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Banoffee Pie Recipe

Why It Works

  • Simmering canned condensed milk for an extended period of time is a hands-off way to create a thick, dark dulce de leche.
  • Topping the pie with unsweetened whipped cream helps to offset the sweetness of the dulce de leche and bananas.

In 1971, two Brits named Nigel Mackenzie and Ian Dowding came up with the banoffee pie, a popular dessert that apparently counts members of the British royal family among its fans. Its name is a portmanteau of banana and toffee, and with a buttery crust and a gooey dulce de leche filling topped with sliced bananas and whipped cream, the confection has won over the hearts and stomachs of many. According to The Telegraph, Mackenzie and Dowding had been experimenting with an “apparently ‘unreliable’ American recipe” for “Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie,” a dessert the San Francisco pastry shop Blum’s sold from the 1950s to the 1970s. Blum’s pie had a creamy custard filling flavored with instant coffee and melted chocolate, all topped with a lofty crown of whipped cream.

Though Blum’s dessert contained no fruit, Mackenzie, the owner of the Hungry Monk restaurant in Britain’s East Sussex, was eager to come up with a version that did. Together, Mackenzie and his head chef, Dowding, experimented with various fruits, but none were as inviting as creamy, tropical bananas. “The day we made it with a layer of bananas, I knew we had cracked it,” Dowding wrote in The Guardian in 2006. The dessert quickly became a hit at the restaurant and then in other eateries and homes throughout the United Kingdom. Soon, it had reached other corners of the world, appearing on menus as far as Australia.

It’s not surprising, since part of the dish’s appeal, especially to home bakers is its ease and approachability and, of course, its deliciousness. I first encountered it at university in Scotland when a friend showed up to a potluck with a freshly made banoffee pie. It soon became my go-to dessert whenever I needed to bring something to a dinner party: As a college student who knew almost nothing about baking, banoffee pie was not only extraordinarily easy to make, but it was affordable, too. It requires nothing more than some butter, a packet of cookies (or biscuits, in British parlance), a can of sweetened condensed milk, several bananas, and a carton of heavy cream—maybe a block of chocolate for shaving on top, if you’re feeling fancy.

There were many evenings when my flatmates and I, each with a spoon in hand, would crowd around a single banoffee pie as we shed tears over a breakup or giggled over gossip about our professors. I can’t remember who exactly taught me how to make the treat, but I’ve tweaked the recipe to my liking over the years and have made it so many times I now know it by heart. It’s a relatively simple dessert, but putting some extra thought into the crust, filling, and topping can help you make a banoffee pie that will steal the show at every potluck you bring it to. Here are my tips for doing just that.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Best Banoffee Pie Crust, Reach for a Packet of British Biscuits

Today, many banoffee pie recipes call for a graham cracker crust. I prefer using digestive biscuits, a hearty British cookie, as they have a pleasantly earthy flavor and are slightly less sweet. Some people, Dowding included, abhor the idea of using crushed up cookies to make crust and advocate for using a shortcrust pastry dough instead. Some desserts—like an American-style apple pie that relies on a sturdy dough for its structural integrity—are worth rolling out a proper crust for. But banoffee pie is not one of them.

I don’t believe in taking shortcuts at the expense of flavor, but this is the rare occasion where the easiest method—coating biscuit crumbs with butter—also happens to be the most delicious. You pulverize the cookies in a food processor or place them in a zip-top bag to smash up with a rolling pin, toss the crumbs with salt and melted butter, then press them into a tart pan. Baking the crust briefly helps to set it, while also bringing out its buttery, toasty flavors.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For a Creamy, Lusciously Sweet Filling, Simmer Condensed Milk

“Banoffee” may imply that there’s coffee or toffee in the dessert, but the filling involves neither. Rather, it consists of what many mistakenly call a caramel sauce: dulce de leche. “While it looks like caramel, it is, in fact, based on the Maillard browning of dairy rather than the caramelization of sugar,” contributor Nila Jones notes in her recipe for the sauce. “That may sound like a technicality, but it gives dulce de leche a sweet and mellow, toffee- or butterscotch-like flavor without the bitterness associated with caramel (i.e., burned sugar).”

Though you could spend hours stirring a pot of milk and sugar on the stovetop until it reduces and browns, it’s much easier to do as Nila and many other British home cooks do: Make the dulce de leche by simmering a can of sweetened condensed milk until it becomes thick and golden brown. This method also takes several hours, but is more hands-off and produces a filling that’s just as flavorful. The longer you simmer, the thicker and more “set” the dulce de leche will be.

For a thicker, darker filling with deep flavor, I cook the condensed milk for four hours—in my tests, anything shorter than that resulted in a sauce that was too thin, making it difficult to cut and portion the pie. To save time, I often cook three cans at once, as unopened cans can sit at room temperature for up to three months. Once the condensed milk has finished cooking and cooling, I pour it into a bowl and season it generously with salt, which highlights its rich, buttery dairy flavors.

A word of warning: Simmering condensed milk may be the more “hands-off” method, but it’s still essential to keep an eye on the pot of water to ensure the can is always submerged in boiling water, as the condensed milk can explode and cause burns and injuries. (See the editor’s note for more safety tips.)

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

How Ripe Should Bananas Be for Banoffee Pie?

Because the filling is so sweet, you want bananas that are just ripe and still slightly firm, so choose bananas with light, bright yellow skin with few to no brown spots. Anything riper or softer than that will produce a banoffee pie that’s both difficult to assemble and cloyingly sweet.

Leave Your Whipped Cream Unsweetened

I generally prefer sweetened whipped cream, but keeping the whipped cream plain and unsweetened here helps to balance out the rich filling. The lightness of the whipped cream against the denser but still creamy bananas, the thick dulce de leche, and the crisp crust makes each bite a pleasant contrast of textures and flavors—which is everything I want in a dessert.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Safety Tips for Boiling Sweetened Condensed Milk

  • It is absolutely critical to keep the cans fully submerged and to monitor the water level and not let it drop. The can should be at least two inches below the water at all times. The pot should be topped up with additional hot water—not cold water—as needed.
  • The cans should be elevated off the bottom of the pot with a wire rack or crumbled foil to avoid direct contact with the bottom of the pot, which can become hotter than the water given the intense heat source below.
  • Water should be kept at a very gentle boil to avoid the cans getting jostled and knocking against each other.
  • The cans must be in pristine condition with no dents or damage at all.
  • The cans should be allowed to cool off heat in the water and must not be opened until fully cooled.
  • While these best practices make this a technique we have used and will likely continue to use in the future, we cannot guarantee that it’s 100% free of risk and advise anyone who is concerned to purchase store-bought caramel sauce or to make dulce de leche on the stovetop by whisking condensed milk or milk and sugar until thickened and golden brown.

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