A pie for all seasons: Banoffee Pie
Choosing cakes for someones birthday is not easy. Even if you know what that person likes, there are too many choices, too many ingredients, too little time and a pantry that will have the key ingredient missing (and sometimes that's butter). And of course, me being me, I had to pick something of importance, with history, with a story to tell...
Which brought me to this, the Banoffee Pie. It's not something I had not heard enough about, let alone eat it. It's hard to come by this pie in my city, but as I found out it's seen in some small tourist towns in Northern India. But the wonders of the internet mean that you find a lot of desserts you never you knew about and eat with your eyes much before you can even taste. It had a flavour combination I had never tried - bananas with caramel and cream.
The pie is claimed to be England's best, tastiest, (insert-every-synonym of delicious), dessert ever.
The original recipe calls for shortcrust pastry, as the base, and uses coffee for garnish instead of chocolate. The caramel layer is made by boiling the can of condensed milk in a water bath for hours until the milk inside turns to toffee a la Dulce-de-leche. No matter which recipe you pick, the core flavours of banana combined with caramel are the same.
It was first made at the Hungry Monk Restaurant in East Sussex, England in 1972, by chef Ian Dowding, and is spelled Banoffi, as named by the owner of the restaurant, Nigel Mackenzie. Wikipedia has an explanation - the word is a combination of two words "banana" and "toffee". The pie gained so much popularity that the dish could not be taken off the Hungry Monk's menu and it had started appearing not just in England, but other parts of the world! The Pie also has it's own Blue Plaque - a sign outside the restaurant that says the Banoffee Pie was invented there. All sorts of twists and inspirations exist today - icecream, muffins, cupcakes.
Calories aside (because you cannot leave out the cream), the pie had always seemed promising to me, and I had never made a good caramel before. So making this the first time for a Birthday was a risk (I keep doing that); but I was ready to run to the bakery the moment I thought that it wasn't any good. But it was. The slightly salty base was perfect setting for the very sweet caramel layer. The caramel is intense, chewy and sweet. The toffee flavour of the caramel layer was reminiscent of the childhood toffee that came wrapped in foils. The bananas added a completely unexpected layer of freshness; they were cold, sweet, soft - perfect complement to the chewy caramel. The cream (use freshly whipped cream, it's better) remains unsweetened, adding a layer of fluffy lightness in every bite. And the chocolate? It's not just garnish. It melts and mixes with the cream, its flavour surprising you occasionally, only a hint of chocolate, but somehow making the whole bite complete.
The best part? It's egg less. You know, if you are like me and don't have eggs. Eggs!
PS - also take a look at the Chef's original recipe (in PDF)
Adapted from Nestle
*This is a recipe for one small Banoffee Pie, because the tiniest sliver of the pie can be very very rich. And if you are someone on a diet or with someone on a diet, the pie can be serious indulgence.
But if you are not, feel free to double the recipe, and use the proportions as in the original. A biscuit base is far from traditional; however it is easier and if you don't mind biscuit bases, worth a try. If however, you find biscuit bases too powdery and/or dry, use a shortcrust pastry.
For the base:
125g digestive biscuits, crushed
40-50g dark brown sugar
200 gms, or half of a 397g can, Condensed Milk
2 small bananas, sliced thinly into circles
150 ml fresh cream or whipping cream - lightly whipped
grated chocolate - preferable dark
2. In a non stick saucepan, melt the butter and sugar over a low heat, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved. To this, add the condensed milk and bring to a rapid boil for about a minute, stirring all the time for a thick golden caramel. Keep on stirring till you get a rich golden caramel colour - which could take upto 3 minutes. Pour and spread the caramel over the base -do this quickly because the caramel starts setting and becomes difficult to spread. Refrigerate for atleast one hour or until you are ready to serve.
3. After the caramel layer has set, slice the bananas and set aside a few slices, arranging the remaining on the caramel so the the caramel is covered completely. Carefully lift the pie from the tin and place on a serving plate. Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold in the few banana slices. Spoon over the base. Decorate with the grated chocolate. Serve cold.