As a lifelong picky person who has brought another picky person into the world, my single biggest hope is that she’s as burdened by the things she doesn’t like as I am, and as eager to shed them. Like this. Although I like bananas, cream, pie, and also custard, I’ve never been really into banana cream pie because something about it all together always seemed so one-note, soft, and sweet. I wanted to shake it up with dark toffee sauce or bittersweet chocolate shavings, brown butter, or flaky sea salt, but having to change something to get yourself to like it isn’t really the same thing as truly liking it. And I wanted to truly like it because I hate it when I don’t get a meme, a joke, or find the charm in something [well, a food; I’m okay never taking up spelunking] beloved by millions of people.
So, a month ago I made one as classically as possible, using The Book On Pie [Amazon, Bookshop, more stores] from the talented Erin McDowell as guidance. My biggest change was to make a ‘nilla wafer crust, a nod to classic banana pudding with the cookies instead but aside from smaller tweaks — I like to one-bowl my custards, I prefer whipped cream barely sweet with a tiny bit of tang from sour cream — I kept to the classic script and every single person in my family, including the two who don’t like bananas at all, couldn’t get enough of it. I get it now, I really do. It’s far more complex than it seems, and abundantly cozy. I think keeping the sweetness in check and getting the salt level right really helps, but it’s just objectively good: vanilla-flecked pastry cream, plumes of whipped cream, burrowed bananas, a cookie crust. There are seven hours left in Pi(e) Day: I think we know what to do.
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Banana Cream Pie
- 1 11-ounce (311-gram) box Nilla Wafers, ground into crumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (115 grams or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
- 2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) cornstarch
- 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond brand; use half of any other)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 cups (475 grams) whole milk
- 1/3 cup (75 grams) heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon extract and 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 2 to 3 large bananas
- 1 cup (225 grams) heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) sour cream or creme fraiche (optional)
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) vanilla extract
Make custard: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, starch, and salt. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, whisking until smooth and no pockets of sugar-starch remain before adding the next. Whisk in vanilla bean paste, if using, and then, very gradually, whisking the whole time, pour in milk, then cream. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking the whole time. As the custard begins to bubble, it will thicken. Simmer for one minute, whisking. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until it is fully melted, then vanilla extract. Let cool for 5 minutes.
While custard cools slightly, lop off a few inches of banana and leave it unpeeled and set aside until needed for decoration. Peel and slice remaining bananas into the bottom of your cooled crust. For an extra-silky filling, pour and press the custard through a fine-mesh sieve, right over the bananas. If you don’t wish to sieve it, just spoon it in. Spread the custard into an even layer, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface, and chill (in fridge or, again, outside) until custard is cool and set, 1 to 2 hours.
Finish assembling: In a large bowl, beat heavy cream with sour cream, if you wish, sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Spoon or dollop over cooled custard, or you can make starry blobs, as I did, with a big star tip set into the corner of a pastry or freezer bag. Decorate with remaining banana, peeled and sliced. Cut into big wedges and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t last.
Do ahead: Banana cream pie keeps for 4 to 5 days in fridge.