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~ The Old-Fashioned & Classic Banana Cream Pie ~

IMG_0854Put down that box of graham crackers.  No you can't use those vanilla wafers either.  Thou shall not use a graham cracker or any cookie crust to make my banana cream pie recipe.  These two easier-to-make (or worse, easier to purchase) alternatives simply screw up the taste and texture of this iconic pie.  A classically made banana cream pie deserves a scratch-made pie pastry, a traditionally-prepared pastry cream, lots of bananas, and, copious amounts of freshly-whipped cream.  Save the cookie crusts for recipes that use instant pudding mixes.  Got it?  Good.

Nothing about a banana cream pie should be understated or overstated.

IMG_0743Custard pie vs. cream pie:  Custard pie is any type of uncooked custard  (< like this coconut custard pie) added to an unbaked or partially-baked pie pastry and baked together.  Cream pie is any type of cooked custard added to a fully-baked pie pastry.  In the case of both, the custard consists of cream or milk, eggs and egg yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla or other flavorings. A custard pie can be topped with a meringue or whipped cream, but, a cream pie is always topped with a signature layer whipped cream.  

IMG_0683I've always had a penchant for pies whose fillings have rich, thick, smooth consistencies. They're luxurious and make me feel all "la-tee-da".  When I got to the age where I was learning to bake, they were the first pie recipes I gravitated to.  Years later, when I got to the point where I could refer to myself as a skillful pie baker, the first adjustment I made to my original recipes was to: bake them in a deep-dish pie dish.  Read on:  

^ The 9" deep-dish pie dish pictured on the left has a 6-cup capacity.  The standard 9" pie dish pictured on the right has a 4-cup capacity.  You see, in the case of creamy, custardy pies: thicker is always better because more is always better.  And there IS more:  topping such a pie with a mile-high meringue or a copious amount of freshly-whipped cream is simply over-the-top.

Part One:  Blind-Baking the Pie Pastry

IMG_0793Blind-bake or bake blind, is the English term for baking a pastry shell before it is filled.  There are two instances when you need to prebake your pie pastry:  #1)  A pastry shell that once the filling is added does not return to the oven for further baking.  In this application the pie pastry must be fully-baked, nicely browned and completely cooled before you add the filling, and #2)  A pastry shell that will get filled with a stirred custard, cream, mousse or fully-cooked/ready-to-eat filling and will return to the oven for further baking.  In this application, the degree to which you prebake your pie pastry (barely brown, lightly brown, golden brown) is determined by the length of time it will take the filled pie to finish baking, meaning:  the longer it will take for your pie filling to bake, the lighter in color your prebaked crust should be when it goes into the oven.

IMG_0787For the pie pastry:

1/2 of my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~, found in Categories 6, 15 or 22, rolled as thin as possible

When making banana cream pie I blind bake my pastry until barely brown and dry looking, 6 minutes in a 425° oven.  Remove it from the oven, immediately remove weights and parchment, return to bake 6 more minutes and cool completely. 

Simply click on the Related Article link below to read ~ How to:  Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell ~.

Part Two:  Making the Pastry Cream

IMG_3303A bit about "crème pâtissière" (pah-tees-SYAY):  These are the two fancy French words for "pastry cream".  It's essentially "sauce anglaise" (ahn-GLEHZ), aka a drizzly "vanilla sauce" that has been thickened with a starch (flour can be and is used, but cornstarch is more common nowadays).  It is the density that the thickening agent adds that transforms the delicate sauce into a dessert filling for baked goods like eclairs, cream puffs, fruit tarts, and, between the layers of cakes or Napoleons.  While it can be eaten with a spoon, culinarily, it is classified as a filling.  Pastry cream is classically made with milk flavored with Cointreau, rum and/or vanilla beans or extract.

That said, some cooks opt for using cream or half-and half (not me), and, with the array of flavorings available nowadays, feel free to have fun with that aspect of making pastry cream.  

Making crème pâtissière is taught in every culinary school.  It's a technique and it's based on a basic formula.  Some recipes may use flour instead of cornstarch, and a few may include some cream, but, in order for the pastry cream to thicken properly, you gotta play by the rules.  It's cooked on the stovetop over moderate heat, it gets whisked constantly and the ingredients get added at very specific points in time during the process.  One sarcastic comment from me: When pastry cream is removed from the stovetop, it is silky smooth.  Run fast and far from any recipe instructing to "pour the finished product into a strainer and push it through to catch any bits of egg that may be in the cream" -- if that has to be done, that's pastry cream gone wrong!

IMG_32381/2  cup firmly-packed cornstarch + 2 firmly-packed tablespoons (Note:  Pastry cream for cream pie needs to be thicker than pastry cream used as a filling for other desserts, hence, the addition of the two additional 2 tablespoons to my usual 1/2 cup cornstarch.)

4  cups whole milk

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6e1e763970b1  vanilla bean, split in half, seeds removed, or, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or, both (Note: Feel free to experiment with other pure extracts or high-quality organic flavorings in addition to the vanilla bean and/or extract.  Two teaspoons of almond, banana, butterscotch, coconut, rum, lemon or orange are my favorite options.)

8  large eggs yolks

3/4 cup sugar  (Note:  I like my pastry cream for banana cream pie, less sweet than pastry cream used as a filling for other desserts, hence 3/4 cups instead of my usual 1 1/3 cups.  The choice to make it sweeter is yours.)

4  ounces salted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, kept cold (1 stick)

Step 1.  Place 3 1/2 cups of the milk in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop.  In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the cornstarch, 1/2 cup of the milk and the extract(s), until smooth.  Set aside.  Cube the butter and return the cubes to the refrigerator.

IMG_3258IMG_3243Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium speed of mixer, combine the yolks and sugar.  Increase mixer speed to high and beat until light colored, 2 minutes.

IMG_3250Lower speed, add cornstarch mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.

IMG_3264IMG_3268Step 3. Place the saucepan of milk over medium heat.  If using vanilla beans, add them now. Over medium heat, bring milk to steaming (not simmering or boiling), about 3 minutes.  Using a whisk, in a gradual steady stream, whisk in the egg yolk/sugar mixture.  

Cook over medium heat constantly whisking (this IMG_3274mixture can scorch easily).  In the beginning, the mixture will be foamy on top.  As the mixture begins to thicken, within 3-4 minutes, I like to switch from using a whisk to a large spoon.

IMG_3291You'll notice that the foam is beginning to subside. Begin adding the cold butter pieces, 2-3-4 at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Repeat this process untill all of the butter has been added and is thoroughly incorporated.

IMG_3303Step 4.  Continue to cook until the pastry cream is nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbonlike, about 2-3 more minutes.  There will be no more foam on the top.  If you have added the vanilla beans, they will be evenly speckled throughout. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to an 8-cup measuring container to prevent further cooking. Note:  I like to use a measuring container because when it comes time to use the pastry cream, it's pre-measured for me. 

IMG_3313Step 5.  Cover surface of pastry cream with plastic wrap, meaning: place the plastic directly on the surface of the pastry cream. This will prevent a rubbery skin from forming across the top.  

Note:  When making a banana cream pie,  the pastry cream needs to be cooled to room temp prior to pouring it over the bananas (rather than chilled in the refrigerator.)

Place the pastry cream in an ice bath for about two hours, stirring it about every 20-30 minutes:

IMG_0820Part Three:  Not Slicing the Bananas & Assembling the Pie

IMG_0810We all know how quickly bananas oxidize and change color, and, when it comes to banana cream pie, all bananas are not created equal. Unlike the bananas we use for banana bread (soft and over-ripe with brownish-black skins) and the ones we like to eat (bright yellow and slightly soft to the touch), for cream pie, choose firm, slightly-underripe bananas with a few green edges.  There's more.  Do not peel them until the moment you are going to use them.  Trim but do not slice them.  Please read on:

Slicing a banana just gives each and every slice a whole lot of surface area to discolor. Unsliced bananas yield a pie with a lot of banana in every bite (almost a 1:1 ratio of banana to pastry cream), and it keeps them respectable looking for two days.  It's not rocket science, but, I'm not going to lie, a banana cream pie looks best when served within the first 24 hours of making it.

IMG_0824~ Step 1.  To assemble the pie, place a generous 1/2" layer of pastry cream on the bottom of the pie pastry.  Peel, trim and arrange 5-6 bananas (this is 5 bananas) on top of the pastry cream.  

IMG_0835~ Step 2.  Ladle the rest of the pastry cream on top of the bananas (to fully-enrobe the bananas in pastry cream) and fill the pie pastry to capacity.  Depending upon the exact size of your deep-dish pie dish and the size of your bananas, there might be 1/2-3/4 cup of pastry cream left over (I don't think I need to tell you what to do with this -- it is a wonderful treat for you, the pie maker). Place pie, uncovered, in the refrigerator to chill, for 6-8 hours or overnight.  Note:  Experience has taught that covering the pie compromises the ability of the pastry cream to set up completely (it gives off moisture under a cover), and, it softens the crispy edges of the pie pastry too.  

IMG_0863~ Step 3.  Slice and serve chilled.  Optionally, if you really want to ensure the "cleanest cuts" possible, do what I almost always do:  place the pie in the freezer for about 2 hours prior to slicing.  The pie will emerge from the freezer with firm, but not frozen pastry cream and easy-to-slice bananas.  Each pretty-to-look-at slice will return to creamy within minutes of slicing.

Slice & serve w/freshly-whipped cream & lightly-toasted walnuts:

IMG_0858The Old-Fashioned & Classic Banana Cream Pie:  Recipe yields 12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9 1/2" deep-dish pie dish; wire cooling rack; 4-quart saucepan; 2-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; knife; hand-held electric mixer; whisk; large spoon; 8-cup measuring container; plastic wrap

IMG_1028 IMG_0977Cook's Note: For another luscious fruit and custard combination, this one baked in the oven, click into Categories 6, 12 or 21 to get my recipe for ~ Golden Goddess:  Shiro Plum & Egg Custard Tart ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)


Penny -- I am so glad you like the pastry cream (it is yummy stuff), but I am more pleased that you are enjoying my blog. I started writing it with the idea that every post should be "a mini-cooking class", and, most people seem to appreciate that. Happy cooking!

This pastry cream is to die for !!!
I could eat the entire batch singlehanded!
I love your clearly stated directions, since
I am old but unskilled in the kitchen.

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