So a Minnesota researcher says that eating comfort food doesn’t really improve our mood, that we bounce back sooner or later no matter what we eat.
OK, then let’s call banana cream pie a celebratory food — a treat that we make because we’re already feeling good. With spring on the wing and taxes out of the way, who isn’t in the mood for sharing some joy?
Banana cream pie is one of those bang-for-the-buck desserts, looking more elaborate than the actual effort required. The basic custard also lends itself to a variations with toasted coconut or grated chocolate.
For either pie, we’re proponents of a graham cracker crust. Views differ. But we think that crushed grahams, with their slight crunch and flavor of warm grains, complement the vanilla-mild pastry cream like nobody’s business. Grating a smidge of fresh nutmeg into the crumbs adds another nuance, and feels fresher — more joyful? — than the usual cinnamon.
The filling is really a classic vanilla pudding, bolstered with half-and-half to give the pie slices enough substance to sit pretty on a plate without slumping. The key to success with a custard is stirring constantly for the several minutes that it takes to cook and thicken.
Stirring doesn’t just mean moving a spatula round and round. It means taking care to move it deliberately across the bottom of the saucepan and to scrape around the edges. Keeping the filling in motion prevents lumps from forming until everything thickens and become slightly glossy. There is a joy in paying attention.
To deepen the flavors without overwhelming the vanilla, we took a cue from the Moosewood Collective’s recipe for butterscotch banana cream pie and substituted light brown sugar for half of the usual sugar. Yum.
Assembly is simple: Line the crust with bananas, top with half the filling, another layer of bananas, then the rest of the filling. Chill for six hours or overnight, then top with freshly whipped cream before serving.
Then bask in the joy, comfortably.