The #1 thing that stops me from making banana cream pie is that I don’t know when to make it. I tend to keep bananas around in the winter when there’s a dearth of delectable fruit available. But a chilled cream pie isn’t exactly what one craves on a cold winter’s day or night.
Come spring and summer, the abundance of in-season-for-a-limited-time-only fruit, combined with beautiful days that ought to be spent outdoors rather than slaving away over a hot oven, curtails my cream pie-making. And fall, when it finally shows up mid-November, is usually one large, obsessive rush to capitalize on California’s brief pumpkin dessert window.
The #2 thing that stops me from making banana cream pie as often as I wish is the matter of the crust. The typical vessels for cream pie consist of 1) a flaky pie dough or 2) a graham cracker crust. I love a flaky pie dough more than anything, but it really ought to be eaten at room temperature. When chilled, pie crust takes on a cardboardy texture that encourages sawing with serrated knives and gnawing with teeth. And of course, like revenge, cream pie is a dish best served cold.
A cookie crust, which, even when chilled, shatters under the pressure of a fork, is more desirable for a chilled pie. But I’m snobbish and stubborn and adverse to buying pre-made cookies when I could easily make them myself.
But! I’m lazy. So I don’t. And I am therefor regularly deprived of cream pie.
When I inherited a bunch of ripe bananas the other day, I swore that I would finally make them into a cream pie. After much cider-fueled deliberation and recipe perusing (yes, folks, bojon is rough), I came to what seemed like a brilliant conclusion: a press-in tart crust. It’s tender, it’s simple, it doesn’t require pie weights to keep it from slumping down the sides of the pan as it bakes. Best of all, it’s good cold, with a crumbly, shortbread-like texture. Inspired by a David Leite recipe, I decided to go with a chocolate version, and swapped out some AP flour for dutch-processed cocoa powder.
When I tasted the dough, I nearly swooned with delight–it had the old-fashioned chocolate flavor of Oreos with a heady topnote of Tahitian vanilla extract, made by a friend, that I hoard for special occasions. I pressed it into an 8″ tart pan, and topped the warm, baked crust with finely chopped chocolate. When melted, the chocolate spread into a thin layer which acts as a barrier to the pudding, keeping the crust crisp even days later.
Since I’ve been on a bourbon kick lately, I decided to booze up the custard filling. I adapted the recipe from my favorite butterscotch pudding, which only uses cornstarch as a thickener and no eggs. I decreased the sugar a tad to compensate for the sweetness of the bananas and the crust, and followed Cook’s instructions to cool the cream to warm, then pour half of it in the shell, top with sliced bananas, then spread with the remaining pudding. A simple whipped cream, spiked with vanilla and a touch more bourbon tops the chilled pie, and a shower of shaved chocolate makes it pretty.
This tart is a grown-up version of the traditional, with hints of tartness and bitterness from the bourbon and chocolate contrasting the straightforward sweetness of banana. Judiciously sweetened, it does what any good cream pie ought and manages to be both light and rich at the same time. A slice leaves you satisfied but not adverse to having seconds. A tipple of bourbon-spiked coffee, hot or iced, would make an excellent accompaniment.
Maybe I’ll conquer the coconut cream pie next; at least I know what crust to use..
Chocolate Bourbon Banana Cream Tart
Dark or gold rum would be delicious substitutes for the bourbon here, though I do like the tart spiciness that the bourbon lends this pie. Lacking an 8″ pan, you may be able to make this in a 9″ pan, though you may want to increase the crust by 50% to make sure you have enough. Dutch-proccessed cocoa will give the crust the old-fashioned flavor of Oreos; look for cocoa that lists alkali as an ingredient. Guittard, Valrhona and Cacao Barry all make excellent dutch-processed cocoa. (I haven’t tried making this crust with natural cocoa powder, so I’m not certain how it would turn out.) If you lack vanilla bean, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the custard along with the bourbon. Leave yourself 4 hours to complete this tart to allow for the necessary chilling, baking, and cooling; most of the time is inactive.
Makes one 8″ pie, about 10 servings
Chocolate Press-in Crust:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2″ dice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
5 tablespoons sugar (preferably organic turbinado)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, in a few pieces
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 large (or 3 smaller) ripe but firm bananas
Whipped Cream Topping:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon bourbon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a small block of bittersweet chocolate for shavings
Make the crust:
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt. Add the butter, sprinkle over the vanilla, and rub with your fingertips until no large butter chunks remain and the mixture begins to clump together in a texture reminiscent of gravel. (If the mixture feels too soft or sticky, chill it for 5 or ten minutes, then proceed.) Dump the crumbs into an 8″ tart pan with removable bottom and press evenly into the sides and bottom. Press it squarely into the sides as there is barely enough dough to fit. If the dough sticks to your fingers, dip your fingers in cocoa powder to remedy the situation.
Prick the bottom of the dough a few times with a fork, then freeze the crust until solid, 15-20 minutes while you preheat the oven.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF.
Place the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet for easier maneuverability, and bake until puffed and firm, 18-20 minutes.
While the crust is still hot, sprinkle the bottom with the chopped chocolate. Let it sit a minute to melt, then use a small offset spatula, pastry brush, table knife, or your finger (careful – it’s hot!) to spread the chocolate into a thin, even layer over the bottom and sides of the crust. Let cool until the chocolate is completely set (you can do this in the fridge if you like).
Make the custard filling:
In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla pod and seeds. Whisk in the half and half. Bring the mixture to a slow boil over medium-high heat, whisking the dickens out of it, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pans with the whisk. You’ll have to stop whisking for a few seconds to verify that the pudding is boiling, which you’ll know by the big bubbles that pop gloopily. Once the mixture comes to a boil, continue cooking and whisking for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, whisk in the butter, then the bourbon. It should be the consistency of creamy yogurt.
Strain the pudding through a sieve and into a bowl. Press plastic wrap right on the surface of the pudding, and let cool at room temperature until warm, 30-45 minutes.
Assemble the tart:
When the pudding has cooled, spread half of it into the chocolate-lined shell. Slice the bananas evenly over the top, and cover with the remaining pudding. Cover with plastic wrap pressed to the surface of the pudding. Chill until set, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
Whip the cream with the powdered sugar until it billows softly. Add the vanilla and bourbon and continue whipping until it holds firm peaks. (If you take the cream too far, you can rescue it by folding in additional heavy cream until it loosens up again.)
Remove the plastic wrap from the tart, and spread the cream evenly over the top. Use a vegetable peeler to shave chocolate over the top as though you were peeling potatoes.
Chill the pie for 30 more minutes to set the cream, if you have the patience. Remove the ring from the pan, place the tart on a cutting board, and use a sharp chef’s knife to slice the pie into wedges, wiping the knife clean between each cut.
To store the pie, invert a large bowl over the top and keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Variation: For Bourbon Banana Butterscotch Cream Pie, use dark brown sugar in the custard in place of the turbinado sugar.