Inviting five of my favourite Parisian princesses to dinner last night was the perfect excuse to spend Easter Monday in my kitchen with the wireless on. I kicked off with MJ’s Dangerous record to get the creative juices flowing, and ended on a doubly sweet note with Bettye Swann serenading as I put the finishing touches to dessert. It was blissful.
For the sake of minimal faffing in the kitchen when the girls arrived, I decided that the main course would be something that I could prepare early and pop into the oven before serving. I went with a beef & aubergine lasagne with lashings of red wine, fresh basil and pecorino cheese served with homemade garlic bread and an avocado and roquette salad.
As for pudding, I took the classic British Banoffee Pie and gave it a nutty twist. Banoffee is the perfect combination of naughtiness – the biscuity base of a cheese cake, a sticky layer of toffee and ripe bananas all topped with Trifle-inspired whipped cream. However, for me there’s just one missing ingredient that could bring all 4 flavours together and add another dimension of texture, and so I decided to throw some nuts into the mix!
I didn’t want to make the pie any sweeter than it already is so I kept things simple by adding some toasted almond flakes to the oat biscuit base, and then a few lightly salted crushed hazelnuts to the caramel layer – the latter is an ode to caramel au beurre salé, the classic French blend of sweet and salty that works sublimely as a sweet crêpe topping (there’s a great recipe for this by Awfully French). I fell in love with this combination when I tasted a caramel & fleur de sel macaron glacé (an ice cream macaron, I kid you not!) at the artisan icecream parlour, La Martinière, on the Ile de Ré. And I recently rekindled a craving for this flavour when I read Sweet Tooth‘s recipe for salted caramel shortbread.
I used this Aldo Zilli recipe as an outline (minus the double chocolate sauce which I thought might be a tad too much), and substituted a few ingredients to make my own recipe:
For the pie
- 75g oat biscuits + 75g Speculoos biscuits for that spicy cinnamon kick
- 75g melted unsalted butter
- 2 sliced ripe bananas
- a handful of crushed hazelnuts mixed with a little sea salt
- a handful of almond flakes
- 200ml double cream for whipping
And for the -noffee
- 100g unsalted butter
- 100g caster sugar
- 400g can of condensed milk
The first thing to make was the base, for which I blitzed up all the biscuits into crumbs in a food processor (you can also put them in a freezer bag and bash them into submission with a rolling pin!). I poured over the melted butter and mixed this together before adding the almond flakes. Then I pressed the mixture into an even layer on the base of a loose bottom cake tin and left it to set in the fridge for around 45 minutes. *WARNING: it might be an idea to first line the tin with some parchment paper – you’ll see why later!*
Next came my favourite part – homemade caramel. On a very low heat I melted the butter and sugar until the sugar had completely dissolved. Then I added a retro-looking red tin of Carnation condensed milk and slowly brought this to the boil, stirring nonstop to make sure it didn’t burn. After 5 minutes or so, it had thickened to a soft caramel consistency, releasing a sweet toffee aroma. I took it off the heat and when it had cooled, I spread the toffee over the biscuit base before sprinkling over the crushed salted hazelnuts and then arranging the banana slices over the top.
This went back in the fridge covered with cling film until an hour before my guests arrived, when I whipped the double cream to soft peaks and spread it over the nutty caramel and banana layer. I finished off with a few shavings of dark chocolate and some festive Easter balls.
Now when it came to serving my pie, the base and caramel had set so well that lifting a neat slice was close to impossible (hence the parchment paper suggestion!). What followed was a deliciously messy affair… I placed the Banoffee at the centre of the table and 6 spoons took to battle until the entire dish had been devoured.
Next time I think I’ll make neat individual little pies, perhaps in glass ramekins. But on this particular occasion, the sinful messiness of it all was the perfect ending to our mischievous ladies night. And most importantly, the nutty twist was a sure-fire hit!
My petite cucina
What’s playing today?
A few weeks back, a very special friend told me to check out AlunaGeorge, a London act fusing R&B with electronic beats. The duo is singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid, and their track You Know You Like It almost transports me back to 1996 for Timberland’s production on the late Aaliyah’s One In A Million record.
To deviate from the R&B vein, Aluna’s alluring vocals bring to mind Martina Topley Bird and Little Dragon‘s Yukimi (two of my favourites). And it’s easy to see why last month they were featured on NME‘s 10 Tracks You Have To Hear This Week.
Even after hurling all these comparisons at them, I still think that AlunaGeorge are creating something quite fresh, sultry even. What do you think?