There are brownies, and then there is the king of brownies.
I'm talking about ones with bananas and peanut butter that would get Elvis Presley's blessings.
The signature trademark of a good classic brownie is that it should be chewy, gooey and not overbaked. It does not have to be fancy and topped with swirls or glazes. Nor does it need to feature hard-to-find ingredients. A recipe free of fuss will be just fine.
If it has a nice sheen, that's great. If it is a crackly top, that is great, too. And if it strikes the right balance between chewy, cakey and fudgy and has a deep chocolate flavor, that's the best.
I like a fudgy brownie but not one that is so ridiculously rich that I can't even get halfway through it. Or I have to wash it down with cold milk or water. At the same time, I am not crazy about thick cakey brownies where the flour dominates.
A brownie also needs to be one that is intensely chocolaty but not bitter. One that is sweet but won't hurt my teeth. And one that can remain moist even after a couple of days.
It's easy to overbake brownies as it is often hard to tell when they are done. The usual visual cues that indicate something is browned enough on top don't work here because the brownies are already, well, brown. Determining the doneness through the aroma can be tricky, too.
The best way to check for doneness is to insert a toothpick or a cake tester in the center of the brownies. If the tester comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it, the brownies are baked perfectly. On the other hand, if it comes out clean, they have been overbaked.
The sky's the limit when it comes to the add-ins. Nuts, chocolate chunks, dried fruits, mint chips, coconut flakes and cream cheese work well when mixed into the batter, and so do pretzels, graham crackers and marshmallows.
Salt accentuates the sweetness, so be sure to add a dash of it in the batter. For a hint of spice, a little bit of ancho chili powder or cayenne pepper can do wonders.
There are add-ins I avoid at all costs, and curry powder, potato chips and bacon are among them. They are just not my type of flavoring for brownies. Also, when things like matcha are added, I think it is just plain wrong to call it a brownie anymore.
In "Flavor for All: Everyday Recipes and Creative Pairings" by James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst, a recipe that is boldly titled "The King" of Brownies caught my eye. Like the famed Elvis sandwich, the brownies call for bananas and peanut butter that act as both moistening and flavoring agents.
Chocolate chips are melted with butter and brown sugar and blended with bananas, flour and cocoa powder. After the batter is poured into a prepared pan, spoonfuls of peanut butter are dropped on top and then dragged with a butter knife to create swirls.
After about 25 minutes in a 350-degree oven, the brownies turn not chewy, but super soft. And they are rich but not greasy. Although the banana and peanut butter flavors are unmistakable they don't smack you in your face.
They are the kind of brownies you can go bananas or nuts over. And who knows? The king of rock 'n' roll might have, too, if he knew about it.
The King of Brownies
The bananas and peanut butter are moistening and flavoring agents here, making the brownies super soft. Then there is the mesmerizing aroma. While the banana-y presence is unmistakable, it does not smack in your face.
2 ripe bananas
1 large egg
1 cup packed light brown sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 9-inch baking pan.
Combine the banana, egg, 1/2 cup of brown sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.
Combine the remaining cup brown sugar and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the sugar has melted.
Remove from the heat. Add chocolate chips, and stir until smooth.
Beat the butter-chocolate mixture into the banana mixture. Add the flour and cocoa, and stir to combine.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Drop spoonfuls of peanut butter over the top of the batter, and then drag a butter knife through it to create swirls.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until the edges are set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out slightly moist.
Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container or tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
Makes 16 brownies.
— Adapted from "Flavor for All: Everyday Recipes and Creative Pairings" by James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; October 2020)