Chocolate-Swirled Peanut Butter Banana Bread

This recipe began as so many wonderful things do. Which is to say the sort of partial sentences that the husband dreads hearing when I'm in the kitchen. It usually goes like this:

WIFE (from the kitchen): Hmmm!!
HUSBAND (from the living room): What's that?
(A brief pause.)
WIFE (introspectively): "Oh, I just I wonder what would happen if I..."
HUSBAND (mumbles): Oh, geez.
WIFE (curt, determined): Shush.
(A long period of pan and utensil clanging as WIFE throws together God knows what. HUSBAND pokes fun from the other room.)


Now, in all fairness to the husband, sometimes these mad scientist moments don't turn out so well for any of us. Such as when the recipe itself is a failure in the technical sense, not rising or baking properly and generally just causing a whole lot of dirty dishes and frustration for no payoff. And of course I get all mopey and difficult to live with after said failures. Like, even more difficult to live with than usual. Big time difficult. Pretend you are shocked at this news.

Other times, things start out promising, and then the result is less than palatable, which of course needs to be confirmed by the husband. Like, oh, say, Guinness Marshmallows. I know, I know. Just. Listen. There was dark cocoa and gingersnaps involved too so I thought it might end up all complex and edgy and interesting. Which it was, for a few hours. But as the marshmallow cured, however, the whole thing strangely began to taste a lot like the smell of certain Maltese taxicabs I'd ridden in during my summer semester abroad. In short, wholly undelicious. That's what I get for trying to be edgy and interesting, I suppose.

But this time, I was destined to get it right. Bananas, peanut butter and chocolate. There's no way this could not go well. Right? So basically I married some techniques from a few favorite recipes to arrive at this unbeatably moist, tender, flavorful banana bread-chocolate cake combo. And of course, chocolate chips. Because, duh. Obvi.

A chocolate syrup comes together quickly on the stovetop (with agave nectar in place of corn syrup, though you could use either). The syrup is then blended into a portion of a pretty tradition banana bread batter that already has those aforementioned chocolate chips tucked in. Both batters are sort of layered and swirled together and when baked, marry quite happliy. Not unlike devoted husbands who sample all their wives recipes and nod approvingly (except for pretending to like stinky, funky, oddly bitter beer marshmallows, no one should expect that of one's spouse, really).

Chocolate-Swirled Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Use the darkest, richest cocoa powder you can get your hands on--I like Valrhona. And as always for banana bread, the more ripe the bananas, the better the flavor and moisture of the finished product. 

This recipe is one of those genius things that only gets better as it sits. Store it in a cake dome or covered container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Makes 1 loaf

For the chocolate syrup:

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup agave nectar (or light corn syrup)
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the batter:

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 large)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Position a rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat it 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line it with a strip of parchment paper or aluminum foil about 8 inches wide to create a sort of "sleeve" that will make removing the loaf easier later. 

To make the chocolate syrup, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, hot water, agave nectar and salt. Set the pot over high heat and bring the syrup just to a simmer, stirring occasionally until the syrup is smooth. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the peanut butter and butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the bowl.

Whisk together the mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla in a small bowl. Beat into the butter mixture. 

Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients. When just a few streaks of flour remain, stop the mixer, add the chocolate chips and gently fold the batter until everything is incorporated.  

Transfer about a third of the batter (a little less is better than too much) to a medium bowl. Add the chocolate syrup and stir until well-blended. 

Spread half the banana batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Top with half the chocolate batter. Use a spoon to scoop and swirl the batter. Repeat with the second half of both batters.

Bake until a toothpick comes about clean but not dry (a few moist crumbs is ideal), about 75 to 85 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before removing the loaf from the pan to cool completely.