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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.

Uruguay – Alfajores with Dulce de Leche

Football:

The first ever World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930, after it was chosen as the preferred hosting nation because not only had it won the Olympic football tournaments in 1924 and 1928, 1930 celebrated Uruguay’s 100 years of independence. There was also the small matter of Uruguay willing to finance the whole tournament, something that certainly wouldn’t sway FIFA today, would it?

Uruguay went on to win the tournament 4-2 against arch rivals Argentina. However, the World Cup is never short of controversy and 1930 was no different. The point of disagreement was in the final and it centred on whose ball to use. A decision was reached whereby Argentina’s ball was used in the first half and Uruguay’s in the second half. Good job that this doesn’t happen these days or I could see a Mr Suarez picking his ball up and taking it home.

And that nicely brings me on to Brasil 2014 and a certain Mr Suarez. There is no doubt in my mind that Uruguay without Suarez is a much poorer team, evident by the two losses that Uruguay suffered when Suarez wasn’t playing. He really is a Jekyll and Hyde character. On form and behaving he most certainly is one of the best strikers in the world without doubt. We all know what happens on the obverse side of that coin. Personally, I hope he can sort out his hunger issues because this beautiful game needs players of his calibre.

 

Dish:

Originally I had chivito al pan pencilled in as the food to cook for Uruguay. This is considered its national speciality and consists of a mayonnaise slathered bap containing layers of grilled steak, ham, bacon, fried or boiled egg, and mozzarella cheese; there may be some token vegetables thrown in. The word chivito refers to goat which is quite odd as the sandwich contains no goat. The story goes that a restaurant owner by the name of Antonio Carbonaro was approached by a woman who asked for some grilled goat. Completely goatless señor Carbonaro improvised by grilling some steak and adding other tasty ingredients. The combination worked so well that word spread and the sandwich became a huge success. Ultimately, it never contained goat but the name chivito endures as an incongruous reference to its beginnings.

After all that you’re thinking why haven’t I gone with this magnificent sandwich. It’s only because yesterday was Argentina which was the choripán, another sandwich containing deliciously fatty chorizo with chimichurri, and I thought that two in a row was just a tad too much. However, for Uruguay’s tasty comestible I have made alfajores filled with dulce de leche; Spanish style biscuits filled with a sweet caramelised milk. Dulce de leche is unquestionably the best-loved of all Latin American desserts, in particular in Uruguay.

 

Serves: 12 biscuits |   Preparation: 15 minutes + 1 hour standing   |   Cooking Time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the dulce de leche:
395g Can sweetened condensed milk | About 14oz.
375ml Can evaporated milk | About 410g or 14.5oz.

For the alfajores (biscuit):
75g Cornflour |
225g Plain flour |
55g Icing sugar | Also known as powdered sugar.
200g Cold butter | Cubed.
2 large Egg yolks |
¼ tsp. Ground cinnamon |
½ tsp. Vanilla extract |

Lightly toasted desiccated coconut.

 

How to:

For the ducle de leche: To a heavy based medium saucepan add the sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. Bring to a simmer and then continue to simmer gently over a medium heat whilst constantly stirring. After about 20-30 minutes you will have a milk that will be thick and lightly caramelised. The longer you cook it the darker it will become.

For the alfajores: To a food processor add the cornflour, flour, icing sugar and butter. Process until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks, cinnamon and vanilla extract and process until dough-like. Briefly knead the dough on a work surface and form a ball. Wrap it in cling film and put it in a fridge to rest for an hour.

Preheat an oven to 180°C (360°F).

Roll the dough to 1 cm thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut out biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter and put on a baking parchment lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 14-16 minutes, or until they attain a slight brown colour with crispy edges. Cool on a wire rack.

Sandwich a heaped teaspoon of dulce de leche between two biscuits being careful not to break them. Roll the biscuit in toasted coconut so that it sticks to the filling.

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.

 

Chilli Caramel

Introduction:

As a prelude to a dish that I will post in the next few days I have recently shared recipes for nước chấm and Chinese master stock. The final of these basics is a salty chilli caramel which throws the taste buds into frenzy; saltiness from fish and soy sauces, intense caramel sweetness from refined sugar, and a spicy prod from a heat stick named chilli. Add to this the sticky texture and it makes a great saucy coating, for pork in particular.

The key element of getting the consistency and taste of this sauce spot on is the caramelisation of the sugar. Sugar is an incredible substance especially when it is heated. It transforms from a sweet odourless compound into something that is richly aromatic containing acidic and bitter notes. The bitterness develops more as the temperature of the sugar increases, to a point where it becomes acrid, burnt and inedible. It’s important therefore to catch the caramel at the precise point required.

Traditionally there are two ways to produce a caramel: the wet method which involves mixing sugar with water and then heating, and the dry method where the sugar is heated on its own. There a couple of advantages when using the wet method: firstly, as it takes longer to caramelise there tends to be a greater development of flavour, and secondly the presence of water means that you can cook the caramel on a higher heat (than for dry) from the onset without the risk of burning the sugar. The dry method requires more attention but it is a quicker method to caramelise sugar.

This recipe uses the wet method. For it we require a straw coloured caramel, the colour of which will start to appear at about 165 deg C (330 deg F). The precision of temperature is not vital here, unlike when doing sugar-work at lower temperatures. I therefore just use my old mince pies (eyes) to tell when it is done.

A word of note to folks that are inexperienced using heated sugar –  just go careful as the temperatures are far hotter than boiled water, and caramelised sugar will create a nasty burn or two if it comes in contact with your skin (I still have the scars). I read recently that Heston Blumenthal suggests that you visualise your cooking and techniques before performing them. In this way you can have everything ready in preparation. For example when the caramel hits the straw colour ensure that you have your other ingredients at hand, as it is amazing how quickly caramel can burn if you turn your back.

The fun really happens when you add the liquid (fish and soy sauces) to the caramel as it creates a boiling effervescence that rises sharply in the pan. For this reason when creating this sauce it is necessary to use a large enough pan so that the effervescence does not over-flow.

The addition of chilli, star anise, coriander seed and cinnamon give a great South-east Asian character to this sauce of which I am sure you will think is just irresistibility.

 

Serves: 4  as part of a meal   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking: 20-25 minutes

 

Ingredients:

160g White refined sugar |
160ml Cold water |
1 Bird’s eye chilli | Sliced.
3 pods Star anise |
⅓ stick Cinnamon |
1 tsp. Coriander seed |
70ml Fish sauce | Use real fish sauce i.e. not a synthetic one that contains ‘flavouring’.
60ml Light soy sauce | With light soy and fish sauce just the right balance of saltiness to sweetness can be achieved.

 

 

How To:

Add the sugar and water to a pan and put over a medium to high heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve without stirring. If any crystals of sugar develop around the pan then wash them with a pastry brush dipped in water. This will dissolve them. If these crystals are not dissolved they can cause the mixture to crystallise rendering the caramel gritty and unusable.

When the mixture starts to caramelise and has turned a straw colour add the sliced chilli, star anise, and coriander seeds. Next add the fish sauce and soy sauce. The liquid will boil and rise up the pan so go careful. Now start stirring, and reduce the heat to low.

Stir continuously for 5 minutes, during which any solid caramel will dissolve back into the sauce. The caramel sauce will also develop a deeper, richer flavour. Take the caramel off the heat and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Now strain the caramel through a fine sieve and put aside until required.

To use the caramel later just warm it gently until it liquefies.