Belated Pi(e)s and a Minor Detour

Now, there is a reason why I have been so MIA on the blog scene for the last several days…and that would be because I was taking a much needed vacation in Puerto Vallarta :)! Without possibly knowing where to begin my excited ramblings detailing the trip, I will just say that on a scale of 1-10, one being subdued and dull and ten being spontaneous indulgences and epic-ness, our trip would have to be 10 to the millionth power. Yes, I may be using hyperbole but really, this high ranking is not based solely on everything that happened, but also on the timing and temporary distance from reality that was finally granted to me.

All in all, the beaches, unreal food, free flowing tequila, a run in with a celebrity (Calvin Harris heyyy!) and the company of one of my closest friends made this vacation the ultimate dream and a time that I am already feeling nostalgic for…

Before I left on Wednesday morning, or Pi Day 3/14, I knew that I HAD to make a pie. What an embarrassment to the food blogging community I would be if I ignored such a holiday! So, despite my better judgment, I ignored my huge pre-travel checklist and chose to make a banana cream pie. Well, that was quite a foolish endeavor to take on at 3pm, when really, cream pies take several hours because of the various chilling stages. I did, however, manage to get through all of the steps and finished my pie 9 hours later (officially on the holiday) at midnight….but….my custard didn’t thicken!! Ackkk what a disaster! My beautiful vanilla custard speckled with thousands of tiny vanilla seeds was a soupy mess! Of course, one should never rush desserts, as baking requires such precision, but I just could not bare the idea of not making a pie. I know now, looking back on the preparation that I did not cook the custard long enough. I was not going to let all of those efforts go to waste, however, and my genius roommate suggested throwing it in the freezer. So, while the banana cream pie did not turn into a true custard pie…it became a lush frozen dessert!

The vanilla cream transformed into a french vanilla ice cream of sorts, and the banana sour cream ensemble lining the bottom of the pie was still fantastic. While the walnut cookie-like crust did take a bit of hacking to slice through, a brief thaw made it very simple. And of course, the candied walnuts on top really just add another layer to the perfect bite of pie. I am definitely going to try to make this recipe again (successfully this time), so I want to include the true recipe by Ron Silver of Bubby’s Pie Co. below. The recipe is quite extensive, as you make everything from scratch – but based on my failed pie turned frozen wonder, I can tell you that the original must be a winner! Good luck!

Banana Cream Pie with Candied Walnuts -Makes one 8-10 inch pie (adapted from Bubby’s Pie Co.)

Nut Pastry Pie Dough

1/2 cup raw walnuts (finely chopped); 3/4 cup flour; 3/4 teaspoon sugar; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 1½ tablespoons cold unsalted butter ( diced) 1 large egg (lightly beaten)

Put the nuts in a medium bowl with the flour, sugar and salt. Mix well. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles dry cookie dough. Mix in the egg to moisten the dough. Shape the dough into a ball. Wrap the dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Blind bake crust at 350°F for 15 minutes or so, keep a close eye on the crust as it will burn quickly. Before placing in oven, prick with a fork all over so that steam doesn’t get trapped.

**An easier method is simply combining the dry ingredients in a food processor and blending until mixed. Then add butter and sugar until dough begins to ball on the blades.

Vanilla Pudding – Makes 3 cups

2 cups whole milk; 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise; 1 cup sugar (divided); tiny pinch salt; 1/2 cup egg yolks (about 6 yolks); 1/4 cup cornstarch; 4 tablespoons (½ stick) cold unsalted butter (cubed)

Using a large, heavy, non-reactive saucepan (aluminum reacts and will cause a pudding to turn dingy grey), combine the milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the vanilla bean and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch until smooth.

Have the whisk, a ladle and a large glass or ceramic dish handy. Heat the milk mixture in the saucepan until it just comes to a boil, whisking it a bit as it gets steamy. When you see the first bubbles boiling up, take the pan off the heat and place it on a potholder next to the egg mixture.

During the next steps, you must constantly be stirring your mixture so that your eggs don’t coagulate and turn into scrambled eggs.Take a ladleful of hot milk and pour it in a thin stream into the eggs, whisking constantly. Continue stirring, and add a few more ladlefuls of hot milk to the eggs in the same way.The tempered eggs are now ready to add back into the hot milk.

To do this, whisk the hot milk constantly and pour the tempered eggs in slowly. When fully combined, put this mixture back on the stovetop over medium heat and continue to whisk constantly.The mixture should be ready to come back to a boil very quickly.When the custard nears the consistency of pudding, take very short pauses in stirring to look for signs of a bubble surfacing (it is more like a single volcanic blurp). Don’t look too closely, or you’ll risk getting spattered with hot pudding. Just stir, pause briefly, stir, and so on.

When you see the first blurp, remove the pan from the heat immediately and whisk in the cubes of butter.Whisk until fully combined and immediately pour the pudding into a large glass or ceramic dish to cool it down. While the pudding is still very hot, stretch plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Smooth out any air pockets to make the pudding airtight. This will prevent a skin or condensation from forming on top of the pudding. Refrigerate the pudding until completely cold — at least 4 hours.

Stir the cold pudding and retrieve the vanilla bean. Squeeze out the excess seeds (those little black specks) in the interior of the pod with your thumb and forefinger — pinch and slide your fingers down the length of the bean, freeing the black seeds as you go. Do this with each half of the bean, returning as many seeds as possible to the pudding.

And Finally … the Pie!

3 cups vanilla pudding; 1 pastry for a 9-inch single-crust pie, blind-baked; 4 to 5 medium-size ripe bananas; 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice; 1/4 cup sour cream; 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract; candied walnuts

Slice the bananas ¼ inch thick to get about 4 cups and immediately toss them in the lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Stir in the sour cream gently. Layer the coated bananas in the pie crust, and flatten them gently. Layer the pudding on top and smooth it with a spatula. Refrigerate the pie, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 2 hours before cutting. Serve wedges of pie cold with Candied Pecans; their salty accent is quite nice next to the custard and bananas. Store loosely covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Candied Nuts – Makes 2 cups candied nuts

1/4 cup honey; 1 1/2 tablespoons brandy; 1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract; 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 2 cups walnuts

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, mix together the honey, brandy, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Add the nuts and mix well.

Spread the coated nuts on a large well-greased baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes. Stir and scrape them up every 5 minutes with a spatula and return the pan to the oven until the nuts smell good and are deep glossy brown. Be careful not to burn them.

Remove the pan from the oven and scrape the nuts up with a spatula occasionally as they are cooling or they’ll stick together and to the sheet. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three weeks.