Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Banana Cake-Bars with Dark Chocolate Chips (Still Lovin' that Spelt Flour!)

Given that I've been cozying up to the delicate sweetness of spelt flour lately, I thought it was high time to post another recipe that makes use of it. (My maiden voyage with spelt can be found here, in case you're interested.) Though spelt flour is made from the whole grain, it bears only slight resemblance, in my opinion, to whole wheat flour in terms of flavor and texture. I think it may be the golden ticket for home bakers who aren't completely thrilled at the idea of sweets containing any whole grain flour, yet who want to begin incorporating healthier flours into at least a few of their baked goods. It works really well mixed in with unbleached white flour, and I figure that's the best jumping off point. Give it a whirl on a small scale before you fully commit.

Bite into one of these treats and, from the texture angle, you won't even be able to tell that they're not made entirely with white flour. In fact, these banana cake-bars are so cakey I really couldn't get away with calling them just banana bars. These guys are more like soft little cake slices. With fragile golden crumbs that tumble off here and there when you pick them up, they cry out for clean white napkins and big tumblers of ice cold milk. They'll do those ripe bananas proud.

About this recipe . . .

I adapted this from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains. This was the first whole grain baking book I ever really liked. I've baked from it many times, and most of the results have been surprisingly good. I've noticed that many of the older whole-grain baking cookbooks out there, from past decades, often include formulas for almost concrete-like breads, cookies, and cakes. I'm relieved we're finally seeing a lighter approach in volumes like this one, and in Good to the Grain, which has a whole chapter devoted to baking with spelt.

The original recipe called for semi-sweet chips but, honestly, I think that would have made them too sweet. Plus, I'm a maniac for dark chocolate so I used that instead. I also substituted canola oil for butter, I drastically reduced the amount of cinnamon and nutmeg and, as noted above, I used a mixture of white and spelt flour instead of using spelt alone.

My kids really liked these, which I must admit kind of surprised me. Nathan (the now-15-year old), who is always my willing guinea pig whenever I bake something new, adored them. I thought the boys would become uninterested the second they heard the word spelt come from my mouth, but it didn't phase them. In my house, that's a meaningful seal of approval.

Banana Cake-Bars 
with Dark Chocolate Chips (and Spelt Flour!)
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Makes one 9" x 13" pan; 24 - 2" squares.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" x 13" pan.
(Just fyi: I mixed this recipe entirely by hand. Gave my mixer the day off!) 

3/4 cup canola oil
1 and 1/4 cups light or dark brown sugar, packed (I used light.)
3 medium size bananas, very ripe, well mashed
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 large pinch ground cinnamon
1 large pinch ground nutmeg
1 egg, large
1 cup spelt flour
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 cups dark chocolate, small chips or chopped bar chocolate (I used a combo of both.)

Stir the oil and the sugar together well in a large bowl. Beat in the bananas, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Add in the egg, stirring vigorously. Stop to scrape the bowl with a spatula now and then.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add to the liquid mixture and blend thoroughly. Pour the batter into the greased pan. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes (this direction allows the flour to absorb some of the moisture a thicken a bit). Sprinkle your chocolate evenly over the top. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. Cool the finished bars in their pan on a rack. They're best when allowed to rest overnight, in the pan, covered. (They stay fresh for at least two days and I actually thought the flavor had improved the second day.)

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