Saturday, February 6, 2010
Creme Brulee/Banana Cream Pie: Cream, Cream, Cream!
(Photos by Anthony Palatta)
The past two Friday nights, friends invited me for dinner and I supplied the desserts: creme brulee and banana cream pie. What I realized was, they are basically the same thing, just in highbrow and lowbrow versions.
For the creme brulee, I looked at some recipes in a cookbook I have specializing in variations on creme brulees, both savory and sweet. I'd tried the basic recipe once before, which called for steeping a scraped vanilla bean in heavy cream, and I found it surprisingly lacking in vanilla flavor. This time, I decided to try the Barefoot Contessa's recipe, which calls for vanilla extract and a tablespoon of Grand Marnier. This worked out much better, I think because the G. M. really helped to bring out the vanilla flavor. You can check out the recipe here.
By the way, if you don't own a mini-torch, they are a hell of a lot of fun. Your friends will be lining up to caramelize their desserts.
For the banana cream pie, I went with a recipe from a book called 500 Pies & Tarts. Just as I did for creme brulee, I cooked cream on the stovetop and added egg yolks and vanilla. The only major difference was that I thickened the cream with cornstarch. (Also, you have to bake the creme brulee in individual ramekins in the oven.) But the end result was very similar, a thick, silky pudding with a comforting undertone of vanilla. (Now that I think of it, I wonder if a tablespoon of Grand Marnier would have perked it up...) After the mixture sets, you pile alternating layers of cream and bananas in a pie shell. The recipe says to chill the cream for 2 hours before filling the pie shell and then chill the pie another 6 hours. Being impatient, I shortened that time to 1 hour of chilling the cream and maybe 3 hours of chilling the pie. No problems. The filling was absolutely delicious.
The recipe recommended a cinnamon garnish, but I went for chocolate shavings.
For my crust, I used a recipe for "sweet crust" that used only butter rather than shortening or a mix of the two. Anthony, my partner and chief taste tester, loved it, but I found the all-butter crust caused all sorts of problems. It rolled out more like a pizza dough than a pie crust, and while baking, it shrank dramatically. The fault may have been with my process. My butter could have been colder. (It warmed up during transport to my friend's house, where I baked it.)
I've heard crumb crusts are traditional for banana cream pies, though I've never had one made that way. Maybe I'll try that next. Another alternative is to go the nilla wafers pudding route: Just lay those down in the pie plate and cover in bananas and cream. Or maybe mix it all up in a big bowl and call it banana pudding.