It's Carnival season in New Orleans: a period of celebration, indulgence, and debauchery leading up to the big throwdown—Mardi Gras—all in preparation for Lent's 40 days of penance, fasting, and denial. King cake is the traditional sweet of choice during Carnival, but the classic sugared brioche ring is practically puritan compared to the boozy, flaming bananas Foster, New Orleans' other renowned dessert. If you're looking for a splurge to really repent the day after Mardi Gras, try the liquor-flambéed original or one of these oddball riffs on the classic found around town and beyond. (Please be careful if you plan to flame your 'nanas. Have a kitchen fire extinguisher handy and keep your hands and eyebrows clear of the pan if you're new to flambéing. The liquor burns off quickly, but it does flare up.)
Header image and recipe for Basic Bananas Foster from CHOW
1. THE ORIGINAL: BRENNAN'S BANANAS FOSTER
No mention of bananas Foster is proper without crediting Brennan's restaurant and the siblings who started a family restaurant dynasty in New Orleans, Owen and Ella Brennan. Ella, matriarch of the Commander's Palace family of restaurants, recently recalled how the dish was created for her brother's first restaurant, the Vieux Carre on Bourbon Street, in an interview that coincided with the grand reopening of Brennan's. (After years in decline, the famous French Quarter restaurant has had a complete makeover and opened under new ownership.)
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ounces (1/4 cup) banana liqueur
1/2 banana per diner, peeled and sliced in half
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) aged rum
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan set over medium heat. As the butter melts, add the banana liqueur and stir to combine. As the sauce starts to cook, add the bananas to the pan. Cook the bananas until they begin to soften (about 1 to 2 minutes). Tilt the pan back to slightly heat the far edge. Once hot, carefully add the rum and tilt the pan toward the flame to ignite the rum. Stir the sauce to ensure that all of the alcohol cooks out. Serve the cooked bananas over ice cream and top with the sauce in the pan.
Photo from Kerri McCaffety
2. THE COUSIN: COMMANDER'S PALACE BANANAS FOSTER
If the gracious service and balletic, synchronized presentation of plates by the waiters doesn't make you swoon, the tableside preparation of bananas Foster at Commander's Palace will.
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons banana liqueur
3 ounces light or dark rum
1 1/2 cups French vanilla ice cream
Melt the butter in a flat chafing dish or skillet. Add the brown sugar and stir until the sugar is melted. Add the bananas and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
Pour the banana liqueur and rum over the bananas, shake the pan to distribute the liquid, and flame. Baste the bananas with the flaming sauce until the flames die out.
Serve immediately over the ice cream.
Photo from Laura Fuentes
3. LANGLOIS CULINARY CROSSROADS BANANAS FOSTER BREAD PUDDING
Langlois, New Orleans' Cajun/Creole cooking demo restaurant, gilds this decadent dessert by folding the caramelized bananas and sauce into a rich, custard-y bread pudding that's crisp outside and creamy inside.
12-cup large muffin pan
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar, light brown, packed and divided
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 firm, ripe bananas, sliced
1/4 cup banana liqueur
1/2 cup dark rum
3 cups heavy cream
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
Pinch of kosher salt
15 cups day-old French bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat the muffin pan with nonstick spray. Melt the butter in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 cup of the brown sugar and the cinnamon. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the bananas and cook on both sides, turning until they start to soften and brown, about 3 minutes.
Add the banana liqueur and stir to blend. Carefully add the rum and shake the pan back and forth until the mixture flames. Carefully spoon the sauce over the bananas until the flame burns out. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
Combine the heavy cream, eggs, vanilla, milk, salt, and remaining brown sugar in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the bread cubes. Pour the banana caramel mixture over the bread and gently fold the ingredients until the bread is thoroughly soaked. Fill the muffin pan cups three-quarters full. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 30 minutes.
4. GW FINS BAN-NILLA DESSERT
GW Fins Chef de Cuisine Mike Nelson reimagined his favorite dessert—banana pudding—with a distinctly New Orleans twist: as a banana and Nilla Wafer ice cream pie topped with bananas Foster–inspired anglaise and brûléed bananas. It's a labor-intensive recipe that makes two full eight-piece pies; Nelson says if you're going to the trouble to make one, you might as well make two and keep one in the freezer. You can cheat and use your favorite brand of commercial ice cream, but Nelson warns that most don't have the richness or flavor of homemade.
Ingredients | Nilla® Wafer Crust:
6 ounces Nilla® Wafers
4 tablespoons butter
Pulse the wafers in a food processor until coarsely ground. Transfer the ground wafers to a mixing bowl. In a skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter and cook until lightly browned. Pour the butter over the ground wafers and mix thoroughly, until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
Ingredients | Fosters Anglaise:
2 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
2 ounces fresh orange juice
Combine the egg yolks, cream, sugar, rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange juice in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk until smooth and cook the mixture, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula. Cook until the mixture thickens slightly and registers 180°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Allow the anglaise to cool to room temperature before serving.
Ingredients | Banana Ice Cream & Nilla® Ice Cream
8 large eggs
1 cup sugar
4 cups half-and-half
4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup malted milk powder
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups Nilla® Wafers, ground
2 cups puréed ripe banana
In a large bowl, combine the eggs and sugar and beat until the mixture is pale yellow. In a large saucepan, heat the half-and-half over medium heat until it reaches 175°F on a digital instant-read thermometer. Slowly add the half-and-half to the sugar and egg mixture, stirring constantly to blend. Add the heavy cream, malted milk powder, condensed milk, and vanilla extract and stir to combine.
Divide the mixture evenly between two ice cream maker containers. Stir the ground wafers into one of the ice cream custards and the banana purée into the other. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the ice cream maker.
Ingredients | Banana Brûlée
2 to 3 bananas
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Slice the bananas 1/4 inch thick on the bias. Place the slices on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Brulée the sugar with a kitchen torch or broil until the sugar is melted and deeply browned.
To assemble the dessert:
Divide the crust mixture evenly between two 9-inch springform pans and press the mixture into a firm, even layer in the pan. Place the pans in the freezer to set the crust, at least 15 minutes.
Divide the Nilla® ice cream evenly between both pans and smooth the surface using a rubber spatula. Freeze until the ice cream is set, about 20 minutes. Repeat the process with a layer of the banana ice cream divided between each pan. When the ice cream is set, remove the springform pans and cut each ice cream pie into 8 slices. To serve, drizzle the slices with anglaise, and top with brûléed banana slices and whipped cream.
5. CAFÉ NOMA BOOZY BANANAS FOSTER MINI CUPCAKES
The hooch used in classic bananas Foster goes up in flames, but these one-bite cupcakes inspired by the dessert get their name honestly: The rum syrup doesn't cook off. It soaks into the cupcakes and is a key component in the frosting. If you want to make a G-rated version, try the Bananas Foster Cupcakes from Louisiana Cookin'—the brown butter frosting makes up for the lack of liquor.
Ingredients | Rum Syrup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup dark rum
1/4 cup banana liqueur
Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat and cook until the alcohol evaporates, about 5 minutes. This syrup will ignite as it heats—be sure to keep arm's distance from the saucepan.
Ingredients | Fosters Butter Cream Icing
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup rum syrup
Combine the powdered sugar, butter, and rum syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip the mixture until it is light and airy.
Ingredients | Bananas Foster Cupcake Batter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups ripe banana
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the banana and sugar and mash until smooth. Add the vegetable oil and eggs to the banana mixture and stir until smooth and blended. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and stir until combined.
Line a mini muffin pan with paper baking cups and fill each cup three-quarters full with the cupcake batter. Bake at 300°F until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cupcakes comes out clean, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the muffin pan and allow them to cool. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the rum syrup (the syrup can be drizzled on top for an extra kick). With a pastry bag, pipe a dollop of the icing onto each cupcake. The cupcakes can be finished with chopped banana chips.
Photo from Colleen Rush
6. BANANAS FOSTER FRENCH TOAST
You'll find bananas Foster French toast on a few breakfast menus around New Orleans, but The Ruby Slipper café, where it's called bananas Foster pain perdu, does it best. If you don't live in New Orleans, the closest you'll get to the restaurant versions without a plane ticket or road trip is this recipe from Serious Eats, which doesn't skimp on the rum, butter, or sugar.
Photo and recipe from Serious Eats
7. DISTRICT DONUTS BANANAS FOSTER DONUT
So, let's say you sliced a glazed yeast donut in half, overstuffed it with bananas Foster, and topped it all with a Rougaroux 13 Pennies Praline Rum and vanilla bean glaze, whipped cream, and brûléed bananas. You'd have this modern wonder of fried dough, which you can pick up by special order, or if serendipity delivers you on the right day to District Donuts.
Photo from District Donuts
8. SPICY SOUTHERN KITCHEN'S BANANAS FOSTER COFFEE CAKE
Proving there's pretty much no genre of breakfast or dessert you can't bananas Foster–ize, Spicy Southern Kitchen ups the ante with a crumbly, crunchy pecan topping to go along with the rum sauce icing.
Photo and recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen
9. FOR THE LOVE OF THE SOUTH'S BANANAS FOSTER CREPE CAKE
What's better than a flaming pan of rum- and sugar-soaked bananas? For the Love of the South's tower of bananas Foster crepes. It's one of the best uses for slightly overripe bananas because the mixture is puréed before it's layered between the crepes.
Photo and recipe from For the Love of the South
10. TABLEAU'S FOSTER COCKTAIL
Let's just skip the part where you burn off the booze and add even more liquor and some heavy cream, m'kay? Tableau in the French Quarter shakes up this adult dessert beverage.
1 1/2 ounces Giffard Banane du Bresil
1 ounce heavy cream
1/2 ounce Bayou Satsuma Rum
6 drops 'Elemakule Tiki Bitters
Shake, strain, and serve in a coupe glass rimmed with turbinado sugar. Garnish with a slice of banana cut on the bias.
Let the good times roll, check out all of Chowhound's Mardi Gras recipes.
Colleen Rush is a food and travel writer who eats, drinks, cooks, and writes mostly in New Orleans, but also ... everywhere else. She is the author of "The Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining" (Broadway Books, 2006), and coauthor of "Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons" (Running Press, 2009) and the upcoming "Low & Slow 2: The Art of Barbecue, Smoke Roasting, and Basic Curing" (Running Press, 2015). Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.