It’s been a hot minute since I posted a dessert. Yeah, sorry about that. Hopefully, today’s Bananas Foster Tart will get your sugar levels back where they ought to be and more than make-up for my dessert-related-negligence. I mean, this tart is essentially two desserts in one. There’s the base tart, which is a cardamom-heavy-riff on the classic British egg custard tart. And then there’s the topping – a faithful recreation of Bananas Foster, the quintessential New Orleans dessert rivaled only by the beignet in terms of popularity. So yeah, I’m gonna guess this tart alleviates any lingering feelings of resentment. We cool?
Bananas Foster. A blissfully simple mixture of a caramelized bananas, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and rum traditionally served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s a dish so hallowed and ubiquitous that it’s hard to pinpoint a time when I didn’t know of its existence. That’s the thing about well-known dishes, you never think to ask questions about them. I certainly did not know this dish was a mere 62 years old. I also did not know it hailed from a particular New Orleans restaurant called Brennan’s but I may have been the last to know. It does appear to be a very well documented origin story, which is not particularly common in the food world. I suppose it helps that Brennan’s is still flambeing bananas foster tableside to this day.
But much of food history is murky because food is so commonplace. Most of us, if we’re lucky, directly engage with food three times a day. And when something is routine, we tend not to pay attention. But by the same token, when we think to ask the questions we can’t help but be delighted by the answers. There’s no history on earth so engaging than one’s own. If something like the complete history of JELL-O isn’t relatable, I don’t know what is. Everyone I know has aspired to make a JELL-O jiggler at some point in their lives. Everyone.
But whatever the reason, I never thought to research dear Bananas Foster until I caught a doc on Netflix about Ella Brennan, the famed restauranteur from New Orleans. She was a member and the fearless leader of the family who owned the famed Brennan’s restaurant. The doc itself wasn’t nearly as compelling as its subject but it did trigger an evening of intense Googling. And at the end of that Internet rabbit hole was the idea for today’s Bananas Foster Tart. Sometimes it pays to indulge your curiosity and sometimes that pay is pie.
Now, when you decide on a tart as the format for your dessert, you’re confronted with a few crucial decisions. What crust are you after? Something traditional and French like pate sucree or are you leaning more down-home with a pat-in-the-pan graham cracker deal. And once you figure out the crust, you have to ask yourself, what are you going to fill it with? Fruit, frangipane, cream, or custard? Then, what are you going to top it with? And how are you going to make it look pretty? And on and on. I mean, this whole tart thing is no joke.
When I started formulating this Bananas Foster Tart, I only had the flavor profile in mind. I initially thought of cooking the Bananas Foster into a sort of jam and packing it into the pastry case. But I knew from making these bad boys that banana jam isn’t the prettiest of pie fillings. Then, I thought of folding the jam into pastry cream, which honestly I may revisit later, but I didn’t think the results would be classy enough for a tart. Pie? Yes! But tart? No. Oh, the arbitrary lines we draw.
Finally, it dawned on me. Just because it was a Bananas Foster Tart didn’t mean it had to be Bananas Foster all the way down. And with that revelation, I solved two tart related problems – what to fill it with and what to top it with. Once those decisions were made, it was clear I had an exceptionally classy tart on my hands, so only a classy pate sucree would do.
Now, by virtue of being a Bananas Foster Tart, you can probably guess that nothing is sacred here. This is not traditional, it is a Franken-dessert and frankly (pun intended) neither of the two desserts found in this tart are what you would call “traditional”. For one thing, the Bananas Foster topping is not hot. Yes, I’m going to ask you to do something you would never do to classic Bananas Foster – I’m going to ask you to let it cool. I know, this is borderline blasmephous but I swear it is for a good cause. If you pile melt-your-face-hot Bananas Foster onto your perfectly set and chilled custard tart, you will have something akin to mush by the time the former tart hits the table. It will be tasty mush to be sure, but mush nonetheless.
And the custard tart underneath the Bananas Foster? Yeah, that’s not traditional either. For the custard, I opted to steep toasted cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick in the cream and milk mixture. Come to think of it, I put a cinnamon stick and star anise in the Bananas Foster as well. So, nothing in this tart is untouched by non-traditional, whole spices.
But all this upset of tradition does add up to something rather extraordinary. A rich tart that delivers all the pleasures of a classic custard tart and a plate of Bananas Foster. And yes, this tart will never be a substitute for a super-specific craving for either well-loved dessert. But it will give you a brand new dessert to love.
Bananas Foster Tart
- 9-inch tart pan
- A bag of dried beans or pie weights
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter cut into cubes
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 egg yolk beaten
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup 2% milk
- 8 green cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 8 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 bananas just underripe
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 star anise pods
- 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
- 3 tbsp butter cut into cubes
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup dark rum
For the Pate Sucree
- Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a large food processor and blitz until well-combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
- In a small bowl whisk to combine the egg and the cream. Turn on the food processor and stream in the egg/cream mixture. Blitz until the dough starts to come together.
- Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface. Lightly knead the dough with your fingertips and form it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disc and wrap tightly before transferring the dough to the fridge. Chill for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Once the dough is chilled, unwrap it and place it on a well-floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 1/4 of an inch thickness. Line a 9-inch tart pan with the dough and trim the excess. Form the remaining bits and pieces of the dough into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap tightly and transfer to the freezer for future tart adventures.
- Transfer the tart pan to the fridge and chill for 30 minutes. And while the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Once the oven is up and the dough is chilled, prick the dough all over with a fork. Line the tart shell with a piece of parchment paper and fill the center with dried beans or pie weights. Place the tart shell in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Once the 20 minutes have passed, take the tart out of the oven and remove the parchment paper and the beans. Brush the inside of the tart shell with the beaten egg yolk and return the tart shell to the oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes.
- Take the shell out of the oven and drop the oven temperature to 275°F. Let the shell cool for 10 minutes before pouring in the custard.
For the Custard
- When the tart shell is on its second bake, make the custard. Pour the milk and cream into a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Add the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick and bring the milk mixture up to a low simmer.
- Once steam develops on the surface of the milk mixture and bubbles start to form around the edges, turn off the heat and cover. Leave the spices to steep in the milk mixture for 15-20 minutes.
- While the milk is steeping, whisk the sugar and salt into the egg yolks until they turn a paler yellow.
- Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods and pour the milk mixture gradually into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the resulting mixture through a mesh strainer into a pitcher or another vessel with a spout. Skim any bubbles or froth off the surface of the custard using a spoon.
- Pour the custard into the slightly cooled tart case. Carefully transfer the tart to the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until the edges of the tart are set and the center is still wobbly. Take the tart out of the oven and leave to cool completely before transferring to the fridge to chill. Let chill for at least 3 hours.
For the Bananas Foster
- Peel the bananas and slice them lengthwise. Take each half and cut them in two, so you have a total of 12 banana spears. Set aside.
- Place the star anise pods and cinnamon stick in a dry skillet. Toast the spices over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and cook, undisturbed, until the sugar melts into a liquid and turns a deep amber. Stir in the butter and salt.
- Add the bananas to the pan, cut-side-down. Sear the bananas on each side for a minute or 2 or until golden. Don't cook the bananas for too long or they will turn into mush. Also don't be alarmed if the caramel is lumpy, the rum with smooth the sauce out.
- Once the bananas are nicely browned, turn off the flame and pour in the rum. Light a match and use it to set the alcohol in the pan on fire. Let the fire burn itself out. Set the Bananas Foster aside to cool for 15-20 minutes. If the bananas are too hot when they're added to the tart, they will interfere with the structural integrity of the custard.
- Place the bananas on top of the custard tart and spoon the residual sauce over top. Serve immediately.