I’m really into sports. Just ask me who I think is going to make this summer’s Olympic women’s gymnastics team. I dare you! I could go on and on forever! But this blog isn’t called bon appé-one-and-a-half-twist-into-a-double-Arabian, now is it?
So, let’s switch gears to a different competition: Food 52’s Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks. For those of you unfamiliar, Food 52 took sixteen of the most notable cookbooks of 2011 and placed them in a classic tournament-style bracket with top food writers and chefs as judges. As you might have guessed, I was rooting for Tender. (Remember my Tender Trifecta?) And for the first two rounds, the fat, novel-length cookbook was holding his own. The judges found Tender to be approachable, non-gadget-oriented, and just plain lovely. (I don’t think either of them actually said lovely, but they probably meant to.)
Then, in the semi-finals, Tender goes up against another one-word titled cookbook: Milk. But don’t freak out, the good money is on Tender. Tender is all about old school, honest food that’s not afraid of using garden vegetables straight from your backyard vegetable patch. Milk is the total opposite. It’s irreverent, flashy, impractical food that’s not afraid of equipment like acetate. To put it in sports terms we can all understand, Tender is like Kate Moseley and Doug Dorsey’s routine with the classical music and without the pamchenko. Milk is the pamchenko.
So, you can understand the shock when acclaimed food writer, Kim Severson, came down on Milk's side. Naturally, I took the loss hard (and if you read the comments, so did a lot of other people!). I hadn’t explored Milk previously, and after this, I couldn’t even look at it—every time I browsed the cookbook section, I completely ignored it. This went on for weeks. And then, one day, I don’t know what happened, but I found myself looking at it. Soon enough, I was opening it, flipping through the pages. And then, all of a sudden, I was thinking: this looks fun! I want to have fun! I want to make these recipes!
Let me show you what I’m talking about, and then you try and tell me that this doesn’t look fun, OK?
Initially, I really wanted to make one of the cakes, but they called for a few pieces of equipment that I didn’t want to buy. The pies seemed more doable. And the banana cream pie sounded delicious. I loved the corresponding photo, too. Before I knew it, I was mentally committed to making it.
Only after this mental commitment did I read through the instructions. Oh, you have to wait for the bananas to get super ripe? Oh, in order to make the crust, you have to make the chocolate crumbs? Oh, you need to bloom gelatin? For how to bloom gelatin, go to page 29. Wait, what’s going on here? I just wanted to eat a cream pie that had some bananas in it and sat on top of a chocolatey crust. I didn’t realize I was applying for a mortgage.
But, in the interest of trying not to create any undue stress, I decided to give myself a whole week to make this. I bought bananas and waited for them to ripen to a glorious brown color, which (bonus?) produced a few fruit flies by the time things were all said and done. While I waited, I made the chocolate crumbs. I put them in an airtight container, and then a few days later, I made the crust. I wrapped that up in plastic wrap and a few days later, when my bananas were grandma ripe, I made the banana cream.Then, one early morning, I tapped Matt on the shoulder while he lay asleep and asked him if he could please take the our version photo while I poured the cream into the piecrust. “We’re having the pie?” he said.
“Tonight,” I whispered as creepily as possible. “Tonight, we’ll have pie.”fantastic and not I-will-definitely-make-this-again fantastic, but it was really, really good.
Banana Cream Pie via Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi
Chocolate Crumb2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup good-quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
Combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, cocoa, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low until mixed. Add the butter and mix on low until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters.
Spread the crumbs on a parchment or silicone mat-lined sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Let the crumbs cool completely before using or eating. [This latter part about not eating it until it cooled made me curious. So curious that I ate a few crumbs before they had completely cooled. AND they were delicious. Go figure?]
Chocolate Crust (makes 1 10-inch pie crust)
3/4 of the chocolate crumb recipe above
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons of melted butter
Break up the chocolate crumbs into a bowl. Add sugar and 1 tablespoon of the melted butter to start. With your hands, knead until it is moist enough to form a ball. If it isn't moist enough, add another tablespoon of melted butter. Press the crust firmly into the pie plate, making sure the bottom and sides are evenly covered.
2 very ripe bananas. [We are talking about black/brown bananas here. Tosi says this makes all the difference in the world.]
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
2 gelatin sheets (or 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon yellow food coloring
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup powdered sugar
1 just-ripe (yellow) banana, sliced
Combine the ripe bananas, 1/3 cup heavy cream, and 1/4 cup milk in a blender & puree until totally smooth. Add the next section of ingredients--the sugar, cornstarch, salt, & egg yolks and blend. Pour into a medium saucepan. Clean out the blender.
Bloom the gelatin. (To bloom sheet gelatin, soak it in a small bowl of cold water for 2 minutes. Gently squeeze to remove any excess water before using. To bloom powdered gelatin, sprinkle it evenly onto the surface of 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small dish or cup. Allow to soften for 3-5 minutes.)
Whisk the contents of the pan and heat over medium-low heat. As the banana mixture heats up, it will thicken. Bring to a boil and then continue to whisk vigorously for 2 minutes to fully cook out the starch. The mixture will resemble thick glue, bordering on cement, with a color to match. [I really like Tosi's description here. It was so helpful as this is exactly what happens. She left out one thing, though. At this point, you will definitely have broken a sweat.]
Dump the contents of the pan into the blender. Add the bloomed gelatin and butter and blend until smooth and even. Color the mixture with yellow food coloring until it is bright yellow. Tosi realizes that this is a lot of coloring, but says, "banana creams don't get that brilliant yellow color on their own. Womp," which I think is a good enough argument for food coloring as any.
Transfer the mixture to a heatsafe container & chill in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes or until completely cooled.
Using a whisk or a mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the cream and powdered sugar to medium-soft peaks. Add the cold banana mixture to the whipped cream and slowly whisk until evenly colored and homogenous. (Stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container, this will stay fresh for up to 5 days.)
Pour half the banana cream into the chocolate pie shell. Cover with a layer of sliced banana and then cover that with the remaining filling.
Note: I'm not sure if my gelatin never really bloomed or what, but this pie was basically a pudding, as in you couldn't exactly cut a slice of it as much as you could spoon some of it onto a plate. If I ever made it again, I might skip the whole pie-crust process and simply serve the banana cream in a ramekin with a healthy dusting of the chocolate crumb on top.