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VEGAN Banoffi Pie

This is an account of my experiments to create an acceptable vegan Banoffi Pie. Obviously Banoffi Pie is vegetarian but it is not vegan as there are a lot of dairy products in it – cream, butter and condensed milk to be precise.

The easy bit in my experiment was the vegan pastry. Pastry is the original base for Banoffi Pie but I know a lot of people use a biscuit base which can be substituted using vegan alternatives. For the pastry version I used hard vegan butter and water instead of an egg but it is crucial to use the hard butter alternatives not the spreading margarine found in tubs.

After some experimenting with vegan cream alternatives for the topping I found that the double cream from The Coconut Collab (available in Sainsbury’s at the time of writing) was the best. Other oat based varieties, even though whippable didn’t have the density of the coconut variety.

The biggest problem to overcome was the toffee filling. If you know the story of the development of Banoffi Pie you will know that the breakthrough of finding the easiest and best way to make the toffee was boiling cans of condensed milk for three and a half hours creating a soft toffee that (crucially) was the right consistency so my first experiment was to boil vegan condensed milk for the same amount of time. The Nestle variety (oat based) produced a toffee flavoured syrup that was not the right consistency. Next I tried a coconut version of condensed milk. I used the Nature’s Charm brand that at the time was only available online. This was an improvement but when I first opened the tin I found the consistency was still too soft.

It is worth mentioning here that the criteria of Banoffi toffee is that it holds its shape i.e. when you cut a slice from a pie the toffee stays put both in the slice you have cut and the remaining pie. (If it oozes out this spoils the slice just cut and the remainder of the pie).

So I thought my only option was to go back to basics and try making it by boiling the vegan condensed milk in a saucepan with various other vegan ingredients to create a type of fudge. Many experiments later I came to realise why my original attempts fifty years previously to create the toffee for the original Banoffi were so mixed and why finding the trick of boiling the cans of condensed milk was such a precious find.

In one of my attempts I did seem to get the desired consistency and proceeded to make a ‘control’ Banoffi pie with it. You never quite realise how things are going to fail until the last hurdle. The resulting toffee although it held its shape was far too sweet. This had two disadvantages. One, it made your teeth ache and secondly the high sugar content absorbed liquid from the bananas within hours ruining the texture of the whole pie – so it was back to the drawing board once again.

I tried several further experiments, increasing the fat content reducing the sugar, adding other ingredients such as cornflour or vegan gelling agent worrying all the time that as well as not always working well it was becoming very complicated and my ethos in all things culinary is simplicity where possible.

It was at this point I found a tin of the coconut based condensed milk I had boiled previously. On opening I found that it had become firmer in the period it had been sitting in my kitchen – about a week. I thought it was too good to be true and in one respect it was. The contents had slowly separated with the top half of the tin becoming the right consistency and leaving a pool of clear syrup underneath. Nevertheless the toffee was spot on and the clear syrup could be used for something else.

Note: You may think that my search for the correct ingredients to make this vegan Banoffi pie verges on the obsessive and you could be right but I did a lot of research looking at other people’s recipes before setting out to perfect my own and found a lot of the so-called vegan Banoffi pie recipes unsuccessful. As pointed out above it not only has to taste right it has to be the right consistency to be able to cut perfect slices every time right up until the last slice. It would be impossible to mimic the exact flavours and textures of a Banoffi pie using non-dairy products and I am aware most vegans appreciate this. But I do think this is as near to its non-vegan counterpart as possible