Roasted Banana Cream Pie

A seemingly endless state legislative session, a crawling infant, and a defunct computer have all conspired against me and this blog. But now that we have a new computer, I can now happily write a post for this long neglected blog. I was about to post a piece on a tofu and noodle dish, but the temporary return of my interest and energy in blogging is for me at least, a cause for celebration and what is there in life worth celebrating unless there’s pie?

The pie here is banana cream. Although bananas are my least favorite fruit, I have a deep, dark love for banana cream pie. When I was little, my mom once bought me a banana cream pie for my birthday instead of a cake. Normally when I tell people that story, they oddly feel sorry for me but I was not a disappointed 6-year-old. Not at all. I can only guess it’s because banana aside, banana cream pie has some of my favorite things from when I was little– vanilla pudding and whipped cream. I remember always asking for vanilla pudding cups when I was a kid and as for whipped cream, well even as an adult, I could honestly sit down with a giant bowl full of it and a spoon and be deliriously happy.

So I made a banana cream pie to satisfy a craving for one. This pie, however, is not your regular banana pudding in pie form banana cream pie. This one has a thick but quick pastry cream, rich with vanilla, and is layered with a puree of roasted bananas to intensify the banana flavor. I also added layers of firm, under-ripe banana slices for texture. Finally, the whole pie is frosted with whipped cream and sprinkled with toasted almond slices for a little crunch. It’s perfect when you cut a slice and eat it with a tall glass of cold milk. I doubt anyone would feel sorry for you if you had this instead of cake for your birthday.

  • Your favorite pie crust, pre-baked. I used a half portion of the baked flaky pastry recipe from The Joy of Cooking.
  • 3 ripe, on the verge of overripe, medium bananas.
  • 2-3 under-ripe (some yellow but spots of green) bananas.
  • 1 box (3.4 oz) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 4 cups heavy cream, separated
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, separated
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Place the ripe bananas on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until banana peels are a deep, dark brown. Let bananas cool enough to touch then using a paring knife, split the bananas lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

Make the pastry cream by making the pudding according to package directions, only using cold heavy cream instead of milk and adding a teaspoon of vanilla. Chill until set. While pastry cream sets, slice the under-ripe bananas into 1/4 inch thick rounds.

Assemble the pie by spreading half of the roasted banana puree on the bottom of a cooled, prepared crust. Top with half of the pastry cream. Spread the remaining banana puree on top of the pastry cream and cover with a single layer of banana slices. Top with remaining pastry cream then cover with plastic wrap and set pie in the fridge to chill and set for at least an hour. Right before serving, whip the remaining 2 cups of heavy cream with an electric mixer. Let the mixer go for about a minute on medium speed before adding the sugar and remaining teaspoon of vanilla then crank the mixer up to medium high speed. Whip until you have peaks that hold their shape when you lift up the beaters, about 3-4 minutes. Spread an inch thick layer of whipped cream over the pie. If you want to get fancy, you can put some of the whipped cream in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and make curls around the border of the pie. (See my sloppy attempt in the picture above, but hey! I’m a lobbyist not a pie decorator!) Set a circle of banana slices around the edge of the pie then place 2-3 slices in the center. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve.

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Apple Danish Tart

It’s ∏ Day! Time to make pie! So why am I writing about a pastry that is part danish and part tart instead? Well, here’s an actual conversation from my geeky household to yours.

Me: It’s ∏ Day! I need to make pie.

John: You don’t make pie to celebrate ∏ Day. You make circular arguments and circular things.

Me: I’m making pie because it’s ∏ Day. There’s a circular argument for you. Besides, pies are circular.

John: No they’re not.

Me: Yes they are.

John: No they’re not. Everyone knows that pie are square.

Oy… I seem to fall into the trap of John’s bad pun setups all the time.

Shaking that off for now, let’s go back a little in time to when this tart was made. For Christmas, John gave me a mandolin! So exciting! So shiny! So sharp! So scary! My giddiness about using it equals my fear which is a dangerous combination, but I still look for opportunities to use it. With leftover puff pastry and cream cheese lying in the fridge, I thought I’d throw together a tart as another opportunity to practice my slicing skills.

I let the cream cheese soften before mixing in some almond extract, a little sugar for a touch of sweetness, and some lemon zest to brighten the flavors. This was then spread out over a square of puff pastry then I shingled my perfectly sliced apple pieces that had been mixed with my favorite combination of apple pie spices: cinnamon, brown sugar, a little lemon juice, nutmeg, and cardamom. Cut into square pieces, each bite was a combination of buttery, crisp, flaky pastry; slightly sweet and tangy cream cheese, and firm, juicy apple pieces.

And there you go: square pie for your ∏ Day.

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator over night
  • 2 medium honeycrisp apples, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 5 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out puff pastry on a lightly floured surface until it measures 12 x 12 inches. Place square on a parchment paper or Silpat lined baking sheet. With a paring knife, lightly score a square about 1 inch inside the border (this will make the border rise, making a crust with a flat-bottomed center.)

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt. Place the apple slices in a medium bowl and mix in the spice and brown sugar mixture until apples are coated. Take a taste and mix in lemon juice to taste. Set aside and let sit for 10-15 minutes.

With a mixer, beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, lemon zest, and almond extract until smooth and fluffy. Carefully spread this over the center part of the puff pastry, leaving the border clean of the filling (an offset spatula helps here.) Shingle the apple slices then drizzle with any juice left over in the bowl. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely before cutting into 3 x 3 inch squares.

Corn & Tarragon Ice Cream

I know it’s a little strange to write about corn, let alone ice cream, in December, but have you ever wanted to get a taste of summer in the middle of winter? I think this ice cream can satisfy that craving.

As a testimony to how long the growing season is out here in the Pacific Northwest, we started receiving corn in our CSA share and seeing ears of them at farmer’s markets in mid-September. Even though I love corn just roasted on the cob with butter and salt and pepper, I equally love the combination of sweet corn spiked with the licorice flavor of tarragon. It honestly makes me feel warm inside, like I’ve taken a bite out of a mild, summer day since it tastes so light and refreshing.

So with corn from the CSA and a thriving tarragon plant in the garden, I thought about what it would be like to put those flavors together in ice cream. My hope was that a custard base would be a supple, silky setting for the buttery but sweet flavors from corn and the flecks of green from the tarragon would not only look pretty in the light yellow colored ice cream but would cleanse the palate with each bite.

Yeah, it was that and so much more. To me, at least, (I couldn’t get confirmation from my fellow taster, John) this corn and tarragon ice cream perfectly captured that flavor of the magical foam that’s made when you put a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a tall glass of root beer. I think it’s probably due to the anise flavor of the tarragon, mixed with the creamy custard, and the subtle sweetness from the corn. Really,  I thought that corn and tarragon is the quintessential flavor of summer but it got even more so when each bite reminded me of that perfect summer frozen treat, the root beer float. When it’s cold and dark outside, curl up in your cozy home with a dish of this ice cream for a glimpse of summer.

Note: I’m guessing at the amount of sugar here as when I made this ice cream I forgot to compensate for the natural sugars from the corn which in hindsight was pretty stupid given the whole corn “sugar” v. corn syrup debate. As you can see from the picture, this ice cream paired surprisingly well with a shot of tequila.

  • 1 ear of corn, kernels removed from cob
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1.25 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Spread the corn kernels out in an even layer and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until kernels are spotted with a light brown color.

While kernels roast, add the heavy cream to a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan along with the remaining corn cob, sugar, milk, and the chopped tarragon. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard the corn cob.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs then slowly whisk in half of the cream mixture. Add the egg and cream mixture back to the sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens. It should coat a wooden spoon and you can draw a line down the middle of it with your finger. Pour this into either a 4 cup glass measuring cup or into a bowl with a spout and add the corn kernels. Cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally for 3-6 hours. Freeze according to your ice cream maker manufacturer’s directions.

Chocolate Chunk Pecan Bars

When I was little, I never saw the appeal of pecan pie. Maybe it’s because I thought all nuts, be they cashews, peanuts, walnuts, whatever, were gross. Besides, next to apple or cream pies, pecan pie kind of looks brown and craggy and not appetizing at all. Given that history, I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to try pecan pie, but try it I did and I saw the light: crunchy, buttery pecans set in a filling of caramel on a shortbread crust? Love!

I now have cravings for pecan pie, be it traditional, bourbon soaked, or as is the case here, studded with chunks of chocolate. I still have my standards when it comes to pecan pie so it saddens me when I have a less than perfect piece, and when I’m saddened so, my craving gets bigger until I make my own. These chocolate chunk pecan bars were born after one such dissatisfied experience. John and I went up to Vancouver for the Olympic games and arrived late on a Friday night. Thirsty and a little peckish after a three-hour bus ride, we dropped off our bags at my family’s condo, then walked a couple of blocks to a nearby 24 hour cafe. I opted for a chocolate pecan bar but was disappointed by how the chocolate just sort of blended into the caramel and didn’t add much to the bar itself.

Unlike these bars: here, I opted for chunks of bittersweet chocolate chopped from a baking bar. The chocolate retains its shape instead of melting into the caramel so when these bars are cooled, the chocolate adds texture and full chocolate flavor to pair with, not lose itself into, the buttery caramel. There’s also less guilt involved since you can cut them into bite-sized 2-inch pieces. Well, less guilt until you can’t help yourself and eat half the pan in 10 minutes…

Crust:

  • 1 stick salted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • cooking spray

Filling:

  • 1.5 cups toasted whole pecans (Toast on a baking sheet in oven set to 325 degrees for 10 minutes.)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8 x 8 inch square baking pan then line with parchment paper. (Cut two pieces of parchment paper to the width of the pan then layer them perpendicular to one another.) Lightly spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, cream the stick of butter with the 1/4 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the vanilla. Mix in the flour until just combined. Empty out the bowl onto a lightly floured surface then gently knead until the dough is just formed, a loose, crumbly crust. Pat the dough into the pan so that it makes a uniform layer on the bottom of the pan. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden.

While crust bakes, whisk together the filling ingredients except the chocolate. When ingredients are uniformly blended, stir in the chocolate chunks. When crust is out of the oven, raise the temperature to 375 degrees F. Pour filling into hot crust and bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool completely to allow filling to set before cutting into pieces and serving.