Bananas foster has a reputation of complexity. Newcomers to the retro dessert might not know much about it other than that it’s a dessert with a fancy name, and that it gets set on fire — both of which seem a little intimidating. But it turns out making a killer bananas foster is a simple, one-pan project that only takes about 10 minutes, from stovetop to mouth.
In fact, bananas foster is a peak of dessert perfection due to its simplicity. It’s nothing more than sliced, soft bananas bathed in a warm butterscotch-rum sauce. Anyone who even remotely likes bananas will be smitten with it, while true banana-heads will weep with unbridled emotion. The bananas add texture and flavour, but the sauce is poetry. The brown sugar’s sweetness and molasses link arms with rum’s spice and toffee notes, and they’re all wrapped up in the aroma of ripe banana. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and you’ve made a flawless dessert.
You only need four ingredients to make it happen; any other flavours or spices can add a nice twist, but it’s best to focus on the basics.
First, the butterscotch — a type of caramel made from brown sugar and a bit of butter. To make it, start by adding butter and brown sugar to a large frying pan. (I like to use a stainless steel pan because it lets me observe the colour of the sauce more clearly, but you can use a dark or nonstick pan.) Melt the butter and sugar together over medium-low heat and stir occasionally. The mixture will look broken and gross at first, but stick with it: After two or three minutes the sugar should be bubbling and look a bit frothy.
Next, stir in bananas that have been peeled, split, and cut into three to four-inch hunks. Gently turn them in the sugar syrup so they become coated. I like to use bananas that have just turned completely yellow because they’re still firm, and sweet enough but not so ripe that they’ll break apart over heat, and if you cut the pieces too small, they’ll become mushy too.
Let the bananas cook in the sauce for about two minutes until they start to soften. Add the alcohol, and quickly flambé it. To do this safely, pour on the alcohol, snap off the flame on the stove, and use a grill lighter or a long safety match to light it. Be quick: You’re lighting the fumes that are releasing from the alcohol, and they rapidly dissipate once heated. (If you’re confident in your flambé skills, you can light the fumes by tilting the pan toward the flame of your stove, but this is an advanced move.)
Let the flames die down on their own — this will take about 30 seconds. Then turn the heat back on, stir gently, and cook the mixture for another minute to meld the sauce’s flavours.
The classic version of bananas foster uses dark rum. I stuck with that recommendation, and I would have happily drowned in that sauce. My advice is to use a good rum, though — one that you actually enjoy drinking. Cooking alcohol only focuses the flavour, so if you don’t like drinking Bacardi, don’t insult your bananas with it. Alternatively, whisky or brandy also pair well with butterscotch, or you can keep it family friendly and use nothing except a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
The recipe below adds a few simple accents, including salt, vanilla extract, and a dash of cinnamon. For the ultimate preparation, serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and race to finish it before it all melts. Luckily, losing the race leaves you with a butterscotch-cream sauce, so really, you’re still a winner.
Simple Bananas Foster
- 6 tablespoons butter
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 large bananas, peeled, sliced lengthwise and cut into 2 or 3-inch hunks
- 90 ml dark rum
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Add the butter, sugar, and salt to a large skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about two minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is bubbling and frothy. Add the banana pieces and turn them in the sugar sauce until well coated. Cook the bananas for about two minutes or until they begin to soften.
Add the rum and light the fumes of the alcohol. (Turn off the gas burner before pouring the alcohol, for additional safety). Allow the flames to die out naturally, about 30-40 seconds. Turn the heat back on and cook the mixture for another minute while gently stirring the sauce. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla and cinnamon. Serve with ice cream or cake, draped over waffles or French toast, or eat it straight out of the pan.
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