Bananas Foster, the blissful marriage of bananas sauteed in brown sugar, rum and banana liqueur, then flambeed and served over vanilla ice cream, ranks amongst the world's top desserts. Anyone who has been to New Orleans and has not tried bananas Foster has certainly missed out on one of life's greatest pleasures.
This version turns the dessert into a charlotte, a mold of liquor-soaked ladyfingers filled with flavored mousse. In fact, this dessert is more accurately an icebox cake, since it is not inverted and unmolded. No need to do that here; meringue covers the top of the cake anyway and, as with bananas Foster, is set aflame with dark rum. Rum that is 151-proof works best, but be very careful, as it is highly flammable.
Make Ahead: Assemble the charlotte the day before; add the meringue topping just before serving.
- For the ladyfingers and filling
- 1 cup dark rum, plus 1/4 cup for flambeing
- 2 cups sugar
- 36 ladyfingers or savoiardi (for tiramisu), such as Bellino brand
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- 4 teaspoons gelatin, softened in 1/4 cup water
- 6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 large bananas
- For the meringue
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the ladyfingers and filling: Have an 8- or 9-inch springform pan at hand. Spread the ladyfingers in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Combine 1 cup of the rum and 1 cup of the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is heated through. Pour over the ladyfingers, soaking them as evenly as possible. Arrange the soaked ladyfingers vertically to line the sides of the springform pan, with their browner sides touching the sides of the pan. (Be consistent with which side faces in and which faces out so the cake looks uniform when it is unmolded.)
Line the bottom of the pan with the remaining soaked ladyfingers, breaking them into small pieces to fill any gaps. (You might have a few ladyfingers left over.)
Have a large bowl filled halfway with ice at hand.
Heat the milk and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan over medium heat, until small bubbles begin to form around the edges and the milk is hot to the touch. Remove from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin until it is dissolved. Cover and let the vanilla steep for 10 minutes, then remove the bean, scrape out its seeds and add them to the milk. Discard the scraped pod.
Combine the egg yolks, the remaining cup of sugar and the salt in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Whisk for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is lemon-colored, then gradually whisk in the milk-gelatin mixture. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until it thickens into a light custard that coats the back of the spoon; this should take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Use a whisk or a hand-held or stand mixer to beat the heavy cream to soft peaks. Refrigerate. Peel the bananas and trim their ends. Cut them lengthwise into quarters, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Seat the pan of custard in the bowl of ice; stir the custard until it is very cold. (Do not leave it unattended, and do not stop stirring. You do not want the gelatin to begin setting.) Once the custard is very cold, gently fold in the whipped cream until well incorporated.
Fold a quarter of this mixture into the banana pieces, then spread that mixture evenly over the bottom of the lined springform pan. Fill with the remaining custard. Cover the cake with plastic wrap, placing the wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate for several hours and preferably overnight.
To finish the cake, trim the vertical ladyfingers so they are flush with the set custard. (Reserve the trimmings for snacking, if desired.) Remove the outside ring of the springform and place the charlotte on a cake stand.
Refrigerate the cake while you prepare the meringue: Use a hand-held or stand mixer to beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the meringue becomes satiny and the sugar has dissolved. Add the vanilla extract, and mix to incorporate.
Fit a large pastry bag with a large star tip (or snip off the end of a gallon-size resealable plastic food storage bag) and fill it with the meringue. Pipe the meringue in even dollops, covering the charlotte completely and making sure to fill in any holes. (Alternatively, use an offset spatula to spread the meringue evenly over the top.)
Use a culinary (kitchen) torch to carefully and evenly brown the meringue to the color of toasted marshmallows.
Just before serving, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of dark rum (or a half-and-half mixture of dark rum and a 151-proof rum) in a small pan to warm it.
Place the charlotte on the table. Pour the rum over the meringue topping. Use a long fireplace match to light the rum. When the flame dies down, serve immediately.
From Real Entertaining columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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