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Banoffee Pie with a Twist

 

There’s a knock at the door. As it opens a pretty young lady is stood there with a peace offering and slight protrusion of the mandible,

“Banoffee Pie?”

I’ll leave you to name the film and actress and I’ll embellish you with the edible part of this famous scene – the pie not the actress. And when I say famous, it is in our house anyway as my young daughter does a cracking impression of the actress delivering the pie and the line.

Banoffee pie has to be one of the food pairings where everything just works; it’s as if nature had decided that at some point in the existence of the human race the combination of banana and toffee with cream and crumbly shortcrust pastry  or biscuit base would be discovered, and cherished by many. If you look in to the origins of where this delight comes from you’ll find, and it was to my surprise, that it was invented by a chap named Nigel Mackenzie and his chef Ian Dowding at a restaurant called the Hungry Monk Restaurant located in the village of Jevington, East Sussex – that’s about 60 miles or 100 km south of that little city, London. As the legend goes they were looking at a dessert originating from America called Blum’s coffee toffee pie, and in finding it was lacking a certain something played around with a few fruity ingredients until they hit on banana (and ditched the coffee).

Unfortunately Nigel, who passed away in May this year, and the restaurant are no more, but what lives on are the almost infinite iterations of what can now be classed as a truly global dessert – a true legacy since 1971. (Sounds like an ad agency line – maybe I’m in the wrong business).

So this iteration? Well it’s got toffee, it’s got banana, it’s got cream and it’s got chocolate biscuits. I read that one of the pet peeves of the chef were the versions created with a biscuit base so I thought I’d try it, and that’s where the chocolate biscuits come in; and not bad at all, if I may say so – sorry Ian.

In this one there are a couple little of twists. Firstly the addition of lime to the banana and cream, and secondly a few sea salt flakes to the caramel. Sea salt in caramel is a homage to the wonderful caramels that come from Brittany (salted caramel – that surely is a future post, don’t you think?).

 

Serves: A few hungry souls
Preparation: 20-30 minutes + 90 minutes chilling (longer if you’re chilling out)
Cooking: 15-20 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1 packet (300g)  Crumbly chocolate biscuits | I use dark chocolate Digestives (British). Play around with what’s available where you are.
70g  Unsalted butter |

For the Caramel Toffee:
150g  Light soft brown sugar | light muscovado is excellent.
150g  Unsalted butter |
395g Can  Sweetened condensed milk | About 14oz.
Pinch sea salt |

For the Cream and Bananas:
1 tbsp. lime juice |
500ml Single cream | Minimum 35% milk solids.
½  lime  | The grated zest of
4-5 medium  medium-ripe bananas | You want to catch the bananas whilst they are still firm; riper than the fresh green but not yet reached that soft, cough-inducing stage.

Optional – but looks great – chocolate splinters and curls or grated chocolate.

 

Method:

For the pie I use a 23 cm (9 inch) diameter fluted flan tin with removable base.

The base is as easy as you like: melt the 70g of butter in a pan and then crush the biscuits to crumbs in a plastic bag with something like the end of a rolling pin. Add the crushed biscuits to the butter and mix till it looks like all the crumbs are coated. Spread the biscuit mix over the base of the fluted tin and then compress it ensuring that the biscuit base is even and that there is a small wedge of biscuit base around the edge i.e. going up the flute sides. Put the base in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set.

To make the caramel toffee add the light brown sugar and 150g of butter to a medium heavy based pan and over a medium heat keep stirring until the butter has melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. Now add the sweetened condensed milk and a pinch of sea salt and stir. Bring the mix to the boil and then remove from the heat. Pour the runny caramel into the set biscuit base and return it to the fridge for the caramel to set – for about an hour.

When the caramel has set prepare the bananas and cream. Firstly, slice the bananas in to diagonal discs, put in a bowl and pour over the lime juice. Mix gently. The lime will add a little zing to the bananas whilst also delaying any browning. Next, whip the cream to lovely airy peaks and then very gently fold in the lime zest. Lay the banana slices over the set caramel and then gently spread over the whipped cream.

If you want to create chocolate curls or splinters melt about 150g of 70% cocoa solid chocolate to about 50 deg C (120 deg F) and spread over a cold surface – marble is perfect if available. Once the chocolate has lost its sheen but not completely set you can scrape it with a large knife to form those curls and splinters. Alternatively, grate some dark chocolate directly over the pie to decorate it. Bon Appetit.

Ecuador – Chucula de Vainilla

Football:

Ecuador is a relative new comer to World Cup competition, having first qualified in 2002 for the World Cup in Japan/ South Korea. Their best performance was in 2006 when they managed to make it to the last 16. Such a feat can be a real showcase for players and consequently there have been a number of Ecuadorians that have made it big overseas. Amongst the most well-known is Antonio Valencia, the Manchester United winger and ever present in the current Ecuadorian squad.

Unfortunately for Ecuador they were beaten by Switzerland last night with a last gasp winner. I can imagine the coach’s frustration as it looked odds-on that Ecuador would score with late pressure, but having nearly got a shot away Switzerland broke and finished it at the other end. With France to come it is vital they at least beat Honduras, who was swept away 3-0 by Les Bleus last night. I said in a post yesterday that Honduras would have a good chance against Ecuador, but with one of their key players being sent off and ineligible for the next game (Wilson Palacios who I must have put the mockers on by saying he was one to watch out for) I think Ecuador will be in the driving seat.

Their key players are the wingers Renato Ibarra and Jefferson Monterro and striker Felipe Caicedo. I am sure they will go for all-out attack against Honduras and then hope to stun France with a counter-attacking game.

 

The Dish: 

It’s dessert time again, and I can’t think of any better reason to make dessert with the vanilla bean being native to Central America. It’s one of the most incredible flavours in nature and was known to both the Mayas and Aztecs, who used it as a flavouring for drinking chocolate. Although the main Latin American vanilla-producing countries are Mexico, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Guadalupe and Dominca, it is widely used in Ecuadorian cuisine. Examples include Punta, a drink brewed with canelazo (naranjilla juice and sugar cane liquor), cinnamon, clove and vanilla; quimbolito, a spongy pocket made with corn flour, orange juice and vanilla essence; and rompope, a popular holiday drink made from milk, sugar, orange peel, egg yolks, condensed milk, cream, sugar cane alcohol and vanilla.

For the World Cup food project I have gone with this fantastic creamy Ecuadorian dessert that is perfumed with vanilla seeds. It is light and airy and deliciously fragrant against the gentle background of guava and banana.

A note on the guava: the guavas found in Ecuador are pod-like fruits with a cotton-like pulp that is eaten and dark seeds which are not. The other known guava is the round yellow one with the pinkish yellow flesh. Due to unavailability of an Ecuadorian guava or yellow round one here in Melbourne I used a feijoa (or pineapple guava), which is also native to parts of Latin America.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 10 minutes + 4 hours in the fridge

 

Ingredients:
2 Ripe bananas | Peeled and cut in to thick slices.
2-3 Ripe guavas | Yellow round ones – skinned, quartered and cored or 6 ripe feijoas skinned and quartered.
1 Vanilla pod |
150ml Water |
60g Caster sugar |
300ml Single cream | Minimum of 35% milk fat solids.

 

How To:

Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthways, scrape out the vanilla seeds and reserve. To a small pan add the water, banana and vanilla pod (without seeds), cover and over a low heat simmer for 5 minutes. Now add the guava and simmer covered for a further 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod and put the contents of the pan in to a food processor along with the caster sugar and reserved vanilla seeds. Blend until really smooth and allow the purée to cool slightly.

Whip the single cream to firm peaks and fold it gently in to the cooled fruit purée. Pour the dessert in to serving glasses or similar and put in the fridge for 4 hours to chill and set.

Serve with slices of ripe banana. I was amazed at how well this dessert works.

Australia – Mini Pavlova with Caramel Banana, Rum and Lime Puree

Football:

Australia is ranked lowest in the World Cup according to FIFA’s official rankings. Couple this with the fact they are in a group with Spain, the current World Cup holders, the Netherlands and Chile and you would be forgiven for not giving the Socceroos any chance whatsoever. In fact, my mate who runs a local café only but today said that he would give a couple of us free coffees all day if Australia even scored a goal. He may live to regret that offer because the steel and gritty determination of this sporting nation is second to none, and with the star Tim Cahill always seeming to pop up in the right place at the right time I am confident that I will be having more than one free coffee day.

 

The Dish: 

So, to the first day of this World Cup project 🙂

Actually, this is a dish that I had to start yesterday as you’ll gather when you read the recipe. In stark contrast to the image of Australia and the steel and grit of their sporting team the dish I have cooked is light, airy and sweet. It is an Australian classic; the Pavlova. And straight away this project runs in to a controversy. Like Russel Crowe and Crowded House the Pavlova has crossed the Kiwi-Aussie line. However, with Pavlova there still lies a shroud of mystery? Was it developed in New Zealand or Perth? Nothing is conclusive; however I have included it as an Aussie classic because regardless of where the first one was made, in the 14 years I have been in Australia it is quite obvious that this dessert is in every Australian’s make-up, from Avoca Beach to Zanthus.

The Pavlova here has been miniaturised and served with a caramelised Cavendish banana, Bundaberg rum (Australian) and lime puree, freshly whipped cream and sliced banana.

 

Serves: 5   |   Preparation: 45 minutes   |   Cooking: 1 hour 20 minutes + drying overnight

 

Ingredients:

For the meringue
140g Egg Whites | About 4 Whites from a medium Egg.
225g White caster Sugar |
13g Corn flour |
½ tsp. White vinegar |

 

For the banana puree:
125g White caster sugar |
2 Ripe bananas | Not over ripe, just the perfect eating ripeness.
20ml Dark rum | I used Bundaberg to keep with the Australian theme.
1 Lime Lime juice |

 

For the final dessert:
125g Single cream | Minimum of 35% milk fat solids.
2-3 Ripe bananas | Thinly sliced. Eating ripeness.
Grated lime zest for garnish

 

How To:

Preheat an oven to 130 deg. C (270 deg. F).

 

For the meringue: whisk the egg whites so that they form stiff peaks. Add half of the caster sugar and continue to whisk for about 30 seconds. Add the other half of sugar and continue to whisk until you have really stiff peaks. Add the corn flour and vinegar and gently fold until completely mixed through.

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment (use a little butter to hold it in place). Place a 75mm diameter stacking ring on the baking sheet and using a piping bag with an 8ml nozzle pipe the meringue mix in to it in a spiral motion. Pipe 3 layers and then gently remove the stacking ring. Repeat for the other meringues. Alternatively you can carefully spoon the meringue on to the baking sheet in nest shapes. Bake the meringue for 10 minutes at 130 deg. C and then reduce the oven to 100 deg. C (210 deg. F) and bake for a further 50 minutes. Now, turn off the oven and let the meringues cool and dry overnight in the oven.

For the banana puree: add the 125g of caster sugar to a large heavy based frying pan. Put the pan over a medium heat and allow the sugar to caramelise to a deep golden brown colour. Jiggle the pan around so that the sugar caramelises evenly. Add the two whole bananas to the caramel and toss them around until softened and coated. Deglaze the pan with the rum and put the lot into a food processor taking care as it will be hot. Add the lime juice to the processor and then blitz until smooth. After this I then use a hand blender to ensure all the caramelised sugar is blended. Put the puree in the fridge for an hour to cool.

For the dessert: Pipe or spread the banana puree over the top of each meringue. Whip the single cream to firm peaks and carefully spread it over the banana puree. Place the banana slices on the cream – be creative – and finally grate some lime zest over the banana for garnish. Enjoy the crunchy and sticky meringue with that amazing puree.

Tempura Banana with Palm Sugar and Coconut Caramel Sauce

Introduction:

My affection for banana starts with a 1945 establishment nestled behind the harbour at a typically English sea-side town and extends to the roadside running perpendicular to the Red River in Hanoi, and the many nuances in between.

As a child, and my ever receding memory still serves me well in to remembering when I was 5 years old, I yearned for two things in my life. The first was a summer holiday stay with my grandparents and a very close second was the Harbour Bar in a quaint little seaside town called Scarborough on the east coast of Yorkshire. The Harbour bar was an Aladdin’s cave of sweet and holiday-spirit delights. Walking in the door was like being dropped in to a place so wonderful, so magical that even Charlie Bucket would not have believed it. The smell of every flavour of ice-cream and then chocolate, cherries, peaches, marshmallows, sweet syrups, lemonade and the sea breeze that wafted through has never left me. As I write this now I close my eyes and I am back there. I can here jovial chatter, the clinking of glass, the crunching of wafer, the fizz of vanilla ice-cream being dropped in to soda, and ice-cream churners churning. And within all that two amazing treats stood out, the two that would cause me to umm and ahh each visit; which one should I pick? The first was their iconic Knickerbocker Glory; a glass as high as the ceiling filled with strawberries, peaches in sweet syrup, ice-cream, cherries, whipped cream, chocolate bits and a big wafer triangle adorning the top. I would choose this first and then remember the second one, the banana split. A banana sliced lengthways filled with three scoops of the house-made vanilla ice-cream, fresh whipped cream, unctuous chocolate sauce, chopped peanuts and the famous wafer. Of all the choices I have had to make through my life this was the most difficult, but by far the most enjoyable.

Roll on many years later; wandering through the backstreets of Hanoi with my young daughter, we passed some ladies at the roadside cooking banana fritters. At first we walked past, although I could see in my daughter’s eyes disappointment. I was taken back to the seaside town and thought about how I would have felt walking past the Harbour Bar and not being allowed to go in. We turned back and sat down with the ladies, communicating in mimes. We were given a banana fritter each with a little sweet sauce, and as I bit in I resumed my affection for banana. As I turned to my daughter I could see a glint that I am sure my mother saw in mine when I first tasted that banana split (and the Knickerbocker Glory).

This recipe is something I have created to celebrate banana, taking my influence from childhood and travels.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking: 25-30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the Caramel Sauce:
125g Palm sugar | Grated. A brilliant caramel flavoured sugar with deep treacle notes.
85g Butter | Softened and cubed.
1/2 tsp. Sea salt | A little salt in sweet sauces can enhance the flavour.
250ml Single cream | 35% milk fat solids.
100ml Coconut Milk | Full fat.

For the Tempura Batter:
200ml Ice cold water | The colder it is the lighter the batter will be.
1 Large Egg yolk |
½ tsp. Sea salt |
100g Plain flour |
10g Desiccated coconut |

4 Bananas
1 litre Grapeseed oil | Or any other non-flavoured cooking oil.
Garnish Icing Sugar |
Garnish Desiccated coconut |

 

 

How To:

To a medium sized heavy based pan add the grated palm sugar, butter and sea salt. Put the pan on a low heat and stir until the caramel is bubbling and has darkened slightly. Caramelising palm sugar is difficult as it is already a caramel colour so you don’t have a clear visual reference. Try for about 10 minutes; the mixture should be thick, sticky and a shade darker than when you started (but be careful not to burn it though).

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the cream and coconut milk to the caramel – it will spit and bubble. Put the pan on a medium heat and bring back to the boil. Continue to gently boil until the caramel has reduced by about one third, making sure you stir frequently. To check, take the pan off the heat so the bubbles subside. If the sauce is not ready put it back on the heat and continue to reduce. It is ready when it has thickened to a glossy caramel. Set aside.

In a pan, or wok, heat the oil until it reaches 180 deg. C (356 deg. F) – check with a thermometer.

For the tempura batter, add the cold water and egg yolk to a bowl and lightly whisk until just mixed. Cooking chopsticks are ideal to make this batter. Add the salt and flour and gently stir taking care not to overwork the batter. The batter should still have a few lumps in it. Add the coconut and mix.

To cook, dip a banana in the batter so that it is completely covered. Allow any excess batter to drip off and place the banana in the hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes and then turn it over and cook for about a further two minutes. The batter should be a nice light golden brown in colour, and the banana slightly softened. You can cook the bananas in batches of two (more than this will reduce the temperature of the oil too much and the batter will not be light and crispy).

Warm the caramel sauce. Serve a banana covered in the sauce garnished with a sprinkle of icing sugar and desiccated coconut.

 

Notes:

– This is most excellent served with a quenelle of vanilla ice-cream or a splattering of fresh cream.

 

Breathtaking Banana Cake

Introduction:

It starts of so raw, so wet behind the ears, a little green even. It’s even a bit of an outcast; unpleasant, avoided and neglected. But it will right itself, that’s for sure and it will even affect the ‘rightness’ of those around it. In a couple of days it starts to grow up; it comes of age as it were. Now it is popular. One of the go-tos for the energy seeking, it begins to show its true potential, its character. Within no time at all it is king of the pile, but it doesn’t last long because as it starts to age blemishes begin to appear on its once perfect skin. It’s now starting to deteriorate at a startling rate, once strong and steadfast it begins to haunch a little, to soften and emanate a fragrance as a warning that it’s not going to be around for much longer. And to its final days, it’s a mere shadow of its former self; its colouration undetectable from its previously brilliant yellow past. Again, it becomes an outcast and mustn’t be allowed to mingle with the others. It is criticised for its appearance, its stench, and its age and is on the verge of being assigned to a place of no retrieval.

But then, a stranger comes along and rescues it. The stranger sees much hope for this aged wonder; it has wisdom, character, and an ability and potential that its younger form could only dream of. And it is now time to unleash it. The baker is going to get funky with this banana.

It’s in the title – breathtaking. I can’t recall the number of banana cakes and breads that I have made, but they have ranged from ok to good. This one is the best, and I have to thank Momofuku Milk Bar for the basis of the recipe which I have slightly modified to bring out the best in the banana. And when I say a ripe banana I am talking about the ones that are dark, dark brown, intensely pungent and almost bordering on a paste.

 

Serves: A few   |   Preparation: 20 minutes   |   Cooking: 30-40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

85g Caster sugar |
200g Butter | Cubed and at room temperature.
1 Large Egg |
120g Buttermilk |
20g Grapeseed oil | Important to use a neutral tasting oil. Groundnut oil is another good one.
3 Ripe bananas | If you think they are overripe, they are perfect.
240g Plain Flour |
3g Baking powder | A smidgen under ¾ of a teaspoon.
3g Bicarbonate of soda | A smidgen under ½ of a teaspoon.
2g Sea salt | If flaked, crush before adding.

 

How To:

Heat the oven to 170 deg. C (340 deg. F).

Take a 28cm*18cm baking tin (about 4cm deep) and lightly grease the bottom and sides with butter. Cut a piece of baking parchment to the size of the tin base and then line the base with it – the butter will ensure it stays in place.

To a kitchen mixer bowl add the sugar and butter and then on medium speed beat it using the paddle attachment until light and fluffy – the colour should be a very pale yellow. Stop the beating, scrape the sides of the bowl, put on a low to medium speed and add the egg. After about 30 seconds add the buttermilk in a thin stream so as not to redecorate your kitchen. Mix for a further minute and then in a thin stream add the oil. Now put the mixer on medium to high speed and beat until the mixture is homogenous (posh was for saying mixed properly). Try for 5 minutes and if not looking right keep mixing until it is. We are forcing the oil in to a mixture that already contains fat (butter) and thus the need for some heavy handed work.

Next, turn the mixer speed to low and add the whole ripe bananas (if they are paste-like then just scrape them in). Mix for about 30 seconds, or until all of the banana has broken down.

Now, mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt in a separate bowl and then gradually add to the mixing bowl. As soon as all the ingredients have come together the batter is ready.

Put the batter into your lined baking tin, spread evenly and give the tin a couple of taps on the bench top just to make sure. Put in the oven and bake for 30 minutes to start with, after which test it; the outsides should be springy and the inside just cooked (so it doesn’t wobble). If not, then bake further until it is ready.

When ready remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes at which point turn out onto a wire cooling rack, carefully peel the baking parchment away and leave until completely cool…or if you are a sucker for warm cake cut out a piece and devour.

Vietnam – An Interlude

In about 30 minutes time we are heading out to the train station in Hanoi to take an overnight train to the hill town of Sapa. Luke Nguyen, a well know Vietnamese-Australian chef, wrote a book called ‘Songs from Sapa’ where he travels through Vietnam, picking up local recipes and food experiences around Vietnam. He starts his journey in Sapa, and has an amazing culinary experience here – which is what we are hoping to do. So there’ll be a big update on here once we return to Hanoi. In the meantime I have to share with you that my daughter and I took a long and tiring walk through Hanoi city in search of a glimpse of the Red River.

 

The Red River Running Alongside Hanoi

The Red River Running Alongside Hanoi

 

Having reached it, we can say it was an experience if not the second coming, as it were. A young Vietnamese man ventured out into the overgrowth by the river to cut down what looked like pampas grass. This was a romantic gesture to his girlfriend who was waiting patiently. However, when he returned and saw my five year old daughter he decided to share his hard-worked for prize, much to the amusement of his girlfriend. On the way back to the middle of the city we found four women sat by the road making banana fritters. Sometimes you just walk by and smile, which we did. But fortunately I decided to go back and purchase one.

All I can say is that it was absolutely delightful. Sometimes we must just step out, see and try new things or else fantastic experiences can pass us by. Now for Sapa.