Banana cream pies are a simple pie that is difficult to get right. Some don’t use enough banana, so the fruit flavor gets lost in a sea of whipped cream. Other versions don’t use enough vanilla, producing a pie that is creamy, but bland. This pie, of course, doesn’t have any of these failings and that is what makes it my Ultimate Vanilla Banana Cream Pie! The pie has a generous layer of fresh banana slices at its base and they are topped with a vanilla bean-infused custard and a lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream.
The custard is made on the stovetop and starts with milk, sugar and a whole vanilla bean. I used Rodelle vanilla beans (my favorite), which are especially plump and packed with vanilla bean seeds and aromatic vanilla flavor. If you don’t want to use a whole vanilla bean, you can substitute it with a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste, which will give you a very similar look and still deliver a great vanilla flavor. The filling is not overly sweet and has a lovely consistency. It is thickened with both whole eggs and cornstarch. The eggs give the custard a smooth, velvety texture, while the cornstarch ensures that the filling is thick enough to slice easily when you are ready to serve the pie.
The lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream is a topping that is an outstanding choice for any dessert, but works particularly well here because the whipped cream cuts through the richness of the vanilla custard and banana filling. This allows each bite of the pie to seem much lighter than it actually is – and that means you will be able to eat a generous slice without feeling too full (always a plus in my book). For the whipped cream, you can mix in half of a scraped vanilla bean for a vanilla-flecked look. As with the filling, you can substitute two teaspoons of vanilla bean paste if you don’t have the whole beans on hand.
I highly recommend using a vanilla crumb crust when you make this pie, just to add in even more vanilla. I used my Vanilla Wafer Crumb Crust, which can even be made with homemade vanilla wafer cookies, if you want a little extra baking project. There are store-bought vanilla crumb crusts out there, as well. The only problem with storebought crusts is that they seem to be a little bit shallower than my regular pie dishes, which means that you might have a bit of filling leftover after assembling your pie (not a bad thing, since I always sample a few spoonfuls after I make mine, anyway!!).
I feel that you can never go wrong with more vanilla and this recipe is just one more example of that. You get floral, sweet vanilla aromas in every bite – and they highlight the tropical flavor of the banana without overpowering it. The pie is easy to make and incredibly delicious. The filling takes a few minutes to make, but the pie needs at least 3 hours in the refrigerator to set up completely. It can be prepared the day before you intend to serve it, but it can also be prepared just a couple of hours before you plan to slice it, too, as long as it has enough time to set.
Ultimate Vanilla Banana Cream Pie
1 9-inch vanilla wafer crumb crust, baked and cooled
3 large, ripe bananas
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups milk, divided (pref. whole)
2 large eggs
3 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1/2 vanilla bean
Slice each banana into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange on the bottom of the prepared pie crust. You should have enough banana slices for 2-3 layers of fruit.
Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using the back of a knife or a spoon, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, vanilla and 2 cups of milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 1/2 cup milk, eggs, cornstarch and salt until smooth. When the vanilla milk comes to a simmer, slowly temper the egg mixture by stream about 1 cup of the hot milk into the the medium bowl while whisking continuously. Pour everything back into the saucepan and cook for 3-5 minutes, whisking frequently, until the custard thickens and begins to bubble.
Remove custard from heat and pour over the banana slices in the pie crust. Tap the pie plate gently on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Cover the top of the custard with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming, then chill for about 3 hours, or overnight, until completely set.
In a large bowl, beat heavy cream to soft peaks. Whip in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla bean paste or scrape the seeds out of half a vanilla bean. Mix until vanilla is well-incorporated and cream comes to stiff peaks. Spread whipped cream over set vanilla cream filling. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 1 pie; serves 8-10