Let Them Eat Pie
Late winter and early spring means birthday season for my family: beginning on Valentine’s Day with my husband, our little clan’s birthdays then follow in succession through the end of March (save my son, whose outlier August birthday is the source of much consternation, at least for him. Personally, I’m glad there’s one party I don’t have to throw in this crowded six week period.) We’re big in our family on homemade birthday desserts, which are usually cake, occasionally pie, and at least this year, a hybrid of both.
I should mention that I’m a cake-avoider: I pretty much only make them for someone’s birthday, convinced that they’re too much trouble, despite occasional evidence to the contrary. When we lived in L.A., though, I baked cakes for my kids. I often deferred the birthday dessert responsibility for my husband, instead buying a banana cream pie from his favorite iconic burger-and-pie joint, the Apple Pan. I didn’t think I could top their creation of perfect pastry cream, flaky crust and fresh banana, so why bother to try? When we moved east, my husband’s affection for another classic diner dessert emerged: it turns out that he loves Boston cream pie, indeed a Bostonian invention of yellow cake layered with pastry cream and topped with a thin layer of chocolate. This year, I decided to try making Boston cream pie for his birthday, and it was a hit, but I felt something was missing. As good as it was, it wasn’t so much better than the version of the dessert served by our local diner. And so I decided to try to create a dessert that would merge the two birthday favorites in one. —Paige Orloff
Banana Boston Cream Pie (adapted from the original recipe served at the Omni Parker Meridian Hotel in Boston)
As it turns out, worries about complexity aren’t necessary for this cake. You make the pastry cream first, so it can chill—the preparation only takes about ten minutes. When you’re ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven while you assemble the batter—again, about ten minutes of work. While the cake bakes, you clean up a bit, and get the ingredients ready for frosting the cake. The cake keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, and tastes even better on on the second or third day.
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups milk
2 cups light cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Combine eggs, sugar, and cornstarch in the bowl of a standing mixer, and mix until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, bring milk, cream and butter to the boil in a heavy saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the egg mixture, then return to the boil for one minute, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool. Cover the top with plastic wrap (it should lie on the surface of the cream, not across the top of the bowl) and chill thoroughly, at least three hours.
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 bananas: 2 mashed thoroughly, and 2 cut into thin slices
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds, gently toasted in a sauté pan until golden
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a ten inch springform or removable bottom cake pan.
Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks in a standing mixer with 1/2 cup of the sugar until pale yellow and thickened, about 3 minutes. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda) in a small bowl. Combine the mashed banana, melted butter and vanilla, and stir to blend. Transfer the egg yolk mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in the banana mixture. Beat the egg whites and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in the standing mixer until moderately stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Gradually fold in the flour mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 25 minutes or until the top is just golden. Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack.
When the cake is cool, use a knife to split the cake horizontally into two layers.
6 ounces dark chocolate
2 tablespoons water
Melt together in a double boiler or in a microwave on low power. Stir gently to combine. Make this just before you plan to use it.
White Icing (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
Stir to combine. Pipe using a pastry bag and fine tip, or a plastic squeeze bottle with a fine tip.
Top the bottom layer of the cake with half the pastry cream, then arrange the slices of banana atop the cream. Place the second layer of cake on top. Frost the top of the cake with the chocolate frosting (see below) and then, if desired, pipe spiral lines of white icing (see below) starting from the center of the cake. Drag the tip of a paring knife through the spirals from the center of the cake towards the outer edge to create a marbled effect.
Spread remaining pastry cream on the sides of the cake, and press toasted almonds onto the sides.