Pssst! I’m on vacation. Most of you know that by now; certainly I’ve talked enough about it on Facebook for it to have driven you mad. I’ll be posting from my vacation soon enough, but this was a recipe I had half-written prior to leaving, and is just perfect for summer, so I had to give it to you. I sort of feel like I’m guest-posting for myself until I can get the photos and recipes rolling from down here, which will be very soon. Until then, I hope this tides you over.
I should tell you that this wasn’t even going to be a blog post. I was never going to blog about this particular banana cream pie. It started off as a request to be fulfilled for Father’s Day this year; nothing more. A simple pie Mr. Table hadn’t had in a while, which he wouldn’t mind if I made for him. Okay. But this is a good example of how – even in real life – I can’t seem to just leave well enough alone anymore and make things according to basic recipes. I don’t do well with others telling me what to do, and maybe this is how lately it manifests itself; Random Acts of Pie Toasting for no reason other than because I can. And so I did; today, I give you what I (affectionately) call my Low-Rent Banana Cream Pie.
Why low-rent? Lots of reasons. First, I use Jell-O instant pudding. Did I painstakingly whip you up some fancy custard? No. I whisked cold milk into some powder. As if that weren’t sacrilege enough (Dear American South: I’m SORRY), there are two kinds of pudding in here; one vanilla and one banana cream-flavored. that’s right; I said flavored. As in artificially.
Now normally, the entire things gets slapped into a ready-made vanilla wafer crust – you know, the kind you buy from the baking aisle because you can’t be bothered to crush cookies into some butter – and layered with cookies and bananas. In a twist of irony, I normally top the entire thing off with fresh whipped cream I make from scratch.
Oh, but that’s nice that I can take the time to make fresh whipped cream, right? Not really. I do it because I have yet to find a pre-made whipped cream which stays put on top of this pie. I believe they call that a “tell,” like in poker or other card games where someone does something which tips everyone else off to their good/bad hand. It gives me and my largely pre-made pie away.
But this time was different: this time I went for it, and it worked. And when I say “worked,” I mean “blew everyone’s socks off.” No one had socks on after eating this pie, because it was incredibly delicious. As it turns out, all I had to do to turn a low-rent banana cream pie into an astounding feat of tastiness is change the top and the bottom. First, let’s talk about the crust.
You’re probably wondering what one could really do to a basic vanilla wafer crust without changing the flavor to take it to the next level, right? I understand. I have two words for you.
That’s right, big surprise; I Momofuku’d a recipe again. It is shameful at this point the things I think of to do with milk powder. I took the recipe for graham crust and applied its magic to vanilla wafers. After some larger-than-expected changes (because evidently vanilla wafers are made out of air and it takes a massive amount to get this right), I nailed it spot-on.
The middle remained unchanged; I layered how I always layer, because structurally it holds together better than any other banana cream pie I’ve eaten or made myself. There are two tricks to this:
- Not overdoing the pudding layers, especially over top the vanilla wafer layers, gives you less of a chance it scoots all over the place once you’re done.
- Slightly tapering in your ingredients inward as you go gives you more of a center of gravity to your finished pie. nothing slides down the sides because your ingredients have enough support around the perimeter and the weight focus is on the center.
Pictures, many times, speak more eloquently than words in terms of directions and concepts. With that in mind, I made you this diagram to assist you in your own layering.
See the slight taper? If you think about it, it really does meld everything to the center for you. Kinda great when you’re trying to slice up pieces of pie and you’re not wanting it to fall in a heap onto people’ plates.
Now let’s discuss the top. Instead of going for the standard whipped cream, I decided I wanted something sassy. I’ve had s’mores on the brain as of late, and I couldn’t get that summer taste of toasted marshmallow out of my head. When that happens to me, I find other ways to use it. Which is how this pie ended up topped with my homemade marshmallow fluff.
Before you start to wonder if this substitute makes the pie at all heavy, let me quell your fears; it doesn’t. In fact, it gave it almost a light texture, and was a great counterpoint to the heft of the banana/cookie/pudding layers. In fact, I’d say it’s works on several levels much better than whipped cream does for this pie. Not only does it lighten it up (after all, most people make these in the summer; why make a weighty pie?) It actually helps strengthen the bond you’ve already made by tapering your ingredients. Marshmallow fluff has a sticky, elastic consistency which holds to itself very well. For your pie, that means it’s almost like a net pulling your layers together at the top.
To finish it off, however, you really need to torch this thing. Don’t skip it; it makes the top go from plain marshmallow to toasty summer flavor in no time. I think the best way to accomplish this without melting your very heat-sensitive pie is with a blowtorch. I haven’t tried the broiler with it, but I don’t know that I would: you’re not going to get an even color, you can’t spot-correct, and there’s a big chance your pie goes up, literally, in smoke. And you should have a blowtorch in the kitchen anyway. Because you can swirl marshmallow fluff on things and then make it look like this.
See how nicely that holds together in a triangular shape? That’s no trick; that’s actually how the pie comes out if you take the time and care to do it right. I’ve given you some more hints in the recipe in terms of intermittent chilling, and I strongly suggest you don’t skip the steps: it makes the pie stay put by keeping at the proper temperature. It may seem overkill-ish, but it works.
Crust adapted from the graham crust found in the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook by Christina Tosi. A delightful cookbook, from cover to cover, and everyone should own it.
There is no excuse for the pie, nor is there a recipe it comes from. I can’t pawn it off on anyone else; it’s just my own recipe, embarrassing or not.
The marshmallow fluff (and it’s on the verge of being called ‘no-fail’ because it turns out great every time i make it) is from a recipe I adapted earlier from Chicagoist. You can find the original version here, but I used my version, which I’ll link to below.
Banana Cream Pie + Toasted Marshmallow Fluff
for the vanilla wafer crust:
- 2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (1 12-ounce box ground to crumbs in a food processor, leaving you some you’ll discard, so please pulverize, measure, and proceed)
- 1/3 cup milk powder
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
for the banana pie:
- 1 large package (5.1 ounce) Jell-O instant pudding, vanilla flavor
- 1 small package (3.4 ounce) Jell-O instant pudding, banana cream flavor
- 4 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
- 4-5 ripe bananas
- vanilla wafers, for layering
- 1 recipe marshmallow fluff (see the link for ingredients/preparation directions)
notes before we begin: most of you know I like an order to my baking, so I would make the graham crust first and pop it in the freezer. While the crust is chilling, slice up the bananas and whip up your pudding, placing it in the fridge for a few minutes to wait for the crust to be done. Once you’ve layered your pie, make your marshmallow fluff. Why wait until you need it, you ask? Because: marshmallow fluff is almost otherworldly, and needs to be created and used in recipes right then. If you wait, it still tastes great, but your ability to manipulate it onto something – like a pie constructed of fruit and puddding – will be lost. Trust me.
first, make that crust:
Toss the vanilla wafer crumbs, milk powder, sugar, and salt with your hands in a medium bowl to evenly distribute your dry ingredients. I did this for several minutes because once you butter, you can’t unbutter. Once everything is mixed, add your melted butter and heavy cream to the dry mix and toss until everything is coated.
Press evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie plate, being careful to go all the way up the sides. Bake in the middle rack for 12-13 minutes, until the crust is slightly browned and looks a little bubbly (you got it, bubbly) in the center; it should be a semi-wet crust when you take it out.
Place pie on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes or so, then place in a flat spot in your freezer for 1 hour. If you’re questioning this process, the reason I do it this way is to get the crust toasted to bring out the flavor, but still hard and cold enough to encourage the pudding layers to chill and set properly.
make those puddings:
While you’re waiting for your pie to chill, mix both your vanilla and banana cream puddings in separate bowls according to package directions for pie filling (in the vanilla, this calls for a reduction from 3 cups to 2 1/2 cups milk.) Once both flavors are soft set, add the banana cream flavor to the vanilla flavor, and make the pie your own according to taste.
I end up adding about 3/4 of the banana cream flavor to the vanilla, if you’re curious. You can just go for it and add all of it, or add a little less; up to you. You may even go so far as to just make one big and one small box of instant vanilla pudding, but I would really encourage you to try the banana cream flavor in the complete pie. You’d be surprised how much it complements the real bananas.
time to assemble the pie:
Slice your bananas into 1/2 inch thick slices. Ready your wafers in an easy-to-reach location. Remove your delightfully frozen pie crust from the freezer and set on the countertop. I’m going to banana cream pie chart again for reference so you don’t have to scroll back up.
Now: layer according to the chart. When you get to the pudding layers, proceed as follows:
- Pudding over bananas: spread the pudding in a thin layer over the bananas, getting the pudding between the banana slices and leaving about a 1/4 inch thick pudding layer on top of the slices.
- Pudding over vanilla wafers: spread the pudding in a thin layer over the vanilla wafers, pushing the pudding between the wafers, and leaving only a very thin coating – think glue stick – on the tops of the wafers. This creates enough moisture above the wafers to get them soft, but it doesn’t wreck the structure of the pie by making them too soft and allowing the banana layers to hydroplane over them. This also comes in handy once you get to the marshmallow fluff layer, by providing a slick-yet-sturdy surface for it to be spread on to.
and last but not least, the marshmallow fluff:
Again, I’ll direct youhere for the ingredients and instructions. Once the fluff is made, remove the bowl from the stand mixer and take to your work surface. Clear the area; you’ll want to concentrate and not mess this up.
With a large spoon (I like the larger spoons which come with your silverware; not huge but larger than a normal spoon), scoop out the fluff in about 1/4 cup-sized quantities and lay it gently in sections over your pie. Goal: to not spread this frosting-style over your pie, because that simply will not work. Rather, spoon enough spoonfuls on to where you merely have to “knit” them together with your butter knife or spatula. I placed my spoonfuls about a 1/2 inch apart all over the pie, taking care to follow the same tapering method as you did with the rest of the pie.
Take a butter knife or small spatula (something you can easily control the movements of) and weave your fluff blobs together in a swirling motion similar to the top photo. You see that sort of wavy pattern? It’s not only pretty, but it creates the bond between your fluff blobs while not smearing the entire production around. Keep to the upper half of your blobs and don’t penetrate all the way, or you run the risk of bringing up the pudding layer; not pretty. As you work, your fluff should push its way out and over to the edges, making a nice top cover to your pie.
Toast away with a blowtorch. For those of you who haven’t used a blowtorch or own one but have otherwise been forbidden to use it, I suggest the utmost caution here. Fluff goes up like a match if you happen to directly light it, and you want to get a toasty, even color rather than a char. Keep your blowtorch high and work slowly, aiming straight down, until desired amount of toasty topping is achieved.
After admiring your work, throw it back in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or so to set it back up (it makes it easier to cut through the top because it’s not as melty). Serve immediately following chill time. You can store this in the fridge, but it’s always best eaten right when you make it (for guests; it’s always good if you’re just eating it by yourself.) This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
I would say this serves 8-10, but that really depends on your guests’ intense love/need for this pie. In all honesty, this may just serve 2.