Some things just belong together in an obvious, together-since-the-beginning-of-time kind of way. Peanut butter & jelly. Shrimp & grits. Gin & tonic. Cotton sundresses & summer. Hall & Oates.
Then, there are the combinations that take a while to dawn on you. Mangoes with chili & salt. French fries dipped in chocolate milkshake. Pizza drizzled with honey (my own personal kink, don't knock it). Croissants & donuts (actually, this one is kind of a no-brainer, and I can't believe it took until 2013 for humanity to invent this).
And then there's the combination I came up with the other day while brainstorming ideas for layered popsicles. Rich,sticky, lightly salted caramel perched on top (& below) of a creamy banana layer, with roasted caramelized flavors of its own. It's surprisingly deep, and ridiculously refreshing. And if you use small popsicle molds, it's just the right size to satisfy and leave you wanting more without feeling you've overindulged too richly (I use these adorable tiny molds I picked up at--obviously, this goes without saying--IKEA. They're 4" tall and hold maybe two ounces each, in fact, I think they're for kids. Perfect).
Salted Caramel & Roasted Brown Sugar Banana Popsicles
For the Roasted Banana Layer:
2 bananas, peeled & sliced into 1/2" chunks
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place banana slices in a baking dish, top with cubes of butter & brown sugar. Roast bananas for 40 minutes until they are brown and caramelized and your entire house smells tantalizingly of imaginary banana bread. While these are baking, prepare the salted caramel.
For the Salted Caramel Layers:
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt (maybe 1/2 teaspoon)
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch (or tapioca starch)
Place sugar evenly in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat over medium-high heat. Watch your sugar very carefully (you can swirl the pan as it heats, but don't stir the sugar with any kind of utensil or it will clump), because it's VERY EASY TO ACCIDENTALLY BURN SUGAR. Not that the world will end or anything, but you'll have to wait for your pan to cool, scrub it out and start over. Trust me, I speak from bitter, bitter experience. Watch your sugar closely. Just as it reaches a deep amber color, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter. Then carefully add the milk (it may foam or even seize up a little, just keep stirring until it calms down again). Sprinkle the salt and cornstarch evenly over the top and whisk for about a minute until clumps disappear. Transfer to bowl and set aside (or place in fridge) to cool to room temperature. Once it has cooled, pour about an inch into the bottom of each popsicle mold (reserve the remainder of the caramel in the fridge, if you can keep yourself from scooping it out onto fruit slices, ice cream, your fingers, etc) and place in freezer for about an hour to firm up.
Remove bananas, now swimming in rich & gooey brown buttery syrup, from oven and transfer everything to the pitcher of a blender. Add vanilla & milk, process until smooth. Pour into popsicle molds directly on top of salted caramel layer (which has now firmed up enough that the layers will stay separate), stopping about 1/2" short of top. Top each popsicle mold off with reserved caramel, freeze overnight & enjoy.