Spring, whilst lovely, can be a frustrating anticipatory season.
We cooks can’t wait for our own gardens and the farms around and about to begin harvesting local produce, but it’s still annoyingly a few weeks away.
The first of the British asparagus is about to appear, so we have that pleasure to look forward to – we’ll be doing something rather unexpected with it later this month – and the strawberries can’t be far away. But little else is quite ready yet.
Certainly, fruit-wise, we’re still reliant on the countries of Europe and the world who are a little further ahead of us in the growing season. And specifically, this week, countries where the very idea of seasons is just something that happens to other people. Because we’re heading to the tropics to pick bananas.
This time of year is excellent for really good bananas, though of course, they’re available year-round from all over the place, so we ought to make use of them while they’re in peak form.
This week’s recipe comes from a photograph, glimpsed on my Twitter feed, of a lovely-looking plated dessert from a restaurant called Lorne, in London’s Victoria.
Not knowing the recipe, I had to guess at the make-up of the dish, and I have to say I’m pretty chuffed with my effort.
It’s based around a classic chocolate pavé, a dessert you couldn’t move for back in the late 80s and early 90s. Essentially a chilled, set thick custard, it was, and is, a great use of chocolate, very easy to prepare, and it looks wonderful on the plate.
For the busy pastry kitchen, a slice-n-serve dessert like this is incredibly handy, especially when it’s so popular and tastes wonderful.
So, our basic chocolate pavé needs some touches of luxury. And, as bananas and chocolate get on so famously, one of the few fruits I’ll tolerate with chocolate, there’s a lovely layer of soft-set banana gelée in there.
Nuts always add a lovely aromatic element, whether it’s almonds, hazelnuts or macadamias (all of which would work well here) but peanuts have a special affinity with bananas, so I made the biscuit-y base with some roasted unsalted nuts, adding a rich, earthy note.
Top the whole thing off with a thin layer of extra-dark chocolate ganache and the dish is finished, ready to be served with a scoop of good vanilla ice-cream, some brûléed banana slices, and a sprinkle of those lovely roasted peanuts.
This can be made up well in advance, and sliced to order with little fuss, making it a perfect dinner-party pud, which will have them swooning with pleasure.
For the base:
300g digestive biscuits
100g unsalted peanuts
1 tbsp unrefined golden caster sugar
For the chocolate pavé layer:
280ml full-fat milk
650ml double cream
4 free-range eggs
680g bitter chocolate, chopped
For the banana layer:
200g banana flesh
20g liquid glucose
20g unrefined light muscovado sugar
1 leaf gelatine
For the ganache:
300g bitter chocolate
500g double cream
Pinch of Maldon salt
Unrefined golden caster sugar
Good vanilla ice-cream
1 loose-bottomed cake tin, 20-22cm square
First, let’s make the base; heat the oven to 200ºC / Gas 6. In a food processor (or with a rolling pin) crush the peanuts. Roast them, turning occasionally and watching like a hawk, until a deep golden colour. Set half aside for garnish, and put the rest back in the processor, along with the biscuits and sugar, and whizz to a fine powder. Melt the butter and combine the two. Line the cake tin with a sheet of baking parchment and tip in the biscuit base, smoothing and pressing it until it’s completely even and compacted. Refrigerate as you make the banana gelée.
Soak the gelatine in a small jug of cold water until completely soft. Whizz the banana in a blender until it forms a completely smooth purée. Add half of this to a pan, along with the glucose and sugar and whisk over a medium heat until bubbling. Remove from the heat and whisk in the gelatine, and when completely incorporated, add the remaining banana purée. Pour this over the set biscuit and shake the tin to spread evenly over the entire base.
Refrigerate as you make the pavé mixture; heat the milk and cream over a medium heat until it just reaches boiling point. Whisk the eggs in a bowl until lightly fluffy. As the milk and cream mixture comes to the boil, pour it over the eggs, then whisk the mixture vigorously until smooth and thick.
Stir in the chopped chocolate and whisk again until the chocolate has melted and the custard is smooth. Cool, whisking occasionally, until the chocolate is barely warm. Pour over the banana gelée and allow to set in the fridge for a few hours.
Towards the end of the chilling, make up the ganache; heat the cream in a pan with a pinch of salt, and when bubbling, whisk in the chocolate. Allow this to cool as for the pavé mixture, and then pour and smooth over the chocolate layer.
Set for a further hour or so, then you’re ready to serve in slices or cubes, along with a scoop of ice-cream and some of the reserved toasted peanut.
If you’d like to caramelise some banana, simply sprinkle caster sugar over sliced banana and blowtorch or grill until bubbling and deep golden, then cool for a few minutes.