what the fig?

The first time I tried figs I thought that they were the worst. I was at university and my mum included a packet of dried figs in a package she sent me because she knew they were disgusting and thought it would be funny. Thanks Mum, happy Mother’s Day.

Years later, when I had put this trauma behind me and built up the courage to try figs again (fresh this time), I was shocked to discover that I had been giving them a bad rap for far too long. They are really unlike anything I had ever tasted before; a perfect balance of nectary sweetness while still seeming wholesomely savoury.

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In this part of the world they can be a bit pricey so I have always been a little reluctant to experiment with them but went out for dinner s few weeks ago and had the most incredible baked figs that I could resist giving them a go in my own kitchen.

This is a great dish and so versatile! You can serve it as a snack, a starter or even a dessert, and it looks beautiful!

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Slice as many fresh figs as you like in half, I would say about two per person as a constraint against over-indulging. I’m still not a fan of measuring anything properly so this recipe is really measured in pinches and dashes. Top with a tiny dollop of butter, an equal amount of honey and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon. Admire their beauty and take in the scent of the flavours melding together.

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Bake at 180°C for 15 to 20 minutes – it really depends on the ripeness of the fruit you’re using but in my opinion, this is a prime example of when the saying ‘low and slow’ applies.

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A couple of minutes before I took my oozing little beauties out of the oven, I topped each with a tiny ball of goats cheese – it adds a savoury element to make it not-just-a-dessert food and the chèvre compliments the honey and cinnamon oh so well.

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The one problem I find with these bite-sized morsels is how moreish they are – I honestly believe I could eat my bodyweight in them!

 

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aquafaba meringues (how the internet lied)

I am not one for ‘health foods’ or self-enforced dietary ‘requirements’, I steer clear from trendy health regimes and stick to food that just tastes good. But I recently stumbled across a fad that was just too intriguing to pass by – aquafaba.

I know that it sounds a little like a low-impact form of exercise for senior citizens, but aquafaba is actually the salty, gelatinous brine that chickpeas are stored in. I have often pondered at how to use it; I attempt to be as zero waste as possible and chickpea brine was the one thing that I couldn’t find an appropriate use for. Cue vegan meringues…

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Aquafaba meringues are a great example of why you shouldn’t believe everything that the internet tells you; after scrolling through countless pictures of cute little tarts topped with crisp and egg-free meringue, I thought I was on to a fool proof new dessert. It appears I was wrong.

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First step – drain the liquid off of a can of chickpeas and eat the chickpeas for lunch. Next, whisk the brine until it forms firm peaks, like you would if you were making meringue in an ordinary universe. Surprisingly, it works – and as the liquid plumps up with air bubbles, the salty flavour seemingly evaporates.

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Whisk through ¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of baking soda until the sugar has dissolved and the meringue is nice an firm. Spoon dollops onto a tray of baking paper and bake for 30 minutes at 140°C. Or so they say…

I opened my oven, hoping to see a tray of crunchy white globes. Instead, I was greeted with this:

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A tray of sticky sugar syrup, amber in colour and bubbling at the surface. I don’t know if I hadn’t beaten the aquafaba long enough, or hadn’t added enough sugar. Maybe it can only be used like Italian meringue, or maybe the internet had lied to me. If anyone can help me with my vegan-induced dilemma, I am all ears!

boysenberry and peppermint sorbet

How to make ice-cream without an ice-cream maker” is one of my most common Google searches. I love ice-cream, I could eat it every day and often do. Because of its relatively similar content to a glass of milk and a bowl of fresh fruit, I have no objection to eating ice-cream for breakfast. My one problem, something that has haunted me for years, is that I can’t make it myself. I know that they say you can leave a tub of fruit and cream in the freezer and store every 10 minutes for an hour to break up the ice crystals, but I just don’t think it’s the same. You aren’t going to get that smooth, creamy texture not will it be as light and fluffy as anything you can buy. I was stumped.

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As much as I rejoiced when I discovered how to make an ice-cream-esque substitute out of frozen bananas, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one flavour. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on an ice-cream machine (or increase my dairy intake by 3000%), but I didn’t have an alternative to satisfy my ubiquitous cravings.

By the grace of god, or by pure accident, I made sorbet and it couldn’t have been easier! You may recall my recent cake catastrophe involving a large quantity of Italian meringue; the silver lining of that puffy raincloud of sugar was the leftover meringue. Not only is it delicious and very tempting to eat by the spoonful, it is also an excellent base to sorbet.

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The hardest part was already done; all I had to do was decide how to flavour it. Peppermint is an interesting and difficult flavour to pair anything with – you want to avoid creating something that tastes like toothpaste, but you don’t have to overpower the fresh, warming sensation of the mint. I opted to boysenberries – they are tart and tangy; a nice compliment to the sweetness of the meringue, but they also possess a freshness of their own that I thought would work alongside the peppermint beautifully.

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For each egg white of meringue, you want at least one cup of fruit puree. Because I had two egg white worth of meringue before I lathered my cake with it, I wanted about two cup’s worth of stinging purple boysenberry gloop – the equivalent of 500grams of frozen boysenberries. I whizzed them up in the food processor and stirred through 120mls of sugar syrup. Done.

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Upon combining the meringue and the berries, I left the tub in the freezer to set and thicken. Unlike ice-cream, it doesn’t really need to be stirred to break the ice crystals – it pays to if you want it nice and smooth, but you can run a spoon through the shiny purple icebergs just before serving and it will still be perfect.

The flavour combination is a match made in heaven; with each mouthful I was greeted with the raw freshness of the fruit, followed by the sweetness of the meringue, rounded out by a lancing hit of the peppermint – a whole meal in a single mouthful. Silky and smooth, dotted with bursts of boysenberry seeds, I was amazed at just how creamy it was, especially because it is actually dairy-free!

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Now that I know just how easy it is to make sorbet, the world is my oyster; I am unstoppable in my quest for ice-cream domination!

peppermint chocolate cake – an experiment with italian meringue

Recently, a friend of mine and I decided that it would be a good idea to establish a local chapter of the Clandestine Cake Club but following my recent botched attempts at cake-making, I thought it wise to give myself a little more practice before unleashing any more of my creations onto the general public. I was also recently gifted a bottle of peppermint syrup. These two mutually exclusive factors coincided over the weekend into a chocolate sponge cake with peppermint meringue icing. I can now say that I will never be making Italian meringue ever again.

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The cake itself turned out rather well, aside from forgetting to add any baking powder to the batter. I actually think I prefer it without too much spring, the batter still comes out light and fluffy; pillowy like a sponge cake but not as aerated – it still feels substantial as you sink your teeth into it. Unlike the last attempt at sponge cake, the sea of pots and pans that is my kitchen cupboards parted to reveal the electric mixer, which makes beating together eggs, flour, sugar and butter easy and breezy. I definitely recommend it.

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The failures began with the cake icing. For starters, I didn’t have any icing sugar so I wasn’t able to make a standard icing. Instead, I opted for an Italian meringue icing because I could use regular sugar to make syrup and I like how it spreads like a thick layer of cloud.

Whisk one egg white to firm peaks, soft peaks won’t cut it and you will end up whisking for what seems like days. I added a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of peppermint syrup.

Heat 200grams of sugar with a ¼ cup of water to make a boiling simple syrup. Once it is as clear as glacier water and looks like molten glass, it’s ready. One of the (only) draw cards of Italian meringue is that there is no need to cook it, so you need the syrup to be terrifyingly hot to cook the egg whites. The heat also gives the egg fluff that little shock it needs to puff up nicely.

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I thought that was the final step; ready to lather over my perfect chocolate circle. Not the case. The meringue needs to be whipped until room temperature; by getting as much air into it as possible we get the fluffiest, smoothest result. This result is not achievable in less than 15 minutes, by which stage my arm was numb and my kitchen was covered in pale flecks of meringue from each time I lost control of the beater.

What an ordeal. And after all of my struggle, I realised that I had far too much meringue – out of fear of having too little, I doubled the recipe. Isn’t it always the way?

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Luckily for me, it freezes well and coincidently makes a great base for sorbet… watch this space!

banana almond muffin pudding

The heart wants what it wants, and so does the stomach. During winter I don’t give strawberries a second thought but I could eat them any day of the week when they are in season. But there are some foods that you can’t help but crave – regardless of the season and once your head starts asking for it, your stomach won’t stop needing it until it is satisfied. The other day, despite the humidity, I decided that I needed bread pudding.

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Maybe it was the little bout of rain we had last week that make we want to curl up on the couch with a nice, steaming bowl of pudding. I am not one to ever deprive my stomach of what it wants – it really is the force that drives, and controls me, so I made this little variation of a traditional bread pudding.

I am not a huge stickler for sticking too close to a traditional recipe; if you can change it to make it better – do it! While a bread pudding usually uses bread (as per the name), I have seen it made with brioche and croissants so I don’t think anyone is going to be too scandalised by the fact that I made mine with muffins.

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To begin, break or cut three large and slightly stale muffins into eight chunks each. You could use three croissants or pain-au-chocolat instead of muffins, or six slices of white bread. The muffins I used were banana and almond flavoured which I knew would give the pudding a lovely moreish flavour and it also meant that I wasn’t going to have to add much else to make it delicious – the work was already done for me!

Place the muffin pieces into a baking dish and set aside. In a recipe using just bread, pouring a little melted butter over top of the bread chucks is recommended, but these muffins were practically bleeding butter so I decided to skip this step for time’s sake.

For each muffin that you use (or for each two slices of bread) whisk one egg, a ¼ cup of sugar and a ½ cup of milk with a teaspoon each of vanilla and cinnamon. This is essentially going to form he custard that the bread absorbs.

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“Custard-soaked bread” is not a description that does this dish any justice, so we need to make it a little more exciting. Sprinkle about a ½ cup of dried fruit or chocolate drops over the bread and pour over the custard mixture. You could use raisins, pistachio nuts or even cubes of apple. As I mentioned, my muffins already had banana in them and were topped with almond slithers, but I topped mine with fresh slices of banana and a few dried cranberries for a little colour.

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Bake your assembled pudding at 175°C for 45minutes until crisp and golden on top.

A nice crunch on top, and an oozy warmth in the centre; folds of bread filled with bursts of custard – just what the doctor ordered! And by doctor, I mean my stomach. Enjoy piping hot while staring out the window as the rain runs down the window, like tears at the realisation that summer will eventually finish, or refrigerate overnight to enjoy as a cooling treat in the midday heat. Or eat the leftovers for breakfast. I did, and trust me, your arteries might not thank you, but your taste buds surely will!

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bitter sweet coffee sauce

Since arriving in France, my dependency on coffee has increased dramatically – last winter involved a self-enforced intervention when a colleague pointed out that I had guzzled a grand total of 10 (!) shots of espresso in one working day. Any French person will tell you that French coffee is one of the finest crafted beverages you will ever encounter, this is not the case. As a vase and wide spreading generalisation, I have found that the French often burn their espresso and boil their milk, and even though the standard is rather below par, I still enjoy wrapping my hands around a café allongé, imbibing the steaming, sweet aroma, or sipping a dark, smoky espresso after a meal.

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Like I said the other day, hot drinks in sticky weather aren’t the best combination, so I have had to get inventive in order to get my caffeine fix. This idea developed from an iced coffee; the obvious choice for a cold coffee craving, without all of the sugar and whipped cream that so many places add to it. My coffee sauce is strong and bitter, creamy with a real punch of flavour.

I like my coffee strong, strong like the Italians drink it kind of strong, and I wanted this recipe to reflect that. I began with half a plunger of leftover coffee and slowly simmered it down to half a cup; a little time consuming but well worth it in the end.

In a separate pot, combine 50grams of melted butter with 2 tablespoons of corn flour over a medium heat until it forms a thick paste that smells like baking dough; a good roux will help make your sauce full-bodied and thick. Whisk in ½ a cup of cream or condensed milk, whisking will help evenly combine the roux and aerate the mixture. Stir constantly over a low heat until it begins to thicken, then add the coffee.

Continue to stir the mixture to avoid it boiling – this could lead to it splitting! How long you leave it really depends on how you like it, I kept mine relatively runny so that I could easily pour it over vanilla ice-cream but you may want to thicken it to make a dipping sauce or even the base of a cake icing.

mazagran granita

As the temperature creeps into the high 30’s, it is almost as important to keep cool as it is to keep hydrated. Even though I know it is so necessary, I always have a hard time forcing myself to drink water on days like these – be it lying on the beach or having a picnic in the park; no matter how cold your bottle of water is when you leave the house, it quickly becomes lukewarm and not I find that never quenches my thirst.

I recently had a leftover pot of coffee – I had brewed it before remembering that drinking coffee in 30°C heat makes no sense, so I devised this little goodie with the leftovers; perfect for a cool afternoon snack on the balcony or a light dessert in the balmy evening air. I present you with my mazagran granita.

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Mazagran is also referred to as Portuguese Ice Coffee, although it actually originates from Algeria. I first came across it while I was visiting Portugal last year, however I had been drinking a version of it for years prior, mazagran is essentially an Iced Americano served with a lemon wedge and a little more sugar than is socially acceptable to add to your coffee.

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Such a refreshing drink, but I wanted to make it into an even more refreshing dessert – and what’s more refreshing than shaved ice?! It is by no means difficult to make, although it does take a bit of time and attention. Mix half a litre of black coffee with 4 teaspoons of sugar and the juice of half a lemon. I used plunger coffee but you could also use 6 shots of espresso and add cool water to make up the difference. Leave it to cool before popping into the freezer.

After 40 minutes, ice crystals should have begun to form around the edges of the bowl, break them up by mixing through the liquid. Repeat this step every 20 minutes as the mixture becomes mushy and thick, until the entirety of the dish forms thin, coffee-coloured shards of ice.

Serve as is, or divide into parfait glasses or dessert bowls, top with candied lemon or a dollop of whipped cream. For an adult version, add a dash of dark rum before freezing and substitute the lemon juice for orange juice.

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cafe chocolate con churros

If you were to say the first thing you thought of when I said ‘Spanish food’, what would you say? My guess is either ‘churros’ or ‘paella’. While I don’t think that I have the willpower to correctly make a paella; it involves not stirring the pan while it simmers and I am far too hands-on for that, I do have the willpower to make churros!

chocolato con churros
chocolato con churros

Spanish cuisine has not expanded into the mainstream Western world to the same degree as Italian or faux-Chinese, and even though most people would not be able to differentiate between Spanish and Mexican styles of cooking, I would say that 9 out of 10 people have tried churros before.

Before travelling to Spain, I had only ever eaten churros as a dessert, you can imagine my glee when I discovered these crisp, sugary treats are eaten at any time of day, even breakfast!

I recently had churros at a night market with a friend who is somewhat of a self-proclaimed churro aficionado and gladly shared with me some of her pointers on what makes a good churro. Like any traditional food; a pizza in Italy, a croissant in France, you will not find a churro as good as a Spanish churro anywhere but Spain. The ratio of sweet dough and runny chocolate sauce for dipping has to be just right, it must easily coat the golden batter and not be too thick like a paste – in Spain the churro is treated as an accompaniment to hot chocolate rather than the other way around.

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What I find most important is the dough, it needs to be crisp and golden, but often I find it has been deep-fried for too long, and while it is aesthetically perfect, the scent of caramelising sugar and the crunch as you bite into it are let down by the dry centre, and the disappointment at realising that crunch that you initially savoured is there the whole way through.

I kept this in mind when I decided to make my own, instead of deep-frying mine, I wanted to oven-baked them. Because of the slight moisture levels in an oven, I could save them from drying out, and in order to achieve the quintessential golden colour; a few minutes under the grill after they have baked through.

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Heat 1 cup of water in a medium size saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 170grams of butter and a pinch of salt. Simmer until the butter is completely melted and the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat and mix with 1 cup of flour and leave the mixture to cool slightly. While you are waiting, whisk 2 eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla extract until the egg begins to foam up. Mix the contents of both bowls together and the batter is done.

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Now comes the fun part!

Transfer the batter into a piping bag with a serrated bit and a width of about 2cm. If you don’t have a piping bag, cut the corner off a zip-lock plastic bag, it won’t have the jagged edge that is usually associated with churros but it will work nonetheless. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and pipe the dough into sticks about 8cm in length, it is helpful to have a second pair of hands with this step as the dough in incredibly thick so get an assistant to chop them with a pair of scissors as you pipe them – the bribe of fresh churros should be tempting enough!

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Bake at 220°C for 10 minutes before switching the oven’s settings to grill for 5 minutes. Such a hot temperature will almost steam the insides of the churros, while the butter will liquefy and provide an even golden shade. Once they have crisped up nicely, turn the oven off and leave the tray in for a few more minutes. Remove from the oven, dust with sugar and cinnamon and leave to cool.

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I served mine with a simple espresso dark chocolate sauce: a shot of espresso, 50grams of finely chopped dark chocolate and just enough milk to thin the chocolate out, gently heated until melted and gooey.

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Serve your churros with strawberry jam if chocolate isn’t your thing, or you want an excuse to make them for breakfast. They are even delicious eaten by themselves.

How do you like to eat your churros?

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the new pavlova?

Like I said a couple of posts ago, I have recently been playing around with the concept of macarons. Not deconstructing the famed French macaron per say, I am not at all a fan of deconstructed food to say the least! But just adding little subtle touches to a dish which are reminiscent of them. And that is how I came up with my idea of this meringue cake. Since making it, several people have mentioned that they have seen or read articles talking about similar things. In which I was devastated to hear as I feel like my dreams of becoming the next disputed creator; like the inventor credited with creating the Pavlova in homage to ballerina, Anna Pavlova.

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But I digress…

Before I tried this out I was not entirely sure it was going to work. So much so that I waited until there was no one else in the house so I could throw away the ruins if it failed without anyone finding out. But I also told myself it was good to document it, and share it with the world/blogisphere in either case. Because failing is not a bad thing.

Again, digressing.

Start off my making a standard cake batter, I used a half recipe as I didn’t want to go wasting a whole bunch of precious butter and sugar on something that didn’t work. I also thought that it made sense to half the recipe as the cake was one of two components.

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Cream 50grams of butter with 100grams of sugar. Add two egg yolks. I did this in place of using one whole egg, as I was going to need egg whites for the meringue and hate having leftover egg yolks unless I am planning on making carbonara for dinner. Mix in 100grams of flour, a tablespoon of cocoa and 50grams of ground almonds. The almonds add that texture and flavour that is so reminiscent of a chewy macaron.

Add 50mls of milk or cream and mix until combined.

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In a separate bowl, whisk 2 egg whites with 85grams of sugar, a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla. Add the sugar spoonful at a time, just coz.

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One of the main reasons I was sure this was going to fail is due to the whole concept of a meringue. You want it to be light and airy and fluffy, and to achieve this you want to mix it as little as possible. But how do you combine a meringue mixture with cake batter without mixing it? I will tell you…

Firstly, pour the cake batter into a greased cake tin, add the meringue on top and gently fold them together until barely combined. Top with fresh cherries if possible, although I used canned boysenberries and that worked well too. Bake at 160°C for 35minutes.

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If possible, leave the tin in the oven after you have turned it off so the meringue doesn’t crack, but if you can’t wait to eat it, then that is a-ok with me!

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Crisp and crunchy on the top, soft and comforting in the middle, with candied fruit rippling through. This experiment is definitely a winner!

So the moral of the story is: be bold, never be afraid to try new things in the kitchen because they could end up great. And even if they do fail, at least you will have the bowl to lick clean afterwards!

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fun with fruit: banana edition

Now, I must firstly admit that this post doesn’t really fit into my general theme of posts, but I think it is pretty cool. I must also admit that I spend far too much of my time looking at food on the internet, and while I am by no means one of those self-confessed health food fanatics (far from it!), I did think this was mighty cool!

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I know this looks like your ordinary sorbet-type dessert, I can assure you that it is a lot easier to make than any other ice cream recipe I have ever seen.

For this recipe you will need:
Bananas
and, bananas

Yip, this is a one-ingredient wonder. Nothing but bananas. Just bananas put in a blender and blended up. NO added sugar, milk, cream or anything. While this is incredibly easy, I did encounter a couple of logistical issues so I decided I would create a little bit of a ‘how-to’ guide to go with the recipe; some tips that I wish I had had before I started.

Firstly, take as many bananas as you like and chop them into thin slices, put them in a container or roasting bag and pop them in the freezer for a few hours or overnight. The ripeness of the bananas is completely up to you, I collected mine over a series of weeks so they were added to the freezer at varying degrees of ripeness. I think the riper the better in order to get that real banana-y flavour. TIP ONE: When choosing how many bananas to use, keep in mind the size of your blender or food processor. I didn’t really do this and had a few issues fitting them all in.

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TIP TWO: Take your bananas out of the freezer about 15 minutes before you start blending them. Even though you want them to still be quite frozen and hard when you start blending them, you also want them to be a bit easy to break into reasonably small chunks before putting them in. That’s TIP NUMBER THREE.

Once your bananas are in the blender, turn the blender on. If you have a large amount of bananas like I did, you might want to turn it off and mix them around to get an even blend, it would have been helpful to have someone helping me for this part as the food processor wasn’t the sturdiest of beasts (TIP FOUR).

Next step: Blend, and blend, and blend… and blend.

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The consistency will go from chunky to grainy to runny to creamy.

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Transfer into an ice cream container (that other person will also come in handy here) and put back in the freezer for a few hours; until it is firm like ice cream should be. I also mixed in a bit of my salted caramel sauce, which kinda defeats the whole ‘healthy’ aspect of it, but like I said; I am not health guru.

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Final step: Clean your kitchen. Clean the bench, clean the blender, clean the floor, and probably even clean the roof. Because I promise you, if you are anything like me, it will be in dire need of a big dose of spring cleaning!