Bill’s favorite dessert is banana-coconut cream pie–and I make it for him every birthday. It combines two of his best-loved ingredients in a lush pudding, mounded in a flaky crust.
In the past, my method was what you’d call the cheater version, a trick that I stumbled upon years ago when I was deep in nightmare catering world. (um, like serving two concurrent dinner parties of 150 and 300 guests, after assembling 230 box lunches and feeding a crew meal of 60 for a music video.)
I discovered that if you mix half-and-half instead of milk, along with glug of vanilla into instant pudding (I know, I know, blasphemy, how could I?) and stirred it thoroughly for 5 minutes, that it transformed (really, almost instantly!) into a remarkably smooth, rich and luscious pudding.
However, I’m not deep in nightmare catering world. (glory be.)
So I’m sharing the bonafide silken version. The version where you stand over a saucepan with a whisk and a wooden spoon, stirring, stirring. The version where you remember when you stood alongside your Nana, watching, watching, as she did the same. And you mustered all the patience that a child has, waiting for the mixture to thicken, waiting for the bubble and burp, waiting for that moment when you’d get to lick the spoon and clean out the pot.
BILL’S FAVORITE BANANA-COCONUT CREAM PIE
One reason this pie is great: I place a handful of shredded coconut on the bottom of the pie shell before blind-baking it–while doubling (somewhat) as pie weights, the coconut toasts up beautifully.
FLAKY PIE CRUST
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons very cold butter
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/3 cup shredded coconut
Place flour, salt, and cold butter pieces in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping or pastry blade. Pulse until the butter is cut into the flour and resembles little peas. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, with the motor running. The dough will gather into a ball.
Remove and form the ball into a slightly flattened disc shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dust the counter with flour. Roll out and place into a pie pan. Crimp the edges. Prick the surface with a fork. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.
Place on the center rack and bake for 15 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned.
Remove and cool completely before filling.
Reason 2: Two egg yolks, whisked with half-and-half, sugar, and cornstarch, then added to the warming milk, make this pudding creamy-dreamy. I like to use part raw sugar and part granulated for deeper flavor.
SILKEN VANILLA PUDDING adapted from Cooking Light
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla (or scrape a vanilla bean)
2/3 cup sugar (can split it half demerara sugar/half granulated white sugar)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup half-and-half
knob of butter (optional)
Pour milk in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan. Add vanilla (or scrape seeds from vanilla bean.)
Gently warm on medium low heat.
In a large bowl, add both sugars, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk together. Add half-and-half and egg yolks to this mixture. Whisk thoroughly to combine well.
Add about one cup of the warmed milk to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Bring to just under a boil–still stirring. This could take a few minutes. Once the pudding begins to bubble and pop, cook for one more minute, then remove from heat. Whisk in a knob of butter until it is fully incorporated if you like.
Spoon pudding into a bowl. If you wish to chill it quickly, place bowl in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until pudding cools, stirring occasionally.
Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap; chill.
chilled vanilla pudding
2-3 ripe bananas
1 pint heavy cream, whipped with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup toasted coconut
Put about half of the pudding into the baked and cooled pie shell. Slice the bananas (about 1/4 inch thick) and layer into the pie. Add remaining pudding. Top with banana slices. Cover with whipped cream. Sprinkle toasted coconut over the top. Cover and chill.
And, just for fun:
EEK IN-A-PINCH CHEATER VANILLA PUDDING
1 3 ounce package instant vanilla pudding
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Dump the instant pudding mix into a large bowl. Bury the box in recycling.
While whisking, slowly add the half-and-half. Continue to stir for about 4 minutes.
Add the vanilla, and stir for another minute.
Cover and chill. Slink off and feel guilty. Then fill the pie, top with whipped cream and serve.
Smile sheepishly when someone asks for the recipe.