Based on Thorndike’s Law of Effect, early 20th Century behaviorist B.F. Skinner was considered progressive, because he thought it made more sense to study human behavior by systematically measuring visible causation and action vs. trying to measure the unquantifiable, and unyielding consciousness of the human mind.
This approach, termed “operant conditioning,” is the idea that reinforcements, whether positive or negative, can cause someone to exhibit a certain behavior with greater probability of it being repeated, or, if negatively reinforced, prevent the behavior from being repeated at all, eventually causing it to extinguish or die out. This is something I’ve recently tried to apply to the dieting roller coaster I’ve been since leaving Los Angeles; where, for some strange vanity-filled reason, it was easier to live with an eating disorder than without one. Go figure!
Like Skinner, I hypothesized that if a positively reinforced behavior tends to be repeated, then I could train myself to diet consistently—or at least more often—if I “positively reinforced” my dieting. What could go wrong? We’d already seen the theory in practice when we trained our black lab Eddie ‘to shake’ with pieces of Milk-Bone biscuits. I waited until he shook my hand with his paw, and then I rewarded him with a biscuit. I had him conditioned in no time. Eventually, I could say the words “shake Eddie, shake,” and he’d fart, because Milk-Bones make him gassy, but he lifted his paw too, because he wanted more Milk Bones, which continued the vicious cycle of canine-ass-flames. If those 19th Century psychobabble-ists were indeed right, and our minds so easily programable, than I could just use positive reinforcements to condition myself to diet more.
“I’ll reward myself for losing weight, and feel so good about it, that I’ll diet more!”
I shouted that in the mirror of the men’s room at the AMC theaters on Van Ness. A few men scurried out without washing their hands, and I can’t blame them, because I’d probably do the same if a stocky queer was cheering himself on about dieting in the mens’ restroom—but I was pumped!
Aside from the bathroom incident, and the fact that when we trained Eddie at the dog park, the other dog owners seemed repulsed by his flatulence [it was definitely the dog], “Plan trick-myself-into-dieting” seemed pretty darn foolproof.
So this past weekend, Jonathan and I completed a three-day juice cleanse. While on it, we could only drink the prescribed juices left in temperature controlled boxes on our doorstep at 4 am every morning (thanks hipster delivery guy with the pierced lower lip)—aka the diet.
When the juice cleanse was over at sundown on the third day, I decided it was time to “positively reinforce” myself and encourage the next round of dieting to start. So I embarked on an amazing baking odyssey and developed my proudest dessert creation to date—these banana chocolate bars with walnuts and salted caramel sauce. Imagine a chocolate banana bread cake-pop on steroids.
Needless to say, Skinner was right about positive reinforcements, and now—like clockwork—I bake desserts after enjoying a homemade sweet like these banana chocolate dessert bars just for the reward of eating them. Then the cycle repeats. Now if that’s not positive reinforcement in action than I don’t know what is.
And I haven’t dieted since!
Banana Chocolate Dessert Bars w/Salted Caramel
CAUTION: To the adventurer reading this very post, heed this bit of caution. If you want a say in the quantities of this dessert that you will inevitably consume; think about how it might benefit from you re-imagining the end result in a single bite-size piece like a truffle or cube.
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ¾ tsp salt
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tblsp vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups ripe bananas mashed with a fork
- 1 cup toasted walnuts chopped
- ½ cup goat milk (you can use buttermilk if you’d like)
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (shredded is fine too)
- 1 ½ – 2 lbs compound chocolate for coating (or tempered chocolate if you’d prefer)
- 1 cup salted caramel sauce (recipe here)
Preheat the oven to 350° F
A little trick to ensure the perfect creamy banana mash without risking their flesh turning gray or growing mold is to freeze the bananas when they’re starting to soften and get spots. They’ll stay good in the freezer for several months, and when you’re ready to use them, pop them in the microwave for 45-60 seconds and cut open the peels. This will soften the skin and start to pull some of the moisture out of the bananas. They’ll pop out of their peels and be easy to mash with a fork.
If your walnuts aren’t already toasted, place them on a small baking pan and in the oven at 350° for 6-10 mins, taking care not to let them burn. You know they’re done when they’ve deepened in color and you can begin to smell their nutty fragrance.
Once they’re done, pour them onto a plate or a small bowl to cool before roughly chopping them into pieces. Set aside and move on to the coconut.
If you’re using flaked coconut, chop it up in a food processor with a few pulses. You can coarsely chop it by hand too if you want. Bob’s Red Mill makes an unsweetened shredded coconut that’s perfect as is, and you can find that in most grocery stores. Set the measured unsweetened coconut aside and move on to preparing the pans.
Liberally spray the inside of the 8×8 inch square baking pan, and a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Use two strips of parchment paper (8 inches in width each) and lay them across the square pan, perpendicular to each other. Push the parchment paper down on the bottom of the pan and against the sides, with a few extra inches sticking straight up above the pan edges and set both pans aside.
Whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until well combined (about 1 minute).
With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture slowly and then follow with the half cup goat milk (or buttermilk), 1 ⅓ cups vegetable oil, 2 tblsp vanilla extract, 1 ½ cups mashed bananas, 1 cup unsweetened coconut and 1 cup toasted walnuts. Whisk on medium-high until well combined, and mix the batter by hand a few more times before filling the two pans.
Fill the 8×8 square brownie pan lined with parchment paper until the banana nut batter comes half way up the sides of the pan. If you’re using the chocolate chips, now is the time to mix them in with the batter left in the mixing bowl. Then pour that batter with the chocolate chips (or without if you’re not using the chocolate) into the loaf pan.
Place both pans on a large baking sheet in case any batter spills over, because you don’t want it burning on the bottom of the oven. It’s a paint to clean up! Bake the banana chocolate walnut breads in the oven for 30 minutes, then rotate them and bake for another 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the cooked banana breads clean or with a few moist crumbs—no wet batter.
Once done, let the banana bread loaves cool in their respective pans on cooling racks for 5 minutes, and then remove them from their respective pans. Let the traditional loaf cool completely before eating it, or sealing it in plastic wrap and freezing it until you’re ready to enjoy it in the future.
Using the lip of the parchment paper, remove the square banana nut bread from the 8×8 inch brownie pan. Reserve the parchment paper strips. While it’s still warm, using a serrated knife, trim the crusty edges and corners away from the banana bread. This is really about removing the sides and corners, because the top and bottom pieces—though they’re darker in color—should still be soft and moist. If that’s not the case, then try to trim off any tough parts. With the crusts removed, break the banana bread into 1-inch pieces with your hands. If it’s too hot use a large fork or a potato masher.
Heat the salted caramel sauce in the microwave for about 20 seconds or until it’s soft and pours like hot fudge.
Then pour it over the torn pieces of banana coconut bread. Mix this until the caramel sauce has permeated the bread. This is like mashing cake and frosting together for cake pops.
Once mixed well, place the reserved parchment paper strips back in the 8×8 inch brownie pan and fill it with the salted caramel banana nut bread mash. Using your hands or a good sturdy spatula, press the mixture into an even layer across the pan. Push it into the corners, and try to keep the edges even with the rest of the cake mixture, like you’re making a really thick 8×8 inch tile. Let the ”tile” of banana coconut salted caramel bread chill in the freezer for at least an hour.
Once hardened and chilled, remove the frozen slab and peel away the parchment paper. On a cutting board, cut the slab in half and then again in fourths. Then do this in the other direction, giving you 16 brownie-shaped pieces. This is where you can decide whatever size you’d like for these….they’re pretty dense and rich, so I tend to think these were a little big.
Place each of the pieces an inch apart over a wire cooling wrack.
Heat the dark compound chocolate (half at a time) in the microwave, for 40 seconds, mix it up, and heat for another 20 seconds, and stir; repeating until the mixture is perfectly smooth. If you’re using regular chocolate, then temper it however you’d like before moving on to the next step.
Now I poured about 2 tblsps over each piece and then went back with an offset spatula to even out the tops and let the extra chocolate drip down the sides, draping the pieces in chocolate on five of the six sides. Since the bars were just frozen, the chill of the filling will cause the chocolate coating to seize up and harden pretty quickly.
Place them in the fridge to chill, before taking them out and chiseling them loose from the rack. Then turn them over, and repeat the process on the other side. The second time around, they should be coated on all sides. An offset spatula is a huge help here!
That being said, these are pretty messy, and I’m sure there are many ways of doing this more efficiently and with precision.
While the chocolate coating is still soft, press a banana chip into each bar and then let them cool completely.
By the way, I’m not complaining because these are stoner-tastic treats! Jonathan and I each had one before bedtime, and I’m convinced that I dreamt of unicorns and fairytale endings that night because this dessert was so friggin amazing.
The next day we made the very difficult decision (we almost broke up twice coming to this conclusion) to get them out of the house and for me to bring them to work. So I did. Everyone in the office that day was on cloud nine because of these banana chocolate dessert bars with salted caramel. The feedback, or shall I say “constructive criticism” I did took to heart, was that they were just a little too big for one person. This dessert is like a cashmere throw, rich and creamy as it warms the lining of your stomach. And yet there’s a little bit of earthiness from the coconut and the goat milk. In order to have a say in the quantity you consume, I think they’d benefit from being re-imagined in a small single-bite-size candy.
Have a favorite banana chocolate dessert you want to share with us? Let us know in the comments below.