Momofuku is a group of restaurants owned by Chef David Chang. I admire a lot of chefs but I have a soft spot for him because he’s Korean-American. I also really like how he seems a bit nuts. When I was in New York last year, I was able to swing by Momofuku Noodle Bar, the first restaurant he ever opened. It’s a beautiful space, clean and well-lit and all done up in blonde wood. The food, however, was a bit of a letdown. The pork buns were delicious but my noodle broth was too salty. The tamales were ho-hum and the octopus with scallion kimchi had too much going on namely squash and arugula and squash foam and pumpkin seeds and… My expectations also probably didn’t help – they were whatever came after sky-high. No matter. It still felt surreal being there.
To complete my Momofuku experience, I walked on over to Momofuku Milk Bar. Famous for their innovative and playful desserts like crack pie, cereal milk ice cream (the flavor of milk left over from a bowl of cereal – genius!) and compost cookies (pretzels and potato chips among others), it more than made up for my disappointing-but-I-still-love-you-and-always-will-David-Chang lunch. I had the cereal milk ice cream and it was soooo yummy with the crunchy cereal bits around it. The compost cookie was a bit too sweet for my taste but yummy all the same. (I tried the crack pie on another occasion. Also a bit too sweet but pretty darn good.)
Shortly after my New York trip, I received the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook as a gift. It’s a beautiful book with recipes that are equal parts fascinating and intimidating. I don’t know. It intimidates me to see pictures of chefs at work in a professional kitchen next to words like “feuilletine” and “citric acid” (Uh, Cecon?).
Anyway, after much browsing, I finally decided on banana cream pie because it seemed like something I could do. My Mom had also just brought home a bunch of bananas so I guess the stars kind of aligned on this one.
A little planning ahead is needed to make Momofuku banana cream pie because you need bananas that are ripened to within an inch of their life. So it’s either you leave them out until the peel turns into the color of a brown paper bag or slice and store them in the freezer for 2 days or up to 2 weeks so their flavor can continue to develop. Seeing as how the first option is an open invitation for fruit flies, I opted for banana cryogenics with 3 on-the-small-side-of-medium bananas (original recipe uses 2) and went for the maximum 2 weeks. Once thawed, they looked like this:
It’s still quite a bit of work from here but once this is out of the way, we can go, go, go starting with chocolate crumb. To make, you’ll need:
2/3 cup flour
1 t cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t salt
6 T melted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 300 F/150 C. Combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. You can do this in a stand mixer but I went the bowl-and-fork route.
2. Add the melted butter and mix some more until the mixture comes together in small clusters. It seemed like very little butter but after quite a bit of mixing and pushing down with my fork, it eventually turned into a uniformly moist clustered mixture.
3. Line the baking tray with parchment paper. Spread the clusters on the baking tray and bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally.
When I found that I didn’t have anything to “break up”, I started to worry. I’d reach in the oven and find that the clusters are as sandy as ever. And that’s when it hit me that my oven is half the size of a standard one and the chocolate mound on my small baking tray would have been a thin layer of clusters on a standard baking tray. After 20 minutes in the oven, it probably would have crisped up a bit and need breaking up. I should’ve baked this in 2 batches! My heart sank a little bit but I packed the chocolate crumb into my pie dish anyway.
While the chocolate pie shell cooled, I got to work on my banana cream for which you’ll need:
2 ridiculously ripe bananas (the ones that I had thawing)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/2 t salt
3 egg yolks
1 t powdered unflavored gelatin
3 T butter
1/2 t yellow food coloring
another 3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1. Combine the bananas, cream, and milk in a blender and puree until totally smooth.
2. Add the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and yolks and blend some more until it turns into a homogenous mixture.
3. Transfer banana gunk into a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, whisking often. While waiting for it to come to a boil, bloom the gelatin in 2 T of cold water. To bloom, sprinkle the gelatin as evenly as possible on top of the water and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes.
4. When the banana mixture comes to a boil, continue whisking vigorously for 2 minutes. This apparently will cook out the starch. When done, it will look like gravy and smell like banana. A most disorienting combination. You’re supposed to bring back this thickened banana mixture to the blender and add the bloomed gelatin and butter but I just couldn’t be bothered. I just whisked everything right in my saucepan with an evil grin. And then went right ahead to coloring it with yellow food coloring until I achieved what might pass for cartoon-banana yellow. When done, I transferred it to a bowl and left it in the fridge until it completely cooled.
5. Once the banana mixture cooled, I whipped the cream and confectioner’s sugar in a bowl aiming for soft peaks. You know you’re there when mounds of cream hold softly as you pull away your whisk or in my case a handheld electric mixer. Thing is, I never got there. I used chilled cream and everything (cold cream is easier to whip) but I never got to soft peak stage. Maybe I should have whipped longer than WHAT SEEMED LIKE AN ETERNITY. I just went ahead and folded in the banana mixture into the cream anyway.
6. Assembly. Finally! Fill the pie shell with half the banana cream.
7. Slice up some bananas (I used 3 smallish ones) and put on top of the banana cream.
8. Top with the rest of the banana cream.
That’s the banana cream down to the last drop. I wish I stopped when there was still a bit of the pie shell visible all around. It also would’ve been prettier with more bananas showing.
I popped this in the fridge for a couple of hours for it to set but it showed no signs of setting. After a couple more hours, I decided to just freeze the damn thing. (Did you notice the slow but steady decline in my banana cream pie resolve? Hang on, it gets worse.)
I was browsing through the recipe again while writing this post and I realized for the first time that I missed an entire recipe. An entire recipe! Those chocolate crumbs were supposed to be molded into what’s called a chocolate crust in the book with more sugar, salt, and butter and I skipped it entirely.
Instead of doing something about the pie, maybe I should just call it something else. Like Momofuc…never mind. Here, nonetheless, is how my pie looked after a night in the freezer.
For a pie that left me feeling so defeated, I think it looks pretty good. And it’s bananas how fantastic it tastes! The crust is on the bitter side but it perfectly complements the flavorful and rich banana cream which is also quite sweet.
I think the pie might not have set in the fridge because I used an extra banana plus I have a sneaking suspicion that I only used half the required amount of powdered gelatin. The more I try to remember, the more unsure I am about it. Also, my crust is a lot crumblier than it should be. All because I was being plain careless.
While I was trying it, I couldn’t help but laugh – I was eating delicious humble pie!
Fun Food Fact: An irrational fear of bananas which I may now have is called Bananaphobia.