We eat a lot of fruit here at Magic Cove (our name for the Taylor homestead), so it was a bit surprising to find I had a few bananas on the verge of going to that big compost heap in the sky. I was struck by a sudden desire for banana cream pie—odd, given my usual ‘meh’ about most baked goods. But not only is a truly epic homemade banana cream pie an awesome summer dessert, I realized this would also be a great opportunity to say a few words on the art of tempering.
Now, if you are one of those folks who would be content with Jell-O Cook & Serve vanilla pudding dumped atop sliced bananas and smothered in Reddi-Whip, we can part ways here and I’ll petition the Goddess for your immortal soul. If you are interested in the real deal, however—and by that I mean a pie that uses rich cooked homemade pudding with real whipped cream—then stick around. Fair warning, though: this is not an easy pie to make for the beginner.
Tempering is a critically important step in many baking recipes, especially those that are custard-based, and requires you to slowly raise the temperature of an egg so that when hot liquid is added to it, the egg will not scramble. It sounds simple, but it can frankly be a bitch to pull off. You need to have the physical dexterity to whisk one mixture quickly with one hand while dribbling in hot liquid slowly with the other without knocking the entire mess over and, God forbid, trashing the kitchen and scalding the dog.
Even if you do manage to keep it steady, if you add the hot liquid too quickly or don’t whisk the custard fast enough, the mixture is going to dissolve into a coagulated pile of scrambled eggs sitting in a pool of hot liquid. Blech. Tempering is a lot harder than it sounds.
I recommend that anyone who has never tempered a custard before grab a friend or a family member to help on their maiden voyage. One of you can stabilize the bowl with the eggs and whisk while the other dribbles in the hot liquid. The recipe is written in excruciating detail as though you are feeling confident in your superpowers and are going to make a go of it yourself, but you can adjust accordingly.
This recipe also uses a stabilized real whipped cream, which is a bit more involved than simply whipping heavy cream and a sweetener together until it stiffens. If you have ever been plagued by thin runny whipped cream, this method will solve your problems (with the added bonus that your whipping cream will hold up for days). Plus, it tastes absolutely awesome.
This is not a quick or easy pie. There is all that business of tempering and cooking the custard, plus a considerable time factor to consider—bake the pie shell, make the custard, wait for it to cool, assemble the pie, chill it in the refrigerator, whip the cream, top the pie. It’s worth the bother, though. The finished pie proudly displays a silky, rich pudding and a fresh cream topping with a sensuous mouthfeel that is light years away from the powdered crap in a box and the chemical topping in a can.
Food porn, indeed.
BANANA CREAM PIE
One 9-inch pie shell, baked
3 cups organic half and half cream
1/4 tsp. table salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
4 large organic egg yolks
3 T. cornstarch
2 T. organic unsalted butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 ripe bananas, sliced
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 teaspoons cold water
1 cup organic heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Make the vanilla pudding: whisk the half and half cream, salt and 1/2 cup of the sugar together in a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Heat over medium heat until it just barely starts to simmer, stirring occasionally.
While the cream is heating, whisk together the egg yolks, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the cornstarch in a heavy medium-sized bowl until well-combined.
Stabilize the bowl with the egg mixture on a wet dishtowel next to the saucepan (leaving the heat under the saucepan on). Once the half and half cream mixture comes to a simmer, take a ladle of the hot cream and, while whisking the egg mixture rapidly with one hand, slowly (slowly, slowly, slowly!) dribble the hot cream from the ladle into the bowl of egg yolks with the other. This is tempering. You are very gradually raising the temperature of the egg mixture so the eggs won’t scramble when they hit the hot cream.
You are going to whisk in about three ladles of the hot cream. Following the directions for the first two ladles and maintaining a very slow, steady stream is critical.You can relax just a bit for the third ladle, although you aren’t quite out of the woods yet.
When you have whisked in three ladles of hot cream, take the tempered egg mixture and, in turn, slowly pour it into the saucepan, whisking rapidly, until it is all incorporated.
Breathe. If you have a smooth mixture and not a lumpy mess, here is your gold tempering star.
Whisk the custard over medium heat and cook until it thickens and starts to bubble, about 3-4 minutes.
Once the custard is thickened, take the pan off the heat. Pour and push the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl to ensure you don’t have any solid pieces in the custard (and, trust me, no matter what kind of expert you are at tempering, you are bound to have a few coagulated bits here and there). Stir in the butter until it is melted and then add the vanilla. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the custard so it doesn’t form a skin and cool until lukewarm, about 20-30 minutes.
Slice the bananas and layer them on the bottom of the pie shell. Pour the lukewarm custard on top of the bananas and smooth with a spatula. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap with the wrap touching the surface of the filling so that it does not form a skin and chill until very cold, about 2 hours.
Make the whipped cream: (please note, if you use unflavored gelatin that is both hot- and cold-water soluble, as I do, you can skip the heating and cooling steps below. Just dissolve the gelatin in the cold water in a small bowl and add it directly to the heavy cream as directed). In a small pan, combine the unflavored gelatin and cold water; let stand until thick.
Place the pan over low heat, stirring constantly, just until the gelatin dissolves. Remove from heat and cool, but do not allow it to set.
In a stand mixer, whip the heavy cream together with the powdered sugar until slightly thickened. With the mixer on low speed, add the cooled gelatin to whipping cream. When the mixture is completely incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and whip the cream until stiff.
Spread the whipped cream topping over the entire surface of the chilled pie. Cut into slices and serve. Refrigerate leftovers.