Tuesday, February 8, 2011

RECIPE - Top Hat Bananas (Cartola)

The banana dessert called cartola is one of Brazil's favorite desserts and can be found on restaurant menus, and served at family dinner tables, all around the country. The word cartola literally means "top hat" (à la Fred Astaire or Eustace Tilley) but I've been unable to find out why that type of headware has bestowed its name on the dessert.

Cartola is a variation on the common technique of sautéing bananas in butter to create a dessert dish. In the USA the same basic technique is the origin of New Orleans' famous Bananas Foster, and there are countless other variations. What makes cartola unique is that the sweetened and fried banana is combined with cheese. It does sound like an ungainly combination I know, but as weird as bananas-and-cheese might sound, the taste is marvelous.

In Brazil there are two schools of thought as to what type of cheese should go into making cartola. One of them is that a cheese that melts, like mozzarella (the pizza-type), should be used. The other school prefers a non-melting cheese that browns and bubbles but doesn't melt. For this to happen, a whey cheese must be used, and in Brazil they most common of these is called queijo coalho. Queijo coalho is like a firm feta in texture, but doesn't have feta's saltiness. Like feta is it usually preserved and sold in brine. Unless you have a source of queijo coalho, it's probably best to make cartola with good quality mozzarella.

This recipe can be made with a sweet variety of banana (here in Brazil the choice is usually banana-nanica) or with very ripe plantains (banana-da-terra). Do not use green plantains, as they are not sufficiently sweet to be used in dessert cooking. If you're using plantains, let them ripen until the outside is totally black before making cartola with them.
RECIPE - Top Hat Bananas (Cartola)
Serves 4

4 sweet bananas, or 2 large, very ripe plantains
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 slices firm mozzarella cheese, or queijo coalho
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2-4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350F (170C). In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon to taste, using more or less cinnamon as desired.

If using sweet bananas, cut them in half through the middle, and then again lengthwise (you'll have 4 pieces per banana). If using large plantains, cut them into four, and then again lengthwise (you'll have 8 pieces per plantain.

In a large heavy frying pan, heat the butter over medium heat, until the butter is melt and bubbling. Add the banana pieces, and fry them until they are golden and softened, turning them over carefully about half-way through. Remove from heat, then drain the bananas on paper towels. Reserve.

Generously grease a casserole or square cake pan with additional unsalted butter. Add the reserved banana pieces, lining up each set of four pieces parallel and closely together. You will have four "sets" of bananas. Top each set with a slice of cheese of approximately the same size (trim if necessary). Sprinkle the cheese generously with the sugar/cinnamon mixture.

Place the casserole or cake pan in the preheated oven and cook until the cheese is heated through (and melted if using mozzarella).

Using a spatula, remove each portion carefully from the [an, and place on a dessert plate. Serve immediately, accompanied by vanilla ice cream if desired.


  1. De nada, amigo! Check back tomorrow - there will be another delicious banana recipe.

  2. I bet that would be delicious, Stephanie, but I've never tried it as goat cheese isn't so well known here in Brazil. Why don't you cook it up sometime and let me know how it turns out. Hope you're all having an easy winter in MQT!

  3. Cartola is traditionally made in Pernambuco with another type of cheese: Queijo Manteiga (Butter Cheese), a very fat cheese.