Bananas foster is an easy dessert designed to impress and entertain! Coat the fruit in a cinnamon caramel sauce, then flambé with rum to caramelize the ingredients. Pair with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and serve.
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Bananas foster is one of my favorite desserts to order when visiting New Orleans. It’s a simple combination of firm, yet ripe bananas, glazed with a brown sugar rum sauce. The trickiest part is igniting the alcohol, but don’t worry, I’ll show you the step-by-step process of mastering the flambé technique.
What is bananas foster?
This dessert was made famous in 1951, at the iconic French Creole restaurant, Brennen’s, by Chef Paul Blangé. He named his creation after Richard Foster, the New Orleans Crime Commission chairman, a loyal patron, and friend to Owen Brennan. You can order a bananas foster at any of the Brennan’s restaurant locations, and a staff member will make it tableside right in front of you.
The bananas first saute in melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and banana liqueur for a more robust flavor. Then carefully, they flambé it with rum to ignite the flames. A dusting of cinnamon fills the air with warm baked aromas. They serve it over scoops of vanilla ice cream for a beautiful contrast in temperatures.
Prepare the fruit
You want ripe bananas, but ones still firm enough to stay intact when sauteing. The peel should be yellow, with a few brown speckles and no remaining green on the top. Look for medium-sized bananas, about 7 to 8 inches long (excluding the top stalk).
You will cut them into quarters, so you want generous sized pieces that are easy to maneuver in the pan. Alternatively, if you like the appearance of whole bananas, use a smaller size, 4 to 5 inches in length. About 2 to 3 whole pieces cut in half will fit in the pan.
Two types of alcohol
Banana liqueur intensifies the dish’s fruity taste. It’s pretty mild at about 25% alcohol by volume. This product is sweetened with sugar and flavored with banana extract. It’s unique to the recipe, so I don’t suggest substituting it with anything else.
Rum adds flavor to the dessert, but it’s primarily to flambé the banana. The alcohol level is almost double, 40%, which makes it much easier to ignite. I use a dark rum aged in oak. I find that it has some vanilla and toasted almond notes to complement the caramel sauce. Alternatively, you can use white rum for a lighter, more clean flavor.
Use a large 12-inch saute pan with sloped sides. This type prevents the contents from spilling over and helps to contain the flame. I find that stainless steel pans work the best.
Make a caramel sauce
I use unsalted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. The ingredients cook over medium heat until the fat melts and sugar dissolves. The sugar will caramelize and get stickier between 320 to 350ºF (160 to 177ºC).
I use dark brown sugar for a stronger molasses flavor. However, you can use light or golden brown sugar for a less intense taste. If you want a more salted caramel flavor, add ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of kosher or sea salt.
Saute the bananas
Coat the banana slices in caramel sauce and banana liqueur to flavor the pieces. Cook until the flesh softens on both sides and the sauce further concentrates. After a few minutes, this creates a sticky glaze on the surface and a more tender texture.
Igniting the rum
Flaming the fruit is what makes this dessert special. After the bananas cook in the sauce, it’s best to turn off the heat and pour the rum on top. Then immediately turn the heat to medium to raise the alcohol temperature.
At room temperature, alcohol is still below its flash point and will not light. As the heat increases, the vapor pressure evaporates the alcohol around 172°F (78°C). That’s when you can ignite the rum. Only let it warm for no more than 5 seconds. If too much alcohol evaporates, it will not light. Working quickly is critical!
The flambé technique
Using a high-proof spirit creates a small combustion effect in the pan to create a flame. You can start the process by either tilting the edge of the pan over the burner of a gas range or bringing a long-reach lighter to the pan’s side, just above the sauce. This is the hottest part, with the most vapors.
Once lit, shake the pan over the heat until the flames subside. Sprinkle some ground cinnamon over the flambé, just like at Brennan’s. The room will fill with delicious warm spice aromas. It’s lovely! This cooking technique leaves a subtle taste of the liquor and a deeper caramelized flavor.
Flambé safety tips
- Roll up your sleeves, keep loose clothing away from the pan, tie long hair back.
- Avoid having any additional burners on.
- Do not have the fan above on, or it could suck up the vapors, making the flame higher.
- Never pour the alcohol directly from the bottle into the hot pan. The flame can follow the alcohol vapors back into the bottle and break.
- Turn the heat off before adding the rum to prevent the vapors from igniting too quickly and burning your hand.
- Keep at least an arms-length when lighting the alcohol in the pan, never leaning too close.
- Have a large metal lid handy to smother and extinguish the flame.
- Keep onlookers at a safe distance, never doing the flambé on the dinner table or walking with an ignited pan.
Does the alcohol cook out of bananas foster?
As the banana liqueur cooks and the rum flambés, some but not all, of the alcohol will evaporate and burn off. About 75 to 85% may remain since this is a quickfire dessert. It could take 2 to 3 hours to reduce the alcohol to 5% [Source]. Additionally, the butter’s fat in the sugar mixture can also decrease the ethanol diffusion rate, reducing the amount of alcohol evaporated in the dish.
The dish’s flavor isn’t too boozy if that’s a concern. There’s only a hint of alcohol taste. If you want to drive off the alcohol further, remove the bananas after flaming and continue to heat the sauce for a few more minutes.
Serve with ice cream
To complement the hot fruit, the dish is traditionally served with a generous scoop of ice cream in the plate’s center. The bananas are arranged on the side, four pieces per plate, and then drizzle with the warm caramel sauce. Make sure to enjoy it right away!
Other ways to enjoy this
- Add to slices of french toast for breakfast
- Serve with pancakes for brunch
- Add on top of bread pudding
The alcohol percentage matters
To properly flambé, use at least a 40% alcohol by volume (or 80-proof) spirit like rum. This creates enough alcohol vapor in the pan to ignite quickly. Anything lower will not flambé. Do not use products above 60% ABV (120-proof) because they are too flammable and more dangerous when ignited.
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- 4 bananas, ripe but firm, about 7 to 8-inches long
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into 4 slices
- 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed, light, golden or dark
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting
- ¼ cup banana liqueur
- ¼ cup dark rum, or white
- 1 pint vanilla ice cream
- Peel the bananas, cut in half, then cut in half lengthwise. This creates 4 pieces per fruit.
- Before starting, make sure all side burners and overhead exhaust is off. The exhaust can pull up the flames. Make sure sleeves are rolled up and long hair is tied back.
- In a large skillet, add the sliced butter. Turn the heat to medium, tilting the pan as needed to heat evenly. Once melted, quickly add the brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir to combine, cooking until the sugar looks like wet sand, about 1 minute.
- Slowly add the banana liqueur, stir to combine. Cook until the sugar dissolves, about 30 seconds. The mixture will be bubbly.
- Quickly add the sliced bananas to the pan cut-side up, use a spoon to occasionally drizzle some of the sauce on top, cook for 1 ½ minute. Turn the bananas over, cut-side down, and cook until they soften but do not become mushy, about 1 to 1 ½ minute.
- Turn off the heat and carefully add the rum to the middle of the pan. Immediately turn the heat back to medium, until the sauce's edges are bubbly, about 3 to 5 seconds. This helps the alcohol begin to vaporize so it can ignite.
- Working quickly, stand back slightly and carefully place a long-reach lighter about 1-inch above the sauce on the side of the pan. Move the flame as needed to ignite. Once the flames appear, gently shake the pan until the fire subsides, about 15 to 20 seconds. If desired, carefully sprinkle some cinnamon over the flames. It may show some small sparks. Turn off the heat.
- Place four banana pieces in each serving bowl. Drizzle some of the warm caramel sauce over the top. Serve with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Serve immediately.
- Recipe Yield: 16 pieces
- Serving Size: 4 pieces plus 1/2 cup ice cream
- Adjusting serving size: Keep the sauce amount the same. For a smaller batch, use 1 to 3 bananas, about 1 banana per person.
- Reducing sweetness: For a less sweet and thick sauce, use ½ cup (3.5 ounces, 99g) of packed brown sugar.
- Make it alcohol-free: Instead of banana liqueur, add ¼ cup of water or apple juice. Omit the rum, there will be no flambé step.
- Using a gas burner: If desired, the heat from the burners can be used to light the pan. After adding the rum, turn the heat to medium and wait for 3 to 5 seconds for the alcohol to warm up. Work quickly and carefully to slightly tip the right side of the pan, so that the edge sits in the middle of the burner and the flame makes contact with the side. Make sure to not spill the sauce, wait a few seconds until the rum ignites. Set the pan back down and gently shake to distribute the flames until it subsides, about 15 to 20 seconds. Turn off the heat.
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