Bananas Foster Sauce

Brunch has become the way I do weekend lunch. For a girl with an early morning schedule, I would never survive the wait until actual brunch time to enjoy a towering plate of French toast. Instead, I eat when I rise and wait until the crowds have cleared around noon before reaching for the maple syrup.

On days when I don't want to change out of my pajamas, the challenge is to whip up something equally delicious and simple in my own kitchen. This is where caramelized bananas enter the picture. After learning about bananas fostera dessert featuring warm caramelized bananas in a rum caramel sauce poured over vanilla ice creamI knew there had to be a way to bring this idea to brunch. I removed the ice cream and replaced it with your typical breakfast fare. Is it a little decadent? Sure. But that's why we do brunch.

As a long time non-stick cookware user (a trait I inherited from my mother), I was excited, but a little skeptical, when  Wolf Gourmet asked me to review its stainless steel and aluminum 10-Piece Cookware Set. Even though I associate the company with high quality, my only stainless steel cooking experience involved ruining my roommate's flimsy pan after trying (and failing) to fry an egg during my college years.

After a month of use, I can say with certainty that the pans have held up beautifully. The pans do well with deglazing after frying meat and vegetables to create sauces. With a seven-ply construction, the heavy pans heated food evenly, which felt reminiscent of cast iron. However, I was even more impressed with how it did with tasks for which I would normally use non-stick cookware. In the pursuit of brunch, I made crepes. I ran a light layer of olive oil around the pan, poured in the batter, and crossed my fingers that they would not stick. The crepes did not, but even more remarkable is that I didn't have to add more oil for the remainder of the batch. The layer of oil stayed in place and the crepes came out smoothly every time. I know I can't do that with my non-stick cookware.

And lastlyfor the purpose of honest disclosureafter I spectacularly burned my first batch of bananas foster sauce to a charred black ash due to inattention, the pan recovered to looking brand new with a soak in warm water. The high heat of the runaway caramel did not harm the pan. However, I did notice the bottom of one pan had minor discoloration after a few weeks, but it was nothing a little baking soda scrub couldn't cure.

Ultimately, high quality makes all the difference with stainless steel cookware. After my own personal use, I would recommend Wolf Gourmet. I would like to offer one Pastry Affair reader the opportunity to try the 10-inch skillet out in your own kitchen.

Edit: Giveaway is closed.

Bananas Foster is a warm sauce to be poured over sweet dishes and desserts. Bananas are caramelized with brown sugar and butter. With the warmth of cinnamon and the spice of rum, the sauce is elevated to another level. Though the traditional dessert featured the sauce poured over vanilla ice cream, the sauce is as lovely served over waffles, French toast (made with challah), or crepes.

One Year Ago: Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes
Two Years Ago: Orange Coconut Pull-Apart Bread and Coconut Macaroons
Three Years Ago: Coconut Whipped Cream, Chocolate Ginger Biscotti, Banana Cinnamon Pancakes, Raspberry Lemon Cupcakes, and Pita Bread
Four Years Ago: Tropical Banana Bread, Strawberry Balsamic Jam, Strawberry Honey Oatmeal Bars, Blackberry Goat Cheese Tart, Arborio Rice Pudding, Chocolate Whoppie Pies, and Hot Cross Buns
Five Years Ago: Vanilla Almond Cupcakes, Banana Pudding, Devil's Food Cake, Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies, Orange Scones, and Honey Rolls

Bananas Foster Sauce

Yields about 1 cup of sauce

1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2 medium ripe, firm bananas, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons dark rum

In a heavy skillet, melt the brown sugar and butter over medium heat.  Add the cinnamon and salt.  Stir and bring sauce to a simmer. Add banana slices and cook, turning once, until soft, about 2-3 minutes per side. 

Gently stir in the the rum; take care not to break apart the banana slices. To flambé, use a long lighter to ignite the vapor above the sauce. Let the flames burn until they go out on their own, about 30 seconds. However, the sauce can be served without flame and does not need to be flambéd if you are uncomfortable with the process.

Serve immediately over vanilla ice cream, French toast, or waffles.

Disclosure: A complimentary 10-Piece Cookware Set was provided for review by Wolf Gourmet. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Vegan Caramel

Since discovering my dairy intolerance two years ago, I've been on the search to find dairy-free replacements for many of my former beloved butter and cream-filled desserts. Cakes and cookies were easy to convert, ice cream and confections were a bit more challenging, but I've managed to eat and eat while since. Though I found my intolerance curse in the beginning, I have made due with the cards I've been dealt.

The first major victory for dairy-free replacements was vegan whipped cream. It put up a brief fight, but relented when a can of coconut milk came to the rescue (as it so often does for dairy-free alternatives). Eager for a second victory to add to my list, I chose to tackle caramel next. Certainly, this could not be more difficult, I told myself, as I started working on my first batch. 

Oh, but it was. 

For the next month, each weekend I created a new batch and, shortly thereafter, tossed it directly into the trash. As it turns out, dairy-free milk alternatives do not hold up like heavy cream; the fat structure is too dissimilar. The coconut milk caramel, once cool, developed a look quite similar to bacon fat. The soy milk caramel was lumpy and dropped off the spoon like heavy rain drops. It seemed, for a short time, that my dreams of dairy-free caramel would have to be tossed in the trash as well.

As I let the idea simmer in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that I might have to rethink the caramel in a more drastic sense. With a helpful bit of research, I went back to the ever faithful can of coconut milk. Instead of adding it to molten sugar, as I had done before, I simmered the milk down to a thick sauce with brown sugar to prevent the fat from separating. The brown sugar lends a caramelized flavor and the coconut milk provides the sticky, perfect-for-drizzling texture. I would suggest using light brown sugar instead of dark (or, ideally, a mixture of the two)the dark brown sugar (pictured) is on the edge of becoming too bitter for the final product.

While the vegan caramel tastes like real caramel to my dairy-free palate, it was described to me by dairy-lovers as "coconut butterscotch." Drizzled over ripe pears or apple slices, I doubt many would notice or care about the differences.  

Vegan caramel is created from a mixture of coconut milk and brown sugar simmered down until it forms a thick syrup. It may be a different take on caramel but, for those with food restrictions, it is a dream. The caramel pairs well with fresh fruit and can (and should) be drizzled over pastries and bowls of ice cream. For a smooth final product, I recommend running it through a fine mesh strainer. 

For those of you who love the classics, this basic caramel recipe may be more your style.

One Year Ago: Classic Apple Pie
Two Years Ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Scones, Brown Butter Pear Muffins, Pumpkin Espresso Bread, and Triple Coconut Cookies
Three Years Ago: 3 Milk Coconut Cake, Blackberry Lemonade, Garden Tomato & Basil Tart, and Peaches & Cream
Four Years Ago: Butternut Squash Custard, Pumpkin Bread Pudding & Caramel Rum Raisin Sauce, and Banana Nut Bread

Vegan Caramel

Yields about 1 cup

14 ounces (397 grams) full fat coconut milk
3/4 cup (150 grams) light brown sugar, packed (or a mixture of half light brown/half dark brown sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, reduce temperature, and simmer for 25 to 35 minutes, or until it thickens into a syrup. It can be simmered longer for a thicker sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

For a smooth sauce,  run the caramel through a fine mesh strainer.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Just out of reach

When I lived in England, I was introduced to nutella for the first time. Since discovering in high school I was highly allergic to tree nuts , I kept the jar of a hundred hazelnuts at arm's length. My friends considered it the most heavenly flavor of our semester overseas (and I enjoyed wafting the smell beneath my nose), but it would never be for me. It was easy enough to acceptwithout so much as a spoonful to taste, I would never know what I was missing out on.

But then, after an accidental encounter with hazelnuts and everything turned out okay, I began to change my tune. Hazelnuts were an exception to my allergy. After a moment's hesitation, I reached for the jar.

Around the same time my non-allergy to hazelnuts was uncovered, I discovered I was lactose-intolerant. Since Nutella is made with skim milk, it was awarded its own place on my "forbidden foods" list.  It seemed so ironic at the time; just as the jar was firmly in my hands, I would have to set it back down again. This time, though, it was much more difficult to let go. After the few, fleeting spoonfuls, I now knew what I would be missing. I laughed so I wouldn't cry.

Just out of reach.

For the last two years, I have been on the hunt for a nutella substitute, a dairy-free version that I could spoon out of the jar or spread onto my favorite rolls. After a fruitless search, I finally realized it would be up to me to create what I desired. With a package of roasted hazelnuts and a can of cocoa, I set to work. I would call this a success.

I have been asked half a dozen times whether or not it tastes like the real deal. My answer to you is that it depends.

Pulverizing nuts into a silky smooth paste can be hard work for any food processor. Without a top of the line piece of equipment, the hazelnuts will not reach that coveted texture, but they can come close. My food processor worked better than I expected. The final product was slightly grainythe ground nuts are the "sparkles" you see in the photographsbut I found I did not mind it. Your texture will depend on the equipment you are using in your own kitchen.

The second factor comes down to the cocoa powder. I have made this spread with two different brands of cocoa powder: once with Ghirardelli, once with Valrhona. I have no idea which brand Nutella uses, which makes it nearly impossible to directly match the cocoa flavor. I prefered the spread made with Valrhona most (but that may be because I prefer the flavor of that brand to begin with). My suggestion to you is to let go of the idea that yours will taste exactly like Nutella and use your favorite brand of cocoa instead. Since the flavor of the spread comes almost exclusively from this ingredient, it is important to use what you already enjoy.

The last factor is the sweetness. Nutella is sold at different levels of sweetness to different countries depending on the region's preference.  For example, Italian Nutella is generally regarded to be less sweet, focused more on the flavor of the hazelnuts than the sugar. American Nutella is very sweet, reminiscent of buttercream frosting on a spoon. The Nutella I had smeared over crepes in France was somewhere in between, more chocolate than anything else.

The Nutella in my grocery store may very well be different from your own, which is why I hesitated on my initial answer. I prefer the spread made with about three-quarters cup powdered sugar to spread on whole grain toast. It seems the right sweetness for a weekend breakfast. However, for eating straight out of the jar, I like to bring the sugar up to a full cup so it feels a bit more like dessert. Your personal preference (and purpose) plays into the sweetness. Start low and you can always add more if needed.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread can be whipped up in five minutes, which makes it an incredibly accessible spread. The cocoa flavor is warm, the sweetness can be adjusted to your palate, and the ground hazelnuts provide just the right base. Serve on toast, prepare for use in desserts, or simply eat it from the spoon. After so many years without, I could not be happier to hold the jar in my hands again.

Finally, finally within reach.

One Year Ago: Honeyed Apricot Granola Bars
Two Years Ago: Summer Berry Pavlova, Mango Striped Coconut Popsicles, French Silk Pie, and Blackberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Three Years Ago: Butterbeer, Butterbeer Cupcakes, Cherry Almond Muffins, and S'mores Ice Cream Sundae
Four Years Ago: Jean Talon Market, Blueberry Tofu Smoothie, and Strawberry Shortcake

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Yields about 1 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups (225-250 grams) roasted and skinned whole hazelnuts
1/4 cup (22 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 to 1 cup (95 to 125 grams) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a food processor, process hazelnuts until they turn into a smooth paste, about 3-6 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to process until evenly mixed. The spread should have a spreadable texture; if it is too stiff, add more oil 1 teaspoon at a time until the ideal texture is achieved.

Store refrigerated or at room temperature in an airtight container. At a minimum, it keeps up to a week. It may keep even longer, but I have never had it last longer in my kitchen.