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Now reading A History of the World’s Best Banana Cream Pie

A History of the World’s Best Banana Cream Pie

A functional and flavorful chocolate coating is the trick.

This comes from Versus, our latest issue, now on newsstands.  For more great stuff like this, subscribe today.

My first forays into making cream pies were when I was really little. Kids love the texture and familiarity of it—it’s just like pudding. When I was growing up, my dad would always make tapioca pudding, and we would make all sorts of cream pies, the vanilla wafer-style cream pie, and those icebox cakes with whipped cream and chocolate cookies. All those kid kinds of things.

The banana cream pie was the first cream pie that we made at Tartine, and without even realizing it, I probably used the cream pies we made growing up as a point of reference. My father loves bananas and cream pies. Now, when my family comes to visit, we have to have it in the refrigerator. If I haven’t brought one home, my parents will stop at the bakery on the way to the airport and have one.

When I was coming up with the recipe, I thought about somebody who might take it home and not eat it until the next day, or who might want leftovers after that. The first thing we always consider is how to make the pastry so that it keeps in a sort-of-perfect state. You want to be able to control the quality of the pie as best you can three days after it’s left the bakery.

You have to think about each component and decide if it’s going to be purely functional or part of the flavor. With a cream pie, you think, How do I deal with a really wet filling and a crispy crust? That’s what led us to coating the shell with chocolate. In this case, the chocolate works so well—it’s both functional and a flavor in the pie. There are other ways of sealing a crust, but none of them are going to be as good as painting it with a chocolate barrier.

The filling we use is not a thick custard—it’s set with cornstarch, which I tend to favor over flour. I don’t like a super-thick flour-set custard, because it feels so industrial. All those industrial pies use flour, which gets gummy too easily. Ours is definitely a little more fluid than most, but that doesn’t really bother me. We also use a ton of vanilla. I think that’s where people go wrong with cream pies: not adding good flavoring. Salt and acid start making it actually taste like something. It’s not like a crème brûlée, where you have a thin layer of custard topped with the nice caramelized sugar to break through the richness. You need to have a balance of richness and sweetness in your cream pie.

Under the custard, we layer caramel because it just goes so well and it’s kind of nice to have a little surprise in the pie. I love cutting into a pie and having this gooey caramel on the bottom. (Technically, we bake our banana cream pie in a straight-sided tart shell, but it’s as deep as pie. I just like the tart form more than the pie form.)

When we first put the Tartine menu together, we wanted to include everything that we love. And since we were making all these components for the banana cream pie, we also decided to make a coconut cream pie. When you’re in production for a bakery or a restaurant, you want to be able to utilize your ingredients in more than one way. We use the same pastry-cream base for the coconut cream pie and also for the éclairs. You can do the same at home.

This comes from Versus, our latest issue, now on newsstands.  For more great stuff like this, subscribe today.