I used to have a particular prejudice against banana cream pies. When I thought of them, I thought of flabby pastry barely-restraining globs of pudding soused with imitation banana flavouring and topped with mounds of cotton-candy-sweet cream. I assumed their only use was as the punchline to a gag; the projectile of choice for one clown to toss squarely into the pucker of another - most likely right after they had exited the confines of a very small car. Discarded pie everywhere, the crowd erupts in riotous laughter.
That is what I thought of banana cream pies.
As with most prejudices, mine was not rooted in much reason. Save for an encounter with some aggressively-flavoured banana pudding I had at a friends house as a child, I do not think I have ever tried anything remotely associated to a banana cream pie. Banana bread, we're old acquaintances. But banana cream pie and I were pretty much strangers.
Most often I see it offered against the gleaming expanse of diner counters, on mile-high cake stands, with its pristine swirls captured under a glass dome. I am almost enticed. But then my wandering eye catches glimpse of Banana Cream's sibling Coconut or its dreamy cousin Chocolate, both equally (and moreso) tempting. There's no contest. It hardly needs saying that my preference consistently falls with the the latter.
My dear friend, all of that is in the past. For now I am a full-fledged, card-carrying convert.
These past few days, I have had reason to feel thankful. Thankful in a way that makes you feel lucky. That makes you feel cared for. That makes you feel light. I have had good reason to feel crazy as well, but the thankful part far outweighs all of that nonsense.
I wanted to bake something for those responsible for some of that gratitude, to wordlessly express how much their efforts were appreciated. I feel like a Wednesday is a fine reason to celebrate when they are around. With book laid open, the recipe for banana cream pie grabbed my fancy and would not let go; the notion of a proper pie just about glowed in my mind with projected nostalgia.
So I baked my first banana cream pie. And what did I learn?
I learned that banana cream pies can be sublime. Now that is an often-used word when it comes to dessert, but a more apt description would be hard to find. This pie is worlds away from any of my preconceived notions. Crisp pastry cradles slices of ripe banana layered with smooth, spiced custard. The fruit and pastry cream are meltingly supple, melding into one, singular, wonderful texture. Atop all of this a cloud of heavy cream, barely whipped and barely sweet, tangy and bright with the addition of some sour cream.
If you are going to have a banana cream pie, please take my word and make it this one. This pie is not for throwing.
Banana Cream Pie
From the book Baking: From My Home to Yours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) by Dorie Greenspan. A modern classic, this book is one of my most reliable resources - I have never been disappointed by a recipe. My family will heartily attest to that.
• I used dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar in the filling as that was all I had on hand. The resulting custard had a deep, rich caramel flavour; its colour was a bit muddied, but we didn't mind.
• I added a good pinch of ground ginger to go along with the cinnamon and nutmeg.