Peach Jelly-Filled Banana Bread Bars
I love a good jelly-filled danish or donut. Plump, puffy, and sporting a sweet surprise in the middle.
I’ll also never tire of banana bread. These bars are part jelly danish crossed with ultra moist banana bread.
The batter for the bars is fast and easy to make. Multiple ingredients are combined at once, in one bowl, are are whisked together. Begin by melting one stick of butter, add an egg, sugars, peach yogurt, and vanilla extract. I chose a peach theme for this recipe, both the yogurt and jelly used are peach. But if pineapple, mango, strawberry, or a mix-and-match combination of various yogurt and jelly flavors is what you have or prefer, go with that. Virtually any fruity combination will work with bananas. They’re such a great canvas.
Fold in mashed bananas, flour, baking soda, and one packet of dry instant vanilla pudding mix to the batter. Pudding mix has a high amount of cornstarch in it, and my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for cornstarch. The cookies are soft, tender, and moist; and the cornstarch in the pudding mix does the same thing for these bars, rendering them fall-apart soft. Plus, the vanilla pudding adds an extra layer of vanilla flavor and I can never get enough vanilla.
Turn out the batter into a 9-by-9-inch pan, and although I haven’t tried it, I’m sure making this as a 10- or 12-cup Bundt cake would work well. Lightly smooth the surface of the batter and add about fifteen teaspoons of jelly, or about one-third of a cup. Dollop little blobs of jelly onto the surface in a random pattern, evenly dispersing the mounds, until the surface is well-covered in sweet, sticky jelly.
Marble and swirl the jelly with a table knife, going up and back, zig-zagging around. It doesn’t matter if the swirls are visually neat and pretty because as the bars bake, they turn a rich and golden amber hue, and the swirly pattern isn’t discernible. The jelly is for taste, and to lend moisture to the bars, rather than for visual effect.
Baking times will vary due to the moisture content in the bananas and in the jelly, jam, or preserves used; as well as climates, oven variances, and personal preferences. About forty minutes is the low end but I could envision up to one hour at the high end. I recommend covering the pan with foil midway through baking if your bars seem to be browning quickly, since the sugars in the jelly are prone to caramelizing. My oven here in Aruba runs hot and has a tendency to superficially brown things before the interior cooks through, and baking in humidity compounds the issue, so I covered my pan halfway through baking. Even when they’re done, they’re gooey and dense, and a toothpick test won’t likely come out clean.
After allowing the bars to cool, I made a simple vanilla glaze with melted butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla extract. The bars are plenty sweet on their own and don’t need a glaze, but glaze and frosting makes my world go round, so I happily drizzled away.
The bars may be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator. They have the density of a fugdy brownie, which I prefer served chilled, and I like these bars chilled, especially because it’s hot and humid here. But there’s a case to be made for serving them warm, especially in cold weather climates this time of year. Freshly baked, still warm banana bread is one of life’s great pleasures.
The banana flavor dominates, as I find bananas have a tendency to do whenever they’re present, but hints of peach jelly come through as a complementary background flavor.
Between the butter, bananas, yogurt, pudding, and jelly, these bars are dense, thick, and gooey. Nothing light, fluffy, dry, or airy about these. This is comfort-food; aromatic and rich, causing one to go back to the pan to even-out the rows with a fork at 1am, if you know what I mean.
This is melt-in-your-mouth, jelly-filled, drippy-glazed comfort at it’s finest.
The bars are part jelly danish crossed with ultra moist banana bread. Peach yogurt is used in the batter and the bars are fall-apart soft and moist. Peach jelly is swirled throughout before baking, boosting the peach flavor, moisture, and sweetness. These bars are dense and rich like a fudgy brownie. There's nothing airy, cakey, or light about them. They're melt-in-your-mouth, jelly-filled, drippy-glazed comfort-food at it’s finest.
For the Bars
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (one stick)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
6 ounces peach, pineapple, or vanilla yogurt (one standard-sized small container, about 3/4 cup. Greek yogurt is ideal, sour cream may be substitued; don't use thin, runny, lite or 'diet' yogurt)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/4 cups mashed ripe bananas (2 medium bananas)
one 3.4-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix (not Cook ‘n Serve; banana-flavored pudding may be used to boost the banana intensity)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
about 15 teaspoons peach jelly (about 1/3 cup, jam or preserves may be substituted; pineapple, mango, orange or similar flavors may be substituted)
For the Vanilla Glaze, optional
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup+ confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Bars - Preheat oven to 350F, line a 9-by-9-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray or grease and flour the pan; set aside. In a large microwave-safe mixing bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute. To the melted butter, add the sugars, egg, yogurt, vanilla, and whisk to combine. Add the bananas and stir to incorporate.
Add the dry pudding mix and stir to incorporate (You are not making pudding; simply add the mix as a dry ingredient. The pudding mix could be replaced with 1 to 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and about 2 to 3 tablespoons flour. Like any dough or batter, there is some flexibility with how to make up for eliminating three ounces of dry mix). Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and stir until just combined, taking care not to over-mix or bars will be tougher as the gluten will over-develop. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the surface with a spatula.
Add one teaspoon of jelly at a time to the top surface of bars, creating a surface dotted with little jelly blobs, dispersed randomly over the surface. With a table knife, swirl and marble the jelly through the batter using a zig-zag pattern going up-and-back, side-to-side a few times to disperse the jelly. It doesn't matter if the swirls are pretty or neat because while baking, it all turns into a golden shade of amber and melts together and you can't see the swirls; they're for taste not visual effect.
Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, tenting or covering the pan with foil halfway through baking if you judge the bars to be browning a bit fast on top (I cover with foil halfway through because my oven browns things too fast on the surface before the interior cooks through). Bake until top is set and golden, the center is not jiggly, and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center will likely not come out completely clean because bars are dense and gooey, both from the bananas and jelly, which may prevent a clean toothpick test. The bars are meant to be gooey and based on moisture content in bananas, yogurt used, oven variance, and personal preference, cooking times could vary from about 40 to 60 minutes. Allow bars to cool in pan for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving. While cake cools, make the glaze.
For the Vanilla Glaze, optional - The bars don't 'need' a glaze as they're moist and sweet on their own, but I prefer it. Melt butter in a small microwave-safe bowl, about 1 minute on high power. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and whisk to combine. Add sugar as needed until desired glaze consistency is reached. Drizzle glaze over the top of bars before slicing and serving; or slice and glaze each piece individually. Unglazed bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days; or store glazed bars in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
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Do you have a favorite banana-based recipe? Fan of jelly-filled goodies?
Feel free to link your favorite recipes since my ripe bananas seem to multiply in front of my eyes, and although I freeze them in chunks for smoothie-making, I like cake and bread better than smoothies in the winter.