The Vintage Chef Olivia Potts

The secret ingredient that transforms banoffee pie

The secret ingredient that transforms banoffee pie
Text settings

I have been labouring under a misapprehension for some time, perhaps my whole life. I thought that the ‘offe’ in ‘banoffee pie’ was a reference to the thick, gooey toffee layer that sits between the biscuit base and the cream. But no, the ‘offe’ has nothing to do with what is, in any event, really a caramel, but the coffee flavour that should be folded through the cream topping. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a banoffee pie that features the sort-of-eponymous coffee, and I am relieved to discover that wide swathes of the internet (including the fallible wikipedia) has made the same mistake. But as I experiment with the recipe, it’s clear that the coffee is an important counterpoint: the cream, barely sweetened, with bitter hints from the coffee, prevents the rest of the pudding from being overbearingly sweet (although, let’s be real, this is not a pudding for someone who lacks a sweet tooth).

If you are sticking closely to the original, the base should be made of shortcrust pastry – and in fact, Ian Dowding has been vocal in his dislike of the evolution to a biscuit-crumb base. But, nowadays, people expect that biscuit base, and it’s one of my favourite elements of the pudding – plus it’s a much, much easier base to make than the pastry. I thought I’d been terribly innovative by finely slicing pecan nuts to crumble through the biscuit base, but my research teaches me that this is not the case: both Felicity Cloake and Simon Rimmer came up with this idea aeons ago. No matter: it is an excellent addition, and I decide that I prefer bashed-up hobnobs to the more traditional digestives, as the oats give it a wonderful texture.

Unlike many of the vintage puddings we examine here, the banoffee pie has a deliciously clear history and origin story – and it’s not, as many think, an American one. The pud is British, created in 1971 by Nigel Mackenzie and Ian Dowding at the Hungry Monk restaurant in East Sussex. Banana was not their first port of call when developing the recipe (they tried mandarin oranges and apple), but once they’d tried it with banana, there was no looking back, the banoffee pie was born: crisp base, thick layer of caramel, sliced banana, big swoops of coffee-flavoured cream.

Banoffee Pie

Makes: 1 eight inch pie (serves 8)

Takes: 2 hours, including chilling

Bakes: No time at all

For the base

200g hobnobs

100g butter, melted

100g pecans

For the caramel

397g tin of caramel

100g butter

75g soft brown sugar

Pinch of salt

For the topping

3 bananas

300ml double cream

1 tablespoon caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee

Dark chocolate, for grating

  1. First, make your base. Blitz the hobnobs in a processor, or bash them in a bag with a rolling pin, finely slice the pecans, and mix both together with the melted butter, until the mixture clumps. Spread out the crumbs into an eight inch cake pan with a removable bottom. Use the back of a spoon to compact the crumbs, and create a slightly taller border at the edge of the base. Refrigerate for fifteen minutes
  2. Next, make the caramel: pour the tinned caramel into a pan with the butter and sugar. Heat gently, allowing the mixture to melt, and then bringing it to the boil. Boil, stirring the whole time, for three to four minutes. Pour over the base, and return to the fridge for about an hour.
  3. Slice the bananas and distribute evenly across the caramel layer.
  4. Add the smallest splash of boiling water to the instant coffee, stirring to dissolve. Leave to cool, then add to the double cream along with the tablespoon of caster sugar, and whisk to medium peaks. Spoon onto the tart, and top with grated dark chocolate.

Written byThe Vintage Chef Olivia Potts

Olivia Potts is a former criminal barrister who retrained as a pastry chef. She co-hosts The Spectator’s Table Talk podcast and writes Spectator Life's The Vintage Chef column. A chef and food writer, she was winner of the Fortnum and Mason's debut food book award in 2020 for her memoir A Half Baked Idea.

Topics in this articleWine and Foodfoodrecipe