Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a Banoffee pie

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Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day.

This is truer than I thought when I discovered it's estimated up to 80 million people worldwide possess some Irish heritage. This number is especially stunning considering in 2020 that wee island in the middle of the North Atlantic has an estimated population of just over 4.9 million. So, it's not surprising that on St. Patrick's Day, pubs are jammed with people throughout the world celebrating their Irishness, real or imagined, by "the wearing of the green" and donning "Kiss Me I'm Irish" buttons. My guess is that slogan has something to do with the proliferation of Irish DNA.

In my house, any reason to celebrate is mostly concerned with the menu. If your meal revolves around corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew or whatever you choose, there comes the possibility of a dessert other than more Guinness. This year, I'm going to make Banoffee pie, an Anglo/Irish dessert little known on this side of the Atlantic.

Banoffee pie, from banana and toffee, is a wonderfully rich, lactose bomb based on a filling of, believe me when I tell you, caramelized sweetened condensed milk producing the toffee. This filling is poured on to a digestive biscuit butter crust, layered with sliced bananas and, if that isn't rich enough, topped with whipped cream and grated chocolate. It's a 1970s classic originally developed in 1971 at The Hungry Monk Restaurant in East Sussex, England, during the creamy, rich dessert epidemic that swept through Great Britain and Ireland when English trifle and blancmange were found on dessert menus everywhere. In those days, in Ireland, creamy rich desserts were so prevalent, servers in restaurants wouldn't ask if I'd like dessert, they'd ask if I'd like pudding.

I'm not much of a dessert maker and I'd never made this dessert before. I began my research through my old friend, and sometimes nemesis, Google. I kept coming across recipes that called for boiling an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pan of water for three hours. Apparently, this method was a step in the original recipe. This thoroughly English method seemed both time-consuming and somehow just plain wrong. It turns out this method is wrong, as in Noel Coward's "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" wrong. As I searched, I kept coming across reports of exploding cans using this method. I rejected this method for several reasons, but primarily I found the possibility of a can of scalding hot sweetened condensed milk exploding in our kitchen a bit off-putting.

While searching, I messaged friends in Ireland. Bridget Coyle, my lovely longtime friend and very practical neighbor in Donegal, came through with a recipe provided by her son-in-law, Ian Connor, which didn't involve an unstable IED in its method. This was followed by an almost identical recipe from my friend, fellow music lover and local food market owner, Pat McClafferty, graciously provided by his sister, Helena. I added a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream to the whipped cream topping as it is, well, St. Patrick's Day and all, but otherwise followed the recipes with but a tweak or two. If you need another reason to try this recipe, it pairs well with a pint of Guinness.


County Donegal, noted for its remoteness, has been described as more like a country than a county among many. Consequently, the people of Donegal have their own ways, so it's not surprising I received two almost identical recipes from friends in Donegal not found elsewhere in my Google search.

This dessert is best made the day of serving.


For the crust:

9 digestive biscuits (I use McVities)

3 ounces unsalted butter

For the toffee filling:

3 ounces unsalted butter

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1/3 cup light brown sugar

One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

10 ounces heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 ounces Bailey's Irish Cream

2 large just-ripe bananas

2 ounces dark chocolate grated


Pulse the digestive biscuits in a food processor or put in a large freezer bag and crush with a rolling pin until finely crushed. Melt the 3 ounces of butter in saucepan and add the crushed biscuits off the heat. Butter the sides of an 8-inch springform pan and, using a small rubber spatula or spoon, press the mixture into the bottom of the pan. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

Melt the other 3 ounces of butter in a small non-stick saucepan over low heat. Add the light brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the condensed milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. While stirring frequently, allow the mixture to boil for about 2 minutes until the mixture is light brown, the color of dulce de leche. Do not over boil or the mixture will become grainy and fudge-like. Add the vanilla and allow to cool for a few minutes before pouring into the prepared springform pan. Put back into the refrigerator and allow to cool and set for at least 3 hours. The pie can be made ahead up until this point.

Whip the cold whip cream in a bowl with the sugar and Bailey's until soft peaks form.

Slice bananas into approximately 1/2-inch slices and arrange on the toffee mixture. Spoon or pipe the whipped cream on top, reserving about a 1/4 cup.

To serve: Remove from the springform pan, spread the 1/4 cup topping around the sides of the pie ensuring the banana slices are covered so they don't brown. Garnish with grated chocolate and cut into slices.


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