Saturday, May 3, 2014

Doce de Banana com Creme e Suspiro

This delicious dessert consisting of layers of ripe, caramelized bananas, vanilla pastry cream and crispy meringue was a family favorite when I was growing up, prepared often both by my grandmother and mother, as we always had dozens of bananas and plenty of fresh milk and eggs regularly coming from my grandfather's farm. And because these ingredients are fairly available all over Brazil, this dessert is popular in many places.

As simple as it may seem, there are a few things that can go wrong with this dessert: bananas have to be really ripe, and cooked enough with the caramelized sugar to prevent oozing liquid while being baked. The pastry cream has to be thick enough to hold shape when cut, but not excessively, or it becomes rubbery. The meringue should be baked in a very low heat oven, otherwise the center remains humid and chewy when the surface is already baked and golden brown.

This versatile desert combines several textures and flavors. It is eye-catching, especially when served in individual clear bowls or dessert glasses,  and yet cheap and simple to make. I hope it also becomes a favorite with your family!

Doce de banana com creme e suspiro
(Caramelized banana with pastry cream and meringue)


Caramelized bananas
1 lb (500 g)  peeled ripe bananas (aprox. 5 units)
1/2 lb (250 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 cinnamon sticks

Pastry Cream
2 1/8 cups (500 ml) whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 generous pinch salt
32 g cornstarch
3 egg yolks
2 oz (60 g) butter, diced

4 egg whites (150 ml)
1-3 drops lemon juice
300 g sugar

1. For the caramelized bananas, cut bananas into thick rounds. Melt the sugar in a heavy-based saucepan until a light caramel forms. Add banana rounds, orange juice and cinnamon stick and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Discard the cinnamon and spread the compote on a 8 x 8 in (20x20 cm) flameproof dish.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the pastry cream. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds with the tip of a knife. Combine pod and seeds with the milk in a saucepan and heat until just below boiling. Combine dry ingredients and egg yolks in a bowl to form a paste. Add one third of the scalded milk to the bowl, stirring constantly, until well combined. Pour this mixture back into the pan and cook, over medium heat and stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat, discard the vanilla bean pod and add the butter, stirring well to combine. Pour over the banana compote layer spreading evenly, being careful not to mix the two layers. Let cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 200oF (90oC).

4. For the meringue, whisk egg whites and lemon juice in a stand mixer, on medium speed, until the volume is four times the original volume (about 2 minutes). Add the sugar slowly, increase the speed to high and whisk for about 3 more minutes, until it holds firm peaks. Spread over the pastry cream, or use a pastry bag with the tip of your choice to pipe it artistically.

4. Bake for about 1 hour, until the meringue is set and dry in the center. Serve cold.

Optional: use a blow torch to turn the meringue tips dark brown. 

Chef''s tip: this dessert doesn't hold very well in the fridge (1-2 days), because the meringue absorbs the moisture from the other layers and becomes mushy. Good thing is it never lasts that long!