Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bananas, Caramel, and Cream

Valentine's Day was more than a week ago already, but it's not too late to make heart-shaped desserts!  (I realize that to some, heart-shaped anything is a bit too corny ... but I just couldn't help myself.  Sorry). 

What you see in the red bowl has become my favorite dessert of late.  I'm not sure what to call it yet (let me know if you have any ideas) ... in the absence of a name I'm happy with right now, I'm just going to call it what it is - Bananas, Caramel, and Cream.  I've made this for multiple dinner parties, small group gatherings, and I made a gluten-free version for my friend Eliza's birthday a few months ago, and it's always come off well.  I hope you enjoy it, too, if you make it.

Part 1:  The Cookies
I use Martha Stewart's recipe for Chewy Molasses-Spice Cookies.  I love these cookies and don't change a thing about the recipe ... well, except in the case pictured, I used a pan with heart-shaped molds to create the heart-shaped cookies you see.  But other times I've made the traditional circular cookies and those are also terrific ... not to mention a bit faster to make.  If you use the heart-shaped pan, you just want to make sure not to fill the molds too high - I'd say they should be filled only about half-way; otherwise the cookies rise too much and lose their shape.  You also want to press the dough into the molds slightly so that they keep the heart-shape as they bake.  Click here to see the pan I used.

Part 2: The Caramel
The recipe I use is:
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 

Step 1: You want to have all the ingredients out and ready before you start; you'll have to add ingredients quickly to make this work.  You may also want to wear long sleeves and/or thick gloves/oven mitts; the sugar gets very, very hot and can splatter a little as you stir.

Step 2: Put the sugar in a thick-bottomed pan and heat on medium-high heat.  The point is to melt this down until it's completely liquid and amber-colored.  This can take a while (15-20 minutes) so be patient.  At first it will seem like nothing is happening, but then you'll see the sugar on the bottom of the pan starting to liquify.  Stir the sugar enough so that it doesn't burn and keep stirring until the sugar is completely melted and amber (caramel!) colored.  You can stop stirring when the sugar actually comes to a boil. 

**Very important!!**: I've had to start this recipe over more than once because I didn't wait long enough for the sugar to melt.  It gets to a point that it starts to boil and looks pretty liquid-y, and you'll think it's ready for adding the butter and the cream.  But wait!  Is it a rich, amber color?  As you stir it, is it not just not-solid-anymore, and not just a creamy-textured liquid, but actually a runny, spatter-y liquid?  If the latter, then you're ready to add the butter and cream!

Step 3: When the sugar is totally liquid, and that beautiful rich amber color, add the butter and the cinnamon.  Stir as you do this until the butter has completely melted into the liquid sugar.  You want to stir thoroughly and quickly so that the butter actually incorporates into the sugar; this doesn't happen immediately.

Step 4: When the butter is incorporated, take the pan off the heat.  I take Elise Bauer's advice to count to three, then add the cream all at once.  Adding the butter and cream makes this mixture bubble up, so don't worry and be careful as it does so.

Step 5: Keep whisking or stirring until the caramel is completely smooth.  I pour the caramel into two small glass jars, but another glass receptacle can also do.  If you cool the caramel before you serve it, it thickens, so you'll want to heat it up before serving.

Simply Recipes has a similar recipe that you can also check out, and there are links there to another site with more detailed advice on making caramel.  The really major thing with making caramel, though, at least that I've found, is to really make sure you cook the sugar long enough (see **Very Important!** section above!) before adding the other ingredients.  If you don't, the butter and cream won't incorporate and you'll end up with a big lumpy mess in a pan .. believe me, this has been my situation twice now.   

Also, the hint of cinnamon in the recipe above makes the dish even more aromatic, and is absolutely delicious with the cream and bananas.

Part 3: The Bananas

Cut a banana in half, then julienne each half separately.  The slices from one half will go in one dessert.

Part 4: The Assembly!

You can do this one of two ways.  When I make the regular circular cookies, I put one or two of those on the bottom of the dish to start.  Then I splay the slices of banana across them, put a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top of that, then drizzle the caramel across the top.

The way you see in the photo above is that I put the bananas on the bottom and the cookies on the side ... that was just because the cookies were pretty against the red bowl my cousin Kate got me.  So suit yourself on this one.  ... And most of all, enjoy this stuff!

... Now that I've written all of this out I see that this dessert probably seems like a real pain to make - so many steps!  But once you do it once it's not as big a big deal ... the cookies are pretty easy to make and once you've got that caramel sauce whisked up, you're going to be one happy camper, trust me.

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