I had big ideas for mom's Mother's Day cake, but as the day drew nearer, those big ideas turned into big questions: Did a tiered cake with light yellow fondant and fresh flowers really reflect my mom? Does my mom even like cake? And ultimately, was this cake about my mom, or me?
At length I concluded that the best cake I could make for my mom was in fact a pie.
Sure, mom busted out the occasional cake from a boxed mix, but pies were something special altogether. Pies mean thanksgiving and hold the literal fruits of our labors. A good pie demands patience, practice, skill, trial and error. The rewards of a good pie? A knife shattering the sugary top, cutting through the sweet, tangy fruit through to the crisp bottom crust. Quickly lift the slice, dripping its juices, onto a plate, spoon on some loosely whipped cream, and you have what almost everyone wants at the end of their last meal on earth: a pie. In short, cake may be for celebrations, but pie means going home.
(Grandma Ginny's Pie Tin)
I made three pies for Mother's Day: Banana Cream (for the kids), Apple Blackberry (for the traditionalists) and French Lemon Cream Tart (to cover my bases). It was way better than making a cake.
Banana Cream Pie
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from my Home to Yours)
The use of brown sugar and a few spices in the custard and a little sour cream in the topping adds a new dimension to the old standard.
For the custard:
2 c. whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch, sifted
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 t. vanilla extract
3 T. cold unsalted butter
3 ripe but firm bananas
1 9-inch single crust, fully baked and cooled
For the topping:
1 c. cold heavy cream
2 T. powdered sugar, sifted
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. sour cream
Bring the milk to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until well blended and thick. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in a bout 1/4 c. of the hot milk to temper the mixture. Still whisking, add the remainder of the moil in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. Boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes before removing from the heat.
Whisk in vanilla. Let stand for 5 minutes, when whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the custard is smooth and silky. Cool in ice bath or refrigerate until cool (press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the custard if you refrigerate it).
When you are ready to assemble the pie, peel the bananas and cut them on a shallow diagonal into 1/4-inch slices.
Whisk the cold custard vigorously to loosen it, and spread about one quarter of it over the bottom of the crust. Top with half of the bananas. Repeat, adding a thin layer of custard and the remaining bananas, then smooth the rest of the pastry cream over the last layer of bananas.
For the topping, beat the cream until it just starts to thicken. Beat in the powdered sugar, vanilla, and continue to beat until the cream holds firm peaks. Gently fold in the sour cream. Spoon the whipped cream over the filling and spread it evenly to the edges of the custard.