Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pie Heaven

This is quite possibly the best pie in the history of the world... no exaggeration. I've made this on several occasions with rave reviews. My friend Jamie says it's the best pie she's ever had. She and her boyfriend had Banana Cream Pie at the House of Pies in Los Angeles recently. He thought it was great, but she told him mine is better. It is. Try it for yourself! You can easily make the pastry cream in advance and store it in the refrigerator, and the pie dough also keeps well in the fridge or freezer if you want to make it ahead of time and bake off the pie that day (or even the day before). Prepare the parts in advance and just assemble the whole thing the day you plan to eat it, whip up some heavy cream and you've got yourself an impressive dessert!

Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate
Makes 8 to 12 servings
(Adapted from Tartine)

1 flaky pie crust (see below)
6 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, separated
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 T. sugar
2 1/2 cups pastry cream (see below)
2 ripe bananas, sliced into 1/4 inch-thick slices

Melt half the chocolate chips in a bowl in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes on 50% power. Check to see if they are soft enough, if not, microwave on 50% power for another 15 seconds at a time. Stir the melted chocolate until smooth.

Spread the melted chocolate with the back of a spoon evenly over the inside of the pie crust. Don't spread it too thick or else when it cools it will make the pie very difficult to slice. Refrigerate the chocolate-coated crust until the chocolate becomes firm, about 10 minutes.

While the chocolate is setting, whip the heavy cream either with a whisk or in a mixer bowl with a whisk attachment until thickened. Add the sugar and continue to whip until it holds medium-firm peaks.

Remove the pie shell from the fridge and transfer the pastry cream into the crust, smoothing it out a bit. Arrange the banana slices over the cream, and lightly press them into the cream. Using an offset or rubber spatula, spread the whipped cream on top. Garnish with the remaining chocolate chips.

Chill the pie until the pastry cream is set, at least 3 hours. The pie will keep in the refrigerator for 4 days. The chocolate layer serves as a barrier to the pastry cream softening the crust.

Flaky Pie Crust
Makes 1 9-inch or 10-inch pie crust

1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup very cold water
1 1/2 cups + 1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 1/2 T. unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes

In a small bowl add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl and add the small butter cubes, scattering all over. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together in a ball. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a disk 1 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight (this dough can now be frozen in a freezer bag and then defrosted in the refrigerator the day before it is to be used).

Place the chilled dough on a floured surface and roll out 1/8 inch thick, lifting and rotating the dough to make sure it doesn't stick, and working quickly to ensure the dough stays as cold as possible. Add more flour to the board as needed.

Roll the dough circle gently over the rolling pin and then gently unroll the circle over the pie dish, easing it into the bottom and sides, and pressing gently into place. Avoid stretching the dough, as it will shrink back when baking. Trim the dough edges with a sharp knife and flute or crimp the edges if you prefer.

Chill the crust 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge before baking. This ensures the flakiest crust.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dry beans if you don't have weights). Bake until the surface looks light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the weights and paper and return the pie crust to the oven and bake until lightly golden about 5 minutes longer.

Let the crust cool completely before filling. The crust will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for 1 week, or in the freezer for 2 weeks.

Pastry Cream
Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 cups milk (I use low-fat milk and it always turns out great)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (don't use imitation, it sucks)
1/4 tsp. salt
4 T. cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 T. unsalted butter

Pour the milk, vanilla extract, and salt into a heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high, bringing the milk just to under a boil, stirring occasionally so the milk doens't burn to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar and cornstarch.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third into the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour the egg mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is noticeably thicker, about 2 minutes.

To check the correct thickness of the cream, dip a wooden spoon into the custard, remove it and run your finger across it. It should leave a line where your finger crossed. When the custard is thick enough, remove it from the heat and strain it into a clean bowl.

Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut the butter into 1 T. pieces and whisk the butter into the cream, one piece at a time. To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and press the wrap directly onto the top of the cream. Once the cream is a little cooler, put it into the fridge to finish cooling. Pastry cream will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days.


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