I have two stories about banana cream pie. The first is that my dad, the Emeril Lagasse-devotee that he is, made this pie about 14 years ago, when I was a wee tot. Therefore I have no memories of said pie, but according to both my mom and dad, it was a highly delicious pain, with multiple components and too many dirty dishes to count. Of course, my dad’s forte is in Big Green Eggs and savory cooking, not pastry. Nonetheless, a recipe that is memorable after nearly a decade and a half must be good, and long, involved recipes have never scared me.
When I was younger, just before the time when I started making my own birthday dessert, my choice for two years in a row was banana cream pie. Why I suddenly loved it I don’t know, as I’d probably eaten it only a few time before. I think it was the pastry cream that attracted me, with its thick, cream, vanilla richness that I still find irresistible to this day. Whatever it was, I loved those pies my mom made, but I haven’t eaten banana cream pie since.
Until this Easter, when I felt motivated enough to tackle the banana cream pie, merging my former love for the pie with my parents’ memory of my dad’s pie. As they remembered, it was long and involved (but dividing the work over a few days helps!) but also was as delicious as they remembered and more so than any banana cream pie I’ve had before.
Banana Cream Pie
adapted from Emeril
There are several unique aspects of this pie that I love: inclusion of mashed banana in the graham cracker crust (which itself is a nice change from a traditional pie crust), a plethora of bananas in the pie (how healthy!…) , and the chocolate and caramel sauces. I did have a few issues and have noted them below.
I noticed two different versions of the pie online: this one, which reviewers claimed has a finicky, overly rich pastry cream and a too-thick crust, and this one I made, which has a modified pastry cream, halved crust recipe (which I found to be not enough, see below), and a different caramel sauce recipe. My dad had made the first version so I was momentarily blinded by nostalgia but decided that the second would be easier to manage and better.
Yes, this is a lot of work. However, spreading out the components over a few days makes a big difference. I made the caramel and chocolate sauce on one day; made graham cracker crust and pastry cream and assembled the pie on the day before, and on the day of, I made the whipped cream. Ideally, make the pie the day before you want to serve it, so the flavors can deepen.
It took me a long time to cook the cornstarch and thicken the pastry cream. I ended up with a smaller volume than expected and very thick (but very good) pastry cream, leaving me to think that the longer cooking time cooked out more liquid than usual. However, a thick pastry cream really is essential for this pie, because the slices need to be firm.
The graham cracker crust gave me some difficulties. I found that I needed more of it for a proper crust, so I’ve increased the quantities below. Also, my crust stuck terribly to my pie pan. I’ve chalked it up to too long in the oven, because it was nearly caramelized (delicious but almost unremovable from the pie pan). Just be sure to watch the crust closely as it bakes.
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar, separated
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and seeds scraped
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cornstarch
Graham Cracker Crust, recipe follows
3 pounds (about 9) firm but ripe bananas, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Caramel Sauce, recipe follows
Chocolate Sauce, recipe follows
Shaved chocolate, for garnish, optional
Powdered sugar, for garnish, optional
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups cream, milk, 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to a gentle boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, eggs, cornstarch, and the remaining 1 cup sugar until pale yellow in color (may take a bit of strenuous whisking).
Slowly drizzle and whisk about 1 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture. Gradually add the remaining cream mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the tempered mixture back into the saucepan. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly to cook out the cornstarch and thicken the mixture, about 5 minutes, but it took me at least 15 minutes. (Emeril advises that if the mixture should separate slightly, remove from the heat and beat with an electric mixer until thick and smooth. I didn’t encounter this problem.) Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing down against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for about 4 hours. Or, speed up the chilling process with an ice bath: fill a large bowl with some ice and a little cold water, and rest the bowl with the pastry cream in the ice bath, being careful that ice and water doesn’t reach too far up sides of the bowl with the pastry cream (It really only needs to cover the outside area where the pastry cream is). Stir occasionally until the pastry cream is thoroughly chilled.
To assemble, spread 1/2 cup pastry cream over the bottom of the prepared crust, smoothing with a rubber spatula. Arrange banana slices (not quite one-third) in a tight, tiled pattern over the pastry cream, pressing down to pack them firmly. Repeat to build a second layer, using 3/4 cup pastry cream and enough bananas to cover, smoothing down the layer evenly. For the third layer, spread 3/4 cup pastry cream over the bananas and top with the remaining bananas, starting 1-inch from the outer edge and working toward the center. Spread the remaining pastry cream evenly over the bananas to prevent discoloration. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. This chilling period helps marry the flavor of bananas into the pastry cream.
To prepare the whipped cream, in a medium bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip 2 cups cream until soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and whip until stiff peaks form. You can spread the whipped cream over the entire pie or individually over each slice. Either way, wait until you are about to serve the pie to add the whipped cream.
When you are ready to serve the pie, use a serrated knife to cut the slices. Don’t forget the whipped cream, drizzles of caramel and chocolate sauce, and, if using, chocolate shavings and powdered sugar.
Graham Cracker Crust
About 15 graham crackers to yield 1 2/3 cups crumbs
5 tablespoons sugar
1/3 ripe banana, mashed
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
In a food processor, grind the graham crackers until they are fine crumbs. Add sugar, mashed banana, and butter and mix well. Press the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake until browned, about 25 minutes. Let cool.
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons whole milk
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice. Cook, stirring gently with a silicon spatula, until the sugar dissolves. Let boil without stirring until the mixture becomes a deep amber color, 2 to 3 minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn. Add the cream (it will fizz and sputter slightly violently), whisk to combine, then add the milk. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature before serving with the pie. (The sauce will thicken as it cools.) You can make the caramel sauce ahead and store in the fridge until ready to serve.
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces (About 1 1/2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips, or chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Scald (cook to just under the boiling point) the half-and-half and butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat.
Place the chocolate and vanilla in a medium, heat-proof bowl. Add the hot half-and-half and let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. The sauce can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for several days, but should be returned to room temperature or heated slightly before serving.