Flambé Story

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When Craig’s parents stayed with us last year for Craig’s graduation, they were very amused to come home one day to find me in the kitchen candying orange peel for no reason. “Do you just do that?” asked Julee, Craig’s mom. “Decide to make something just for the heck of it?”

Pretty much! And that’s precisely what happened last week when Craig left to rehearse a friend’s screenplay reading (a reading that actually features one of my READERS who introduced herself to Craig at the rehearsal; hi Meg!) and I decided to make bananas flambé.

My inspiration was a recipe in Jean-George pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s new book, “Dessert Fourpay.” His publicist sent me a copy and while the book is beautiful, I find it a bit intimidating; lots of steps and ingredients and techniques required to recreate just 1/4th of a finished plate the way he serves it at Jean-Georges. So instead of going that far, I decided just to extract the recipe for bananas flambé from the larger recipe schema to serve with yogurt and maybe some granola (remember, I’m on a health kick!).

I won’t give proportions here because my first attempt at bananas flambé didn’t turn out too well. I take most of the blame–I let the caramel burn, and, as you’ll hear in a moment, I almost burnt down my kitchen–but, as often happens when master chefs try to oversimplify a technique or a recipe, there wasn’t a lot of guidance in the text. Instead, there were pretty pictures and just a few short paragraphs which leads me to believe this book is more for the experienced pastry chef than the novice home cook.

In any case, here’s what I started with:

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That’s sugar and a pinch of salt in a non-stick skillet, 2 cut-up bananas, some butter cut into cubes, and a mug of rum. Look carefully at that mug of rum: that’s WAY too much, as you’ll find out in a moment.

So, first things first: I heated the sugar until it turned amber. Actually, what happened is I started heating it and got bored so I walked away to watch the bonus round on “Wheel of Fortune” (don’t you love the bonus round on “Wheel of Fortune?” That’s always my favorite part) when I smelled something burning. I looked back and smoke was rising from my pan of sugar; I ran to it and thought the caramel color was a beautiful dark reddish brown, not black, and that it’d be ok to proceed. But I should’ve trusted my nose: this caramel was gone.

Stupidly, then, I added the bananas and the butter and let them cook on the first side:

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After 2 minutes, I flipped the bananas over and thought they looked very pretty:

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I let them cook two minutes more and here’s where things almost turned tragic. I took the skillet off the heat, held it away from the stove, and added the rum from the mug. It made a super sizzly sound that I find very satisfying and then I did the dangerous part–the part that fancy French waiters do at fancy French restaurants to impress you–I returned the skillet to the flame and tilted it so the rum would catch fire. This all happened so fast, though, I’d hardly even started my tilt when WHOOOOSH!!!! A GIANT FLAME OF FIRE!

I mean we’re talking BIBLICAL proportions here; we’re talking David Copperfield and the Tornado of Fire:

If my face were any closer to the pan, I wouldn’t be writing this right now; I’d be wearing a mummy mask in a hospital somewhere and Eric Stoltz would be in talks to play me in the movie version of my life story.

All of this drama, you’re probably wondering: well, how did it taste?

Not good! But, mostly because of the burnt caramel. It just tasted like charred, bitter bananas in a bowl of non-fat yogurt. Yuck.

So, in conclusion, if you’d like to flambé bananas, watch your caramel carefully–don’t let it burn–and then don’t add a lot of rum. Add just a little bit–like a spoonful, not a quarter of a mugful.

And thus we conclude my Flambé Story.

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