“Do you do Banoffee Pie?” That simple question from a client set the whole thing off.
Of COURSE we do Banoffee Pie – we’re caterers and (more importantly) food lovers. That’s our job. What I had never done however was make my own toffee. Gooey, rich, creamy, completely decandent toffee – also known in some circles as dulce de leche. I had read somewhere about boiling condensed milk to make it, so did a little more research…
Time for a small aside here: evaporated versus condensed milk. Both come in tins. What’s the difference? I had never really considered the question. I had vague memories of my dad putting one of the two in his coffee when I was a child (evaporated, I think), and me thinking the milk tasted vile. And my mum buying Eagle Brand something or other for baking, and it being sickly sweet.
- Evaporated milk is milk which has had about 60% of the water removed via evaporation. It is then homogenized, rapidly chilled, fortified with vitamins and stabilizers, packaged, and finally sterilized. The high heat process gives it a bit of a caramelized flavor, and it is slightly darker in color than fresh milk. The evaporation process naturally concentrates the nutrients and the calories, so evaporated versions are more calorie-laden and nutritious than their fresh counterparts.
- Sweetened condensed milk goes through less processing than evaporated milk. 60% of the water has also been removed from condensed milk, but it differs in that sugar has been added. Condensed milk contains 40 to 45 percent sugar and is very high in calories.
It’s the latter, calorie laded tinned milk that’s used to make toffee for Banoffee Pie, Millionaire’s Shortbread, and other sweet treats. There are two main ways to make this kind of toffee:
- Cook condensed milk with butter and brown sugar
- Boil condensed milk in the cans, unopened
Route #2 seemed much more interesting, almost like an experiment in alchemy. Taking one substance and turning it into another. I had to try it, despite the warnings about exploding cans and the the resulting difficult to clean messes on ceilings. If that happened it would be a much needed excuse to clean the ceiling!
But I did consult quite a number of sources before trying it. One must be prepared.
The process is simple: take a tin (or more) of sweetened condensed milk (remove the label first), put it into a suitably sized saucepan, and cover the tin(s) completely with water. Bring it to the boil and keep it at a gentle boil for 2.5 – 3 hours. Top up the water as necessary to keep the tin(s) covered or close to it. Remove from water and leave to cool. The finished, unopened product can be used when cooled or put into the larder for another time.
3 hours later I removed the very hot tins from the water and left them to cool. To ensure quality control I opened one of the slightly warm tins and the girl and I sampled some of it over ice cream. It worked. Big time. I felt the same sort of excitement I feel when I bake bread – into the oven goes a fairly unassuming pale, sticky ball of dough; out comes a much bigger, browner, incredibly fragrant finished product. Alchemy.
I took it to work the next day and, still quite excited, showed it to our staff. Our Brazilian employee suggested cooking it in pressure cookers. It’s how they do it in Brazil and apparently takes only 30 mins. He tried some of it on homemade scones (it was a Friday after all) and was pretty much in heaven.
But who says there’s anything wrong with decadent? I certainly do not! Decadence in manageable portions is absolutely fine in my book. I wouldn’t recommend eating a whole Banoffee Pie at once unless you are on a good dental plan, but a thin slice now and again could be very good for the soul. Or for a special occasion. Or as a means of using up ripe bananas… ok, that last one is a fairly flimsy justification.
The clients tasted the Banoffee Pie and I think it’s safe to say they liked it. And will be having it at their wedding in July. The leftovers went home and the man and the girl concurred (as did I). The boy, on the other hand, said (and I quote) “Bananas, yuck! I’m out of here!” before leaving the table. Oh well, you can’t please everyone. It just meant there was more left for the rest of us the next day!