I never grew up with banoffee pie, but during a food grazing around San Francisco last year I did the obligatory stop at Alice Waters’ baking orgy – better known as Tartine – and couldn’t stop myself from completely immersing myself in the immensely pleasurable dessert. It was technically called banana cream pie but made in a very banoffee kind of way, caramel and all. And that was after I’d already tried their amazing sourdough bread, a vanilla-cream-filled chocolate éclair and a coffee bowl, and not long after lunch. It was so good, I just couldn’t resist eating it until I made myself ill… in a pleasurable kind of way.
Fast-forward to this past Monday, my birthday, and I was feeling quite unenthusiastic about celebrating. It was pissing down rain, there was a clammy chill in the air, and it was a Monday. I mean, really, who the hell wants to celebrate their birthday on a Monday?
Luckily, I received a last-minute invitation to check out the extended cooking classes at Danks Street’s Fratelli Fresh, along with other food pros, including Vogue Living’s Madeleine Hinchy, the Internet Chef’s Bridget Davis, Daily Addict‘s Carrie Choo and Reem from Tummy Rumble. Chef Andy Bunn from Fratelli’s Café Sopra was demonstrating one of the new classes he’s recently added in partnership with Electrolux, giving a bit of a tutorial on induction-heat cooking along the way. I love Andy’s simple, fresh approach to food, and it’s even better when he gets to use the high-quality produce from Fratelli’s grocery. It was an easy sell.
To date, Fratelli Fresh has been doing an amazing thing and offering free one-hour cooking classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. It’s hard to think of another quality cooking program not charging for their classes, so it’s understandable that those 10 cooking stations book up early and often. Don’t worry, the free ride continues, but now Fratelli and Electrolux have unveiled three-hour, hands-on sessions that pair instruction with an après-cooking lunch by Café Sopra. The bad news? These aren’t free. The good news? The extra time, dishes and noshing more than give good value for the $90 spend. Plus, for once, you might be able to book a session without hiring a Bangladeshi call centre to score a spot.
The first two dishes are excellent: a rustic, white anchovy, asparagus tips, heirloom tomato and vincotto salad, followed by pan-fried barramundi fillets with witlof salad. But, like everyone else at the cooking school, I’m most excited by the forthcoming banoffee pie. And here’s the beauty of it – it quickly became apparent that a good banoffee pie can be dead easy to make.
From first-hand experience, I can vouch that its combination of condensed-milk toffee (essentially dulce de leche), chantilly cream, sliced bananas, digestive biscuit base and chocolate is guaranteed to delight. I know because after making my own banoffee pie, I formally pronounced it as my self-made birthday cake and later that night I brought it to Darlinghurst’s Eau de Vie to split with a good friend. The bartender happily handed us knives to slice it, and eagerly accepted a wedge of his own. And after the two women sitting across from us stared at the pie for 20 minutes straight, I offered them the remaining slices to their utter glee.
Banoffee pie was originally called banoffi and has an interesting history behind it. I first thought it to be an American invention, but it’s actually an English creation, hailing from an East Sussex restaurant called the Hungry Monk. Ironically, the dish was created as a riff on another kind of American pie, and apparently there were claims that the dish was indeed American, whereupon the owner of the Hungry Monk put out a public challenge for anyone to provide a recipe pre-dating his 1972 menu. But it doesn’t stop there, with the restaurant’s then-chef Ian Dowding claiming his own share of the credit. You can read about it here, and there’s also a link to the original banoffi recipe.
Before I share Andy Bunn’s recipe, it is worth noting that there’s a more complex variation in the Tartine Cookbook. There’s an excellent adaptation of it on food blog MyTartlette.com, which features a chocolate ganache layer, a shortcrust base, salted butter caramel sauce and a pastry cream curiously made with full-fat milk and cornstarch, plus vanilla and eggs. It looks downright decadent, but also like a whole lot more work than Fratelli’s version. And the latter, I have to say, is phenomenal, so for all but the culinary masochistic, why complicate things when success is already guaranteed?
- 2 x 395g cans of sweetened condensed milk
- 180g unsalted butter, chopped
- 375 digestive biscuits [*for my American friends, see note below]
- 60ml thickened cream
- 2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped out
- 75g icing sugar, sifted
- 4 bananas [well ripened – if they’ve got brown spots on the skin, all the better]
- 30g dark chocolate, finely grated
Place cans of condensed milk in a large saucepan of water and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, adding water if necessary to ensure cans remain covered [if the pan dries out, they’ll explode]. Remove cans and cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan, and then cool slightly. Using a food processor, crush biscuits to fine crumbs, add the butter and process briefly to combine. Press crumb mixture over the base of a greased 28cm loose-based tin, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm the base.
Open cooled cans of condensed milk and spoon caramel evenly over the biscuit base and refrigerate overnight to firm.
To assemble pie: Using an electric mixer, whisk cream, vanilla bean seeds and sugar to stiff peaks [you can also do this by hand if you want to develop great biceps and shoulders]. Cut bananas into thin slices. Remove pie from tin and loosen base and place on a plate. Spoon or pipe half the whipped cream over the caramel filling, then place bananas in an overlapping circle, working from the outside in. Top with the remaining cream and sprinkle with grated chocolate.
Cut into slices with a hot, dry knife and serve immediately.
Tip: To stop the noise of the cans rattling in the saucepan, place a folded tea towel in the base of the pan before adding the water.
* Note: For those living in the US, you can easily substitute graham crackers for the crust instead of digestive biscuits. They’re similar in taste and texture, although digestives are said to be more crumbly and less sweet, and they’re typically round, compared to the standard square graham cracker. There’s even more difference if you encounter a traditional graham cracker, which, if Wikipedia stands correct, should be made with fine-ground white flour and coarse-ground wheat bran and germ. Digestive biscuits in comparison use a coarse-ground wheat flour and ground wholemeal. So think same, but different.