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Pie Goes Bananas

An all-American dessert acquires an airy new filling and rich crust, but Martin Booe still judges it a classic

May 14, 2006|Martin Booe | Martin Booe has contributed to Bon Appetit and is the co-author of the cookbook "Crave" with French chef Ludo Lefebvre.

What's more basic than a banana, more classic than a cream pie? Putting them together is one way to satisfy the American yen for goodies of yore. But that would be too easy. Desserts these days are in chefs' cross hairs as they aim for reinterpretation in a culinary movement you might call nouvelle-retro. Like merging Restoration Hardware with the Sharper Image.

A fine specimen of the genre is at Susina on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, an airy, genteel eatery. Susina, originally named SugarPlum, began almost four years ago as a fine European patisserie serving Rolex-thin Italian cookies, petit fours and the like. Then owner Jenna Turner began noticing recurring requests for classic American desserts. Oversized cookies and chocolate fudge brownies became big sellers, as did apple and cherry pies. The time seemed right to go deeper into the canon of Americana, so Turner asked pastry chef Patty Tunay to concoct a version of banana cream pie that would meet Susina's standards.

The conventional banana cream pie is, of course, not an ethereal delicacy. The bananas are usually bound in a rather dense, eggy custard sometimes made with condensed milk, and the crust tends to get soggy as the pie sits. In its traditional diner or truck-stop incarnation, fresh whipped cream is unheard of. As desserts go, it definitely falls on the heavier end of the spectrum.

Tunay set out to create a lighter version. She coated her pastry crust, made from short dough, with dark chocolate and caramel, an innovation that counterpoised the bittersweet chocolate with the sweetness of the bananas and that served as a buffer, keeping the crust dry and flaky.

And rather than mix up the traditional custardy filling, she folded pureed bananas into pastry cream, which fortifies the banana flavor while making for a much airier dish. She decided on a generous mound of fresh, feathery whipped cream sprinkled with milk chocolate shavings for the irresistible finish.

Tunay's new twist on a classic is a hit: As many as 24 pies fly out of the case each day. Four and one-half inches in diameter, one is big enough for two . . . or maybe not.

See the recipe at www.latimes.com/creampie

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