Banana cream pie: hold the graham crackers, ditch the pudding

Have you ever made a real banana cream pie?

I assume, if you’re at all fond of bananas and pudding and comfort food in general, you’ve made an easy banana cream pie. One that starts with a graham cracker crust; continues with sliced bananas and instant pudding (banana or vanilla, your choice of flavor), and ends with a flourish: Cool Whip! Or Reddi-wip, if you want to shape some fancy rosettes using the can’s nozzle.

Or maybe you’ve made that Southern staple, banana pudding. Often featured on lunchtime buffets down South, as part of a “meat and three” deal (meat, three sides), it’s a simple combination of vanilla wafers, pudding, and sliced bananas, all tumbled together and topped with, yes, Cool Whip.

Or, for fancier presentation, layered in a trifle dish. While banana pudding’s not pie, it replicates banana cream pie’s flavors admirably.

But have you ever made a REAL banana cream pie – one faithful to this diner classic’s early 20th-century origins? A pie with flaky, tender crust, filled with fresh bananas and carefully simmered custard, and topped with REAL whipped cream?

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the typical easy banana cream pie with its “from a box” crust and filling; after all, that was a staple of my mom’s baking repertoire. And who doesn’t love what Mom used to bake, if only for its happy associated memories?

But you owe it to yourself, just this once, to try traditional banana cream pie.

I’d suggest the same thing if you’d never made brownies except from a boxed mix; or dinner rolls, beyond brown ‘n’ serve. There’s just something about “from scratch” baking that satisfies your soul – as well as your appetite!

Let’s start with a single pastry pie crust, one you’ve rolled out and nestled into a 9″ pie pan. If you don’t have a favorite pie crust recipe, our Classic Single Pie Crust won’t let you down.

Chill the crust for 30 minutes.

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Next, you’re going to “blind bake” the crust – i.e., bake it without any filling. This is common practice for pies with fillings that cook atop the stove, rather than bake in the oven: chocolate cream, for instance.

One issue with blind baking crust is that it can tend to slide down the sides of the pan as it bakes. (You’ve had that happen, right? Frustrating!) Chilling the crust relaxes its gluten, and helps prevent this slippery slide.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove the pie from the refrigerator, and prick its bottom surface all over with a fork; this will help keep it flat. Line the crust with a piece of waxed paper or parchment (a 9″ parchment cake round works well), and fill it with dried beans, rice, pie weights, or the oven-safe, food-safe weights of your choice.

Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven, remove the weights and paper, and continue to bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until it’s golden brown across the bottom. Remove the crust from the oven, and cool it on a rack while you make the filling.

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In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the following:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

Set this mixture aside for a moment.

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring 2 cups milk (preferably whole milk) just to a boil. Gradually add the hot milk to the egg mixture, stirring all the while. Return the egg/milk mixture to the saucepan.

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Cook the filling over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and starts to boil; this will happen quite quickly, so don’t leave the stove to do other chores.

Remove the filling from the heat, and add the following, stirring until smooth:

6 tablespoons room-temperature or soft butter
1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, to taste
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional

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Peel 2 medium bananas, slicing them 1/2″ thick. Arrange as many slices as will fit in the crust.

Pour the hot filling over the bananas.

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Smooth the surface, and cover it with plastic wrap — or with the same piece of parchment you used to line the crust while it was baking. This will prevent the surface of the filling from developing a “skin” or crust.

Refrigerate the pie until it’s completely cold; the filling will thicken and set.

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Serve the pie cold, with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired. I happen to like my whipped cream on the “droopy” side; in other words, yes, it was supposed to look like this! But feel free to whip it stiff if that’s your preference.

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Banana Cream Pie.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Jean

    Best way to keep your boiled cream nice and thick is add a pack of Knox unflavored gelatin. I also make this for coconut cream pie instead of banana.

    Reply
  2. Elisa

    I want to make this pie for Thanksgiving. If I make it today, do you suggest freezing it until Thursday or keeping it in the fridge? (I’m making it tonight, 3 days before it will be eaten).

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Elisa, I’d suggest the following: Make the crust, cool, and store it wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature (in its pan). Make the pastry cream filling, cool, and refrigerate with a sheet of plastic wrap on top, to prevent a skin from forming. On Thursday morning, slice bananas into the pie crust, and spoon in the pastry cream filling. The top of the pie won’t be perfectly smooth, but a layer of whipped cream will easily hide all sins! I suggest this because this pie isn’t freeze-able; it would turn very watery as it thawed. And if you made the pie today and stuck it in the fridge, by Thursday the bottom crust would be soggy and the bananas would be brown and quite unattractive. Good luck – PJH

  3. sandy

    I have always avoided making pastry cream for two reasons – didn’t want to have leftover egg whites since many recipes call for only yolks and didn’t want to strain the pastry cream after it was cooked like many recipes tell you to. I just made the pastry cream in this recipe and it is just as good and as easy as everyone posting here says. Using whole eggs is great and there is no need to strain. Very good. Today I am using it in the banana cream pie, but I am sure I will find all sorts of uses for it.

    Reply
  4. charles forbes

    PJ Just made your pie. Easy as can be, I used slightly browned frozen deep dish shell, and no plastic wrap. I added squeezes of lemon, freshly grated nutmeg, and a few shots of cinnamon, as well as vanilla . I haven’t eaten it yet, but just cleaning the bowl was a treat

    Reply
  5. Betty Saboe

    I made the banana pie today. When I poured it back in the pan and brought to a boil it looked like the thickening didn’t dissolve completely and I saw small bumpy pieces. Used flour and corn starch. Did add butter and vanilla and whisked some more. Never got smooth looking. I did put in shell and we shall see how it is tonight. Maybe you can tell me what happened. Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      When this happens, even the pro’s will strain the custard cream if lumps are there – push it through a sieve or strainer if it should happen again. It could be caused by a lumpy flour/cornstarch mixture, the tempering step or just from not stirring constantly over the heat. Best to you as you make another pie (and another pie…….) until your results are just right. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  6. Faith

    I dislike recipes that advertise themselves as “quick and easy”. If you are going to make something make it right, and make it from scratch!

    I just finished making your recipe, and it is the best banana cream pie I have had. Thank you so much for sharing!!

    Reply

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