeg; but I was nonetheless thrilled when I discovered that the do-it-yourself method far exceeds its pre-ground counterpart.
If you haven’t already, it’s high time you picked up a 5 lb. bag of whole wheat pastry flour, preferably Bob’s Red Mill. In this recipe, I replaced 2/3 of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour and, I say this with heartfelt conviction, it added a dimension of texture and flavor that, health benefits aside, truly rocked my world. Whole wheat is not a hippy dippy byword. It has its place in baked goods and I can attest, it positively shines in these bars. For those who choose to refute my less than subtle whole wheat diatribe or if you simply don’t have whole wheat pastry flour on hand, you will do just fine to stick with all white flour. Whatever you do, don’t use regular whole wheat flour. It is much too coarse for these delicate bars.
If you can get your hands on them, I highly recommend using Meyer lemons for the icing. Their season runs November through mid-March and, although pricier than regular lemons, they are well worth the investment; albeit difficult to track down. The Meyer lemon, a cross between a traditional lemon and a Mandarin orange, is highly aromatic, deeper in color, and sweeter in taste than regular lemons. Revered in culinary circles, Meyer lemons are a welcome stand-in whenever a recipe calls for lemon. Namely, this one.
spiced banana bars with lemon icing
serves 8 – 10
1 cup flour (I use 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour + 1/3 cup white flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons white sugar
2/3 cup ripe banana (about 2 medium bananas), mashed
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork
1/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 – 1/2 tablespoons hot water
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sift the dry ingredients. You can use a sieve or a wire whisk in place of a sifter. Set aside. With a wooden spoon or handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the mashed banana and blend thoroughly. Now add the egg and beat well. Next, add the dry ingredients and milk. Blend thoroughly. Spread the mixture evenly in a well-greased, floured 9 x 11 x 2 inch pan.
Bake for 20 –25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place the bars, in the pan, on a wire rack to cool. Using a toothpick, prick the entire surface of the bars, at one inch intervals. Frost the bars generously while still warm.
In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, hot water, lemon juice and zest. Using a handheld electric mixer, blend in the powdered sugar until smooth. If the icing seems thin, add additional powdered sugar, as needed. Be sure to work speedily when frosting the bars as the icing glazes over quickly.