Bake

Best Banana Cream Pie

November  1, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland
Author Notes

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

Test Kitchen Notes

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

  • Prep time 4 hours
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Makes 1 (9-inch) pie
Ingredients
  • PASTRY CREAM
  • 2 1/4 cups (284 grams) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup (53 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 5 1/2 tablespoons (45 grams) cornstarch
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • NILLA WAFER CRUST
  • 2 cups (about 244 grams) Nilla wafer crumbs (see headnote)
  • 1/3 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 5/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 9 tablespoons (127 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • BANANAS AND WHIPPED CREAM
  • 2 large bananas, thickly sliced
  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) sour cream (or crème fraîche or Greek yogurt)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Make the pastry cream: Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and set on the stove over medium-low heat. While that heats up, combine the sugars, cornstarch, egg yolks, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a fork until as smooth as possible. When the milk is very hot to the touch (or just below a simmer), add a small splash to the sugar-cornstarch mixture. Stir until smooth. Add another small splash and stir. Keep doing this (increasing the size of the splash each time) until you’ve added all the milk. Pour back into the saucepan and cook over medium to medium-low heat, whisking slowly but constantly, until the mixture thickens (it should resemble a thick pudding and the whisk should leave a trail) and begins to lazily simmer; figure 5 to 7 minutes. Cut the heat. Add the butter to a super small skillet and set on the stove over medium heat. Cook until the butter browns, then add to this to pastry cream (use a rubber spatula to make sure you get all those caramelized milk solids!) along with the vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth. Press through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, then press plastic wrap against the top of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold.
  2. Make the Nilla wafer crust: Combine the crumbs, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, and stir. Add the melted butter and stir until all the crumbs are saturated. The mixture should hold together easily when squeezed. Press into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing evenly all over to make sure it’s not too thick in any one place. Stick in the freezer to firm up while you heat the oven to 350°F. When the crust is firm and the oven is up to temperature, set the pie plate on a sheet pan and bake the crust for about 15 minutes, or until it’s golden brown and starting to crisp around the edges. As soon as you take the crust out of the oven, use a small measuring cup (¼ cup works well) to re-press the crust, taking care to push up the sides so they become taller and thinner (when a crumb crust bakes, it slouches and shrinks, so this helps it set up just how we want it). Let cool completely before assembling the pie.
  3. Assemble the pie: Use a fork or whisk to stir the pastry cream until smooth. Use an offset spatula to spread about half of the pastry cream in the base of the crust. Arrange the banana slices in concentric circles, gently pressing them down, so the pastry cream is completely covered in banana slices. Spread the remaining pastry cream on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to a day before topping with whipped cream and serving.
  4. Just before you serve the pie, whip the cream and spread it on top: Combine the heavy cream and sour cream in a small-to-medium bowl. Whip just until soft peaks form; it should be able to hold shape, but still slouchy. Spread and swirl on top of the pastry cream. Cut into big wedges (figure 6 to 8 slices per pie) and serve cold.

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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.