Many kids in the U.S. get excited over a banana split, a.k.a. banana boat. Some grown-up kids still do, as evidenced by variations of the dessert on menus of restaurants catering to adults.
With a banana split, the fruit comes straight from the peel. It may not be perfectly ripe, thus contributing a slightly hard rawness instead of supple sweetness.
No matter, we eat it anyway; the sauces, whipped cream, and nuts compensate. But what if that banana were tender and sweet, every time?
Try something more reliable: sautéed bananas, which are caramelized in butter and brown sugar. Add ice cream, and you have a more sophisticated version of the childhood treat. The bananas can be whole, split, or cut into chunks.
The grandfather of the dish is Bananas Foster, a more elaborate version of caramelized bananas. Sliced bananas are sautéed in butter with brown sugar, banana liqueur, and Grand Marnier (orange-infused brandy) or rum. It is then flambéed at the table for a dramatic effect and spooned over vanilla ice cream.
But first, a brief history of bananas in the U.S.
In 1870, a Cape Cod fishing boat captain named Lorenzo Dow Baker imported 160 bunches of bananas from Jamaica to New Jersey: the first bananas in the U.S. Shopkeepers hung the bunches and cut off the number of bananas requested by the customer.
By 1900 Americans were 15 million bunches of bananas annually; 40 million by 1910 [more].
Bananas were welcome hand fruit, but cooks also began to incorporate them into recipes.
The banana split was created in 1904 at a pharmacy’s soda fountain in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. A 23-year-old apprentice pharmacist, David Evans Strickler, created it [more].
You don’t have to make a sundae. You can serve the sauteed bananas simply on a plate, with a dab of dessert sauce, a drizzle of saba, a bit of whipped cream, crème fraîche, mascarpone, or even a drizzle of heavy cream.
This dish creates a complex sundae with a base of cookie crumbs. The sauce is saba, a grape must reduction that is far less sweet, and far more elegant, than conventional sundae sauces.
You can add liquor, for a true Bananas Foster experience; or leave it out.
Look for smaller bananas, which are more in proportion. You may be able to find small varieties, such as Lady Finger Bananas, which are also sweeter.
As with any recipe: Have fun with it!
Ingredients For 4 Servings
 A sautéed banana sundae at Lasa | Los Angeles, using a whole, small “finger” banana.
 A deconstructed sundae, with berries, pools of whipped cream and a caramel corn garnish, at Sushi Samba. Large bananas were sliced in half horizontally,
1. CRUMBLE the cookies in a plastic zipper bag, using a rolling pin. Add to the bottom of bowls and set aside.
2. CUT the bananas if desired. You can cut them in half lengthwise (photo #2), or in chunks crosswise; or, you can leave them whole as in photo #1.
3. MELT the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves (about 2 minutes—this creates a caramel sauce). Add the bananas and cook on both sides until they begin to soften and brown (about 3 minutes). While they cook…
4. WARM the dessert sauce in the microwave. When the bananas are softened…
5. ADD the banana liqueur and stir to blend into the caramel sauce. Add the ice cream to the bowls.
6. LIFT lift the bananas carefully from the pan and place in each bowl. Then spoon the pan sauce over the bananas and serve immediately.
*Many people use terms through ignorance or indifference. That is true with butterscotch and caramel. Butterscotch and caramel are different sauces and candies. Caramel is typically made with granulated sugar, cream or milk, butter, and sometimes vanilla. The primary flavors of caramel are sugar and cream. Butterscotch is made with brown sugar and much more butter. Its primary flavors are brown sugar and butter. While it also contains cream or milk, that flavor is not as prominent as in caramel. What about toffee? In candy, toffee is butterscotch that has been cooked to the hard-crack stage.
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