A couple of months back I went on a trip to California and discovered the magical banana cream pie at Coco’s Bakery. I’ve had fancier versions before (Tartine Bakery’s creation comes to mind), but Coco’s no-nonsense dessert reigns supreme.
In it, velvety custard and fresh bananas are stuffed into a buttery crust and topped with whipped cream and toasted walnuts. Delicious! I set out on a quest to duplicate Coco’s creation.
Quickly, however, I gave up on the idea. I realized there are some elements of banana cream pie–even Coco’s–that could be improved. I didn’t see the point of copying their (admittedly amazing) banana cream pie if I could figure out how to make a better version.
I concluded that two (linked) issues arise with most banana cream pies. First, many recipes skip out on the “crunch factor”. I’m of the opinion that a good dessert needs to balance creamy and crunchy sensations. Most banana cream pies end up being all cream. Without textural contrast, they fall flat. Switching from a traditional pie crust to a tart shell added a crunch factor. Big plus.
Second, the cream filling often seeps into the pie crust (or, sometimes, tart crust) and makes it soggy. This destroys textural contrast! What a shame. My solution, borrowed from the strawberry, almond, and rose tart I made in 2014 (a recipe I highly recommend), is coating the inside of the tart shell with white chocolate before filling it. The white chocolate separates the cream filling from the tart crust and maintains the creamy-crunchy contrast even after a couple of nights in the fridge. Tartine Bakery does something similar by coating their pie crust with dark chocolate. While this is a directionally accurate solution, I find the dark chocolate in their version a bit overwhelming given the delicate flavour bananas have.
This is a great dessert that isn’t difficult to make. If you’d like to make it even simpler, skip the fancy tart shell. Simply bake the tart dough flat, crumble, and serve as a parfait. If you’d like to make it more complicated, sprinkle sugar on some of the bananas you intend to top the tart with and caramelize with a blowtorch or the broiler of your oven. Just note that caramelized bananas, which end up looking a bit soggy due to heat exposure, do not make for as pretty of a topping as fresh ones.
One more note. Make sure you slice the bananas thinly or else they won’t meld well with the cream filling.
- 3 egg yolks
- 50g sugar
- 20g flour
- 20g cornstarch
- 390g milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- 90g butter, softened
- 70g icing sugar
- 1 egg
- 30g ground almonds (i.e. almond flour)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 50g all-purpose flour
- 150g cake flour
- A few tablespoons of melted white chocolate
- 350g whipping cream, whipped with ~3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 bananas, sliced thinly into rounds
- 3 bananas, sliced lengthwise
- Edible flowers (optional)
- Toasted & chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
- Beat together the egg yolks and sugar in a medium-sized bowl until smooth.
- Add in the flour and cornstarch and beat until combined.
- Meanwhile, place the milk in a medium-sized pot. Scrape out the insides of a vanilla bean (vanilla caviar). Add the vanilla bean and vanilla caviar into the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.
- Slowly pour the milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.
- Transfer the mixture back into the pot and, over medium-low heat, whisk regularly until thickened and smooth. Remove vanilla bean.
- Transfer to a container, cover with plastic wrap (make sure it touches the cream), and let chill in the fridge overnight.
- Combine the butter and the icing sugar until smooth, using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer if you have one. Do not beat rapidly. The goal is not to incorporate air when making the dough.
- Add in the food colouring and beat until combined.
- Add in the egg, and beat to combine.
- Add the almonds, salt, and all-purpose flour. Beat to combine.
- Add the cake flour. Beat to combine.
- Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and place to chill in the fridge until cold (around an hour).
- Roll out the dough to the thickness you desire (being careful not to go to thin or the tart will collapse), and line a buttered tart pan.
- Place in the freezer to chill for at least half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Spread the white chocolate on the bottom of the tart shell. Place in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden.
- Meanwhile, whip the pastry cream on high speed until smooth (2 minutes or so) and fold together with the whipped cream.
- Fill half the tart with the pastry cream-whipped cream mixture. Add sliced bananas. Cover with the remaining cream to the top of the tart shell.
- Decorate with sliced bananas, edible flowers, and the nuts.