A cream pie is usually a pie with a custard or pudding base that is topped off with a lot of whipped cream. In the case of banana cream pie, the standard recipe has vanilla pudding covering a layer of fresh banana slices – and whipped cream on top, of course. The standard is a classic because it has a good combination of flavors, it’s simple and it’s tasty. It’s also a little bit boring when it comes right down to it. This version of banana cream pie adds in another flavor to give the dessert a little more depth: caramel.
I made a caramel pudding to top off these bananas, and added a drizzle of caramel sauce to the whipped cream before serving to further boost the caramel flavor. The caramel pudding has a nice, subtle buttery flavor to it, but still keeps the nice vanilla notes that you’ll find in plain pudding. It’s easy to make from scratch and there is no need to use a candy thermometer to keep track of the temperature of the caramel. All you have to do is watch the color of the sugar as it cooks, looking for it to turn a golden color all over before adding in the butter.
If you make pudding from scratch a lot, you’ll notice that I use quite a bit of cornstarch to thicken this caramel pudding. I wouldn’t normally use this much, but it’s important that a cream pie be easy to slice and hold its shape well when sliced (otherwise you might as well just leave out the crust eat the pudding with whipped cream), and this cream pie holds up extremely well when sliced. The pudding stays soft and tender, even if you store the pie for a day or two before finishing it, so don’t worry that the extra cornstarch will make it unpleasantly stiff.
I added whipped cream to each slice as it was served, since I was not serving the whole pie at once. For the best presentation, make a batch of whipped cream and spread it over the pie before serving.
Caramel Banana Cream Pie
1 9-inch pie crust, prebaked
2/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp butter
2 cups milk
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
Slice bananas into approx 1/4-inch thick slices and pile them into an even layer in the pie crust (a regular pie crust or a graham crust is fine).
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine sugar and water and cook until sugar is bubbling and has taken on a golden amber color, about 10 minutes (depending on the temperature of your stovetop). Add in butter. Sugar will sizzle, then butter will melt right in.
Working carefully, pour in 1 1/2 cups of the milk to the hot sugar mixture. The caramel will seize up, but will remelt fairly quickly. Stir occasionally to help caramel melt.
Meanwhile, whisk together remaining 1/2 cup milk, cornstarch and egg in a medium bowl. When the caramel has melted into the milk in the sauce pan, very gradually stream it into the cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture through a strainer and transfer the milk mixture back into the saucepan.
Continue to cook pudding over medium heat until it just comes to a boil. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. The pudding will thicken substantially. Whisk in vanilla extract.
Pour immediately over the sliced bananas in the pie crust. Chill in refrigerator until pudding is chilled and set, at least 2 hours.
Top with a layer of whipped cream (recipe below) before serving.
Sweetened Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a large mixing bowl, whip heavy cream until it reaches soft peaks. Sift in confectioners sugar and beat to incorporate. Whisk in vanilla extract, then spread over the banana cream pie.