Roots firmly planted in cozy New England, I hardly fancy myself a traveler, but who could be content to leave so much of the world unexplored? So many cultures to discover, beautiful places to visit, and yes, food to eat. Almost every year, I’ve been lucky enough to make one journey out of my cozy home-based bubble and see just a little snippet of some place different. Wanderlust sets in as temperatures rise, and so I’m feeling that familiar tug on the heartstrings, that longing to hop on a plane and have another grand adventure. Inspiration is always the most valuable souvenir, and these brief but influential trips have indelibly shaped my palate and cooking style as I know it. That’s why I’m so excited about Bravo’s newest Top Chef-esque program, Around the World in 80 Plates.
Trust me, TV shows rarely merit an hour break in my schedule, and not one has ever seemed like worthwhile blog fodder for a new post. However, when asked to participate in a little blogger-based competition driven by the premise of cooking dishes alongside the progression of the show, paying homage to these specific world cuisines, my answer was clear: YES! As the only vegan invited in a group of 5 bloggers, it’s up to me to represent all things meat-, egg-, and dairy-free. The gauntlet has been thrown down.
Around the World in 80 Plates premieres this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo, and the first location isn’t a vast departure from the norm; Stopping in London, England, dessert was clearly the only worthy offering for such a sweet-toothed country. Torn between the fruity, caramel-coated goodness of banoffee pie and decadent, toffee-flavored spoonfuls of sticky toffee pudding, I decided not to choose between the two. Instead, all the best qualities of each are combined into one, creating a Banoffee Sticky Pudding. Ultra-moist banana pudding is drenched in lightly boozy toffee sauce, and topped with brûléed banana slices. Lightened with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over the still-warm pudding, it hardly needs the final crown of a crispy, dehydrated banana, but it sure does look prettier for it. Not many desserts can be described as messy and elegant all at once, which makes this playful rendition a dessert to remember.
Authentically British? Heck no. But authentically inspired, you bet!
(My original sketch- Came out pretty close to what I imagined!)
Banoffee Sticky Pudding
1 Cup Brewed Black Tea, Still Hot
1 Cup Pitted Medjool Dates, Roughly Chopped
3 Medium-Sized, Very Ripe Bananas
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
2/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Dark Rum
4 – 6 Ripe but Firm Bananas
Banana Chips (Optional, for a Shortcut)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 8 4-ounce ramekins and set aside.
Place the chopped dates in a small bowl, and cover them with the hot tea. Let soak for 30 – 60 minutes, to soften the dried fruits a bit. Set aside.
Peel the bananas and break them up into chunks before tossing them into your food processor or blender. Follow them with the vinegar, vanilla, oil, and sugar. Puree until smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dry goods so that everything is thoroughly incorporated and well-distributed, and add everything into the food processor. Pulse lightly to bring the batter together, pausing to scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Once the mixture is almost completely smooth, finally add in the mixture of dates and tea, and pulse to incorporate. Don’t go too crazy though- You want to keep some nice chunks of dates remaining, and be careful not to overwork the batter.
Distribute the mixture between your prepared ramekins, and set them in a large baking dish or roasting pan, to create a make-shift water bath. Make sure that none of the ramekins are touching; you may need two separate baking dishes to hold everything. Place the ramekin-filled baking dish(es) in the oven, and quickly but carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish. Avoid splashing water into the puddings themselves, and try not to drip into the oven. Add water until it reaches about half-way up the sides of the ramekins, and then cover with foil. This will allow the puddings to steam and bake up delightfully moist and soft.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a pudding pulls out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Use non-slip tongs to pull the puddings from the water bath; leave the boiling hot water in the oven until it’s cool enough to handle, to prevent any disastrous spills.
While the puddings are in the oven, go ahead and start the sauce. Place the sugar, margarine, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, and slowly bring to the boil. Once the margarine has melted and the sugar dissolved, let the mixture bubble and cook for a about 2 – 3 minutes before carefully pouring in the coconut milk. Bring the mixture back up to a bubble, and cook for a final 2 – 3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Finally, stir in the rum, and remove from the heat. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.
To make the finishing touches, you will want to make the banana chips well in advance, or simply buy banana chips to top off your sweet tower. Otherwise, slice two bananas lengthwise as thinly as possible without breaking them into pieces; any thicker than 1/8-1/4 inch thick, and you’ll end up with chewy banana leather instead (not altogether a bad thing, but not what we’re going for.) lightly brush the strip with lemon juice, and lay them on a silpat-lined baking sheet. Slowly dehydrate at 200 degrees for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Check on them every 30 minutes or so, and don’t expect them to be crisp right out of the oven. They will continue to firm up after they cool. If they’re still not quite crunchy once cool, flip them over, and bake again for 30 – 60 more minutes.
Finally, for the brûléed bananas, slice 4 bananas into 1/4-1/2 inch chunks, ideally on a bias to give you a bit more surface area. Place the pieces on a silpat-lined baking sheet and lightly coat them with lemon juice. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top in a fairly thick layer- Don’t be shy about it. Run them under the broiler in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes, until the sugar is melted and golden brown all over. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
To plate up all of these components, start by placing one steamed pudding on the plate. Spoon a generous amount of toffee sauce on top, and place a small ring of 3 – 4 brûléed banana pieces on top of that. Place a scoop of ice cream in the center of the ring, and finish the whole thing off with one large banana chip. For a more low-key presentation, feel free to skip all the fancy garnishes and just throw some toffee sauce right into the ramekin. Enjoy warm!
Makes 8 Servings
For participating this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.