"I love peanut butter," says Dominique Ansel with genuine excitement. "I find it exotic."
Not what you'd expect to hear from the mastermind behind elegant rose-shaped financiers and, yes, the Cronut—but it turns out this very French (his hometown is sleepy Beauvais where gougères reign) and very talented pastry chef (his résumé includes the venerable Fauchon and Daniel) has quite the all-American sweet tooth.
At his eponymous Soho bakery, Ansel has tinkered with Cadbury-like Easter eggs filled with truffles and an icy take on s'mores. Now he's turned his attention to that lumpy loaf you'd find at just about any school bake sale: banana bread (see the recipe).
"I'd never had banana bread until one of the girls in the kitchen brought a recipe from her mom," explains Ansel, who will share even more American-inspired takes on French classics (a Snickers-flavored Paris-Brest, for example) later this month in Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes (Simon & Schuster, $35). "I tried it and I thought it was pretty good."
"Pretty good" wasn't good enough for Ansel. Although he was initially drawn to banana bread's simplicity, cakey quality and unfailingly moist texture, being the pastry scientist that he is, Ansel put his signature spin on the homey dessert, making the usually dense loaf lighter, more balanced and encased with the perfect craggy, caramelized crust.
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At the bakery, his tinkering doesn't stop with the finished loaf. He soaks bits of it into sweetened condensed milk for tres leches and smears layers of mascarpone over the milky bread to make a decadent tiramisu.
Ansel says, "Banana bread is comforting—even for someone like me who didn't grow up with it."
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