The banana bread of my childhood was my dear grandma’s crumbly and walnut-laden loaf. I can still taste it now, slathered with the synthetically smooth margarine she always stocked. Being the only banana bread I knew, I really enjoyed it back then. After all, the rare instance of baking anything sweet was exciting, and the idea of transforming soft bananas into a cake-like treat was fascinating to me. As an adult, I don’t tend to crave that style of banana bread (or margarine for that matter), but I still always welcome overripe bananas and embrace their potential for creative reincarnation.
Since bananas are ubiquitous and their ripening always imminent, I’ve played around with many, many banana recipes over the years. No matter the format I’ve made (from cream pie, to milkshakes, to bread baked in a crock pot), I’ve learned that a heap of spices is always at home with banana: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg — you name it. I’ve also determined that letting the bananas get so ripe they’re almost all black, then freezing them until ready to defrost and use, is central to the moistest crumb for baked goods.
This recipe celebrates both of these qualities, incorporating a generous scoop of warm, fragrant ground cardamom into a batter made from bananas that ooze with ripeness. The result is a richly spiced, utterly moist bite — one that’s delightfully contrasted with a crisp, chocolatey shell. Please keep your electric mixer stowed away for this recipe; gentle hand mixing lets the air stay minimal in these temptingly dense little squares.
Cardamom Banana Bites (makes 36 little squares)
- 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 3 medium to large extremely ripe bananas (1 cup or 1 scant cup once mashed)
Grease sides and bottom of an 8 x 8″ square baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a small bowl or measuring glass, smash the ripe bananas well with a fork (this should be quite easy if your bananas are the proper ripeness); a few small lumps are fine, as are juices. You should have a scant cup to a full cup of mashed banana; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and butter or coconut oil until smooth and lump free. Stir in the vanilla. Add egg yolks one at a time, gently whisking each one until incorporated. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cardamom over the butter mixture. Gently stir, trying not to incorporate air, until even and no traces of flour remain. Gently fold in the mashed banana until evenly dispersed. Spread batter evenly into lined pan.
Cover top of pan with a piece of foil, poking a hole in its center to prevent sogginess. Bake for a total of about 40 minutes, stopping and rotating pan at the 20 minute mark. When nearing 40 minutes total, carefully lift foil (the steam is quite hot). Baking is complete when batter no longer moves or looks wet, and a toothpick inserted in the center tests clean. Not to worry if the surface looks uneven. Remove from oven and discard foil. Let pan cool completely, then transfer pan to refrigerator to chill.
When ready to slice, loosen sides of chilled pan with a knife, then invert onto a cutting board and remove parchment. Leave upside down, smooth side up for cutting and glazing. If clean-cut squares are desired, trim any uneven edges to make straight lines. (The trimmings are crisp and caramelized: so delicious!) With a sharp knife, divide square into equal quadrants, then slice each quarter into nine equal squares, making 36 pieces total. Keep squares cool for the glazing process. While the squares are really wonderful plain, I opted for a crisp, sweet cocoa glaze.**
For the sweet cocoa glaze:
- 1.25 cups powdered sugar
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2-3 tablespoons water
Place the cool banana squares on a wire rack over a cookie sheet or platter. Sift together first three ingredients in a bowl. Whisk in vanilla and 2 tablespoons water. If too thick, add more water very gradually, whisking well after each addition. Lean toward thickness; if too watery, the glaze will soak into the squares and will not dry or get crispy. Spoon the glaze over the squares (about a teaspoon each). If desired, decorate with sprinkles while glaze is still wet. Let sit at room temperature until glaze is dry to the touch, then transfer to mini cupcake liners if desired. Keep cool.
With their burst of warm spice and a texture so moist it’s almost juicy, cardamom banana bites are a decadent nod to the banana bread of my youth. Enlivened with the lusciousness of cardamom, the banana batter is practically steamed under the foil in a slow oven. The chocolatey shell offers a contrasting texture and a complementary flavor, creating an outright richness that’s behind the reason they’re small like candy. I hope you welcome their spicy, sweet, and truly succulent qualities to your kitchen the next time your bananas ripen.
**Maybe next time… Cardamom banana bites are best kept chilled, but the cocoa glaze tends to become wet when refrigerated (still delicious, but without a crisp shell). If you aren’t eating these the same day, you might wait to ice them until an hour or two before serving, or opt for melted bittersweet chocolate drizzled over them in place of the cocoa glaze. (This option is a little more rich and crisp, and a little less sweet.) Melted white chocolate or sifted powdered sugar are also great toppings, just as the sprinkles can be deliciously replaced with shredded coconut or crushed nuts of your choice. Finally, feel free to explore your spice cabinet for this recipe — whether you combine them or stick with one, a variety of sweet spices will pair well with banana.