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One Great Banana Dessert

August 28, 2002

We thought we knew banana cream pie, until we tasted Suzanne Tracht's revival of the classic at Jar.

Tracht, who is head chef and co-owner of that purposefully American restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, manages to preserve the indulgence of the dessert, while imparting a remarkable elegance and lightness to it.

Bananas are not left to sulk in pastry cream but set in a mixture of creme anglaise lightened at the last moment by the addition of whipped cream. The filling makes a luxurious complement to slices of sweet banana and a perfectly crisp crust. A squirt of caramel finishes the business like a dark sweet remark.

The Times Test Kitchen

*

Jar's Banana Cream Pie

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes, plus 4 hours chilling

PASTRY DOUGH

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, plus more for rolling

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cubed and chilled, plus more for preparing pans

4 egg yolks

4 to 5 tablespoons whipping cream

Nonstick cooking spray

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.

PASTRY CREAM

7 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups whole milk

1 vanilla bean

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.

CARAMEL SAUCE

1 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/4 cup light corn syrup

2 cups sugar

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.

ASSEMBLY

Pastry Cream

Pie shells

1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks, divided

4 ripe bananas, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Caramel Sauce

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.

8 servings. Each serving: 852 calories; 540 mg sodium; 493 mg cholesterol; 45 grams fat; 25 grams saturated fat; 102 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 1.64 grams fiber.

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