In our new cooking series Workaholics, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Workaholics takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—this is tried-and-true, go-to goodness for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.
There's a reason why banana-flavoured sweets taste nothing like actual bananas. The fruit on which the artificial flavouring was based (the Gros Michel) became extinct decades ago due to disease. Today, we typically eat Cavendish bananas—a fact that even many of us at MUNCHIES didn't know until Dana Cree's visit to the Test Kitchen. The James Beard-nominated pastry chef and cookbook author recently stopped by to show us her favourite post-work dessert—bananas foster—and give us a little history lesson, too.
"I go down rabbit holes on the internet," she explains, melting butter and brown sugar in a pan. "So much of my work and so many of my dishes are informed by these rabbit holes that I fall down"—including today's recipe, which, despite its uncomplicated preparation, has a surprisingly rich history. "It's literally one of the simplest things in the entire world to make, but its inception was in the fanciest of fancy dining rooms, something that was presented table-side."
The dish—caramelised bananas served over vanilla ice cream—originated in the mid 1900s in New Orleans, the major port for bananas from South America. Servers would prepare the fruit table-side, cooking it in a mixture of melted butter, rum, and sugar, before lighting the whole mess on fire to burn off the booze and wow guests.
"I love when we can bring these older traditions, that still have this vein of elegance running through them, into our everyday experiences," Cree says, slicing a banana into thick coins to avoid overcooking it. "The bananas foster can go on anything—you can put it on ice cream, pancakes, pound cake, French toast ... your spoon. It's very versatile."
For this version, though, Cree uses her own homemade vanilla ice cream. Before becoming the Executive Pastry Chef at Chicago's Publican restaurants, Cree graduated from ice cream college (seriously—she completed Penn State University's Ice Cream Short Course), created her own line of ice cream, and recently published her first cookbook, Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop. (Should we say ice cream again? Ice cream.)
RECIPE: Bananas Foster
"It's the only food that is all three states of matter held together at once—it's a liquid, solid, and a gas," Cree explains, massaging a vanilla pod with the back of her knife to release its seeds. "The sugar binds with some of the water and keeps it liquid, that's why ice cream is soft. And then there's a lot of ice in it, so those are solids, and there's a lot of air whipped into it, so it's a gas. Getting all three states of matter to coexist is extremely physically challenging."
Once the bananas have become slightly soft and translucent, Cree takes them off the heat and begins doling out the ice cream. In order to achieve that perfect scoop shape, she presses it onto a flat surface and then places it in the bowl, fluffy side up. Pro tip.
RECIPE: Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
The final product is everything that it should be—buttery, sugary, and slightly boozy. And it only takes about ten minutes to make.
Since we have leftover ice cream, Cree decides to make us her ultimate sundae: vanilla scoops topped with homemade peanut butter sauce, honey roasted peanuts, Cracker Jacks, a drizzle of earthy molasses, a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream, and a sprinkle of gold stars because we're feeling young and beautiful. It's a sweet and salty dream.
RECIPE: Peanut Butter Sauce
Dana Cree is a two-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Pastry Chef award; Executive Pastry Chef for The Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Publican Tavern, and Publican Anker; and author of Hello, My Name Is Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop.