Banana Crème Pie with Salted Caramel

banana creme pie

I saved this recipe during the bleak days of winter. Appearing in my Instragram feed, luscious with its light and bright colors, it called to me, promising better days ahead. I try not to let Pi Day slip away without making a pie, and with the temperature rising (and falling, and rising…) lately, I thought this might be the ticket to banish the daily headlines of war and terror.

This pie features layers of tastes and textures, starting with a crunchy vanilla base, the smooth deep taste of caramel atop that, strewn with banana coins sandwiched between the caramel and a cardamom-scented crème pâtissiere, and crowned with a banana-infused whipped cream and lashings of caramel. The original recipe, by Sohla El-Waylly on the New York Times Cooking site, also features chocolate shavings decorating the pie. It’s gorgeous, but with so much else going on I gave that a pass.

With all those layers, the recipe can only be involved, with ingredients and instructions for each layer. Don’t be intimidated because you can make this in stages. Each layer takes only minutes to make.

The reasonable way to make this pie is to make it in a standard pie tin. Were I serving enough guests to consume the entire pie in one sitting, that’s what I would do too. However, there are just two of us in the house, so I made small pies that I can assemble as needed and give away those we can’t eat.  

The taste is unbelievably rich and comforting. If that’s what you need on Pi Day or any other, this is a treat for you.

Banana Crème Pie with Salted Caramel

Adapted from Banana Cream Pie recipe by Sohla El-Waylly, New York Times

Caramel Ingredients

1 Cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

5 Tablespoons (70 grams) butter, cubed, room temperature

¾ Cup + ½ Tablespoon (180 grams) heavy cream, room temperature

½ teaspoon salt

Crust Ingredients

8 ¾ ounces (250 grams) vanilla wafers (3-4 cups)

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)

4 Tablespoons (56 grams) butter, melted

1 Tablespoon heavy cream

Filling Ingredients

1 Tablespoon ground cardamom (use 1 teaspoon for a subtler taste profile)

3 to 4 (555 grams) ripe but firm medium bananas

½ Cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

¼ Cup (30 grams) cornstarch

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 large whole egg

2 large egg yolks

2 Cups (480 grams) whole milk

2 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes  

Topping Ingredients

½ heaping cup (30 grams) freeze-dried bananas

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ¾ Cup (400 grams) heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dark chocolate bar, for garnish (optional)

Method

Do-ahead

You can make the caramel weeks before you want to make the pie, so that you have fewer steps on baking day. The crust can also be made up to 3 days beforehand.

Make the caramel

Prepare all the ingredients before starting to cook.  The caramel takes only minutes to make, so you want to have all ingredients at the ready. If your cream is cold from the fridge, pour it into a small pan and place over a very low heat to warm it up.

Pour the sugar into a light-colored medium-large saucepan. (You need to be able to see the change in color as the sugar caramelizes; a light pan will help you do this. You also need a much larger pan than the volume of sugar suggests, because it bubbles up as you add the butter and cream.)

Place over medium heat. Stir occasionally as the sugar starts to melt. (You can stir without worry, since this is the dry method – that is, not using water — so you don’t have to worry about crystallization.) The sugar will clump – that’s OK, it’s just the melted sugar mixing with the dry sugar, and it will all melt into a smooth liquid. If the clumps persist, turn down the heat a bit to give it a chance to melt.

Once it starts caramelizing, keep a close eye on it because it changes rapidly. When the amber color has deepened to a caramel color (not too dark or it will be bitter), take it off the heat briefly and add the butter cubes. Do this carefully; it will bubble up and foam. Place back on the heat, stirring constantly to melt the butter. Once melted, cook for 30 seconds then take off the heat briefly.

Pour in the cream, stirring constantly. Be careful since it could release a lot of steam.

Cook for 30-60 seconds, then take off the heat. Add the salt.

Test to make sure the consistency is right: Place a small spoonful on a saucer; when it’s cool, drag your finger through it. If the mixture is too runny, put the pan over the heat for another 60 seconds and try again. If it’s too thick, add a bit more cream (tablespoon at a time; if you can’t easily stir it in, place it over the heat for 10 seconds until it’s absorbed), then test again.

Pour into a jar. If you’re assembling the pie the same day, you can leave it on the counter. Otherwise, refrigerate it. When you want to use it, you’ll simply need to heat it up so that it flows easily.  

Make the crust

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Into a food processor pour the vanilla wafers, sugar, and salt. Process until you no longer hear the thwack of cookies hitting the sides, and the entire mixture is of fine crumbs.

Add the melted butter and cream. Pulse several times to mix well.

Press into a 9” pie dish, along the sides and bottom of the tin. Using the sides and bottom of a glass measuring cup, press the crumb mixture firmly against the pie dish. (I used a coffee tamper since my tins were smaller, and I happen to have one.)

Set dish on a sheet pan and bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes. The crust should be light brown, smell toasty and be dry to the touch.

Cool completely.

Make the filling

In a medium pan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add the egg, egg yolks, and cardamom. Whisk to combine., then whisk in the milk.

Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and just starting to bubble. After the first bubble breaks the surface, cook for one full minute.

Remove from heat. Add the butter. (If you’re substituting vanilla for cardamom, add it now.) Whisk until the butter is fully melted.  Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, and place cling wrap on top to prevent a crust from forming.

Make the whipped topping

In a food processor, combine the freeze-dried banana, sugar, and salt. Blitz until finely ground. Add the cream and vanilla and use a fork to mix it well enough to moisten the banana powder. Pulse together until thickened, spreadable, and doubled in volume, 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

(If you prefer to whip cream in a stand mixer, you can pour the cream and vanilla into the mixing bowl, toss in the banana powder, and whip until double in volume.)

The addition of the banana powder makes this whipped topping firmer than standard whipped cream.

Assemble

Spread caramel on the bottom of the crust, covering it completely.

Slice bananas (1/4 inch slices) and place the resulting coins on top of the caramel.

Spread the cream filling over the bananas, using an offset spatula to cover completely.

Top with the whipped banana cream. Make decorative swirls using the back of a spoon.

Warm the caramel sauce slightly if it isn’t runny. Drizzle it over the whipped topping.

If garnishing with chocolate, use a vegetable peeler to shave chocolate from a chocolate bar onto the top.

Serve immediately. Once assembled with whipped cream and caramel, the topping will weep during storage (refrigerate to store).

Notes

Where the ingredients state ‘butter’, you can use either unsalted (as in original) or salted (my preference).

Although kosher salt is specified, you can substitute table (fine) salt, but use a bit less.

The original recipe starts with cardamom pods to make the cardamom powder; I just used what was in my pantry. Online reviews of this recipe were deeply divided over the use of cardamom at all – apparently this is a taste that divides. If you don’t have cardamom on hand, or don’t care for its taste in sweets, just substitute vanilla.

Those freeze-dried bananas: I did pick these up from the grocery store just for this recipe, and I’m not sure how I’m going to use the rest of the bag (smoothies or added to a cream cheese frosting?). One reviewer said she subbed a mashed banana in the whipped topping and it worked fine. And of course you can leave out the banana in the whipped topping entirely, but the doubling of the banana flavor is part of this pie’s charm.

Vanilla wafers: I made homemade vanilla wafers for this recipe, influenced by online cooks who say that homemade are infinitely better than those that come in a box. The end product is fine, but not (in my opinion) worth the trouble. And they end up as crumbs in this recipe, another reason that’s the last time I’m making these from scratch.

The original recipe uses a honey-based caramel, which I made to disastrous results. Honeys very greatly, and they change as you store them in your pantry (which is why I think mine failed), so the results will be less predictable. Instead, I used the standard dry method for making caramel, which is easy and comes out the same way every time. You can use this salted caramel sauce for anything – to fill a cake, pour over ice cream, drizzle over fruit.

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