If I had to categorize my relationship with bananas on Facebook, it would read: “It’s complicated.”
On a warm summer morning, I love nothing better than a frosty smoothie made with berries,
peaches, almond milk, yogurt, and a ripe banana.
But our relationship is not unlike San Francisco weather; by the time my bananas have ripened to smoothie-able consistency, the fog inevitably clambers in, and I’m left with a bunch of overripe fruit.
Enter this ice cream. (Why I find it acceptable to eat ice cream, but not smoothies, when it’s cold out, I can’t really say. But that’s how I roll.)
For my first trial, I sauteed bananas with brown sugar and butter. I pureed these with half and half, more brown sugar, and a good splash of rum, and churned and layered the resulting ice cream with butterscotch sauce dotted with flaky salt and “enhanced” with bourbon and vanilla bean.
This ice cream had promise, but it also had a somewhat pasty texture which I considered to be a deal breaker. Additionally, my butterscotch crystallized, becoming overly firm when cool. Regardless, I brought a tub of it to dinner with some friends, and they went ballistic for it.
So I did some “research.” After lunch with a friend at Namu Gaji, we swung by Bi-Rite for a scoop of their roasted banana ice cream (and one of Ricaneles – snickerdoodle cinnamon ice cream that is to die for). Lo and behold, their banana ice cream had a silky smooth consistency. Since my friend used to work at Bi-Rite, we approached the owners and questioned them about their banana ice cream-making tactics. After joking that I should buy their book, they admitted to mashing up the bananas as they roasted to oust as much liquid as possible.
But before they could continue to reveal their banana-incorporating secrets, they got pulled away.
So I consulted Kate Zuckerman, pastry chef, food science geek, and author of The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle. For her Malted Banana Ice Cream, rather than pureeing the bananas with the ice cream base, Kate simply cooks the bananas with the custard, strains the whole thing through a sieve, and chucks the fibrous banana bits left in the strainer.
These two methods – first roasting the bananas, then cooking them with the custard and straining out the chunky bits – worked beautifully, resulting in a perfectly smooth custard with good banana flavor. I went a little OCD and gave the custard two strainings; the first through a regular mesh strainer, and the second through an extra-fine strainer reminiscent of a miniature chinois.
I went with white sugar in the custard for en ecru ice cream that would contrast nicely with the darker butterscotch. I decided to use a traditional egg yolk custard base for increased emulsion and smooth texture, and I used less fat and sugar than usual to compensate for the extra richness and sugar in the butterscotch. This resulted in a well-balanced flavor – not too rich, not too sweet – but a slightly icy texture when frozen. The flavor is so spot on, however, I’m loath to change a thing, and when the ice cream is melting in your bowl, the iciness is hardly noticeable. Still, I’ve given instructions in the headnote below for what should result in a smoother ice cream.
As for my butterscotch sauce, I evaded crystallization the second time by adding of a bit of Lyle’s golden syrup, though honey or corn syrup will also do the trick. (This phenomenon is explained really well over at Not So Humble Pie.) Lyle’s syrup also has a delicious caramel flavor that only enhances the already delicious butterscotch. Butter, heavy cream, brown sugar, vanilla bean, flaky salt and bourbon? Can I never eat anything else, please?
Swirled with the banana ice cream (pretty top inspired by Martha), it makes a positively addictive dessert.
One that will have me praying for chilly mornings forever.
I made this ice cream base a bit lighter and less sweet than usual; the trade-off is ice cream with a slightly icy texture. For a smoother ice cream, swap the extra 1/2 cup of half and half for the same amount of heavy cream, and increase the sugar in the custard to 1/3 cup. For the best flavor, use bananas that are yellow with lots of brown freckles. If you don’t have half and half, you can use 1 cup whole milk to make the custard, and 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to finish it.
Makes 1 generous quart
3 large, ripe bananas (18 ounces total), peeled
1 tablespoon butter, in small pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
Roasted Banana Rum Ice Cream Base:
1 1/2 cups half and half, plus another 1/2 cup
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons dark rum (such as The Kraken)
Salty Bourbon Butterscotch Sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
half a vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise and scraped
1 tablespoon Lyle’s Golden Syrup (or corn syrup, or honey)
1/4 cup heavy cream, plus 1/4 cup
2 tablespoons bourbon (such as Bulleit)
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt such as Maldon (or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt)
Roast the bananas:
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Lay the bananas in a baking dish (a shallow loaf pan works well). Dot with the butter and sprinkle with the sugar. Roast in the oven until very soft, 20 minutes. Mash the bananas, and continue to roast until caramelizing around the edges, another 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
Make the ice cream base:
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups of the half and half over medium heat until hot and steamy, swirling the pot occasionally to prevent it from scorching on the bottom.
Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a medium bowl set on a damp kitchen towel.
Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl or pitcher, and add the cold heavy cream and remaining 1/2 cup of half and half to the bowl. Set aside.
When the half and half is warm, slowly drizzle half of it into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the yolk mixture back into the pot. Add the roasted bananas and their juices. Place the pot over a medium-low flame and cook, stirring constantly with a heat-proof silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 170ºF on an instant read thermometer; don’t let it boil. The custard will seem thick, so taking its temperature is ideal. Otherwise, look for the custard “sticking” (forming a film on) the bottom of the pot, or thickening enough so that when you dip a wooden spoon into it, then swipe the spoon with your finger, your finger leaves a clear trail on the spoon.
Immediately strain the custard mixture through the strainer and into the bowl. Work the banana through the strainer with a flexible spatula or the back of a ladle, leaving the fibrous banana bits in the strainer. Discard the banana pulp. (Optionally, strain the custard a second time through an extra-fine mesh strainer, also called a chinois.) Cover the custard and chill until very cold, 2-4 hours or up to a couple of days.
Make the butterscotch sauce:
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, vanilla bean and scrapings, Lyle’s syrup, and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring gently just once or twice. Simmer the mixture for 3 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the remaining 1/4 cup cream. Strain the sauce into a heatproof bowl or jar, then stir in the bourbon the flaky salt. Cool the sauce to room temperature, at least an hour before layering it with the ice cream, or chill in the refrigerator for up to a month. (If chilled, re-warm to a drizzle-able consistency before layering.) You should have about 1 cup of sauce.
Finish the ice cream:
Place a large (9×5″ or larger) loaf pan in the freezer.
Stir the rum into the ice cream base. (Optionally, put the base in the freezer for 30 minutes to get it really cold, stirring every 10 minutes. This will make for a smoother, denser ice cream that churns more quickly, thus incorporating less air.) Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Working quickly, spread 1/3 of the ice cream in the bottom of the loaf pan. Drizzle with 1/4 of the butterscotch sauce. Repeat with two more layers of ice cream and butterscotch sauce. For the top layer, drop spoonfuls of butterscotch atop the ice cream, then swirl with a toothpick. You’ll have some butterscotch sauce left over to drizzle over bowls of ice cream; store this in the refrigerator, rewarming it as you’re ready to serve it.
Freeze the ice cream until firm and scoopable, about 2 hours. When firm, press a piece of parchment paper directly onto the surface of the ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming, then wrap snugly with plastic wrap. The ice cream will keep for up to a month or two.