Friday, July 16, 2010

Dressing Up Your Banana

photo by Anthony Palatta

With the exception of bananas foster, when you think banana-themed desserts, you tend to think of informal comfort food:   banana pudding, banana splits, banana muffins frozen bananas on a stick.

What I love about this recipe for banana-almond tart, from 500 Pies, (ps. 62 and 78) is that it dresses up the often homey banana, making it the kind of showcase dessert for the most formal of meals.

This recipe begins with an almond crust:  butter, flour, ground almonds, a pinch of salt, an egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon or two of cold water.  Mix them all, but not too well.  As with any crust, you want little blobs of butter to remain in your dough.  One thing I learned was not to grind the almonds too finely, or their natural oils come out and moisten the dough.

After chilling the dough for at least half an hour, preheat your oven to 375 and try to get the dough into a 10-inch tart pan.  Mine was too sticky to roll out, so I finally just gave up and pressed it in, which turned out just fine.  Bake the crust "blind" for 15 minutes (meaning covered with parchment or greased tin foil weighted down by beans or pie weights), then remove the covering and bake it an additional 10 minutes until it's golden-brown and firm.  Set it on a rack to cool.

While it's cooling you can make the filling:  ground blanched almonds with sugar, a bit of flour, softened butter, an egg, and some vanilla.  (See the book for exact measurements.  This recipe plus the grasshopper pie recipe make the book a fantastic resource, well worth the investment.)  Mix and chill until ready.

After spreading the almond filling in the cooled pie shell, slice up your bananas.  The book didn't specify whether to cut the bananas into coins or long planks.  I decided to go for planks to achieve a pinwheel effect.  I recommend using younger bananas if you're concerned about looks—older ones turn brown in the oven—or slightly more mature bananas if you're interested in sweetness.  I went for sweetness.  You can see the result in the picture.

Bake the filled crust at 350 for about 45 minutes.  I covered the edges of the crust with tin foil to protect them from browning.  When you take the tart out of the oven, there may be a bit of moisture in the center from the bananas, but don't worry about it.  Focus on the almond filling, which should be puffy and light golden brown.

Dust with confectioner's sugar and sprinkle with sliced almonds, then amaze your friends at dinner, then have the leftovers for breakfast.  The cookbook mentions that the tart goes particularly well with a cup of cafe au lait. I say an even better option is a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

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