I have bought the bananas for this recipe four times. Four stinkin’ times I’ve thought I’ll whip this up yet something always comes along to derail my plans. With great hope and good intentions, a nice firm, just barely yellow bunch of fruit goes into the cart. With despair and a slight sense of failure, I later watch them blacken on the counter. For nearly two months now, this is the recipe that could’ve been but wasn’t. Instead, I’ve made 4 loaves of banana bread, untold smoothies and I’m certain there’s the odd banana tucked into the back regions of my freezer that I just couldn’t deal with. Despite our best intentions, sometimes life just gets in the way.
But this week, yes, this week I bought those bananas for the fifth and final time. I pledged a banana-bread-free month. It was high time I got around it yet, I almost missed the window. Alas, last night at 11pm with my kitchen giving off the unmistakable scent of ripening bananas, again, I decided it was high time to knock this one off.
I had almost forgotten about this recipe, which would have been a shame. A while back, I was perusing through my cookbook shelves, lamenting the neglect I’ve shown them. Many are like old friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while. An old favorite caught my eye – we needed to get reaquainted. I haven’t opened The Inspired Vegetarian in years. I sort of forgot about it actually, hidden as it was, on a top shelf just out of my view. With a smile, I pulled it down, dusted it off (I’m a horrendous duster) and curled up with a cup of tea.
I had forgotten how lovely the photography was, how it made me want to hustle to the kitchen and make many of the recipes. Vegetarian cookbooks can be a little boring sometimes and this one has some interesting ideas – vegetarian cassoulet for instance. I tagged several pages to explore later.
As I continued to read, a tattered, no longer sticky post-it fell from a slightly smudged, picture-less page. Ah yes, I had forgotten about this one. Banana Tarte Tatin. Oh, I remember it well. Everything I love about a classic Tarte Tatin – the sticky goodness, the crisp pastry, the tender caramel-saturated fruit – but with bananas. One of my all-time favorite combinations. A crusted fancy bananas foster, if you will. What could be better? And why haven’t I made this in, oh, the last ten years?
So I did. Finally! I made it late last night while my new upstairs neighbors tromped around in their concrete boots (what are they doing at that hour?!?!) I tweaked a few things, decreasing a few ingredients to make it less saucy, adding salt and a big fat vanilla bean. It made the apartment smell fantastic, tasted even better and put me into a zen-kinda mood as I listened to the giants move furniture back and forth (really!?!?) In fact it was so delicious, I had a piece for breakfast this morning. Who needs cereal? A nice slice of warm banana tarte tatin with a little quenelle of sour cream would have been the perfect start to my day if I had remembered to pick up some sour cream. So ice cream for breakfast it was … life is short. Things are looking up people! Gloomy, cold Chicago spring be damned.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: YES YES YES. There’s something rather surprising about this one. The caramel isn’t as futzy as caramel can be but does require a close eye. Turning the thing out of the pan always induces a bout of high anxiety but you just have to act with some authority. A little scootch here and a delicate push there and everything gets right back into place with no one the wiser. There’s something very satisfying about making a pretty little thing like this. Bonus points for the soul.
BANANA TARTE TATIN adapted from The Inspired Vegetarian
1 sheet puff pastry, chilled
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, split
4-5 medium ripe but firm bananas (depends on your pan size)
sour cream, crème fraiche or ice cream for serving
- For the pastry: on a lightly floured surface, gently roll out the creases from the sheet of puff pastry.
- Place an 8” skillet on the pastry and trace a round, along the edge of the pan, with a sharp knife being careful to cut cleanly without dragging (you want the layers to puff and sloppy cutting can seal the edges, preventing this.)
- Transfer to a parchment lined sheetpan and refrigerate until needed.
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- For the bananas: in the skillet, melt the butter over medium.
- Add the brown sugar, salt and split vanilla bean; cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar has melted and bubbles – about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel and quarter the bananas.
- Place the bananas in the pan, cut side up, as many as you can jam in there, and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes until the bananas begin to brown underneath.
- Off the heat, place the chilled pastry on top of the bananas, tucking in the edges.
- Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes. This is key – too soon and the caramel is still very liquidy and will run all over the place. Too late and the caramel will set up and be impossible to get out the pan. (Though if the later happens, just warm it gently over a low burner for a few minutes to melt the caramel a little then give it a flip.)
- Run a knife along the edge of the pastry to loosen anything that may have stuck during baking.
- Now here’s where you need to move quickly and with supreme confidence – place a serving dish larger than the skillet on top of the pan.
- Place a hand flat along the bottom of the serving dish, grasp the pan handle firmly and quickly flip. (My favorite pan for this is double handled which makes it a little easier to get good grips.)
- If needed, gently push the fruit back into place if any should stick or become dislodged. Remove the vanilla bean if you prefer but I like to leave it on as a garnish.
- Serve warm with crème fraiche, sour cream or ice cream – basically some sort of cold, rich dairy. Of course it’s good at room temperature too but it’s definitely better the day it’s made as the pastry tends to get soggy over time. Not that there will be any leftover …