I feel like I could write a book, or at the very least a small-but-wordy pamphlet, on how the concept behind this recipe has evolved, altered, metamorphosed, doubled back and landed straight into a heap of tiramisu. It certainly wasn’t supposed to. The idea was simple enough (it always is): I set out to twist an old classic, the humble and kind of sad looking but groaningly comforting banana pudding. You see, banana pudding and I go way back. My southern grandmother took her southern grandmother-ness quite seriously and proved it by making this pudding over and over (and over). She did it the way I’m sure a lot of other grandmothers do, from a simple grocery list comprised of bananas, boxed vanilla pudding and ‘Nilla Wafers (which I’ve decided God Himself created as the ultimate temptation to Man). I can’t stress enough that there is nothing wrong with this combination. I would happily eat it by the spoonful as my last meal. But there are just a few things about it, from a compositional standpoint, that bother me and since I’m never one to leave well enough alone…off I jumped into a banana scented abyss, where no southern grandma has ever dared to tread. No ‘Nilla Wafers, y’all.
So the next step in the brainstorming stage was to come up with a replacement for the ‘nillas, a grown up version free of the chemical aftertaste. I landed on meringue which I believed could provide the right vanilla hit and chewy/firm texture. I also needed to solve the sad banana conundrum wherein the sliced bananas oxidize and take on the dreaded brown/silvery film that is as unappetizing to eat as it is to describe. My less-than-groundbreaking solution was to toss them in lime juice and with that my creation was sailing steadily towards the tropics. Rum! Vanilla Bean! Zest! Coconut! Things were going really well…
I had started this brainstorming in the late, cool spring but by the time I was ready to execute it summer was beginning to settle in. One day the air was cool and crisp and fresh and literally the next day I opened the windows to a swamp. PSA Announcement: Don’t attempt to make meringue in high humidity. Just don’t. Save yourself the tears.
Salvation swept in by accident, as it usually does. I was assembling a Tiramisu for a party and nibbling on a stray ladyfinger (a questionable turn of phrase) when I was hit by its….’Nilla Wafer-ness. I mean they don’t taste the same, exactly but they are vanilla-y cookies with a high absorption property so good enough, right? I did a quick mental flavor check. Banana and chocolate? Yes. Banana and Rum? Yes, please. Banana and coffee? I wasn’t sure but they say what grows together, goes together so… Off to the races again.
For the Banana Cream
- 5 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 cup steaming milk
- 2 ripe bananas, sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 oz. mascarpone
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and sugar on medium/high speed for about 4 minutes. Add cornstarch and mix until combined.
Meanwhile, bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan on the stove. Add banana slices and continue simmering for 5-7 minutes (you can slightly mash the bananas with a potato masher for stronger flavor).
Strain hot milk mixture through fine sieve and discard banana pulp. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the hot milk a little at a time (if you go too fast you’ll risk cooking the yolks).
Transfer mixture to a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When you start to feel the mixture thicken at the bottom of the pan (this should take about 5 minutes), switch to a whisk and beat rapidly until mixture thickens.
Strain cream through a sieve into a clean bowl. Add butter, vanilla, and rum and stir until completely combined. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream. Leave on the counter until the cream is no longer hot, then transfer to the refrigerator.
Once the cream has chilled, use a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to beat together the cream and mascarpone until smooth.
- Banana Cream (recipe above)
- 1-2 packets Lady Fingers (depending on brand and size of dish)
- 3/4 cup freshly brewed espresso*
- 3 tablespoon dark rum
- cocoa powder for dusting
* To make espresso in a drip coffee maker, fill the water mark up to 4 and use 1/3 cup ground espresso.
In a medium bowl combine espresso and rum. Have ready a 8×8 baking dish (or similar size). One by one, lightly soak ladyfingers in the coffee/espresso mixture. (Do not fully submerge, just dip one flat side briefly and then turn over and do the other side.) Line the bottom of the dish with a single layer of soaked fingers. Place half of the cream on top and spread into a thin even layer. Add another layer of dipped fingers and then spread the rest of the cream on top. Sift a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder directly on the cream. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap (it can touch the cocoa powder) and place in the fridge. Allow to chill overnight before serving. When ready to serve, slice or scoop out portions and garnish with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if desired.
Tiramisu recipe adapted from Ina Garten.