Sunday, April 1, 2012

Birthday Banana Pie

Bill may not agree, but I think his birthday is a special occasion. In fact, I think the entire month of March is a special occasion and I'm pretty upset that it's over. It's the entire family's birthday month (me, Bill, Vito, and Lola!), plus we get to celebrate the birthdays of a few great friends in there, too.

Obviously, with all of these birthday, March is a pretty busy baking month. And birthday baking typically brings me great joy. This year, however, baking brought me great frustration on Bill's birthday. In the past, Bill has put in requests for pretty simple stuff, like yellow cake with chocolate frosting (from a box, no less!). But this year I thought I'd switch it up with something that sounded beyond delicious ... Banana Caramel Cream Pie.

I'm not gonna lie .. this pie was tough. With the steps involved, I knew I was in for a full afternoon of pie-making. But I didn't know it was going to be quite as trying as it was. Luckily, I was able to regroup and salvage everything so in the end, the pie was pulled off.

My first bump in the road came with the crust. I can't explain it, but the crust in the original recipe didn't hold up in the oven. It literally slid down the sides of the pie plate and collapsed during baking. I've NEVER seen a pie crust do that before! But since I had my custard and caramel sauce made by that point, I wasn't about to give up. I turned to the tried and true America's Test Kitchen, and made a modified version of their sweet pie dough. (Modified because the recipe I used was for a 6-inch pie and I was making a 9-inch. I had to wing it a bit.) This didn't yield perfect results (I probably need to adjust with just a bit more of everything, especially the butter), but at least I ended up with a perfectly-shaped-to-the-dish crust. The proportions in my recipe below could use a little tweaking, but will be adequate.

I also ran into a minor snag with the custard filling. I would have liked it to set up a bit more than it did, but I'm almost certain it's because I used skim milk instead of whole. For such a special occasion, I normally would have bought whole milk and done the recipe right. But it completely slipped my mind, so I had to use a substitute. It still tasted delicious, it's just not quite as thick and rich as it could be.

I should also mention that I had a near-disaster with the caramel sauce. It seemed to be taking much longer than the recipe-stated 5 to 6 minutes for the syrup to boil, so I took a chance and turned my back to roll out my pie dough. What seemed like seconds later, I turned around and what was supposed to be a deep amber syrup was verging on mahogany! I ripped it off the burner as fast as I could and mixed in the cream. Miraculously, it was saved ... and turned out to be some of the most delicious caramel sauce ever! The one improvement I could have made: more salt. The recipe didn't indicate an amount (just "to taste") and I definitely could have used a heavier hand. Add as much as a teaspoon (and maybe a half) if you really like salted caramel.

I'm not quite sure how I pulled it off in the end, but I was fortunate to end up with a pretty amazing Banana Caramel birthday pie for Bill. I'll cross my fingers that if you attempt it you won't make the same missteps as me (but still end up with a masterpiece in the end!).

Banana Caramel Cream Pie
For Crust
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
8 tablespoons butters, cut into pieces and chilled
5 to 7 tablespoons ice water

For Filling
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 bananas, sliced
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

For Topping
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse to combine. Scatter shortening and butter over flour mixture and process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Transfer to medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Using rubber spatula, stir and press dough until it sticks together. Add additional tablespoons ice water as necessary to help dough come together.

Turn dough out onto floured counter. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate about 1 hour (or place in the freezer about 20 minutes). Before rolling dough, let sit on counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.

Roll dough into 9-inch circle. Press into pie plate and trim edges. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until crust is golden and firm. Remove from oven, place on wire rack, and allow to cool completely.

Prepare filling by combining sugar, salt, cornstarch, and flour in a heavy saucepan. Over medium-low heat, slowly whisk in the milk.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat egg yolks. When milk mixture begins to boil, transfer 1/2 cup of milk to egg yolks and whisk to temper. Add entire egg mixture to milk mixture. Continue whisking until mixture coats the back of a spoon and is smooth and thick. Remove from heat and strain into a medium bowl. Stir in butter and vanilla. Stir in 1 cup sliced bananas. (Reserve remaining banana slices.) Allow mixture to cool.

Prepare caramel sauce by combining sugar and water in another heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil without stirring. If necessary, use a wet pastry brush to wash sugar crystals off sides of pan. Boil until sugar is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream (careful, it will bubble up!). Stir in butter and salt to taste. Remove to bowl and allow to cool completely.

Prepare whipped cream by beating heavy cream on high in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla and beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 5 to 6 minutes. Chill and reserve until time to serve.

Build pie by layering one third of custard mixture in crust. Drizzle with caramel sauce and add a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat layer. Add final layer of custard. Refrigerate pie, uncovered, until custard is set, about 2 to 3 hours. Before serving, top with whipped cream and drizzle with additional caramel sauce.

1 comment:

  1. I must have a knack for reading your blog when I'm craving the best stuff. Maybe it's subconscious? But I LOVE bananas, I LOVE pie.. how great is this? And I don't doubt super dark caramel was actually better than regular. But I think that piece in the picture is faaaaar too small...