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How-To

How to Make Luscious Cream Pies

April/May 2018 Issue
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Who can resist the old-fashioned deliciousness of a silky cream pie? I’ve been eyeballing the cream pies displayed in the glass enclosures at diners for as long as I can remember (and that’s a lot of years and a ton of diners). There they sit, tempting me with whipped cream piled a mile high on top of thick layers of pudding. They look larger than life and amazing, but all too often with one bite, the reality falls well short of expectation. These disappointments have shaped my baking maxim: Every recipe I create should taste as delicious as it looks.

What follows are my versions of three diner-style cream pies: banana, chocolate, and coconut. Each one features a deeply flavored, creamy pudding spooned into an easy-to-make, tender pie crust and topped with lightly sweetened, billowy whipped cream.

From there, I gave each a modern update. My goal wasn’t to change the  flavors but to intensify and elevate them. The Southern dessert
bananas Foster inspired the banana pie update that features a layer of rum-spiked sautéed bananas. Chocolate cream becomes even more decadent with bittersweet ganache and an espresso-flavored mascarpone topping. For the coconut, I reduced coconut milk to a thick, more intensely flavored cream and paired it with a layer of salted caramel.

Between the  flaky crust, rich fillings, and creamy whipped toppings, each of these pies will make you swoon at first glance, and their rich flavors and velvety textures will elicit delight with every bite. Even better, there’s no need for an excursion to the diner to enjoy them.

Tips for Success

  • I make the dough for these pies in my stand mixer. it makes quick work of the process and produces an easy-to-roll dough that bakes up into a tender, slightly flaky crust with a buttery flavor
  • For a stress-free rolling experience, I like to roll the dough between two sheets of parchment. This facilitates the process, prevents sticking, and makes maneuvering the dough much easier.
  • When preparing the fillings, make sure the cornstarch is fully incorporated into the milk before adding the yolks, then the remaining milk. This will ensure a smooth pudding.
  • While cooking the filling, whisk the entire bottom of the pan, even around the edges. This will help you to avoid scorching.
  • Though many people like it, I prefer my pudding filling without the thin “skin” that can form on top as it cools. To prevent the skin from forming, cover the filling with plastic wrap (make sure it touches the entire pudding surface) as soon as you scrape it into the crust. If you like the skin, feel free to cool the filling in these recipes without the plastic wrap. If you aren’t sure which camp—skin or no skin—your palate resides in, you can cover half of the pudding with plastic wrap directly on the surface and leave the other half uncovered; continue as directed in the recipe and taste-test both sides.
  • The whipped cream toppings on diner pies look pillowy enough to take a nap in. How do you get that whipped cream so high? The secret is to pile all the topping in the center of the pie and work the peaks from the center out and down to the edges of the pie with a small offset spatula.

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  • MLAP | 04/23/2018

    I’ve been making pie crust for years, but thought I would give this recipe a try. It was a failure. It tasted great, but the slippage made it look like a deflated balloon. May still try the filling, but will use a different crust recipe.

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