It makes me anxious. Well before the set date, I would have made four lists. A shopping one, the intended menu, preps to be done the day before and what needs to be finished on the day itself. All this time, I’ve only helped prepare the main course or casually looked after dessert. After our move to Dubai, I’ve entertained for my extended family thrice. I feel we don’t do the social house visits, even to the homes of close family, as much as it was done when I was a child. Our lives are just much more busier than what it used to be. However, gathering together for a meal is still a family affair. While preparing for it, I don’t know why I have an adrenaline rush that feels exactly like I am about to sit for an exam. The Math paper, for which I’m unprepared for, to be specific. It’s the nerves of the responsibility of having to do prepare everything solo. Coupled with my little one, it takes a bit longer considering his meals and acitivites are priority. Yet, I love entertaining. I relax once everyone arrives and the conversations overpower the nervous chattering in my head. Needless to say, dessert is the least stressful (and my favourite) course. This was dessert no.2 the night I made that simple Shahi Tukra. Considering how easy it comes together, it would be a wonderful addition to a dinner your'e hosting or even to take over for potluck.
Lotus biscuits sashayed into the dessert scene in the UAE rather quietly. Nutella had been overdosed on and was a predictable choice on most menus. Lotus biscuits were crumbled over softies, formulated into fudges and injected into cakes and suddenly everyone seemed to be formulating their signature Lotus creation. For a dessert fiend, it would be considered unacceptable that I haven’t tasted any single one of them yet. I was very close to trying the Lotus Softie at SALT but that day they were sold out. It took a while before the biscuits themselves starting trickling down to the commoners and started appearing on the supermarket shelves. That is how I had my first Lotus Biscoff biscuit. And after the first bite, I was glad I hadn’t tasted it before. It screamed Cinnamon. A sharpness of ginger. Did I taste a peppery heat? These cookies tasted similar to a Gingersnap but softer and sweeter. I instantly had to use it in dessert myself.
The Banoffee pie typically has a layer of crushed digestive biscuits combined with melted butter. Since the dessert is chilled, the butter solidifies and you literally might hit rock bottom towards the end of your serving. The Biscoff cookies crumble into finer crumbs, even with just a rolling pin and a ziplock. I omitted the melted butter step which is honestly my least favourite layer in the classic version. Doing so, the crumbs stick to the layer above, making the dessert cohesive and you’re not left wrestling a clunky biscuit base with your dessert spoon. The most obvious reason to replace the otherwise bland biscuits is purely for its zesty spiciness. It provides a balance for the sweeter layers above.
For the banana flavour to steep, a simple vanilla pastry cream was made from scratch. This custard variation uses the eggs as a whole so I didn’t have to worry about what to do with leftover egg whites. I have begun using whole Vanilla beans for desserts. Working with them requires a patient demeanour and let’s just say that I would have never made a good surgeon. It is tricky enough to scrape off what is required without risking splitting the bean into two. I keep going back, re-scraping the stalk making sure I have collected the teeny tiny seeds by the thousands.
In the UAE, whole vanilla beans are on the pricier side which is acceptable for a valued spice. I visited Mumbai for a friends' wedding late last year and one of the things I stocked up were on Vanilla beans from Foodhall. They are sold in packets of 3 beans for the equivalent of 7 dirhams! If you buy Vanilla here, I’m sure you understand why I picked up what I could with eyes popping out of my face. I am trying hard not to push my revelation but the difference has been profound in terms of flavour. I have predominantly seen, tasted and cooked Keralite food and learnt very early on that every spice has a distinct potency that subtly influences the final profile of a recipe. A vanilla extract would be dissolved in the final stage after the custard is cooked and I’ve noticed all it lends is an overwhelming odour. However, the scraped vanilla seeds, just like any spice you would use, is added in the beginning stages of cooking that releases its flavour. The sweetness permeates into the cream leaving a pleasantly light and fresh redolence.
The name Banoffee is apparently the combination of the word Bananas and Toffee. Toffee itself is caramelised butter and sugar but for this dessert but Dulce de Leche is what is commonly used. Considering it is made from sugar and milk you could say it a jam made from milk. Boiling a condensed milk can inside a pressure cooker sounded terrifying to me. It was, however, the quickest way to make dulce de leche from scratch. Well, it is also more energy efficient than boiling it on the stove in a saucepan of water for more than two hours. I started with a prayer hoping it doesn’t become another pressure cooker disaster episode. I have a smaller pressure cooker so instead of the large condensed milk tin I used two small 90g tins. You just have to make sure they don’t touch each other before you close the lid. It had my full attention and in twenty minutes of cooking and cooling each, I was opening the can revealing this lusciously smooth caramel interior. It requires a heavy hand while spooning as the texture is very thick.
These days I really can’t browse through the supermarket shelves with leisure since there’s a toddler in tow who has gone rogue with a shopping trolley. I was picking up Raspberry preserves when I saw a jar of what looked like dulce de leche to me. The label said Caramel and when first on the ingredient list was sweetened condensed milk. It has a deeper colour and is looser in texture compared to the one made at home. Considering how versatile it is from dessert toppings to cookie fillings, it’s found a permanent spot on my dessert pantry list. Regardless of whether you are using a store bought one or homemade, dulce de leche has a gummy texture. When you're making individual servings, it is a bit difficult to spread the dulce de leche. What I like to do is after having spooned it, I use a toothpick and swirl into the pastry cream so you get a bit of it in every bite.
Chocolate in this dessert is purely as a garnish. The ingredients themselves are on the richer side yet I’ve found when they are served in smaller portions it’s surprisingly light. Opt for grated chocolate or shavings. Even if it is milk chocolate, you don’t want to rob the airiness and introduce bitterness with clunky bits of chocolate chips or a dusting of cocoa. Considering white chocolate has no cocoa, I used a combination of milk and white chocolate for the final dusting.
Ali has taken it on himself to quietly finish whatever I set aside for his daddy. One time it was cupcakes I had made for Daddy’s potluck lunch at work. Lips smeared with buttercream, he proudly announced that he had finished ‘Daddy cake’. While preparing this dessert for a lunch date with my friend, I specifically made a bowl for my husband as a treat after Iftar. Ali decided to finish it, while playing on the floor with his fire truck, a spoon at a time. Considering he doesn’t have candy and chocolates from the store, I am a bit easier on him when it comes to homemade desserts.
I have to admit Individual desserts do take longer to assemble. Nevertheless, once they are brought out, the petite servings become the centre of conversation. It allows your guests to enjoy their moderated dessert or shout out for one glass more. And when your Iftar menu is saturated with fried pastries, sweet and savoury, and an elaborate Biriyani, this dessert makes for a refreshingly sweet ending.
Biscoff Banoffee Pots
- 250 g Lotus Biscoff Biscuits - crushed to powder
- Vanilla Pastry cream (see recipe below)
- 3 ripe bananas - sliced thinly
- Dulce de Leche (see recipe below)
- 2 oz. Dark chocolate - grated
- Whipped cream
Dulce de Leche
- Before I found store bought Dulce de Leche, I used this pressure cooker method to make dulce de leche before I found it at the store.
- In the UAE, you can find Dulce de Leche by Bonne Maman in the Jam section at major supermarkets under the name Caramel. The first ingredient is Sweetened Condensed Milk.
Vanilla Pastry Cream - Recipe from Glorious Treats
- 3 cups full-fat milk
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract OR seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Vanilla Pastry Cream
- Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork to combine.
- Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan.
- Gradually pour in milk, while whisking, to make a smooth mixture.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Continue to cook and stir one minute.
- Temper the beaten eggs by pouring several tablespoons of the hot mixture into the bowl with the eggs and whisking constantly.
- Pour warmed egg mixture into the pan with the rest of the hot milk mixture.
- Return to a slow boil, and cook one minute, stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.
- Set aside to cool.
- When the pan has cooled, place in the refrigerator to fully cool.
- Add 3 tsp of Biscoff powder to the bottom of your serving bowl.
- Using the back of the spoon, press it firmly against the bottom and sides.
- Add enough pastry cream to cover the powder.
- Flatten it gently without mixing it into the powder.
- Place 4 thinly sliced pieces of banana.
- Add 4 tsp of pastry cream to completely cover banana pieces.
- Place 1 tsp of Dulce de Leche and swirl it into the pasty cream with a toothpick.
- Using an offset spatula or a piping tip, cover the remaining part of the bowl with whipped cream.
- Sprinkle grated chocolate on top.
- Allow it to set in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
NOTE: If you can't find Lotus Biscoff cookies, Ginger biscuits make a suitable substitute.
Have a good food day.