Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unforgettable Desserts: Caramelized Banana Cream Tart in Pecan Crust


As part of my cookbook testing, I made this delicious banana tart. It's a pecan crust, caramelized bananas, vanilla pastry cream, fresh banana, whipped cream, and caramelized pecans. This was one of those all-day projects.  Cookbook testing...it's a rough job, but someone's got to do it.

The final result was amazingly delicious and over-the-top rich. It was worth every minute of prep time. Only problem? The fresh bananas on top of the pastry cream start browning after the initial serving. By the next day, they were turning. This is definitely a one night only dessert, but it sure is a stunner!

Caramelized Banana Cream Tart in Pecan Crust
From Unforgettable Desserts by Dede Wilson

Caramelized Pecans
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons water
½ cup pecan halves

Crust
2½ cups pecan halves
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

Caramelized Filling
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large, ripe but firm bananas

Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened and cut into tiny pieces
Topping
1 large, ripe but firm banana
1½ cups chilled heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the caramelized pecans, line a jelly-roll pan with aluminum foil; smooth out any wrinkles.  Coat lightly with flavorless vegetable oil using a pastry brush.

Put the sugar and water in a very small saucepan and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until it turns light amber in color.  Immediately remove from the heat.  Quickly drop the pecan halves into the caramel one at a time and use two forks to help them submerge and become coated with caramel.  Use the forks to remove the nuts from the caramel, allow the excess to drip off, and place them right side up on the prepared pan.  Repeat with the remaining nuts; do not allow the nuts to touch one another on the foil. Allow nuts to cool completely and harden at room temperature. Store up to 3 days ahead in airtight container.

For the crust, position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Coat a 10-inch loose-bottomed fluted tart pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

Place nuts and sugar in bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade and process until very finely ground.  Pulse in melted butter until well blended. Pat into prepared pan, creating an even layer across bottom and up sides.  Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes. The crust might look puffy. Use the back of a soup spoon to press the crust down and back into shape along the pan’s sides and bottom. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes more or until very lightly colored. Cool completely on a rack. Store at room temperature up to 1 day ahead, loosely covered with foil.

For the caramelized banana filling, prepare the filling and topping the day of serving. At least 4 hours before serving, stir the sugar and water together in nonstick skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until it turns a light to medium golden amber. Meanwhile, peel bananas. Remove the skillet from the heat and immediately slice the bananas into ½-inch rounds right into the skillet. Toss well with caramel. Immediately scrape into prepared crust and set aside.

For the pastry cream, place the milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer; remove from heat.  Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heatproof bowl until very smooth. Reheat the milk if it has become tepid.
Drizzle about ¼ of the warm milk over the egg mixture, whisking gently. Add the remaining warm milk and whisk to combine. Immediately pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and cook over a medium-low heat just until it begins to simmer and bubbles appear. Whisk constantly to prevent scorching, cooking for about 1 minute. The pastry cream should be thick enough to mound when dropped from a spoon, but still satiny. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and butter. Allow to cool slightly. Scrape warm (not hot) pastry cream over the bananas and spread until smooth using a small offset spatula. Let the pastry cream cool, then refrigerate at least 6 hours or until firm enough to slice. After it chills, you may cover it with a piece of plastic wrap pressed onto the surface for up to 4 hours.
For the topping, up to 2 hours before serving, peel and cut the banana in half crosswise then slice lengthwise into thin slices. Place these along the edge of the tart, using the curve of the fruit to follow the shape of the pie. There should be one ring of banana slices going around the entire pie along the edge. Beat cream, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until firm peaks form. Pile the whipped cream attractively on top of the pie. The pie may be served immediately or refrigerated for up to 2 hours. Sprinkle the caramelized pecans on top right before serving.

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