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Pi Day: Caramelized banana cream pie

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The Pastry Chef's Baking

(Read caption) Make a delicious treat for Pi Day with banana cream pie made with rich pastry cream filling, caramelized bananas, topped with toasted coconut over a graham cracker crust.

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March 14 or 3.14 is Pi Day! Normally Pi(e) Day whizzes past me or I ignore it because I don't make pies very often or when I do, it's always my favorite standby of apple pie. This year, after binge watching one episode of "Cupcake Wars" after another where the contestants make up their own cupcake combinations, I was inspired to make my own creation for Pi Day.

There's nothing new about banana cream pie but most recipes call for banana pudding as the filling of the cream pie. Since I am forever in love with the pastry cream recipe from the Culinary Institute of America, I knew that was the only filling I wanted in any kind of cream pie. I also knew I didn't want to fool around with a traditional pie crust and worry about getting the right amount of flakiness. Plus, for cream pies, I prefer a more hearty crust so I went with a graham cracker base.

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For the banana part of the pie, I simply caramelized two firm, ripe but not overripe, bananas with a little butter and brown sugar. Don't heat the banana-caramel mixture at too high of a heat or cook them too long. You don't want the butter to separate which can happen if you work with too high a heat and you don't want the bananas to get mushy. Saute them in the brown sugar caramel just enough to coat them and soften just slightly. I sliced the bananas thickly so they would take longer to cook and not get overly soft.

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Although this pie has several components, each component is really easy to make and come together nicely. As I had hoped, the flavors worked together. The graham cracker crust served as a good base for the pie, the caramelized bananas provided delicious flavor, the pastry cream – ah, the pastry cream! – brought the creamy component, the toasted coconut was a nice texture contrast to the creaminess of the pie, and the salted caramel balanced out the sweetness of the rest of the pie.

If you don't want too firm of a cream filling, cut back slightly on the cornstarch when you make the pastry cream or, if you refrigerate it first after you fill the pie, bring closer to room temperature before serving. This is best made and served on the same day for optimal flavor and texture.

I may not invent my own recipe and flavor combinations very often but I'm really happy with this one. Happy Pi Day.

For the crust:
 1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
 1/4 cup sugar
 1/2 cup butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Whisk graham cracker crumbs and sugar together. Mix in melted butter.

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3. Press mixture firmly to cover the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake 8-10 minutes and let cool completely while you prepare the filling.

For the caramelized bananas:
 2 large bananas, sliced into thick rounds
 2 tablespoons butter
 1/4 cup brown sugar

1. Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Whisk in brown sugar until combined and melted with the butter.

2. Place sliced bananas into mixture and cook gently over low heat, turning carefully until coated with caramel but not mushy. Remove from heat and arrange over graham cracker crust. Pour any excess sauce over the bananas.

3. Let cool.

For the pastry cream:
1/2 quart (2 cups) milk
generous 1/2 cup sugar
scant 1/3 cup cornstarch
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
Vanilla extract to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1. Heat milk.

2. Mix sugar and cornstarch, then add eggs.

3. Temper in milk.

4. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter and vanilla.

5. Strain and cool.

To assemble pie:

1. Spread pastry cream over cooled banana layer, smoothing top.

2. Sprinkle top generously with toasted coconut and drizzle with caramel sauce.

3. Chill before cutting and serving.

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Slab apple pie

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