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Banana Brownies

In autumn, it seems natural to think about baking. It's such a relief, once summer is over, to be able to even consider the prospect of turning on the oven without screaming that one longs to make up for lost time.

An unexpectedly hot day didn't make the impulse any less appealing to me; indeed, watching my bananas ripen and speckle at an accelerated rate made the idea of doing something with them suddenly urgent.

I have written before that bananas and chocolate are natural companions, and I've devoted several columns to the joy of brownies. But I'd never thought of attempting banana brownies, which now strike me as the perfect fall dessert.

Bananas are so sweet that they call out for a dark chocolate presence. Cocoa-banana brownies are a wonderful idea, and one that I will no doubt happily tackle at some point this season; but this time I wanted to use some unsweetened chocolate I had around.

I also wanted to incorporate some chocolate chips, which are always wonderful (and in my house, mandatory) in brownies anyway. I used semisweet, but bittersweet would offer a note of interesting sternness when paired with the mild good nature of bananas.

I enjoyed creating these, not least because -- other than needing a little bowl in which to mash the banana -- they're one-pot brownies. Yet there's nothing humble about their appearance or taste. These would make a first-rate company dessert, assuming you can stand the idea of sharing them.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter or grease an eight-inch square baking pan.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt together a quarter cup (half a stick) of butter and four ounces of unsweetened chocolate. I know it's considered practically a crime against culinary humanity to melt chocolate in anything but a double-boiler, but I've never understood volunteering to have water, the natural enemy of melting chocolate, so close to the proceedings.

(For those new to cooking: a drop of water in melting chocolate will make it seize up and become completely unusable. If this ever happens, save yourself a lot of time and grief and just start all over again with the recipe. I've had this happen and tried to make things work anyway, and they just never do.)

If you always use a double-boiler for this kind of thing, of course by all means use one now. But if you have a very heavy pot, simply use the lowest possible heat and stir the butter and chocolate frequently, turning off the heat when they're not quite completely melted. Continue stirring until they're all done.

Let the mixture cool very slightly. Then stir in three-fourths of a cup of granulated sugar, two eggs (one at a time), and one and a half teaspoons of vanilla. Beat this mixture thoroughly.

Without stirring between additions, add two-thirds of a cup of flour, half a teaspoon baking powder, and half a teaspoon salt. Mix thoroughly. Batter will be stiff.

Now for the fun part. Smash one banana in a small bowl. You can thoroughly pulverize it, or leave it good and chunky. Either way, mix it into the brownie batter.

Finally, stir in one cup of chocolate chips. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan, and bake for about twenty minutes. That is, start checking at twenty, and at two minute intervals after that. Bake the brownies just long enough for them to be set in the middle. Longer than twenty-four minutes will make them too stiff. Nobody loves a rubbery brownie.

When done, let them cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least an hour. These are wonderful warm, but I can bear witness to the fact that they remain quite appealing even when completely cooled.

Makes about sixteen smallish (but very rich) brownies, or one very very big one.

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