Banoffi or banoffee? The debate rages, and the inventors of this world-famous dessert, the Hungry Monk Cafe, arguably should get the last word – even though they would appear to be in the wrong, since the name stands for “banana and toffee/coffee”. Maybe the “i” is there to make it sound Italian.
Our friend Chef Michelle and her man Phil had suggested we crash test this one at our house, under her supervision. But plans change, and we had to switch the dinner venue to their place at very short notice. That meant whipping up the base and filling at ours, then transporting the components across London and finishing the job at theirs.
The easiest and perhaps most dangerous way to make the basic caramel filling needed for this dessert is to submerge a can or two of condensed milk in a pot of water and boil for hours and hours. There’s always the risk of the cans exploding if you let the water level drop.
And even if you don’t end up blasting scalding caramel all over your kitchen, you have to wait ages for the cans to cool to room temperature and thereby depressurise before you can open them.
Time was running short, so via a quick web search I learned that condensed milk can also be caramelised by double-boiling – without the risk of detonating cans and napalm caramel. I decided to run a side-by-side test. Lenny, meanwhile, set to work with the pastry.
Incidentally, there’s been an interesting foodie discussion over at our friend Lyn’s blog Lex Culinaria about when a chef can truly claim to have invented a dish. Well, we reckon the Hungry Monk can rest their case as far as banoffee is concerned.
So is it possible to transport a delicate short-crust base across London on public transport, without ending up with a flan dish full of crumbs, albeit flaky and melt-in-the-mouthy ones? You’ll have to watch the forthcoming Vol. 2 to see how it all turns out!
Lenny says: Preparing the “toffee” takes a loooong time (up to five hours)! There are two methods, which I will explain below, but the boil-the-tin method (which can be dangerous) allows you to prepare extra and keep for ages. So if you think you’ll be making this again, I’d use this method to prepare your toffee.
2 cans condensed milk
½ tsp salt
50g butter, cubed
50g lard, cubed
Extra butter for greasing
1 dessertspoon caster sugar
½ tsp instant coffee
1 tsp finely ground fresh coffee (or use instant)
4-5 ripe bananas (not overripe)
Preparing the toffee:
The “double boil” method: Empty two cans of condensed milk into a heatproof bowl and put it over a pan of boiling water for about 2–2 ½ hours until it has gone dark and thick. Don’t just leave it on the hob; continually check the water level and top up when necessary. Whisk the mixture with beaters to take out any lumps. Watch the video for details
The “boil-the-tin” method: Be careful – this could prove dangerous, we have heard of instances of the tin exploding (though rare, and usually when someone lets the pot boil dry). Put as many cans of condensed milk as you think you’ll use in the upcoming months into a big pot and cover them completely with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer, keeping the tins covered with water, for 5 hours. Turn off the heat. Let them cool enough so you can handle them before opening.
Preheat the oven to 210C/410F. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and use your fingers to rub the butter and lard into the dry ingredients until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency.
Add about 1 teaspoon of water at a time, mixing it in with a knife, until the mixture comes together in a ball. Don’t overwork it at this stage. Cover the ball with cling wrap and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes until it firms up.
Butter a flan tin, then roll out the pastry until it’s big enough to fill the tin and reach up the sides. Lay the pastry over the flan tin and press it gently into the corners. Prick the base all over with a fork. Don’t trim it yet: the overhanging bits will stop it from shrinking. Put it on a tray, then into the oven for 10-15 minutes until crispy and just beginning to brown on the edges. Remove it from the oven and let it cool before you trim off the overhanging excess carefully with a sharp knife.
When the base has cooled, whip the cream with the sugar and the ½ teaspoon of instant coffee until you get soft peaks. Spread the cooled toffee mixture into the base – it will be really thick now it has cooled.
Peel the bananas and slice in half lengthways, then lie the halves around the edge of the toffee mixture, working your way into the middle. You may need to break some bananas up a bit so you can make the pieces fit together like a puzzle. See the video.
Spoon the cream mixture on top of the bananas and sprinkle with a bit of freshly ground coffee or some more instant.
Slice and serve as it is. It goes really well with coffee.