Saturday, March 15, 2014

An Irish/British Dessert You May Not Know

Please welcome NoHandle again, with a wonderful, seasonal guest post:

About 25 years ago, in March, I had occasion to travel to Britain and Norway, and back to Britain before heading home. It was not a holiday, but the launch of my company's new computer product, and the Norwegians were one of our "beta" customers. I was taken care of in Britain by a local employee of the company Stuart P. (and a long overdue Thank-You to Stuart and family) and in the first few hours I learned that there were things in Britain that were unknown in the U.S. Among these were "work to rule" which delayed my departure from the airport by a few hours, halogen stovetops, Comic Relief red noses on cars, which was in only it's second year, the driver's seat being on the other side of the car, and a desert called Banofee Pie. The name is a portmanteau of Banana and Toffee. Now this is not the crunchy candy you may know as Almond Toffee, but something closer to soft caramel. While I did not sample this desert at the time, I was introduced to it by Stuart's charming son and daughter, who were quite enthusiastic about it. I reciprocated by describing Pecan Pie, which you can find in the cookbook Elle, the keeper of this blog, has published. (It's still in print.) The desert has been wildly popular in both Britain and Ireland since its creation in about 1970. Being close to St. Patrick's Day lets me talk about it as an Irish dessert. As I said it is wildly popular there too.

There is an element of danger in preparing this desert. Most recipes call for boiling a sealed can of condensed (not evaporated) milk for a few hours.

If you don't keep it completely covered in water it may redecorate your kitchen! What can be more fun than the chance, even a slight chance, of things exploding? There is also the danger that you will find it as popular as the English and Irish do, which could become a danger to your waistline. Aside from this element, the recipe is simple and quick. One of the online sources suggests boiling in the evening and letting it cool overnight. The milk can be prepared months in advance with no ill effect. If you are lazy, and your supply chain supports it, you can get pre-boiled caramelized condensed milk directly from Carnation under a couple of different names; Dulce de Leche is one. Another uniquely British ingredient is Digestive Biscuits, but you can substitute Graham Crackers with no harm to the taste. Over there biscuit can mean either cracker or cookie. There are one or two recipes that use chocolate biscuits (but not chocolate coated biscuits), but that seems to me to be gilding the lily.

The night (or several nights) before let one or more 14 oz. cans of condensed milk boil for three hours or so, and allow it to cool overnight. Removing the label first is a good idea.

In the morning, pulverize the biscuits or Graham crackers, melt butter, and combine to create the crust mixture. I used a rolling pin to get it started, and finished in the blender. Cover the bottom and sides (about 2 inches up the sides) of a Springform pan, or similar, to form the crust. As you may be able to tell from the pictures, I used an ordinary pie pan, which results in having more ingredient than place to put them. Refrigerate for a couple of hours. While the crust is cooling, open one can of the cooled caramelized condensed milk

and warm it some, cut the bananas into thin slices enough to build a dense layer in the pan, and whip the cream. An egg slicer makes a great banana slicer.

You may want to combine instant coffee crystals into the cream, or you may not. Other options are shaved chocolate or candied pecans as toppings. There seems to be no agreement on which is more authentic, but most do not talk about the nuts.

When the crust is ready, fill the bottom with the toffee (caramelized milk), smooth out the layer, add a layer of sliced bananas

 (actually about three layers), and then top with a layer of whipped cream. Add any garnish that suits your fancy (I shaved dark chocolate with a microplane, and garnished with a few stray banana slices), release from the pan, slice and serve. The pie can be kept in the refrigerator for several hours before serving, and any leftovers for a couple of days after. It may not last that long, as it is said to make a great guilty late-night snack.

Banofee Pie
Serves 8, generously

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 10-oz. package of digestive biscuits, such as McVities brand [or a similar quantity (two of the three internal packages) of Graham crackers, any brand]

1 stick of unsalted butter (optional; I don't think you would notice if it were salted)
½ cup (4 oz) packed dark brown sugar (optional)
1 14-oz. can condensed milk, such as Carnation brand, boiled
4 bananas, sliced into discs 

1 pint heavy whipping cream (double cream in the UK) [three quarters of a pint was enough]
1 tsp. instant coffee crystals (optional)
Grated chocolate, any style

If you include butter and brown sugar, melt the butter, add the sugar, then add the milk, and heat before pouring into the crust, then refrigerate to cool before adding the other layers. I didn't use sugar or butter, and find that the dessert is plenty sweet, and with all the other milk and butter fat present, don't miss the milk or butter either.

Enjoy, NoHandle.

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