Bananas Foster doubles as a dessert and a show. Bananas Foster, named after a regular of Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans, was created in 1951. The dish, meant to be prepared at the table, is first flambeed then served atop scoops of vanilla ice cream. Dark rum, an important ingredient, helps the dish achieve its fire -- though other liquors and methods will do in a pinch.
The Original Recipe
Although bananas Foster sounds like a fancy dessert, the dish requires only a handful of common ingredients. In addition to the bananas and dark rum, the dessert also needs unsalted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, banana liqueur and vanilla ice cream. After mixing everything except the rum and vanilla ice cream over a low heat, pour in the rum, let it heat up and then ignite the sauce. After the flames are extinguished, ladle the bananas and sauce onto the ice cream.
Rum works in well in banana Fosters for two reasons. First, rums have proofs of around 80 to 90; rum's proof relates to the liquor's alcohol by volume -- with higher proofs being more combustible. Usually 80 and 90 proof spirits won't ignite unless they are gradually heated, as is the case in heating the rum as part of the sauce. Rum's flavors also complement those of the other ingredients. Rums, distilled from sugarcane products, are typically sweeter than other spirits.
Dark rums are thicker than lighter rums and also have a strong molasses flavor. Substitute pouring dark rum with either a gold rum or a demerara rum, which is heavy rum from Guyana. Other spirits that work well are whiskey or bourbon and brandy or cognac. If substituting with whiskey or bourbon, choose a domestic blend to cut down on expenses and find one that has a proof around 80 to 100. For brandy or cognac, follow the same substitution rules as whiskey and bourbon -- though cognacs are, by definition, never domestic. Avoid flavored brandies like pear and apple.
Bananas Foster has a cleaner, safer and more kid-friendly version without any rum or banana liqueur. Making a nonalcoholic bananas Foster will affect the taste less than it does the technique and presentation. Omit the banana liqueur when first making the sauce, and skip the rum and the final ignition before serving. To make up for the lack of sweetness from the rum and banana liqueur, add apple slices and apple juice and a dollop of whipped cream; a dash of chocolate syrup or maple syrup; or a sprinkling of chocolate shavings on top of the dessert.