thanksgiving has always been one of my family’s favorite holidays.
I was born in the united states to foreign-born parents and raised speaking only english. but as soon as they saw my almond eyes and stubbornly straight black hair, everyone from my teachers to my classmates to the well-meaning grocery cashier would ask, “where are you from? but where are you really from?” though I had never identified as any nationality other than american, the people around me were all-too-ready to remind me that I did not look like them, that I was not one of them.
however, thanksgiving was a chance for us asian-americans to feel just as american as everyone else. we too could partake in the tradition – have our relatives over, eat buttery mashed potatoes and golden turkey. thanksgiving, after all, began as a celebration of the day when native americans welcomed starved, disoriented immigrants onto their soil, and the holiday became for us a sort of safe space, where we could speak in an amalgamation of chinese and english and still be perfectly understood.
some years, our thanksgiving table has had a chinese-style turkey as its centerpiece and chinatown cakes as dessert. other years, we’ve gone full-on traditional, serving up pumpkin and pecan pies, cornbread, and brined roast turkey. for the past few iterations, a new favorite dessert has crept into the mix: a banana cream pie. an all-american dessert atypical for thanksgiving, but perfect for our family gatherings. it’s a refreshing combination of airy whipped frosting, the natural sweetness of bananas, decadent french pastry cream, and a tender flaky crust – a western dessert with asian sensibility.
looking back on the first thanksgiving, the pilgrims too took unfamiliar new world ingredients and crafted a western meal, roasting a never-before-seen bird and preparing novel vegetables alongside their native american neighbors. I imagine the native americans and the european settlers that would later become americans, two different languages, two different cultures, yet able to create a meal together. and despite all that has changed in the intervening centuries, I think – I hope – that the damage is not irrevocable and the melange of ethnicities in america lessens fear of the unknown, that almond eyes or skin tone or religion do not preclude full claim to the identification of “american”.
makes one 10-inch pie
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup (156g) water, very cold
3 cups, 2 tbsp (455g) all-purpose flour
1 cup, 5 tbsp (300g) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1-inch pieces
3oz (85g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups (454g) whole milk
beans scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup, 1 tbsp (115g) sugar
2 large eggs
2-3 tbsp (55g) unsalted butter
2 cup (227g) heavy cream, very cold
2 tbsp sugar
4 ripe bananas sliced horizontally into 1/4-inch rounds
3oz (85g) bittersweet chocolate bar (for curls) elisabeth m. prueitt and chad robertson. tartine. san francisco: chronicle books, 2006.
2 place flour and butter in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. mix on low speed until mixture forms large crumbs and pea-sized chunks of butter are visible. add saltwater mixture and at low speed until dough begins to come together but is not completely smooth.
3 on lightly floured work surface, divide dough into 2 equal balls and shape each ball into 1-inch thick disk. wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours minimum.
4 on lightly floured surface, roll out disk of dough 1/8-inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. lift and rotate dough every few rolls, and work quickly before dough becomes warm and sticky. carefully transfer to pie dish/tart pan, pressing gently into the bottom and sides. trim the dough so there is 1/2-inch overhang and fold under.
5 chill shell for 30 minutes to 1 hour (or freeze for up to 2 weeks).
6 preheat oven to 375ºF.
7 line pastry shells with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. bake ~25 minutes until shell is light brown, remove weights and paper, and bake ~5 minutes, until golden brown.
8 let cool completely on wire rack before filling.
9 in a small saucepan, bring water to a simmer. in a heatproof bowl, melt chocolate until smooth. remove from heat.
10 spread chocolate evenly over bottom of pie shell. refrigerate for 10 minutes to set chocolate.
pastry cream|1 set up all ingredients beforehand and have a bowl ready for cooling pastry cream with a fine-mesh sieve resting on the rim.
2 pour milk into heavy saucepan. add salt and sugar (and vanilla beans, if using). on medium-high heat, bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure milk solids don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
3 in a mixing bowl, beat together eggs and cornstarch until smooth.
4 slowly ladle ~1/3 hot milk into egg mixture, whisking constantly. pour egg-milk mixture back into hot milk in saucepan and continue whisking over medium heat for ~2 minutes, until custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream. (stir in vanilla extract, if using.) remove from heat and immediately pour through sieve into bowl. let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5 cut butter into 1-tbsp pieces. whisk butter into pastry cream 1 tbsp at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next one.
6 cover cream with plastic wrap, pressing wrap directly on top of cream. refrigerate until cooled. (pastry cream can be stored, well-covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days.)
final touches|1 pour heavy cream into bowl of mixer fitted with whisk attachment. whip until thickened, add sugar, and continue to whip until cream holds medium-firm peaks.
2 fold ~1/2 cup whipped cream into cold pastry cream. gently fold banana slices into the pastry cream, then transfer pastry cream to pie shell.
3 using a spatula, spread whipped cream on top. to make chocolate flakes, use a chef’s knife to shave chocolate bar at a diagonal. scatter curls over the top of the pie.
4 chill pie until pastry cream is set, ~3 hours. serve pie cool. (pie will keep in fridge for 4 days.)