There are few things in this world that are as enjoyable after a good meal as a slice of well-made pie. Well, except maybe that slice of pie before a good meal — but that’s a touchy subject for some of us. When chef Suzanne Tracht opened her West Hollywood chophouse Jar 14 years ago, she must have thought the same thing, since she put a most excellent banana cream pie on the menu. It’s still there. So after your martini, your wedge salad, your pot roast — you can still order a slice of pie for dessert and complete the extended epiphany you’ve been having since you walked in the door. The pie, says Tracht, “adds nostalgia to the diner’s experience.” And it’s the kind of nostalgia you can duplicate in your kitchen — with or without the martini and the crooner playlist. The combination of pastry cream, bananas, whipped cream and caramel sauce is a classic.
Jar's banana cream pie
Combine the flour and sugar in a food processor or mixer. With the machine running, slowly add the butter, and process or mix until you have a fine meal. Mix together the yolks and the cream, and slowly add it into the flour mixture. Process until the dough just starts to come together.
Turn the dough onto a floured work surface; workwith the heel of your palm until it comes together flat and smooth. Form the dough into 8 small disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours.
Butter 8 (4-inch) tart pans. (If you only have 4 pans, you can make 4 shells at a time.) Roll the disks out to 1/8 inch thick. Form the dough into the tart pans. Use a rolling pan to roll over the tops of the pans until the excess dough drops from the sides. Press the dough gently to the sides of the pans. You must chill and weigh down the dough. The easiest way is by spraying a coffee filter with cooking spray and filling it with dried beans, then placing it on top of the pastry dough. Chill the shells for at least another 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bake the shells (coffee-filter bags and beans still on top) until they become light amber, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the coffee filters and let the shells cool to room temperature. Carefully remove the shells from the pans.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is pale and forms ribbons when the beaters are lifted from the bowl. Sift in the cornstarch and flour, mixing well.
Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Split and scrape the vanilla bean and place in the milk. Once the milk comes to a boil, remove the bean, then slowly whisk about 1/4 of the milk into the egg mixture, then whisk rapidly to incorporate and not curdle the eggs. Return the mixture to the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick and bubbles, 6 to 8 minutes. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, pressing it flat across the cream’s surface so no skin forms, and refrigerate 1 hour.
Place the cream, butter and vanilla bean in a saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Set aside.
Heat the corn syrup in a deep, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until it just starts to bubble, about 3 minutes, then slowly sprinkle in the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the sugar has been incorporated, stir a bit slower, allowing the mix to become a very light amber, then straw-colored, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Remove the bean from the cream mixture and discard; add the cream mixture to the corn syrup mixture, being careful not to burn yourself from the splattering. Return the sauce to high heat and cook until the sugar completely dissolves, 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour the sauce into a heat-proof container, stirring once or twice over the next 5 minutes to prevent further cooking.
Place about 1 tablespoon of the Pastry Cream in the bottom of each shell. In a large mixing bowl, fold the remaining Pastry Cream in with 3/4 of the whipped cream. Gently fold in the bananas. Fill each shell just to the top. Place a large dollop of the whipped cream on top to cover.
Place the Caramel Sauce in a squeeze bottle, or use a metal spoon to make a zig-zag of sauce across each plate. Place the pies on top. Drizzle or squeeze the sauce in a zig-zag on top of each pie.