Everything you need to know about banoffee pie - from its creator
- Credit: Supplied by Ian Dowding
Sweet, creamy and unashamedly calorific, banoffee pie has been a firm favourite on dessert menus for decades, but did you know its creation can be traced to the quaint Sussex village of Jevington in 1972?
The pie, which is famous for its indulgent combination of banana and toffee, is the brainchild of Herstmonceux-based Ian Dowding, who has worked as a chef in the South East for most of his life. In 1968, he became the founding chef of the now defunct The Hungry Monk restaurant in Jevington, which is where he, alongside the restaurant’s owner Nigel Mackenzie, created the banoffee pie.
Where does banoffee pie come from?
‘It was the early 70s and the food revolution was in full swing,’ recalls Ian. ‘At The Hungry Monk, I was encouraged to add creative new dishes to the menu such as ratatouille, taramasalata, chicken pancakes, and moussaka and next on my list was making a stand out dessert.
‘My sister had mentioned to me that boiling cans of condensed milk unopened in water for several hours can produce a soft toffee. It gave me the idea to recreate a new version of a dessert called Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie that had been under development at a small restaurant in Berkshire I had worked at previously. It was based on a recipe that the head chef at the time, Russell, had brought back from America but we could rarely perfect it.’
Ian set to work in the kitchen to revive the pie using his newfound toffee trick, along with a number of other tweaks. These included using a coffee favoured cream to add a slight bitterness to the toffee - ‘it’s a more sophisticated taste,’ he says – as well as using a French sweet crust pastry base as opposed to biscuit to keep a handle on the richness. Mackenzie suggested that he try incorporating bananas into the mix for the finishing touch which proved to be a gamechanger.
‘We knew straight away that we had hit the nail on the head,’ says Ian.
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Why is it called banoffee?
‘It was Nigel who came up with the word “banoffi” as an abbreviation of the syllables in the ingredients. It was only really meant as a temporary name but it stuck.’
What started as positive feedback from customers licking their lips with appreciation evolved to the dish appearing on menus in other restaurants, not only in England but around the globe.
‘People would ring the restaurant to make a reservation and would double check that they’d definitely be able to order it,’ says Ian.
Since the explosion in popularity of the pie, the flavours have inspired a wave of delicious flavoured desserts, from ice cream to biscuits, yet Ian says he has no claim to the recipe.
'Even if one of us had been canny enough to trademark the name, you can’t get a royalty from an invented dish and in all honesty, I don’t mind,’ he says. ‘Anyway, I didn’t invent it – it evolved. Every chef recreates recipes by giving them a new twist or combination of ingredients. And although I often argue that if you can copyright words then it shouldn’t be any more complex to do so with a recipe, seeing the journey of banoffee pie has been fun.
‘I get emails from around the world expressing thanks for creating it, or tasking questions about it, which is really nice. A guy from India got in touch with me to let me know that there is a popular trail for gap year students that has added banoffee pie to the menu at one of the stop-offs and people were telling the story of where it came from.’
Today, a blue plaque adorns the cottages that used to house The Hungry Monk restaurant celebrating the site as the ‘birthplace of banoffi pie’.
The dish is now commonly spelt banoffee - ‘just as the recipe has been adapted so too has the spelling,’ comments Ian. ‘I’m not really sure how that happened. I did a Google search and went through about 30 pages of information at one point, but what I learnt from that was how many other items have links to banoffee, from trainers to wallpaper – not to mention hundreds of food items.’
Since his big culinary breakthrough, Ian has opened a restaurant in Seaford called Quincy’s, worked freelance for many years and taught at Sussex Downs College, until recently. Now, he is launching a new cookery book, Fish Bananas, which features 400 recipes from his 50+ year career, including the original recipe for his classic banoffi pie.
If you’re eager to give it a go yourself, follow Ian’s top tips for making the perfect banoffee pie at home:
Top tips on how to make banoffee pie at home
Keep a lid on the boiling process. ‘One of the most important things to master is the boiling of the toffee because people have had accidents with it,’ says Ian. ‘The only thing that can go wrong, because you are boiling the cans of condensed milk for a long time (three-and-a-half hours) is if the saucepan boils dry. If this happens the cans will explode. It happened to me once, but I was very lucky that it blew the bottom out of the can and, subsequently, the bottom out of the pan. Other people had it go the other way and had to redecorate their kitchens. So my top tip for this part of the process is to get a casserole dish or a metal saucepan, put the cans in and cover them with the water before putting the lid on and placing it in the oven. This way, it'll be virtually impossible to boil out, but do check on it around half-way through to be sure.’
Add some crunch. ‘Another trick worth knowing is that once the cans of toffee are done, you can put them back in the cupboard still sealed to use at a later date,’ says Ian. ‘If they are there for a couple of months, the sugar will start to crystalise in the can and you will get crunchy banoffee – I’ve nicknamed it vintage banoffee - which is a bonus.’
Perfect the flavours. ‘A little bit of flavouring makes all the difference,’ says Ian. ‘The cream needs sweetening with sugar a bit but don’t add too much in. If you want to scatter hundreds and thousands over the top that’s up to you, but a fine sprinkling of coffee gives it the best flavour balance in my opinion.’