I remember riding my bike to my friend Jamiee’s house as a kid. I had to ride to the end of the golf course in my subdivision, through a fence, across the McDonald’s parking lot,  navigate across busy Moorland Rd, cut through the Brookfield Square parking lot, finally pedal through another little neighborhood and to her house.  It wasn’t that far, perhaps 3-4 miles, but it was an adventure and made me feel kind of tough.

We were both tomboys, but we liked playing with dolls (including giving them haircuts) as much as we liked makiing with mudpies, running sprints, and climbing (or in my case attempting to climb) trees. That’s my memory, anyway.  I also remember how much we liked our snacks.

My favorite was toast or squishy bread with crunchy peanut butter and honey.  Gooey, sweet, sticky, and satisfying.  The closest you could get to a candy bar without actually eating a candy bar.

Kind of like the pie I made last week, but the pie was decidedly less healthy.  It really was like eating a candy bar. Aw, hell, it was a candy bar disguised as a pie if I’m going to be really honest about it.

The objective of my pie project is to find and perfect my favorite crust.  This pie was a digression, because it was really more a composed dessert than a pie.  It did nothing to advance my culinary skills or help me practice the art of pie-making, but it just sounded so good, I had to make it.

I started by making the peanut butter shortbread crust, which was indescribably delicious.  It was peanutty, salty, sweet, and crispy.  Oh my god, yum.

Then I made a vanilla pastry cream (cooked twice – more on that in a minute) and layered it with sliced red bananas (which are definitely more flavorful and worth the extra cash).  I think you would agree that peanut butter and banana is another ridiculously yummy flavor combo – one that I discovered and came to love in my adult life.  I still regularly enjoy this pairing on whole grain toast for breakfast. Serve with hot coffee or a glass of cold milk.

Since the pastry cream and shortbread crust were not decadent enough, I whipped up some lightly sweetened cream, and dolloped a scoop on top.

OH! I almost forgot to tell you about the salty bourbon caramel (not).  Oh yeah, baby.  That was the over-the-top factor, and more than any other component, it’s what made this pie a candy bar.

Now, this pie did not come without problems.

For instance, the lightly sweetened whipped cream was lovely, but could have used some bourbon.  Nothin’ like boozy, lightly sweetened whipped cream, right?

And I’ve made pastry cream many times, but this pastry cream was a little odd.  First of all, I’ve never made a pastry cream with flour.  It always has cornstarch, but I followed the recipe because if I used the recipe I usually use, I would have leftover pastry cream, and believe me when I say that would not be a good thing. I’m training for a marathon, people.  Extra pounds=slower times.  Not havin’ that!

Well, turns out I didn’t cook the pastry cream long enough the first time, and it was soupy.  And I didn’t realize it until I was almost ready to serve dinner to my guests (OK, the guests were just my parents, but still!).

I quickly cooked the pastry cream again boiled the shit out of my pastry cream, adding about a tablespoon of cornstarch, and shoved it in my refrigerator praying it would cool off enough in time to serve for dessert. To be honest, I was pissed off. I don’t like it when my cooking projects don’t turn out and I sputtered a few hundred curse words as I was re-cooking the stuff, but the show had to go on.

Of course, the pastry cream didn’t cool off enough, but I served it anyway. So dessert was more like a cookie with bananas and warm pudding with whipped cream and caramel.  Certainly not the worst thing in the world (my parents and I gobbled it up), but not ideal.

I forgot about it for the evening, and let the pie sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Then, Randy (my husband) and I ate pie for breakfast, and we swooned.  The pastry cream had set, and all the components married into a decadent, delectable calorie bomb.

Want to make it?  The recipe is below.  But be forewarned:  make plans to share this pie ahead of time, because if you don’t, you will end up eating the whole damn thing yourself, marathons be damned.

Banana Cream Pie with Salty Bourbon Caramel

adapted from Bon Appetit

Peanut shortbread crust:

1 1/4 cups unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vanilla pastry cream:

2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the pastry cream I subbed cornstarch for 2 T flour in the original recipe, which will help it set better.  Or for a less finicky and still delicious pastry cream, try this recipe which is the one we used in my culinary school baking class (but you will probably have leftovers): 

1 pint whole milk (you can use part cream if you want)
4 oz sugar
1.5 oz egg yolk
2 oz whole eggs
1.25 oz cornstarch
1 oz butter
2 t vanilla.

Whipped cream:

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 T powdered sugar
2 tsp bourbon

Caramel and Assembly:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon, divided
1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ripe red bananas (or 3 ripe yellow bananas if you don’t want to spring for the red ones)

For peanut crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pulse peanuts in a food processor until coarsely ground. Set aside 1/4 cup for garnish, and pulverize the rest until you got yourself some peanut butter.

Combine your flour, salt, and baking soda. In your mixer, beat your sugars, peanut butter, and butter until it’s good and combined.  It will look a little grainy, so don’t look for the fluffy texture you get when you cream just butter and sugar. Add your egg yolk and vanilla and keep beating until the  mixture becomes clumpy. Add dry ingredients and beat the mixture just until you see only small specks of flour.  Remember, this is shortbread, so you don’t want to mix it too much or you’ll have yourself a tough crust.  Finish mixing in the flour with your spatula. The spread it evenly on the bottom and up the sides of your pie dish.  Bake at 350 degrees until it’s deep golden brown, 15–17 minutes. I made a this a couple of days ahead, and it was fine.  Just keep it well covered with plastic wrap.

For vanilla pastry cream:

This process is a little like making frozen custard.

Bring milk and cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Whisk your sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add your egg yolks; whisk until smooth. As you’re whisking, gradually add hot milk mixture to yolk mixture.  (It helps if you have a friend around at this point to gradually pour in the milk for you, but no worries if you’re flying solo. I did it without help and so can you!

Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until thick.  It really should be close the the thickness you want when you spread it in the pie.  It will stiffen a bit as it chills, but not a ton.  If you don’t use my culinary school recipe, you may have to really let it simmer for a couple of minutes (but stir constantly).  Remove your pan from the heat, add your butter and vanilla, and whisk, whisk, whisk until it’s perfectly smooth.  (You could do this last step in a blender, but why would you dirty another dish?) Transfer your pastry cream to a medium bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pastry cream so it doesn’t form a skin. Chill until set, at least 2 hours.  You can also make this a couple of days ahead.  Pastry cream keeps well as long as it’s well covered.

For whipped cream:

Whip your cream and sugar to desired consistency.  I like my whipped cream a little on the soft side.

For caramel:

Stir sugar, 1 tablespoon bourbon, corn syrup, and 1 tablespoon water in a medium deep saucepan over medium heat. Basically, just leave it there and let it cook until the sugar is a deep amber color.  You might gently swirl your pot a couple of times to make sure it’s cooking evening, but otherwise, just let it do its thang. How long it takes depends on how hot your burner is.  Mine took about 10 minutes. Remove your caramel from your burner and whisk (quickly!) in 1/4 cup cream, butter, and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously).  If you have to put it back on the burner to get it all to come together that’s OK, but don’t let it boil.  Whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon bourbon and vanilla. This also can be made ahead of time.  Reheat it gently before serving it.

Assembly:

Spread 1/4 cup vanilla pastry cream on the bottom of your crust. Layer 1/4 inch banana slices over pastry cream. Top with 1.5 cups pastry cream. Add another layer of slice bananas. And top with remaining pastry cream (or if you used the 2nd pastry cream recipe, just add enough to cover bananas. Garnish with whipped cream and reserved ground peanuts. drizzle with bourbon caramel.

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