As I’ve written before, I am a disaster with desserts—or at least anything that requires chem lab sorts of measuring and timing (I’m giving myself more gray hairs just thinking about it). However, I have found an exception. I freaking love simple recipes that make use of caramelization and/or the maillard reaction—aka “browning.” Browning things on purpose, I mean.

Without getting too nerdy, caramelization is a process that takes place when sugar is exposed to high heat—usually around 330 degrees F and up. Foods with a higher sugar content caramelize more (shocker)—this is why you often see sugar listed in ingredients for dishes like caramelized onions—it enhances the process.

The maillard reaction is a reaction that occurs between an amino acid and a reducing sugar. Foods that undergo the maillard reaction include: baked goods like bread and cookies, seared meat, french fries, black garlic, and caramel, among other things. Basically, it’s a reaction between a protein and a sugar that can occur at temperatures around 250 degrees F. You don’t need to add sugar, though, since there is naturally-occurring sugar present in almost all foods, even if to a very small degree. It’s possible for both reactions to take place in a single food—caramelization occurs after the maillard reaction has worked its magic.

Okay, tangent over. I just thought I’d share the science behind my current favorite dessert.

I created this recipe in partnership with Stonyfield and Bob’s Red Mill, using Bob’s coconut sugar. I’d been curious about coconut sugar for a long time. I don’t necessarily think it’s any more or less nutritious than any other sugar (sugar is sugar is sugar in my book), but I do appreciate that it’s unrefined. If a teaspoon or white sugar is 15 calories, it’s not a huge deal to me that this is 10 calories, but it’s worth noting. The real selling point for me is the flavor. When you are using a sweetener, I always encourage using what you’ll be most satisfied with the least amount of.  Quality over quantity. In this case, using the rich flavor of the coconut sugar allows you to get away with using less overall than if you were using regular old white sugar.

Bob's Coconut Sugar

Anyway. So while I do think sugar should be on the list of things to crowd out in your day to day life, it is possible to use a tiny amount to really make a dish pop. In this recipe, I get away with using one teaspoon for 2 servings and still getting a ton of flavor and satisfying texture.  This dessert is great for that “back to school” time of year when you want to make a weeknight a little extra special instead of being, like, “Look, we’re eating raw fruit together as family and absolutely no one feels like they’re being deprived.”

I use bourbon in here because I’m not much of a rum drinker and didn’t see any point in buying, but feel free to swap that in. If you’d prefer not to use alcohol, some other type of acid, such as orange juice or even lime juice should do the trick. Lastly, if you’re just not digging yogurt as a topping, you could do a dollop of ricotta or whipped cream or even whipped coconut cream. Enjoy!

caramelized banana and yogurt

Coconut Caramelized Banana

Ingredients: 

  • 2 medium, firm bananas, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1-2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons coconut sugar
  • 1 oz bourbon or rum
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Directions: 

  1. Melt coconut oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add coconut sugar. Lay bananas down, cut side up. Cook 30 seconds, then add bourbon and cinnamon.
  3. Cook for about 10 seconds, then carefully turn bananas and cook another 45-60 seconds, using the liquid in the pan as a baste.
  4. Divide the banana slices between 2 dishes. Top each with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, remaining pan sauce, and a garnish of cinnamon, if desired.

What’s your favorite dessert? 
Disclosure:  I’m partnering with Stonyfield as a member of their Clean Plate Club. I received this product for review, all opinions are my own. 

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