By Kate Krader
AS FALL kicks off, now is the moment to consider the kitchen lessons of quarantine as we get into serious home cooking season. Will we see infinite chili and hummus variations if stockpiling canned beans comes back into vogue? Will sourdough loaf baking carry on ad infinitum? Will tuna melts continue to dominate the sandwich scene?
One thing we might have hit capacity on: banana bread.
The pandemic’s official comfort food may inspire PTSD in some, but for people like me still in the market for a banana-flavored treat, the concept of a chocolate banana cookie is timely. It provides an instantaneous sense of well-being as a reconceived version of the ultimate comfort food, a chocolate chip cookie.
The sweet treat is the brainchild of Courtney Cowan, founder of Los Angeles bakery Milk Jar Cookies, which quickly gained a following after opening in 2013. Her specialty is oversized versions of her store’s namesake that range from such classics as oatmeal raisin to in-season delights like lemon blueberry, to dessert-inspired variations such as pumpkin pie.
Because quarantining has generally been good for the comfort food industry, Cowan has seen her business grow during the pandemic. Her web orders are now double what they were in February — a high-volume month because of Valentine’s Day. She’s also seen a change in gifting from corporate clients such as Oracle Corp. and Spotify Ltd., which used to order cookies solely for business prospects.
“We saw a dip at the start of the pandemic, but now it’s come back, and companies are sending cookie packages to their work-from-home employees,” she says.
Her upcoming cookbook Milk Jar Cookies Bakebook: Cookie, Cakes, Pies, and More for Celebrations and Every Day (Rizzoli; $33), out on Oct. 6, amalgamates dozens of recipes, from cookies to nostalgic desserts such as Mixed Berry Pie and Confetti Cake, so you can bring that joy home, too.
Ms. Cowan is a precise cook. “I found out the hard way what a very big deal it is to follow a baking recipe,” she says of a disastrous attempt as an 11-year-old kid trying to make the Tollhouse classic without baking soda. This means that her recipes are longer than most — she goes into great detail about mixing cookie dough, which at first might seem too much but soon makes you feel as if you’re cooking alongside an expert. (The recipe below is edited from her original.)
Ms. Cowan says Dairy Queen’s chocolate-covered banana, a childhood favorite, is the inspiration for her Chocolate Banana Cookies. She starts with a chocolate chip cookie dough and then adds a little cocoa powder and a dash of banana extract. A base of butter and shortening gives the baked cookies a crisp outer edge and gooey center, which is her hallmark — supersized, so they feel like a decadent treat and not a two-bite afterthought.
What makes the cookies exceedingly fun and clever, though, are the broken up banana chips she also adds to the dough, amping up the fruity flavor. A drizzle of melted chocolate and crushed peanuts elevate it to even greater heights. This is a great recipe to have on hand, even if I do eventually find my way back to banana bread.
The following recipe is adapted from the Milk Jar Cookies Bakebook. Organic banana extract, like the one made by OliveNation, delivers the best flavor; you can substitute one-quarter banana, mashed, but the texture will be a little heavier.
CHOCOLATE BANANA COOKIES
Makes about 10 large cookies
1/3 cup dried banana chips, plus 10 whole chips for topping
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tbsp. natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1/3 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 /2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 extra large egg, cold
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pure banana extract, or ¼ banana, mashed
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
Crushed peanuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Crush the 1/3 cup banana chips. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, shortening, sugar, brown sugar, egg, vanilla extract, and banana extract, and beat on medium-low speed until mixed with some small butter chunks. Add half the dry ingredient mixture, and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Add half the remaining dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until incorporated and the butter chunks are gone. Add the remaining dry ingredients, and mix just until combined; the dough should pull away from the sides. Stir in ¾ cup chocolate chips and the crushed banana chips.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. For each cookie, scoop 1/3 cup of dough, shape into 1 ½-wide ball and set on baking sheet, allowing space between cookies. Top each with 1 banana chip, gently pushing it into the dough. Bake in the middle and lower oven racks until hairline cracks form on the sides, about 14 minutes. Rotate the pans, swapping positions halfway and spinning the pans 180° halfway through baking. Let cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, melt the remaining chocolate chips. Spoon into a piping bag, or a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off. Drizzle the cookies with the chocolate in a zig zag motion. (If you don’t care about looks, spread the melted chocolate on the cookies, but it won’t deliver as thick a topping).
Sprinkle with the crushed peanuts. Refrigerate until the chocolate is hardened — at least 15 minutes — then serve. — Bloomberg