Banana Cream Pie
Thanksgiving desserts that are pie perfect
Article and photos by Lisa Crockett
Whoever coined the phrase “easy as pie” was a liar. Pie, which in my opinion is one of the top five desserts ever invented, is anything but easy to make. I should know, as I’ve spent months of my life working to perfect my technique.
I’ve made crusts that were tough enough to play Frisbee with, crusts that were so dense that three days in the oven wouldn’t bake them thoroughly, and crusts that were so fragile a single puff of air reduced them to a pile of crumbs. Luckily, delicious pie can be purchased at a number of locations and strategically transferred to a pan from my kitchen, should the need for the illusion of a home-baked goodie arise. It’s long been a source of shame that I couldn’t produce the same results they do.
One pie expert swears that the secret to a great pie crust is Crisco. I figured she must be right. At Thanksgiving, it’s not unusual for her to crank out pies by the dozen to share with family and friends. And oh, my goodness, those pies are the stuff that dreams are made of – flaky, crispy, and filled with flavor. I interviewed her on her technique, watched her make said pies on a number of occasions, followed her recipe exactly, and ended up with pie that was mediocre at best.
My grandmother, who made the best apple pie used a recipe that weirdly employed the use of vinegar. She had obtained the recipe as a young woman from her local extension office. The vinegar reacts somehow with the other ingredients and produces a light, flaky crust. When I was young, I dedicated myself to “pie lessons” with my grandmother, watching her work and doing my best to mimic her precise technique. The crust I produced was indeed flaky, but hard to shape and came out lopsided and burned in some parts while remaining undercooked in others.
Online searches also proved fruitless. The internet is filled to the brim with die-hard fans of various pie-baking techniques, and I’m pretty sure I have tried them all. I had a lot of hope in my heart a few years ago when several of my favorite food bloggers touted a crust made with sour cream. The crust is more forgiving than usual. A cardinal rule of pie crust is that everything must be ice-cold, but my technique is labored, so everything melts. This recipe didn’t seem to need the regular sub-zero conditions all other crusts tend to call for. The crust was tasty, flaky, and just soft enough to feel decadent, but that softness meant it slumped and shrank when I baked it, even when it was filled with a double batch of pie weights. While that crust worked pretty well for apple and pumpkin pie, my family has always had the unusual tradition of eating banana cream pie on Thanksgiving (along with those more traditional choices), so I needed a crust that could be baked first and then filled.
I finally happened upon this recipe a few months ago and have used it several times since with great success. It breaks all the “rules” I thought I knew. After countless attempts to achieve the perfect crumbly texture using a pastry cutter, a food processor, and even my hands, this recipe employs a stand mixer. I didn’t think it could possibly work on something as delicate as pie crust, but it has consistently given me excellent results quickly, easily, and with none of the frustration of the other methods. I still use cold ingredients, but using my mixer means I can get the crust mixed and ready before it’s a melty mess.
The filling is the easy part here – bananas and a tasty custard that uses melted ice cream for sweetness and richness. After the pie has set, I top the whole thing with gently whipped cream – it tends to be soft and a bit messy, which makes it the perfect complement to the silky sweet filling.
It’s an unconventional pie flavor in a season when everything seems to be filled with pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg. For me, the holiday isn’t complete without a slice – or two – of banana cream pie. Now, I can make a practically perfect version of the dessert right in my own home, which seems like cause for giving thanks.