Many times as a baker, when you go into a recipe, you really never know what you are in for. A recipe that looks really difficult at first read can be an absolute cinch. On the flip-side – a recipe can appear deceptively simple, when in truth, it’s an absolute monster. This was true for me with those Brooksters a while back. This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings selection from Baked Elements – the Chocolate Banana Tart – wasn’t too monstrous, but by the time I had spent a couple hours attempting to at least slightly master ‘caramelized bananas’, followed by scalding bits of my hand on a cookie sheet fresh out of the oven, I was about to throw the towel in. Ever stubborn, I forged on and came up with a fairly decent result – which nevertheless didn’t completely sway my slight repulsion for (raw) banana.
The description for this sleek tart in the book sets the basis for this being a fairly simple recipe to put together. It begins with a baked sweet tart crust base, filled with luscious layers of chocolate ganache sandwiching thinly-sliced bananas. The trouble, I found, came in the final pièce de résistance: a smattering of caramelized bananas on top of this tart. Having never made caramelized bananas before, I knew going into it that this might be an experience for me, and I was game to at least give it an old college try.
The sweet tart crust came together fairly simply in the mixer. Once chilled, you’ll want to very gently roll it out on a surface liberally sprinkled with flour. Sweet tart doughs, or short doughs, can be very sticky and warm up fast. Of course, after I maneuvered my dough into my tart pan with nary a crack except one (I patched it up by pressing in some excess dough), my boyfriend Jake showed me an excellent tip on YouTube for filling a tart pan without risking cracks in the dough. I’m embedding the video as a good tip for you to file away. I know that I will. The tip is from England’s own master baker, Mary Berry, a co-host on a fascinating reality show much revered my the Brits – and now by me as well – called The Great British Bake-off. Gosh, have a I fallen in love with this show. I’m watching as many bits and pieces of it as I can on YouTube. I wish it were more easily available for viewing here in America, because it is utterly addicting. And – my experiences with this tart notwithstanding – I want to go on it as a contestant and see how I fare! Enjoy Mary’s expertise and suggestion:
While the dough was chilling in the freezer, I decided to jump right in with those caramelized bananas, knowing the ganache in the next step might firm up a little too quickly if made it too early.
Here’s the trouble I ran into, right away, with these: for one thing, I don’t have a large, heavy-gauge aluminum skillet to brown things in. I still need to get some new, better pans. I only had a yucky, nonstick wide sauté pan to contend with for these. I melted together what seemed to be copious amounts of butter and brown sugar until bubbling, according to the recipe, and added my diagonally-sliced pieces of banana in a scattered layer. After 45 seconds bubbling away, you’re supposed to gently turn each banana slice to brown the other side. Okay.
When I attempted this, I sadly found that, not only had my bananas not browned as promised, but they had overcooked and were a mushy mess that disintegrated when I barely touched them with the spatula. I realized fairly quickly that I displayed excellent foresight in buying a large bunch of bananas, rather than just the amount called for in the recipe.
I decided to try adding small spoonfuls of the butter/brown sugar mixture to a nonstick, aluminum saucepan, heating it up to a very hot temp, and making smaller amounts of caramelized bananas at a time (with less caramel). This seemed to do the trick a little better. The bananas had a decidedly more browned, caramelized surface – though they still seemed mushy. The recipe suggests transferring the browned banana slices to a plate and dabbing at them to remove excess moisture. However, ripe bananas already have a lot of moisture to them. That’s why they turn to mush fairly quickly. When I dabbed at my browned slices, OFF went all of that beautiful caramelization, onto the paper towel. Realizing I needed to attempt a third batch – and my supply of bananas was dwindling – I was starting to lose it.
Around this time, I also had set my crust in the oven to bake. It turned out beautifully golden-brown, but even with pie crust weights in the first half of the baking, it had really seized up and shrunken a touch, which was odd (overworked dough? I swear I was gentle with it!). I grabbed the hot sheet pan – on which I placed the tart for baking – with an oven-mitted hand out of the oven and placed it, a touch catty-wumpus, onto a cooling rack. Absolutely not thinking, with my other BARE hand, I went to straighten out the pan. YEEEOOOOUUUUCCCHHHHH! I sustained a major, painful burn all the way up the side of my left hand, grazing a couple fingertips in the bargain. I dropped everything straight away – thankfully, not the just-baked, delicate crust – and had to delay my baking endeavors yet a little longer while my ever-patient and concerned boyfriend ministered to my throbbing, red hand and endured my frequent whines of “DAMN IT, THIS HURTS”.
About an hour later (after resting and watching several clips of The Great British Bake-Off), I carefully slipped a latex glove over my Burnjel-slathered hand and forged ahead with the rest of that *insert expletive* Chocolate Banana Tart recipe. I attempted the caramelized banana technique of only a few at a time in a small amount of bubbling caramel again, this time trying to pat the banana slices dry prior to putting them to sizzle away in the pan. It wasn’t very successful. I just think ripe bananas are far too soft and wet. I wonder if this technique would be better with firmer, less ripe – perhaps green – bananas. Anyhow, I yielded a fair amount of caramelized banana slices, which I let sit on a plate as I assembled the rest of the tart.
As this blog post is already far too long, I won’t elaborate on the particulars of putting together chocolate ganache. I’m assuming you, my readers, are already familiar that a ganache is simply a delectable mixture of chocolate and heavy cream. Baked cleverly combines bittersweet, or dark chocolate with milk chocolate for this tart – which I think is truly essential for a nice, balanced chocolately flavor finish. I adore all ranges of chocolate from extra dark to milk, as you know, but you can go too far one way or another at times, and sometimes recipes (like that one) call for a balance so the end result is not too overpowering. You want a nice complement to the banana in this tart. Half of the ganache is spread across the bottom of the baked crust, then the entire tart is put into the fridge to firm up while you slice another 1.5 bananas to layer inside.
Here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure I’ve stated this before, but I’m not a huge fan of raw banana. I’ve never been one for banana cream pie, as beautiful as it frequently looks. I prefer my bananas baked into a yummy, homey banana bread or muffin. So I was a little skeevy about putting raw banana between two decadent chocolate ganache layers. With that in mind, I sliced up the banana fairly thin – as in, almost paper-thin. I then tossed the thin slices with a small splash of orange juice to keep them from browning, removed the cooled ganache layer from the fridge, and arranged the slices in a pretty, circular petal-like pattern on top. The second half of chocolate ganache is finally smoothed over the top of the bananas, then the entire tart is placed back into the fridge to firm up.
Now… back to those pesky caramelized bananas.
After all of that persistence – and your faithful reading of all this nonsense, I have a sheepish confession to make: I decided to leave the dreadful things off the top of the tart. They pooled up on the plate, seeped out their sugars, and some even lost their beautiful browned effect… so, nix on those. If there is anything I learned from those tireless British bakers on The Great British Bake-Off, sometimes you just need to concede defeat of one element and do your best attempting something else.
That in mind, I also scrapped decorating the tart with a caramel sauce cooked up from the butter/brown sugar mixture used in the banana caramelization, as instructed in the recipe. This was not done without trying: I followed the instructions to a T and added the heavy cream, stirring it up into a thick caramel reminiscent of penuche fudge… but that was just the trouble. It was simply too thick, grainy and sugary. I quick whipped a batch of Baked’s Classic Caramel Sauce (recipe also in Baked Elements), put that into a squeeze bottle when slightly cool but still runny, and did a fancy, artistic Jackson Pollock splash on top of the tart. I think the result was quite nice. To hell with those mushy caramelized bananas.
(For the record, not wanting to waste all those bits of sweet tart crust, I cut the scraps up into coins with a cookie cutter and baked them off into little cookies to serve alongside the tart. I even attempted topping them with the caramelized bananas – but ended up scraping them off and dipped the cookies in the extra homemade caramel sauce instead!)
In the end, I can say that for all of this trial and error, I yielded a pretty elegant little tart that would please any chocolate-and-banana enthusiast. The flavor is decadent and rich (you’ll want to aim for serving this in thin wedges), and the ganache and banana has a smooth, creamy finish inside the buttery crust. My crust was a touch too crumbly, shattering into pieces when I cut into the tart… but after the aggravation of the day, I decided I was ready to put aside sweet tart crust experimentation for another day.
Let me not deter you from attempting your own Chocolate Banana Tart by directing you to this link at Baked Sunday Mornings:
And please support my fellow BSM friends and bakers by paying a quick visit to their wonderful blogs to see how they fared. Beware the caramelized banana debacle, keep oven mitts on BOTH hands, and Happy Baking, friends!