We meet yet again. I have come to accept that other people eat you, enjoy you, like you, and dare I say… even LOVE you. After much soul-searching and pastry indulgence, I am pleased to report that I have arrived at a place of tolerance. I can tolerate your existence, and I can now tolerate, though *just* so, your presence in a variety of baked goods. Although you will never be my favorite, I recognize the pleasing taste and texture that you impart to said baked goods, and I think we can come to a reasonable understanding. I have even grown fond of you in breads, cakes, and fritters, but your raw form continues to repulse every fiber of my being. I propose that we maintain a professional, if aloof, relationship: when baked, mashed, or fried, we can work together in harmony; when you are raw, we must go our separate ways. Although this is not a perfect union, I really must insist on this arrangement, at least for the time being. Perhaps in the future I may reconsider my position, but for now, this is the way it has to be.
Dafna @ Stellina Sweets
I’ve made no secret of my disdain for bananas– and also my growing, though reluctant, acceptance of them. This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe for Chocolate Banana Tart from the Banana chapter of Baked Elements was a perfect opportunity for a little banana compromise. The recipe calls for a layer of raw bananas in the middle, and a garnish of caramelized ones on top. I gave raw bananas an honest effort when we made Banana Caramel Pudding, but I just couldn’t do it; therefore, I decided to nix the raw middle layer in this tart. I figured that the presumably sweet and crunchy caramelized bananas on top would be delicious, as would the banana-infused caramel drizzle. Sadly, that part of the recipe was a mess, which I’ll get to in a moment. The tart consists of a sweet pastry crust, a rich chocolate ganache filling, and the aforementioned two banana layers and caramel drizzle over the top.
No matter how many times I make pie or tart dough, I still dread it– I’m always afraid I’m going to mess it up, thanks to plenty of lackluster past experiences. Even after making my best pie dough ever in a recent Summer Pies class at the San Francisco Cooking School, I found that at home, my confidence eroded. However, in this case, there was nothing at all to worry about. This tart crust is similar to a French pâte sucrée (sweet short crust pastry dough), though the latter uses egg yolks only, whereas there is a whole egg here. Eggs help create the structure needed for the tart crust to support itself and its fillings once you remove the tart pan, compared to a pie that stays in its dish; no eggs are needed. Therefore, it’s not light and flaky, but rather more dense and cookie-like. In a pie crust you want lots of visible chunks of butter to create flaky pockets; to make this crust, you will cream the butter and sugar, so there will be no such large pieces. I was a little concerned when I added the egg because the mixture was not exactly emulsified, but it came together just fine when I added the flour.
After a one-hour stint in the fridge, the dough was generally easy to handle, though somewhat delicate (prone to tearing), especially when transferring to the pan. My dough is never uniformly round (something I’m working on), but it was very easy to repair the tears and even it out. Pass your rolling pin over the edge of the tart pan to trim the excess, then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes before blind baking. FYI, these scraps are super tasty. 🙂
The chocolate ganache layer is made by pouring hot cream over a 50-50 mix of milk chocolate and dark chocolate, then adding a tablespoon of butter. I used TCHO SeriousMilk 39% chocolate discs and Guittard “Coucher du Soleil” 72% couverture wafers, respectively.
The recipe says to stir the melting chocolate after 30 seconds; make sure to actually do this– I was a little lax with the time, and after a couple of minutes, the cream had cooled considerably, as there is a high ratio of chocolate to cream, and I was afraid I had ruined mine by over-stirring. It turned out to be okay, but because chocolate crystals are finicky little things when they’re cooling, you don’t want to stir forever. Anyway, you’ll then pour the cooled ganache into the cooled crust and refrigerate. If you’re adding the raw banana layer in the middle, only pour half of the ganache and let it set for a few minutes in the fridge before proceeding. In my case, I poured all of the ganache into the tart crust and let it chill while I moved on to the next step.
So, back to those caramelized bananas… The recipe instructs us to melt 5 tablespoons of butter, then stir in ½ cup light brown sugar and allow it to start bubbling before adding the banana slices. I had a feeling something was weird because there was SO MUCH butter in the pan, which took quite a bit of coaxing to blend with the sugar. When it finally came together, the mixture was very thick and required about 10 minutes just to barely start bubbling, even with the heat turned up to medium-high. When I added the bananas, I found that a medium pan was too small to accommodate all the slices with sufficient space between them, so the caramel came up high enough to cover some of the slices completely. The caramel eventually came to an active boil, but the bananas simply didn’t caramelize. They puffed a bit, got soft, and became enrobed in a thick caramel-like coating, but they never got crisp or browned. My hunch is that there is too much butter in the recipe, but I can neither confirm nor deny this allegation. It was probably a good thing that my bananas were a little underripe, as they would have fallen apart completely if they were softer!
After removing the bananas from the pan, you add cream to the remaining brown sugar mixture to make a caramel sauce. Frankly, this was a complete mess. The resulting stuff was gloppy, crystallized, and just plain sad.
The caramel coating the bananas didn’t firm up on its own, so I put the plate of slices in the fridge to chill, but to no avail. Fortunately, I was able to salvage enough of them to decorate the rim of the tart, but they were not quite what I pictured. Since I could not drizzle the caramel, I opened a jar of Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce from Trader Joe’s and drizzled that instead. I was bummed, as I thought the banana-caramel would be great, but I’m just glad that I happened to have a jar of caramel on hand, being that it was already past midnight! (I’ve been having trouble with caramel recipes lately, and I’m starting to wonder if it has anything to do with the glass top stove in this apartment. I hope my caramel skills haven’t regressed…)
Although the tart can be eaten right away, I chose to cut the tart the next morning, since I like the texture of chilled ganache. It was very firm right out of the fridge, so I had to try another slice after sitting at room temperature for a while. (These are the sacrifices that I make for pastry art. It’s okay, no need to feel sorry for me.) The bananas looked kinda slimy after being in the fridge overnight– it’s best to do that part right before you plan to serve the tart. However, I didn’t hate them– even liked them just fine– despite being soft and mushy.
The ganache was very dark and rich, a little too much up against the bananas and caramel; I would probably lighten it up a bit by adjusting the balance of milk/dark chocolate more in favor of milk. Or, I could use a 61% rather than 72% dark chocolate. Also, I was a a bit disappointed that there was little caramel or banana flavor (did I just say that??) throughout most of the tart. Now, this was partly my own doing by omitting the middle banana layer and only decorating the outer edge of the tart with banana slices. I am unlikely to ever put in the raw bananas, but I would remediate this problem as follows: 1) spread a layer of caramel over the bottom of the crust before pouring in the ganache (or in the middle), and/or 2) add some banana liqueur to the caramel (assuming I can adjust the recipe to get the right usable consistency next time).
It’s hard to believe, but we are now counting down our last 10 recipes from Baked Elements! There are some great ones coming up in the next several weeks, and then we’ll get started on BAKED‘s fourth book, Baked Occasions, to be released on October 7th. You can find the recipe for this Chocolate Banana Tart at Baked Sunday Mornings, and see how the other bakers fared with this tricky caramel business!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.