One of my most vivid memories about my freshman year college roommate was her initial disdain for Portland. She'd just moved from the heart of San Francisco, and was unimpressed by what the city had to offer. I believe she described Portland as "rinky-dinky" and instead waxed poetic about San Francisco, wishing for more hustle and bustle on the streets as well as more reliable and ubiquitous public transportation.
Fast forward three years later. By that point, she'd gone "full Portland" — she'd learned how to ride a bike, took tango lessons in the industrial southeast neighborhood, and shared a house with a herb garden and a bunch of dudes who'd worked out both a communal bicycle and food sharing system amongst themselves. Gone were her laments about Portland's quiet streets and rainy weather; instead, she scoffed at the freshmen using umbrellas.
There's something about this place that bewitches people. I can't tell you personally what it is that keeps me here — the list would be too long, random, and nonsensical, involving seemingly ridiculous and corny things like "the way the light shines through the trees on SE Ladd during my bike rides" — but I will say that one of my favorite things is the Portland food scene.
Despite having lived in other large cities like Houston, San Francisco, and London, I can tell you that the Portland food scene is like no other. It truly holds its own against all those cities that I just listed, and in many ways, surpasses them. The quality of the food that you can get here is unbeatable; and don't even get me started on the price. We are really, truly lucky to have so much quality food available to us at a price that is significantly lower than other cities.
Sometimes I get nostalgic for the food scene in other cities though. For instance, I recently went to New York and marched my friends from bakery to bakery, despite none of us having any room left in our stomach for more baked goods. As a foodie (though I cringe when I use that term), it's hard to sit back and read about the latest food trends and not be able to partake — lining up for cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, for instance. Or trying the new soft serve flavors at Momofuku Milk Bar.
But this is where Feast Portland comes in:
Feast is a relatively new food and drink festival that started last year. What is it, exactly? It's like all my favorite chefs, restaurants, and food people all decided to come together in one place to cook, eat, and, well, feast! Intended to showcase local culinary talent and Oregon ingredients, Feast draws in nationally recognized chef and foodies throughout the country. There are food-related demos, talks, tastings... you name it, Feast has it.
One of the events that I'm especially excited for is the Feast Portland Night Market. Looking through the roster of who's coming, I nearly had a heart attack from my excitement! Not only is it going to be featuring chefs my some of my favorite local restaurants (think: Aviary, Beast, Pok Pok, Smallwares), the event is also going to be featuring famous chefs from other cities like San Francisco, Austin, New York, and more!
I was especially excited to see Momofuku Milk Bar's head pastry chef, Christina Tosi, on the roster. As a dessert blogger and general sugar fiend, Christina Tosi has been one of my personal heroes for as long as I can remember. I've made several recipes from her cookbook, all of them absolutely stellar and delicious.
Like this banana cream pie:
Folks, I'm not lying when I say that this is the best banana cream pie that I've ever had. And I've tasted a lot of pretty damn good banana cream pies, like the one from San Francisco's Mission Pie or Denver's Sushi Den. But neither of them can hold a candle to Christina Tosi's.
I imagine Christina Tosi is the kind of person who, when life hands her lemons, she makes lemonade. Or in this case, when life hands her extremely over ripened bananas (almost to the point of rotting), she makes one kickass banana cream pie:
I love that she's a woman who's not afraid to indulge in her guilty pleasures. Cereal milk? Milk Bar's got it. A pie made of nothing but caramelized brown sugar? Yup, Milk Bar's got that too, aptly named "crack" pie. You gotta admire that.
Similarly, what makes her banana cream pie stand out so much is that she's not afraid to indulge. The recipe throws in as much of the decadent stuff as it can — cream, milk sugar, butter — it's all there. To top it off, this pie is a study of contrasting textures. It's got a sandy, crumbly chocolate crust (that reminded me of crushed Oreos), and extremely ripe bananas layered between heaps of banana cream.
So absolutely delicious and so utterly addicting that at some point, my friends and I didn't even bother with any serving utensils. We just ate it straight from the pan:
The baked goods that I've made from Christina's cookbook have been so utterly and consistently delicious, that I can't even begin to imagine what her other baked goods taste like. I can't wait to find out at Feast's Night Market though!
For now, this banana cream pie will have to tide me over.
A few baker's notes:
- Sorry folks, I'm just going to warn you now — this recipe uses a lot of equipment, from a mixer to a food processor to a blender. If you don't have a blender, you can use an immersion blender (which is what I did and it worked perfectly). As always, you can use a handheld electric whisk in place of a freestanding electric mixer.
- This recipe first instructs you to make chocolate crumbs, which you then process and use in another recipe to make the pie crust. If you are strapped for time, you can use Oreo crumbs but it won't be the same. Go the extra mile for the full experience — it's worth it. You can make the crumbs and pie crust up to a week in advance!
- You have to use ripe bananas for this recipe. Buy the ripest bananas that you can find and then let them go super brown and spotty (like you see in my picture above) before even using them in the recipe. In fact, go all out — ripen them even more than mine, to the point of blackness. The riper they are, the more sugar they have, and the better your pie. It will almost taste like caramel.
- Didn't plan ahead? No worries. Take your bananas and seal them in a brown paper bag. The banana skins will release a gas (which the bag will then trap) that will enable them to ripen faster. Let sit for at least 2 or 3 days; I let my yellow-green bananas (in the photo above) sit for 3.
- Don't be scared by the amount of yellow food coloring this recipe uses. Almost all banana cream pies use an obscene amount of food coloring, lest you end up with a cement-colored pie.
- Again, this is a fairly time-consuming recipe; once you've made the banana custard, you have to let it chill in the fridge before whipping it into a cream. Plan ahead!
Momofuku Milk Bar Banana Cream Pie
(Adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook)
For the Chocolate Crumbs:
(makes about 2 1/2 cups)
- 2/3 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the Chocolate Crust:
(makes one 10-inch pie crust)
- 1 3/4 cups chocolate crumbs
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the Banana Cream Filling:
(makes about 3 cups, enough for one 10-inch pie)
- 3 super ripe bananas (see baker's note above)
- 1/3 cup plus 3/4 cup heavy cream, separated
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin powder
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow food coloring
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar
For the Chocolate Crumbs:
- Preheat the oven to 300 (F).
- Combine 2/3 cup flour, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2/3 cup cocoa powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until fully combined.
- Add 6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter and mix on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters.
- Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat- lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes, breaking the clusters up at the 10 minute mark. Once the crumbs have finished baking for 20 minutes, let cool on a wire rack — the crumbs should still be slightly moist to the touch at that point, and they will dry and harden as they cool. Allow to cool completely before using in a recipe or eating.
For the Chocolate Crust:
- Pulse 3/4 cup chocolate crumbs in a food processor until they are sandy and no sizeable clusters remain.
- Transfer the sand to a medium bowl and, with your hands, toss with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter and knead into the sand until it is moist enough to knead into a ball.
- Transfer the mixture to a 10-inch pie tin. With your fingers and the palms of your hands, press the chocolate crust firmly into the tin, making sure the bottom and sides of the pie tin are evenly covered. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the crust can be stored at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the fridge for 2 weeks.
For the Banana Cream Filling:
- Combine 2 ripe bananas (saving the third one for later), 1/3 cup heavy cream, and 1/4 cup milk in a blender (or a medium bowl if you're using an immersion blender) and puree until totally smooth.
- Once the mixture is completely smooth, add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 3 egg yolks and continue to blend until homogenous. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan, and clean the blender canister (or medium bowl).
- Bloom 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin by sprinkling it evenly across the surface of a small bowl filled with 2 tablespoons of cold water. The gelatin is bloomed when it is soft, about 2 minutes.
- Whisk the contents of the pan (from the 2nd step) and heat over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. As the banana mixture heats up, it will thicken. Bring to a boil and, once it's at boiling point, continue to whisk vigorously for about 2 minutes to fully cook out the starch. The mixture will resemble thick glue, bordering on cement, with a color to match.
- Transfer the contents of the pan back into your blender (or medium bowl, if using an immersion blender). Add the bloomed gelatin (from the 3rd step) and 3 tablespoons butter and blend until the mixture is smooth and even. Add 1/2 teaspoon yellow food coloring until it is a bright, artificial banana yellow.
- Transfer the banana mixture to a heatproof container, and let cool in the fridge for as long as it takes to cool completely, about 30 to 60 minutes.
- When the banana mixture has cooled, make whipped cream by combining 3/4 cup heavy cream with 1 cup confectioner's sugar in a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk until the cream and sugar combine to create medium-soft peaks (when you pull the whisk away from the whipped cream, the mounds of cream should hold their shape softly — DO NOT OVERMIX or you'll end up with butter!).
- Add the cold banana mixture (from the 6th step) to the whipped cream and slowly whisk until evenly colored and homogenous — the mixture should turn into a pale yellow.
- Once the banana cream is ready, pour half the mixture into the chocolate pie shell. Cover it with a layer of sliced bananas (from your remaining banana), then cover the bananas with the remaining banana cream. The pie should be stored in the fridge and eaten within a day.