FOR FRENCHIE FRIDAY and Beth Fish’s Weekend Cooking this week, I HAD to talk about Mardi Gras. In Nice, France carnival or “carne levare” (“away with meat”), lasts for fifteen days and culimnates on Fat Tuesday, the day before Catholic lenten fast. Merriment in the streets and gorging on goodies is typical, as it is in the U.S., though the two day boob flashing and frat boy frenzy à la New Orleans takes excitement to a whole new…um…level. The first carnival tradition in France dated back as far as the late 13th century, (Italy & Spain also had their own versions.).
I GOT THE BRIGHT IDEA of escorting a pack of high school kids on a trip to France during February vacation one year when I was teaching. Needless to say, we ended up at carnival. We raced along the Promenade des Anglais to catch the flowers they threw. We gaped at the massive body-shaped floats that looked like politicians, and the edgy controversial floats like the giant floating embryo. That was a conversation starter! So very different than the floats you’d see here in the U.S.
The crowd runs around wearing masks in the streets, throwing confetti and spraying silly string on random strangers. (A little odd, by the way, if you don’t expect it.)
BUT MY FAVORITE PART was tearing a couple of my female students away from the “cute French boys” they were groping in the adjacent park.
So this weekend I’m hitting a Mardi Gras party, New Orleans style. I’ve got my mask and beads ready to go and I’m responsible for the dessert. How could I NOT bring Bananas Foster Bread Pudding? Yummm. Pass the rum. So I lifted this recipe straight from Emeril. There’s no need to improve on something that’s already perfect!
BANANAS FOSTER BREAD PUDDING
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 firm-ripe bananas, peeled and cut crosswise into 3/4-inch thick slices
1/4 cup banana liqueur
1/2 cup dark rum
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 cups (1/2-inch cubes) day-old French bread
Vanilla ice cream
Caramel Sauce, recipe follows
**Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 10 by 14-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside.
**Melt the remaining 8 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup of the brown sugar and the cinnamon and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.
**Add the bananas and cook on both sides, turning, until the bananas 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 to warm the rum and flame the pan. (Or, off the heat, carefully ignite the rum with a match and return to the heat.) Shake the pan back and forth, basting the bananas, until the flame dies. Remove from the heat and let cool.
**Whisk together the eggs, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, the cream, milk, and vanilla in a large bowl.
**Add the cooled banana mixture and bread and stir to blend thoroughly.
**Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake until firm, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
**To serve, scoop the pudding onto dessert plates. Top each serving with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzle with caramel sauce, and serve immediately.
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup whole milk
**Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a medium heavy saucepan and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves.
**Let boil without stirring until the mixture becomes a deep amber color, 2 to 3 minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.
**Carefully add the cream (it may splatter), whisk to combine, and remove from the heat. Add the milk, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.
**Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature before serving. (The sauce will thicken as it cools.)
Yield: a generous 3/4 cup