I watched an interesting documentary recently, which explored the merits of either high fat or high sugar diets. I won’t discuss the findings here—suffice to say the totally unsurprising (to me) advice seemed to be what our grannies always told us—eat everything in moderation. But there was one piece of research that caught my attention. In trials, scientists have found that if they feed rats only on fat or only on sugar, the rats will eat as much as they need, to survive, then stop. However, when the rats were given food containing an almost perfect 50/50 split of fat and sugar, like cheesecake, chocolate and doughnuts, their self-regulation system which had stopped them eating too much fat or sugar seemed to switch off. They kept on eating, gained massive amounts of weight, stopped moving around and slept a lot.

I was reminded of the lab rats the other night when my two sons and I were trying out this Banoffee Pie. It was invented, innocently enough, by chef Ian Dowding at the Hungry Monk restaurant in Jevington in East Sussex, England in 1972. The original recipe, “Banoffi Pie", was a shortcrust pastry case filled with caramel, bananas and a coffee-flavoured cream. The pie proved so popular with customers that the restaurant couldn’t take it off the menu and it was soon copied and adapted in restaurants and homes all over the world. The main thing which changed over the years was the case—the shortcrust pastry version is unusual now and the pie is usually made with a more sugary, fatty biscuit base—probably a significant development if you’re a scientist watching rats eat for a living.

One of the attractions of Banoffee Pie (apart from its profoundly addictive taste, which we’ll come to) is that it takes about 10 minutes to make. But it’s important to get all the elements just right. Take the caramel layer—back in the 1970s caramel for recipes like this was always made by boiling unopened tins of condensed milk in a big pan of water for a couple of hours. Now, recipe books and the Internet are full of dire warnings about the potential for life-threatening explosions and caramel-splattered kitchens which are likely to result from boiling condensed milk in a pan, especially in the new tins with ring-pull lids. Most recipes now advise pouring the condensed milk into a pan with some butter and sugar and boiling the mixture for a few minutes. So I decided to risk life and limb and try both methods. First I boiled unopened tins of condensed milk (with-ring pull lids) for 2 hours. The result? No explosions, no kitchen ceiling re-decorated with sticky sugary milk, nothing, just perfect rich toffee-like caramel. I also made it in the pan but I didn’t like the taste or texture as much—it was too thick, almost chewy and had a more granular texture. The only innovation I’ve introduced is beautiful Indian baby bananas—they have a much more intense flavour than the big ones. I also omitted the sprinkling of coffee powder over the whipped cream, I think shards of dark chocolate have a much more appealing taste and look.

I know what you’re thinking. Buttery biscuit base plus caramel plus a mountain of cream equals unbearably sweet. But you’d be wrong. As my sons, lab rats and scientists can testify, there’s something in the combination of slightly salty biscuit, thick sweet caramel, bright-tasting banana and soft cream in Banoffee Pie which means you just can’t stop eating it. In fact, I noticed that at least one of my sons, after eating several slices at dinner, raided the fridge again during the night.

Did I mention that the scientists also reported that the cheesecake-eating rats displayed compulsive eating habits resembling drug addiction? You have been warned.

Banoffee Pie

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

For the crumb base

300g digestive biscuits

100g butter, melted

For the caramel filling

Method 1

400g tin condensed milk

Method 2

400g tin condensed milk

50g butter

50g brown sugar

For the topping

6-7 small bananas

1 tsp lemon juice

300ml whipping cream

25g dark chocolate

You will need a 23cm loose-bottomed fluted tin.

Method

In a food processor, crush the biscuits to crumbs, then add the melted butter and blitz again. Tip the crumbs into the tin and evenly press into the bottom and sides. Put the tin into the fridge for at least 1 hour.

There are two ways to make the caramel filling. If you’re feeling brave put the unopened tin of condensed milk in a large pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, put a lid on the pan and leave to boil on a low heat for about 2 hours, making sure the water doesn’t run dry—this is when the tin can turn explosive! After 2 hours, leave the tin to cool completely before opening the tin.

If you’re feeling nervous, tip the condensed milk into a thick-bottomed pan along with the butter and brown sugar. Gently heat until the sugar has dissolved then bring to a gentle boil and let it boil for 2-3 minutes before taking off the heat.

When you’re ready to assemble the pie, spread the caramel over the biscuit base. Slice the bananas lengthwise, toss them in the lemon juice to stop them going brown, then arrange the pieces like spokes of a wheel over the caramel. Whip the cream until stiff then tip over the bananas. Grate the chocolate over the cream. Chill until ready to serve.

Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at Eatanddust.com.

Also Read | Pamela’s previous Lounge columns

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