Banana cream pie is the sort of dessert that even people who “don’t like bananas” can’t help but love. Such is how we measured our success in the test kitchen—by calling in banana-skeptic (and our books and special projects editor) Brinda Ayer. By the final version, she gave this pie a double thumbs-up. A big win for the team. Here’s how we did it:
You can make a cream pie in any sort of crust, whether it’s flaky pastry or cookie crumb. But for us, cookie crumb is 100% the way to go. This style holds up better in the fridge (where a cream pie lives!) and even gets better with age, while a flaky crust would get dense and chalky. Now, you could use graham crackers or even something perky like Saltines. We went with Nilla Wafers, which remind us of Southern banana pudding (and who doesn’t want to be reminded of that?). Don’t skimp on the salt, which keep the rest of the pie from becoming cloying.
The pastry cream is classic as can be: super custardy and loaded with vanilla (pro tip, it’s hard to add too much vanilla to something like pastry cream). There’s just enough cornstarch and egg yolks to make the pastry cream slicable (instead of gooping all over the place), but not so much that it loses its creamy, silky texture. Adding a touch of brown sugar (a trick we learned from baker extraordinaire Dorie Greenspan) bumps up the malty vibes and makes the bananas taste even banana-ier. While most pastry creams add butter at the end for richness, we browned the butter first for bonus flavor (you can skip this step, yes, but we can't recommend it enough).
That brings us to the topping: whipped cream. We keep this unsweetened because the crust, pastry cream, and bananas are already plenty sweet. (You could add a spoonful of granulated or powdered sugar if you really want.) We also added a generous amount of sour cream for some tangy intrigue—a game-changing trick we learned from Nancy Silverton (who uses crème fraiche) and *Saveur* (which uses yogurt); you could swap in either here.
If you want to break this recipe up, feel free to make the pastry cream a few days in advance. You could also keep the unbaked crumb crust in the freezer for several days. You can assemble the pie itself a day in advance, as well—just wait to top it with whipped cream until right before serving. —Emma Laperruque
This is one of Food52’s Best Recipes. In this series, our test kitchen sets out to create the ultimate version of your favorite recipes. Let us know on the Hotline if there's one you'd love to see next. —Food52